THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

It’s not even over, but they feel ‘Lost’

Fans not ready to watch show go

“One of the things I’m going to miss most about ‘Lost’ is the anticipation and excitement every single week,’’ says Sarah Kupper of Allston, with her fiancé, Niel Francisco. “One of the things I’m going to miss most about ‘Lost’ is the anticipation and excitement every single week,’’ says Sarah Kupper of Allston, with her fiancé, Niel Francisco. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)
By Don Aucoin
Globe Staff / May 16, 2010

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Beth Simpson was halfway through this season’s first episode of “Lost’’ when she leapt from her couch and shouted: “It’s not ‘Lost’! It’s ‘Paradise Lost!’ ’’

It was the kind of “aha!’’ moment of insight into What It All Means (or Might Mean) that has fueled an obsessive fandom for six years, as “Lost’’ has become one of the most talked-about, e-mailed-about, and blogged-about shows in television history. And it was the kind of moment Simpson and legions of other fans know they will miss as they face the bleak reality that one week from tonight “Lost’’ will end and they will be permanently kicked off that mysterious island.

“It’s been six years of literally waking up and saying: Is today the day for ‘Lost’ ’’? says Simpson, 44, of Walpole. “Just desperate to get answers to the questions you were left with the previous week.’’

“Lost’’ revolves around plane-crash survivors who are trapped on a tropical island and forced to cope with an array of ominous forces, including a murderous smoke monster, a furtive band of inhabitants known as the Others, and the burdens the survivors carry from their own pasts. Over time the series grew more complicated, weaving together so many strands of adventure, sci-fi, romance, literary references, paranormal events, and religious allegory that it brought to mind Winston Churchill’s description of Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’’

That meant “Lost’’ was emphatically not for everyone. The series averaged 13 million viewers in its first two seasons and hit a peak of 15 million viewers in season three, but some viewers then started to drift away, frustrated by the loose ends “Lost’’ refused to tie up and the narrative blind alleys the show sometimes stumbled into. So far this season, according to the Nielsen Co., “Lost’’ is averaging 11.6 million viewers.

However, that doesn’t measure their intensity — or, at this moment, their mixed emotions. “Lost’’ loyalists are in a state of fever-pitch anticipation that the finale will yield the answers to some big questions — What is the island? Why are such characters as Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sawyer there? What’s the deal with the Sideways world? — but many of them aren’t ready to say goodbye to the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. They have the sinking feeling there will never be a TV show this engrossing again.

Sarah Kupper and her fiancé saw this final season as so momentous that before it began they devoted 15 consecutive nights to re-watching all 100-plus episodes from the first five seasons.

“One of the things I’m going to miss most about ‘Lost’ is the anticipation and excitement every single week leading up to the next episode,’’ says Kupper, 26, of Allston. “It may be a little sad to certain people — but not to ‘Lost’ fans — but your week sort of revolves around it. It’s a little embarrassing to say that, but it’s the most exciting part of the week. It’s going to be a giant, gaping hole, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill that.’’

For some younger viewers, who grew up with the show, “Lost’’ has a totemic power akin to that of the Harry Potter books.

“I really think it’s a defining show of our generation,’’ said Jack Daly, an 18-year-old high school senior in Hopkinton. “Definitely. There haven’t been many shows out there like ‘Lost.’ Every episode is like a mini-movie, the way you can fall in love with or hate a character. It has every element: violence, romance, comedy. Just incredible.’’

Yet as the end draws near, there is one lurking dread deep within the souls of “Lost’’ devotees. It goes by the name of “The Sopranos.’’ Fans fear that after having been left hanging for so long, the finale of “Lost’’ will be so ambiguous that it will leave them hanging forever.

“It’s been this six years of ‘What’s going on?’ and I’m hoping they’ll answer it,’’ said Jack Cahill, 44, of Roxbury. “I have this background fear that they’ll leave something unresolved, like ‘The Sopranos.’ Please don’t do that.’’ Then again, Cahill conceded, “There’s too much out there to ever be resolved fully.’’

Not that it has ever prevented fans from trying. No sooner had each episode ended than fans were on the phone or online, trading hypotheses with friends about what had happened in the episode and what it augured for the next one. The next day, in offices across America, the same thing happened. Episodes of “Lost’’ triggered Google stampedes as fans researched the biblical significance of the name Jacob, or the philosophy of the original John Locke (both names of key characters). The show’s writers and producers shrewdly intensified fan fervor by developing a parallel storyline, known as “The Lost Experience,’’ that fans could follow online.

In an era of niche cable channels, narrowly sliced audiences, and cultural fragmentation, “Lost’’ served as common ground. “There was this feeling when you met somebody else who watched ‘Lost,’ ’’ said Leah Burrows, 23, of Allston. “It created an instant bond with people. I would meet friends of friends, and ‘Lost’ would come up, and there was this sort of zeroing in. And then for the next 45 minutes to an hour that would be all you talked about.’’

The same was true in the workplace. Josué Jansen of Roslindale said he got to know coworkers he never would have gotten to know were it not for “Lost.’’ “The day after the finale, we’re all getting together,’’ said Jansen, 26. “We’re probably going to wear black and mourn the loss of the show.’’

Of course, fans have been plunged into mourning by the end of many beloved series, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’’ to “M*A*S*H’’ to “Seinfeld’’ to “Sex and the City.’’ In fact, another popular and long-running series, “24,’’ will end the night after the “Lost’’ finale.

But few series have made fans as central to the phenomenon as “Lost’’ did. One of them, 13-year-old Brianna Cimino of Bedford, even got to see the show being made.

Because Brianna has kidney disease (her mother will donate a kidney to her in a transplant scheduled for July), the Make-A-Wish Foundation made it possible for her and her family to spend a day last October at the Hawaii home of “Lost’’ star Matthew Fox, who plays Jack Shephard. Fox brought the Ciminos to the set on the day when a crucial sequence was filmed: the visit by Jack and Hurley to a lighthouse with mirrors and numbers that correspond to each of the “candidates’’ to replace Jacob.

At one point, the director allowed Brianna to look through the camera as the pivotal scene was being filmed. What the eighth-grader saw that day has convinced her that “Lost’’ will not end on a sour or inconclusive note. “It can be kind of confusing,’’ Brianna acknowledged. “But all the writers are geniuses, so they’ll think of something.’’

As for Beth Simpson, she continues to believe that the duality of good and evil and the question of free will, central to John Milton’s epic poem, is also a key to the “Lost’’ story. But it is not any fancy literary theory that explains the hold “Lost’’ has had on her for the past six years — or the hole it will leave when it’s over.

“I will miss having something this much fun,’’ she said. “You laugh, you cry, you want to scream, you can’t wait for the commercial to be over. You have to know.’’

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.