What a send-off our intrepid castaways got in "The End."

During Sunday night's Hurley-sized Lost finale, the salt-kissed crew was treated to a concert by Charlie's rock band, Drive Shaft. Then they were off on an all-expenses-paid trip to heaven. Or whatever the next stage of their spiritual journey is.

Sure, we got the epic showdown between good (Jack) and evil (the fake Locke) at the island's golden grotto. But that took a back seat to the final rapture as the characters in the church, bathed in radiant light, looked up in mute wonder at what awaited them.

The unavoidable implication of the 21/2-hour episode was that both their island experiences and the simultaneous sideways reality in Los Angeles were some sort of karmic workshops where the castaways were trapped until they could resolve their issues and reach enlightenment.

The message, distilled to a single sentence, seemed strikingly biblical: We must die to this world in order to gain eternal life.

Of course, our codependent hero, Jack, was forced to learn the lesson of letting go over and over. And he suffered greatly for it.

Could it really be that simple? Could six byzantine seasons really boil down to a salvation psalm?

At one point on Sunday, a skeptical preconversion Kate expressed her amazement to Desmond that all his machinations were launched in order to bring the lost flock together with a man named . . . wait for it . . . Christian Shephard.

Yes, it was that obvious.

The finale, which drew an unimpressive 13.5 million viewers - 2 million more than its current season average but far short of the 16 million viewers it averaged its first year on the air - generated mixed reactions.

Jeff Jensen, who writes Entertainment Weekly's "Totally 'Lost' " blog, posted: " 'The End' was an emotionally draining epic that had me crying with almost every single 'awakening.' "

Nikki Stafford, author of the Nik at Nite blog and the Finding Lost book series, wrote: "Well, just when you thought a finale wouldn't polarize audiences more than The Sopranos did, along comes Lost!! For the record, I LOVED it. I loved it because I didn't want everything answered, and not only did they not answer everything, they even left some REALLY big things unanswered. Upsetting? Now that I've thought about it, no."

Other fans were less enthusiastic.

Matt Richenthal, editor in chief of the TV Fanatic website wrote, " 'The End' sacrificed logical, suspenseful storytelling in the name of delayed character development/resolution."

"I have not often been this disappointed," wrote Adam D. Jones, on his deepforestgreen blogspot.

And Jon Lachonis, curator of the go-to Lost website, docarzt.com, struck an ambivalent note in an e-mail.

"I'm accepting of what they did. I think it could have been done better but ultimately it followed the trajectory of the season very well and was appropriate considering where the momentum of the plot was heading."

Over the years, Lost teased out far too many plot and thematic threads to be able to resolve them all tidily in one sitting.

The redemptive focus of "The End" left a lot of spare nuts and bolts lying around the beach.

For instance, what are we to make of the Dharma Initiative? Or the portentously recurring string of numbers? Were they just window dressing? Red herrings?

Why does it matter if Kate, Sawyer, and Claire made it off Hydra Island in the plane piloted by Frank Lapidus? They ended up in exactly the same place with Jack, Hurley, and Ben, who didn't escape. Was that just suspense for suspense's sake?

And how did Walt's yellow Lab end up looking far younger than he did at the beginning of the series? Even Richard was beginning to age at the end.

Lost set out its last chapter with typical elegance. One by one, the core characters came to remember their island experiences and realize that they were now free to ascend to the next level of existence.

Actually, the recognition came to them two by two. There was a lovely romantic mood to the episode, as a legion of couples reunited and paired off - Sayid and Shannon, Claire and Charlie, Sawyer and Juliet, Daniel and Charlotte.

Touchingly, Jack and Kate also ended as lovebirds, a welcome resolution that never seemed assured until the show's final 30 minutes.

It was like Noah's ark in that climactic church scene. Did you notice how few singletons were present? Just Locke and Boone. (Jack's dad was there as a spirit guide, so he doesn't count.) We never got to see Hurley hook up with Libby, but she was there, too.

But the makeup of that congregation raised another significant contradiction. Ben said he wasn't going to join the others in the church because he still had some work to do on himself.

But I assumed he was precluded anyway because he hadn't been a passenger on the Oceanic wreck. So what were Penny and Desmond doing there? Or Juliet for that matter? None of them took that fateful flight.

My interpretation of the finale and its visual coda was that all hands on board died when the plane went down. And that the island was a type of purgatory these lost souls inhabited until they figured out how to move on.

Daniel didn't get to take part in the mass redemption. Or Miles. So why should Penny get to?

Is heaven, like Virginia, for lovers?

Even to broach such practicalities feels like heresy after the hundred-odd hours of pleasure and provocation Lost has given us.

The show opened so many cans of worms during its six years on the air, it's entirely forgivable if most of them should crawl off into the jungle at the end, unaccounted for.

TV shows have never been equipped for footnotes. Until now, they were never needed.

So, let us honor Lost's enduring, almost occult air of mystery. And its decision to say goodbye in such an elegiac, haunting, and unexpectedly joyous manner.

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/daveondemand.