Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 5:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 5:26 p.m.

From the time that Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crashed on a mysterious island in the 2004 premiere of "Lost" on ABC, almost everything that appeared to be true about the fate of the survivors has become if not actually false, then at least vastly more complicated than it originally seemed.

The island itself, for example, which at first seemed to be disconcertingly deserted, soon proved itself to be even more disconcertingly inhabited. While those inhabitants (known as the "others") are liars, kidnappers and murderers, ultimately their crimes are revealed to serve a larger, protective purpose. And though it appears that for survivors of the crash the ultimate goal is to leave the island, many who do leave find themselves inexorably pulled back.

For the men pulling the levers behind the "Lost" curtain, finding ways to wrap up both the fate of the story's characters and the mysteries of the island for the program's final 16 episodes, which begins Tuesday, is a multifold challenge.

"Normally, the thing that you have to execute is coming up with fulfilling endings and resolve the fate of your characters," said Damon Lindelof, an executive producer who, with Carlton Cuse, oversees the series and is writing the key episodes for the coming season. "But we also have the added weight of how are we going to resolve this mythology.

"The show is so predicated on questions. So now we're in answer mode, and have been for quite some time."

And while the creators of "Lost " have assured viewers for much of the last five years that yes, they know the answers to those questions, they acknowledge that they do not yet know exactly how the series will come to a close. The final episodes have not yet been written, much less filmed.

The creators are willing to make a few promises, which they outlined this month in an interview and in discussions with reporters at a meeting of the Television Critics Association. Viewers will not have to wait until the last moments of the series finale to get many of their answers, they say. Beginning with the season premiere, revelations about some of the most fundamental mysteries will come fast and furious.

Some of the "Lost" actors, in fact, implied that viewers hoping to quench their thirst for answers in the season premiere might find themselves drinking from a fire hose.

"It felt like a finale," said Josh Holloway, who plays Sawyer, the brooding loner who seems to think best with his shirt off.

But providing answers does not necessarily means that resolutions will be simple. Emilie de Ravin, whose character, Claire, was pregnant when the plane crashed, gave birth on the island and all but disappeared into a spiritual netherworld in Season 4, admitted that she was initially a bit confused.

"I think I had to read it about three times before it actually made sense," said de Ravin.

The creators say their hope is that this final season might feel like a first, in that a viewer does not need to have watched the 95 previous episodes in order to enjoy the final chapter.

"There's an inherent process when you're ending something to sort of be thinking about the beginning," Lindelof said. "One of the things that I think we are trying to do - all of us, the actors and the writers as well, in the sixth season - is to show the audience the before," as well as the after.

Therefore episodes in the final season will continue to provide plenty of back story. That way, viewers "have some sense of, 'Oh, this is what he used to be and who they are now,' " Lindelof added. "So you really get a sense of how far that person's come."

"Lost" remains, by almost any measure, one of ABC's biggest hits. But its viewership has fallen by about 30 percent from the first season, when an average of 15.5 million viewers tuned in each week, to the fifth, which drew about 11 million a week, according to Nielsen.

And it is perhaps the most loyal viewers - who, having immersed themselves in every detail of every show, might therefore be hoping that every puzzle will be solved - who stand to be the most disappointed, according to the creators.

"Obviously not every question's going to be answered, " Cuse said. " We felt if we tried to just answer questions, it would be very pedantic. Apart from that, we also really embrace this notion that there's a fundamental sort of sense of mystery that we all have in our lives, and certainly that is a huge part of the lives of these characters."

But Cuse remains optimistic: "I think there would be, hopefully, a kind of healthy cocktail of answers, mystery, good character resolutions and some surprises."

The end is likely to have more to do with character resolution than with the solving of mysteries like what exactly the island is.

If the creators are not saying, they do promise one other thing. While the ending of the series will almost certainly provoke some debate, it will not be of the type created by, say, the black screen that ended "The Sopranos" or the "It was all a dream" or "It all took place in someone's imagination" endings of "Newhart" or "St. Elsewhere." And like David Chase, the "Sopranos" creator, they do not plan to answer questions after the finale.

"We feel like over the course of the entire season we're going to be answering questions and explaining things," Cuse said. "We're really going to focus on making sure the resolution of these characters comes to a place that we as writers feel satisfying. And that's kind of the best approach we can take to make the show end well."

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