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Comic-Con Day 3: Hornblare. Timpani. Lost.

When Lost screened its pilot episode at Comic-Con in 2004, it was one of those things that longtime goers of the Con now grouse about. Every other panel, it seems, is now screening the full pilot of something or other for Con visitors. At this edition, such incongruous programs as Patricia Heaton star vehicle The Middle and reincarnation cop drama Past Life are having sessions, but since Lost had such success in the fall of 2004 and part of that success is attributed to good buzz out of Comic-Con, everybody takes their best shot.

But no one seems to begrudge Lost its annual panel o' fun, now in the ginormous Hall H (seriously, and I thought Ballroom 20 was big), largely because Comic-Con feels vaguely proprietary about the show, I imagine, and also because its audience and the audience for this event overlap so well. Plus, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, both executive producers, are so good at giving fans what they want without really spoiling their massive enterprise or trying too hard (like Tim Kring did when he brought the Heroes season premiere down here last year) that these events become a lot of fun. Even Lindelof jokes now about how the two of them answer questions politely without saying much at all, though they let more slip at today's panel about the mysterious final season than I thought they would.

The theme of the session was "fan appreciation," according to Lindelof, and the two opened with a montage of fan-made content that they had edited together, including everything from fan-made music videos to a short where an action-figure Hurley shoots the 1927 New York Yankees to a Brokeback Lost parody featuring Jack and Sawyer. The two then threw to the audience as quickly as possible to get some questions, but the stream of questions kept getting interrupted, though usually in entertaining ways. Paul Scheer from Human Giant showed up with a painting of Cuse, Lindelof and a polar bear (done on velvet no less), then pimped a Web site where you can see it yourself.

As the panel wore on, series stars Jorge Garcia and Michael Emerson playfully hectored each other (in a bit scripted by series writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, according to Lindelof) over acting ability, followed by a mostly amusing video of Emerson auditioning for the part of Hurley (his skill for playing over-the-top comedy is not quite the equal of his skill for playing submerged menace, but it's close). Nestor Carbonell came out after a video where he applied eyeliner to his eyes in a mirror "backstage." ("Richard Alpert isn't immortal. YOU are," he said.) Josh Holloway even attended to pull off a bit wherein he tazed Lindelof to get Cuse to unlock a box purportedly holding the final scene of the show so he could read it. (Though Emerson ended up having to read it - after asking Holloway if he even knew how to read - and it ended up being a ludicrously overwrought scene from Heroes, involving Parkman, Sylar and a circus tent, and hearing Emerson read it was a pleasure in and of itself.) And then Dominic Monaghan turned up at the end, and the roar for him was deafening.

The biggest development at the panel was that Lindelof and Cuse definitively stated that Jacob has not appeared to any of our castaways as anyone other than himself, which could be potentially huge in figuring out all of the pieces in the final season. They also seemed to confirm that Elizabeth Mitchell (whose character, Juliet, was NOT in an in memoriam segment screened at panel's end) and Jeremy Davies would put in appearances in the final season and hinted that several others who haven't been around for a while would turn up as well. They suggested as well that the final season would have callbacks to the first season, particularly in boiling back down to a raw adventure template and presenting a sense that anything could happen at any moment.

The biggest tease, though, was a series of commercials screened about midway through the panel, which suggested an alternate universe where Oceanic Flight 815 landed without incident. The airline had a commercial promoting 30 years of flight without an accident, followed by an ad where Hurley promoted a new dish at Mr. Cluck's Chicken inspired by his Australian vacation. And then there was an America's Most Wanted segment (complete with John Walsh) about capturing Kate, still a fugitive, but on the run for having killed one of her stepfather's employees, not her stepfather himself (something Lindelof suggested would be important). Does this mean Lost's sixth season will have undone all of the development from the first five seasons and that Jack's plan actually worked? (Lindelof and Cuse nicely got right out in front of this by having Garcia ask that very question in pretty much those very words.) The two insisted we'll have to trust them, though, Garcia pointed out, the last time they said that, we got Nikki and Paolo. Also: We'll find out why DHARMA's still dropping food on the Island and more about Claire in season six.

All in all, it wasn't a panel for spreading information about the final season. I'm sure super fans will pick out some hints in the numerous videos screened at the panel (and a new documentary about the DHARMA Initiative available at ABC.com), but by and large, this was a chance for Lindelof and Cuse to take one last victory lap before having to do the hard thing of sticking the landing. It was a panel filled with people who were thrilled to be in the same room as these people from their favorite show. It was a chance for them to thank the two guys largely responsible for what they love about that show. And it was a chance for those two guys to be overwhelmed by the support shown them. So the sixth season of Lost is as much of a mystery as it ever was, but it's hard not to be anticipating it just slightly more after the panel.