You got a sense of how "Lost" ranks in the scheme of things when President Barack Obama saw it coming — and blinked. Sure, this wasn't exactly a showdown between the leader of the free world (with his State of the Union address) and a TV series about people on an island.
But Obama could have scheduled his annual address for, say, this coming Tuesday night if he'd wanted to — the same night "Lost" was already scheduled by ABC to start its final season — which would have left millions of "Lost" fans wondering where the island went this time.
Despite fans fretting that such a bit of presidential one-upmanship might actually happen, Obama saw fit to do his State of the Union address a week before.
And, like it was always intended, "Lost" will do its thing Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST. Then "Lost" fans can take satisfaction, however fanciful, that, instead of someone moving the island, Obama moved his speech.
Make no mistake, this is a big deal to "Lost" fans: the beginning of the end of an epic mystery-thriller-what-have-you after six thrilling, mystical seasons.
Just 18 episodes remain, after which the series, and a certain brand of national obsession, will be over. The vast "Lost" lore — or most of it, or a teeny-weeny smidgen, at least — will finally make sense.
You remember how last season ended. Jack (Matthew Fox) deployed a nuclear warhead that, if things went as he hoped, would rewrite history by destroying a huge pocket of electromagnetic energy that may have been responsible for pulling Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 out of the sky on the series' premiere and setting the whole darn show in motion.
In short, if this scheme worked, Flight 815 would have made it to Los Angeles as scheduled, while the show would have instantly been zeroed out. Then, like an M.C. Escher drawing, "Lost" would have disappeared into itself, or so it seems, and for the rest of the coming season, ABC would have to air something else. (Jimmy Kimmel in prime time?)
Another of the weird things you may recall from the finale: Locke (Terry O'Quinn) had an unprecedented audience with the never-before-seen uber-boss of the island, Jacob. But at the same time the meeting took place, a corpse that looked remarkably like Locke was lying on the beach in pasty-faced repose.
Can anyone on "Lost" coexist both living and dead? Was the other, walking-talking "Locke" some sort of impressionist just doing a really good imitation of O'Quinn? And does he ever play Vegas?
Questions like that have been piling up and preying on "Lost" fans ever since.
Fair warning! Now that a new season is here with a final infusion of fodder, speculation among "Lost" faithful could be rising to an unprecedented pitch — and pushing the patience of "Lost" nonobservers to the breaking point.
Consider a video spoof on The Onion's Web site, which cautions that the "final season of 'Lost' promises to make fans more annoying than ever."
"Do you think the show can REALLY surpass how incredibly aggravating the fans were LAST season?" the Onion News Network anchor asks his entertainment reporter. "Is that even possible?"
"No one knows for sure," she replies chirpily, "but the show's producers are confident."
So are officials around the country. According to The Onion, cities including Chicago and Seattle are convinced "that fans will be so much worse than previous years, they've already announced they'll be providing shelter Tuesday nights for anyone unlucky enough to be living with a 'Lost' fan."
No doubt about it: "Lost" really gets its believers revved up.
In this week's Newsweek magazine, columnist Joshua Alston writes that "more than anything else — and more than any other acclaimed show ever on television — 'Lost' is a show about faith."
But wait, there's more: "'Lost' has gone beyond being just a show about faith to being a meta-commentary on faith."
Alston concludes that "Lost," above all, is "a show about the big questions that lie at the heart of the human experience."
Or is it just possibly a show about the big questions lying at the heart of the show?
Whatever, "Lost" fans will be turning up the volume as they debate those questions, desperate to tease out the answers (and meta-answers) while wishing on some level they might never be burdened with what passes for truth.
Especially from a civilian.
In a hilarious scene on the NBC comedy "30 Rock" last fall, bubble-headed blond Jenna Maroney barged in on three of her colleagues watching "Battlestar Galactica" on a laptop at the office.
"So this all started when their plane crashed?" asked Jenna, trying to fit in.
"That's 'Lost,'" Toofer told her dismissively.
"Oh, right," she replied, unfazed. "You know, I met ('Lost' creator) J.J. Abrams once, and I don't know what this means, but he said the island is just Hurley's dream."
To that, all three reacted with scorn.
Dude! "Lost" is too important for pretenders to take part. For this final season, the "Lost" flock have license to be more obsessed and aggravating than ever, and they mean to exercise it. Anybody else is welcome to seek refuge.