Lost by Mario Perez/ABC
What the frak is Kate doing in Jack's flashback?! OMG... This isn't a flashback -- it's a flash forward!

Forget rattlesnake in the mailbox. Lost's big game-changer was more like an anaconda in the post office.

I don't know what else to say but wow.

Not since ABC debuted a little show called Twin Peaks back in 1990 have I been so riveted by two hours of TV. I laughed. I cried. I cheered. I choked on my Snapple. And now, I'm processing. And there's lots to process, as the rattlesnake wasn't the finale's only "Oh, #$*&!" moment. Let's quickly review some the others (after which we'll get to the real reason you're here: the Carlton Cuse debrief):

" Hurley's rousing off-road trip
" Jack and Juliet's surprising smooch
" Jack's admission of love to Kate
" Penelope's Naomi-busting communique
" The hysterically awkward family reunion between Ben, Rousseau and Alex
" Walt's return
" Matthew Fox's fearless, balls-to-the-wall performance
" The many deaths, including Friendly, Naomi, Patch and, most importantly

Charlie. Poor, poor Charlie. We've seen a lot of characters get the life knocked out of 'em on Lost, but, let's be real: this is the first one that actually hurt. And no one's feeling the pain more than the guys who pulled the trigger (or the pin, as it were): executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof.

Shortly before the finale aired, Cuse talked to me about the decision to have Charlie join the likes of Shannon, Boone and Mr. Eko in the big island in the sky. But he side-stepped questions regarding any of the finale's other big developments, preferring instead to let "fans digest it without our further interpretation or explanation." Fair enough.

Why'd you kill off Charlie?
Cuse:
We felt like we needed to pay off Desmond's prognostications. We thought about various ways in which that could pay off, but, ultimately, we came to the conclusion that the best version of the story was for Charlie to die.

But Desmond could have had premonitions about anyone. Why Charlie?
Cuse:
In order for the story to have real stakes, we had to make it a significant character. And we felt like we had told the biggest and most important parts of Charlie's story. He was an addict; he recovered from his addiction; he found some meaning and purpose in his relationship with Claire. We didn't really want to throw him back into the throes of addiction again. It just felt like this was the best path for this character -- the Everyman Hero making this tremendous sacrifice for the benefit of everyone else on the island -- even if it resulted in the painful consequences of losing Dominic.

As heartbreaking as his death was, it was also kind of beautiful.
Cuse:
We gave Charlie a death that was distinctive from any of the other [deaths on Lost]. He willingly chooses to sacrifice himself, and does it in an incredibly noble and heroic way. It felt to us like that was the necessary story culmination for Season 3 to feel complete. Unfortunately, you exist in two realms. You exist in one realm: Damon and I as storytellers. And then we also exist in the realm of producers who happen to be friends with Dominic Monaghan, who's a wonderful guy and a terrific actor. It's really painful to have what's best for the story collide with a personal relationship with an actor. It was very hard to say good-bye to Dominic. But I think he understood. Lost is a story and there's kind of a continuum to it. And some characters are destined to complete the entire journey and others aren't. Charlie's death wasn't insignificant. It creates a major turn in the overall story of Lost.

Charlie's death also shows that no one really IS safe on Lost.
Cuse:
Right. If Billy Petersen has a gun put to his head on CSI, nobody really believes he's going to die. But on our show, we really do want the audience to believe that whenever a character is in jeopardy, it really could mean the end of that character. We didn't think of it as callously as, "Oh, well, we have to make people believe in the stakes of out show." But that's definitely a repercussion of Charlie's death. Major characters can die.

What was Dominic's reaction?
Cuse:
Dominic was extremely gentlemanly about it and very professional. I think it was hard for him. He really loved being on the show. The moment when it really sunk in the most for us was when Damon and I went into the editing room and watched the sequence in which Charlie dies, fully edited. I don't think either one of us was prepared for the visceral emotional reaction of watching it on screen. First, because Dominic did such an awesome acting job. Second, because Jack Bender did such an incredible job directing it. But mostly, it was the emotional impact of seeing in celluloid the consequences of our story decision. It was really affecting. In those moments, you realize the profoundness of the decisions you have to make as a storyteller.

Did you ever stop and think, "This could really put a crimp in his relationship with Evangeline [Lilly]!" I mean, they had a good thing going, living and working together in Hawaii.
Cuse:
I wish that we could take those things into consideration, but we can't. Damon and I always tell ourselves, "The story has to take precedence." It's painful when there are personal consequences that are an offshoot of those decisions, but we have to tell the story the best way we can. And while it will be painful for the audience to see Charlie go, I think that it's also an incredibly cathartic emotional experience. And it helps give the finale a sense of closure, and the season a sense of roundness That we sort of begun and completed a journey during the 23 hours we did this year.

And now we've got to wait nine long months until the next chapter.
Cuse:
It's the best of the available choices. I think if you were to ask anybody, "Do you want it fast or do you want it good?" You would say, "I want it good."

OK, guys, it's your turn to weigh in on the finale. Were you as blown away by the rattlesnake as I was? Was the sight of Charlie taking his last breath too much for you to bear? Who do you think those mysterious Other Others are - and is Kate shacking up with one of them in L.A.? And whose funeral did Jack attend ( ooooh, a clue!)? Sound off below!

( Click here to read my colleague Shawna Malcom's awesome interview with fallen Lostie Dominic Monaghan. Also check out Matt Roush's spot-on review of last night's ep.)