In LOST style, I'll go from the end to the beginning. First, Yeff's Three Rules (so far) Of LOST:
#1) Most things are simpler than you might think.
#2) Nothing is going to happen as fast as you want (or hope)
#3) The writers/creators are always going to leave some wiggle room.
#1) I see and hear lots of explanations for LOST (micro and macro) that are incredibly complex or overly ornate. Check out Doc Arzt sometimes at The Tail Section and Buddy TV. I have found that the real explanation tends to be fairly simple. One example: Where are they? Answer: They're on an island. It's not purgatory, it's not a dream, it's not another dimension. It's just an island. There's some strange goings-on on this island, but even the goings-on tend to have a simple explanation.
#2) I forget this rule all the time. I make episode predictions that are very complex, with A then B then C then D then E all happening. In the episode, only A happens. We've had 60+ episodes that have covered 90 days on the island. Each episode covers one or two days. Things will take time. It drives viewers crazy (and I'm included in this), but it's a Rule of LOST.
#3) Television is a dynamic business. Even if you have a strong backbone for a story, you're still creating it on the fly. The real world intrudes, in terms of costs and actor availability and behind-the-set problems and delays and deadlines. Therefore, you always give yourself some wiggle room so you can shift and change in the future without destroying everything you've set in stone (ie, aired). J. Michael Straczynski talked about this during the course of Babylon 5, Ron Moore talks about it with BSG, and Damon and Carlton talk about it with LOST.
I will use these rules while reviewing the season 3 finale of LOST.
First of all, I liked it. I steadfastly avoided any spoilers during the week, beyond the promos that were released by ABC. I thus had varying degrees of surprise at events that occurred, even if they fufilled some predictions I had made. The appearance of Walt (I said "the island saves Locke"), Hurley in the VW minibus (I said "Hurley saves the day"), Sawyer cold-bloodedly kills Tom (I figured most Others were toast), Desmond saves Charlie, Charlie drowns anyway.
But the biggest surprise was that the flashback was actually a "flash forward". Many, many, many people on boards and podcasts *freaked out* over this and started talking about time travel, multiple universes, etc. Let's apply LOST Rule #1. There is a simple explanation. The Jack "flash forward" events occur after they get off the island. Yes, after they get off the island. Yes, they get off the island.
What I like about this is it does what LOST does well, which is break the traditional flow of narrrative. Most people see stories as starting at A and going to Z. For LOST, A = arrive at the island and Z = leave the island. But the flash forward reminds you that what you think of as Z isn't the end of the story for LOST. We're about at P in the what one might think of as the LOST road from A to Z. Either that, or Z just moved a lot farther out. No matter what, LOST reminded you that the events of LOST took place 3 years ago (in 2004) and there's a lot more story than you thought.
From here, LOST will continue in the 2004/2005 narrative but might flash back to explain something in a character's past or flash forward to show something in the future. When the series ends, I wouldn't be surprised if it ends with them getting off the island. But, by that point the viewer will know and have seen that there is more story after that. It's like the movie "Memento". LOST just expanded its story potential tremendously, and I applaud them for that.
A rough summary of my prediction for the finale was "everything goes right, they turn off the jamming, they defeat the Others raiding party, they get to the tower, they call the ship, the ship comes and then everything goes horribly wrong." My conception of "horribly wrong" had been a volcano erupting, or the ship crashing, or possibly even the tsunami. Well, we know that something went "horribly wrong" (based on Jack's state in the future, aka the present) but we don't know what it was! Time to spend the next nine months thinking about that one!
Another question: Who was in the coffin (and in the newspaper article)? Answer: It doesn't matter. This is the classic example of "wiggle room". I think the LOST folks know who they want to be in the coffin. But, they have to make sure they can get the actor/actress and get all the logistics worked out. If it doesn't work out, they can always change the identity of the person in the coffin and spend the next season (or more) getting it set up. Leave yourself wiggle room.
Who do I think is in the coffin? I use these clues: it was someone most LOSTies (including Jack) didn't like, the funeral was in a neighborhood with more African Americans, it was a man, and death looked like a suicide (people analyzed the screen caps), Jack was upset about the death. My first choice: Michael. I also heard rumors that the show was trying to get Michael and Walt in the finale (and Walt was there). He fits most of the clues, and Jack might be upset because Michael knew how to get back to the island but wouldn't tell and once he dies, there goes Jack's last hope. My next candidate: Sawyer. But I would think if Sawyer died, even Kate would go to the funeral. Some folks say Locke, but I can't see him leaving the island.
Why did Jack mention his dad in the flash forwards? Not because Christian Shepard has come back from the dead, but because Jack is putting up a ruse that he is alive, for whatever reason. This is a little shaky, and I can see people ascribing other opinions.
Some "lack of a logical follow-up" moments: You meant to kill Mikhail, make sure he's dead (he has more lives than a couch full of cats); before going into the signal room in the Looking Glass, take scuba gear for heaven's sake; hey one of you 39 LOSTies, tackle Locke before he can shoot; tell Ben okay, then jump him after he tells Tom not to shoot (of course, Ben had said they were going to fake it - did you catch that - but Jack didn't know it); have a backup plan for shooting (okay, if anyone misses, Sayid takes another shot).
But again, overall, I liked it. It gave me a lot to think about. What's on the boat? (bad people who really do want the island) Why is Jack so upset? (things went wrong, people are still on the island) Who was in the casket? (Michael, under an assumed name because when they got off the island they had the option of taking new names) When is LOST coming back? (February 2008) What will folks do in the meantime? (think, give opinions, think some more, rewatch the first three seasons, play the IPOD game)
And the biggest question of all: Is LOST still interesting, and enjoyable? Answer: Yes. Definitely yes.