Take one plane crash, add a pinch of romance, a dash of smoke and a hint of otherness, and what do you get?
Why, the recipe for one of the most beguiling, bewildering, captivating and downright torturous television shows in history.
Come Monday at 5am, it will all be over for the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 and their island friends. Yes, after six long years, more than 100 episodes and a rotating array of characters, Lost is reaching the end of its journey.
How will it end? Jack, the heroic but troubled doctor-saviour rescuing the losties and returning them to dry land?
Locke / Smoke wreaking vengeance on his brother Jacob with one last puff? Desmond saving the day?
Which of the myriad of hey-I-thought-they-were-dead characters will pop up in the final moments – Charlie or Boone, Shannon or Rousseau? Will Claire ever be reunited with baby Aaron?
Did Nikki and Paulo ever make it out of their graves to find all those diamonds?
Most people, it has to be said, even those who watched enthusiastically back when an errant polar bear was the strangest aspect of the show, don’t care.
They’ve long ago given up trying to follow what those numbers mean, what Penny’s father really wants or how come Richard never gets older. In the end, for many, the costs of Lost (infuriating tautological plots, repetitive love triangles) have outweighed the gains of being a fan.
It’s easy to understand why. There’s nothing intrinsically enjoyable – diehard fans don’t protest, you know it’s true – about watching Lost.
The plot is achingly complex and it’s going to take a miracle for the writers to wrap up all the questions in the double-bill finale.
It’s the only programme I’ve ever had to revise for – rewatching a season finale not for enjoyments sake but because I can’t remember what the hell happened last episode.
Not only that, but the writers were cruel friends, toying with ideas and characters only to snatch them away when we got attached. You’d just about come to terms with something – time travel, imprisonment in biscuit-distributing cages, and then it would be over, forgotten, in a flash.
Also, a lot of the cast were just plain annoying. Juliet? Who shed a tear when the bomb detonated blowing her to smithereens? Jack and Kate and Sawyer? Less of a wonderful love triangle, more ‘get thee to a therapist’ now. Pretty much the only redeeming character to have lasted all the way through was Hurley, and we all know he’s mad.
And then we got to the final series, where suddenly everything we knew all along was wrong. No more flashbacks, just flash sideways to another entirely disparate world. Bringing in new characters at the eleventh hour, at the expense of explaining what happened to the original castaways.
In short, Lost has been infuriating, a hassle, a waste of time. A plague on both the producers.
And yet. It’s also been the best thing on TV in years.
The magic of Lost is that all the above complaints are true, and yet you are still compelled to tune in.
It’s hell, and yet it’s so much more fun to watch than all the relaxing, cookie-cutter, neatly wrapped up drivel that appears elsewhere on screen. It’s made you miserable, but you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
No other show offers that same level of nail-biting suspense and agonising intrigue. The thrill of detecting a spoiler or signal is a gift for the competitive TV viewer – you probably couldn’t ever predict what would happen, but damn, it was fun to try.
Lost was a constant source of ‘what the…’ moments, and in terms of bone-chilling drama, it more than delivered. Think the scene when Jack stood at the Lighthouse, seeing a vision of his other life, that perfect point when we discovered what was in the Hatch, or the tragic sequence when Charlie martyred himself for the greater good.
It’s been comedy gold too; in particular the quick-fire volleys between Sawyer and, well anyone, or the amazing scene early on when Hurley discovered a secret stash of food. With Sun and Jin, or Penny and Desmond there have been romances to tug at the iciest of heartstrings.
The back stories, particularly early on, were always fascinating, while the flash sideways have been a treasure trove of connect-the-dots.
So there it is. It drove us mad, made us sci-fi bores whenever we preached it to the non-converted, and probably won’t even come near a satisfying conclusion on Monday.
But it’s safe to say, however it ends, there probably won’t be anything quite like it on TV again.