By Adam Carlson
Updated April 11, 2013 at 05:30 PM EDT
Mario Perez/ABC

As Kurt and Blaine battle it out with the Doctor and Rose in EW’s Greatest TV Couple of All Time championship, we’re unveiling our favorite couples, who didn’t advance as far as we would have liked. Here’s the case for Sawyer and Juliet of Lost.

I didn’t know I wanted Sawyer and Juliet to be in love until they already were. That’s the thing about Lost: its time-trickery cuts out everything except mystery and revelation, which makes a nameless Island fill with dread and a man like Josh Holloway’s James “Sawyer” Ford into the soul mate of a woman like Elizabeth Mitchell’s Juliet Burke (even if they couldn’t make it past round two in our bracket game).

Their trope-y backgrounds (he was the shiftless, selfish conman who liked to read; she was the forward-thinking doctor who could carry a gun) made good sense on paper, in a sort of what-might-happen way — a recipe for drama that Lost embraced throughout its run. But the show was also big-brained when it came to the shape and scope of redemption, and how human contact caused all of the bad and good in the world. When Sawyer, in a moment of split-second selflessness, threw himself from a plane to save the other passengers, it was only natural that he would wash up next to Juliet.

Their romance wasn’t spontaneous, of course, but it was presented as a surprise. After watching them hop all through time and space on the restless Island, killing people and solving problems, our other group of ex-Islanders eventually found them holed up together in the ‘70s and working with the Dharma Initiative. He was clean-shaven. She was glowing. Love looked…good on them.

The rest of the season — and the series — didn’t go down quite so smoothly for the pair, with conspiracies and the looming threat of global metaphysical collapse criss-crossing across their courtship. And that’s not even to touch on the origami folds of the later episodes, which required, simultaneously, that Sawyer convince Juliet not to leave the Island and that Juliet sacrifice herself so that she might never meet Sawyer — and so never lose him.

Come on. Their relationship was the show’s spiritual compass in a fifth season dense with mythos. Would they have been together in some other way or time? They completed each other only in the sense that they were made better by working together, sharing a rapport of survival, their chemistry all about the eyes. And the end of that was a sort of shadow map for the last season of the show: the idea that no one is meant to be alone.

Lost was already winding down by the time that James “Sawyer” Ford and Juliet Burke got together and the beauty of it can sound like an after-thought for viewers who left after the end of seasons two or three — especially for those left wondering, What about Kate? But that was always a triangle missing its points. Sawyer wasn’t torn between the two. He moved from one to the other; and in so doing, evolved. In another timeline entirely, he would forget about Juliet completely. But not forever. Because big-brained as Lost could be, it was always bigger hearted, insistent that people who connected could only pull away from each other so far before snapping back together. The last time Juliet saw Sawyer on the Island, she was slipping through his fingers, her last memory of falling. But that’s the thing about love: In the end, he caught her.

Read more:

TV’s 10 craziest romantic gestures

30 best TV bromances/gal pals’s Greatest TV Romances package