Matthew Fox in Lost by Bob D'Amico/ABC
Now that's what it's like to sit on the edge of your seat for two hours. And no, I'm not talking about the endless end of American Idol, whose final episode Wednesday couldn't have been less concerned with crowning a winner, which came several minutes past the 10 pm point on the East Coast, as something of an afterthought. (Pity anyone who taped it and didn't record it past the two-hour mark. They'd have missed the coronation.) Guess that's what happens when there's no suspense. From the moment Jordin Sparks sang this year's schmaltzy Idol ballad Tuesday night with a catch in her throat, it was preordained that the 17-year-old with the grown-up pipes would win. (I did my part on the phone Tuesday night to make it happen.) Not bad, though, as variety shows go. And I'll say this about the Idol finale: Tony Bennett sure knows how to stop a show, pure and simple. Forget idols. He's a living legend.

If you wanted surprise and suspense on Wednesday, the final night of the regular TV season, you needed to look no further than the two-hour finale of Lost, a dizzying exercise in adventure, sustained tension and time-shifting rug-pulling. Spectacularly produced, amazingly directed and gloriously acted as always, this audacious episode restored Lost's reputation, after a shaky start to the season last fall, as the best and most inventive drama on network TV. Period. (I might make an exception for Friday Night Lights as my favorite all-around show this year, but that's another story.)

Wow. Freaking wow. The emotional impact of this roller-coaster hour was astonishing, from the momentary fear that our snipers on the beach had been killed to the exultation over Hurley coming to the rescue in that unstoppable van (I shouted at the screen at that point, what a blast) to the sorrow over Charlie's tragic drowning ("So much for fate") to the stunned amazement that Jack and Kate (and who knows who else) had made it off the island and what we were watching for once wasn't a flashback but a flash-forward. Thought it was anticlimactic? Get lost. What more could anyone ask from this show?

I admit that when a suicidal Jack climbed atop the bridge at the start of the episode, I was worried we were about to experience "It's a Wonderful Lost," and that somehow we were going to be led (despite all the producers' statements to the contrary over the years) to believe that Castaway Island was a metaphysical limbo. Thankfully, that's not the case.

There was an actual rescue. And we've witnessed, as Ben warned, "the beginning of the end." But just where this takes the story next season, and how the episodes are structured between life on and off the island, and how Penny's search for Desmond and the mysterious people behind Naomi's parachuting mission figure into it all those are some potent mysteries to digest and wonder about during the long hiatus to come. Not to mention who was in the coffin at the funeral home Jack visited. (There are probably as many theories as characters on the show.) How many days is it until February?

I suppose I should also grapple with the implications of Locke being resurrected by a vision of Walt (who's much bigger now), but that mystical stuff (including the black smoke, etc) has always been my least favorite aspect of Lost. I'd rather dwell on Charlie's sacrifice, which a normal series would have made the central event of an episode like this. And it was a memorable tragedy, the most significant and wrenching death on this show to date. No wonder little Aaron cried. The wailing of viewers watching at home must have roused him. The fact that Charlie used his final breath to scrawl a "Not Penny's boat" warning to Desmond on his hand made his predestined drowning even more poignant. When a beloved character dies on a show, the payoff had better be worth the risk. In this case, it was. Well done, Dominic Monaghan. Evangeline Lilly isn't the only one who's going to miss you.

But as affecting as Charlie's death was, what really rocked Lost's world in this finale was the leap forward in time to an entirely new framework and perspective that could and should set the whole series on its ear for the remaining three seasons. How many people got off the island? Was it a mistake for everyone? Or just for the reluctant "hero" Jack, whose life had clearly gone into an irreversible spiral. Looked like a lost soul to me. (And Matthew Fox? Stepped it up again. A leading man's leading man.)

"We have to go back," Jack cried to Kate outside the airport, his new home away from home. Indeed we do. I want to go back right now. The wait will be excruciating, but oh my, what a stimulating way to end another impressive year.

Now on to summer TV, everybody. There's not even a full day's pause anymore. No rest for the bleary-eyed.