The final season of 'Lost' starts February 2, 2010: What does this mean for the show?

terryoquinn_lost_290.jpgThe news that " Lost" fans have been waiting to hear finally arrived today: Season 6 has a starting date. But, as with all things "Lost," the news isn't without some confusion, misdirection, slight of hand, and above all, drama. But after five seasons of the show, do you really expect anything else? Of course not. Let's try to break down what this all means.

The start date

As reported earlier today here on Zap2it, the starting date will be February 2, 2010 at 9 pm EST. Three things about this date: 1) it's not in January, 2) it's on a Tuesday, and 3) it's on Groundhog Day. Now, the first factoid is slightly depressing, in that we want Season 6 to start, well, tomorrow if possible. But if pushing off the show from its expected starting date of January means we'll get an uninterrupted run of new "Lost" episodes, I fail to see how waiting an extra week or two is a bad thing.

Yes, this means that "Lost" will air new episodes against The Olympic Winter Games on NBC. But if NBC continues its current trend of programming, then we'll be seeing Jay Leno bobsledding anyways. Scarier than the smoke monster? You betcha. But not in a good way. "Lost" will be fine.

The time slot

elizabethmitchell_v_290.jpgThe Tuesday timeslot indicates that ABC's pretty happy with its current comedic line-up on that night. While "Hank" has already been canceled, " The Middle," " Modern Family," and " Cougar Town" have all performed admirably thus far in their inaugural year. Tossing in "Eastwick" in the 10 pm slot after that comedy block didn't make much sense, and throwing "Lost" on after those shows makes even less sense. Keeping it away from the already killer Thursday night line-up seems smart, even if it puts "Lost" directly against " American Idol." ABC's clearly going to try and pair "Lost" up with " V" and do a little bit of counter-programming here for the crowd more interested in Michael Emerson and Elizabeth Mitchell than Simon Cowell and Kara Dioguardi.

But does a timeslot really and truly matter at this point? After five seasons, "Lost" has its audience. For better or worse, it is what it is. Or, as Daniel Faraday might say, whatever happens, happens. Just as the show established an end date, it also established a ceiling for its audience. While millions upon millions may yet enjoy this show throughout the upcoming years via DVD, Hulu, or whatever future means of digital distribution come along, there isn't a huge new market for this show come February. Luckily, the core audience isn't going anywhere, either. "Lost" fans would probably watch the show it if aired at 2 a.m. on Fridays. I'm not sure Patricia Heaton's fans are so loyal.

The calendar day

The "Groundhog Day" aspect of the show's return is probably unintentional, but nevertheless excites this particular "Lost" brain in terms of its relation to the seminal Bill Murray movie of the same name. In light of the events of "The Incident," coupled with those crazy Comic-Con videos, coupled with the now insanely intriguing ending to the much maligned "Lost" video game "Via Domus," we're looking at a Season 6 that is all about reliving the same moments again with the chances of doing it better the next time around.

Lending credence to this "Groundhog Day" theory? The ever-increasing number of supposedly dead characters that seem to be returning to the show for Season 6. (We're keeping things spoiler-free here, but be sure to check out here and here if you want to learn of at least two characters that should be pushing daisies but will be pushing the plot forward come this final season.) Clearly, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse at least want the slightly-more-than-casual "Lost" fan to think we're about to see the single biggest reboot of a storyline this side of "Run, Lola, Run."

Adding more fuel to this fire is the title of the season's first episode. It's a delicious title, one that fires off those conspiracy synapses in all of us, wondering not only "What does it mean?" but also, quite frankly, "How in the name of Jacob are they going to pull this off?" Again, in the name of not spoiling anyone, I'm keeping the title a secret here, but if you want to read my take on the title, by all means, check it out in full here. In short: if you thought Season 5 was confusing, you're going to get some serious nose bleeds from Season 6.

In closing

Let's face it: learning the starting date of Season 6 is bittersweet. That momentary feeling of elation at finally learning when the show is returning is almost instantly mitigated by the reality that February 2, 2010, truly marks the beginning of the end. We'll start ticking off things like, "the last nickname Sawyer ever gives," "the last time Hurley makes me laugh, and "the last time Kate tells someone she's coming with them." Along the way mysteries will finally be solved, certain characters will meet their ultimate fate, and eventually, the curtain will close on one of the most ambitious shows ever put on television.

In the humble beginnings of the show, John Locke explained to Walt Lloyd the rules of backgammon. "Two players. Two sides. One is light ... one is dark." In "The Incident," the show paid off Locke's seemingly innocuous comments by pulling back the virtual camera enough to finally see the two players potentially responsible for setting in motion the events that led to Oceanic 815's arrival on the Island. In Jacob and The Man in Black, "Lost" revealed the leaders of the two sides of Locke's backgammon board. Starting in February 2010, the two will play the final, all-or-nothing game to decide the fate of the Island.

And it looks like the whole gang will be back to wage war.

Are you in? Leave your thoughts below!

Ryan invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It's Guide to Lost Facebook group.