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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Stick your head out the window on Sunday night and listen carefully: The cheer or groan will be the reaction of millions of�fans to the series finale of the TV show "Lost." NPR's Robert Smith reports that fans are nervous that their obsessive watching could all have been in vain.

ROBERT SMITH: If you haven't watched any "Lost" episodes, it isn't too late. In fact, Aaron Rosenthal and a couple of his friends are sitting out in the streets of Manhattan watching every single episode. How many?

Mr. AARON ROSENTHAL: A hundred and twenty, leading up to the live finale.

SMITH: So if you're going to spend four days straight watching "Lost," that puts a lot of pressure on the finale to pay off.

Mr. ALEX GREEN: I will be disappointed if it's not a roller coaster ride. I can tell you that.

SMITH: Alex Green and Mike Burland(ph) know this roller coaster well. Every fan of "Lost" has gotten a little queasy from six years of twists and turns and time-travel loops that have made this show�into a nerdy thrill ride. I'll prove it, as the "Lost"-a-thon boys recap the show in under 23 seconds. Go.

Unidentified Man #1: Plane crashes on an island.

SMITH: Quicker.

Unidentified Man #2: And then a smoke monster comes and starts ripping stuff apart.

Unidentified Man #1: Then they find a hatch.

Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, we've got to go quicker. Time travel.

Unidentified Man #1: Right. Then they find a way off of the island.

Unidentified Man #2: But then they all got convinced to come back onto the island and...

SMITH: Go, go.

Unidentified Man #2: The island is the energy source for all good and evil around the world. And then they...

Unidentified Man #3: Spoiler alert.

Unidentified Man #2: Then they all lived happily ever after.

SMITH: Or do they? That's been the big challenge for every storywriter through history: how to do happily ever after in a way that seems original and satisfying.

Aristotle wrote that a proper ending is one that naturally follows some other thing, but has nothing following it. Aristotle would have loved that fade to black at the end of�"The Sopranos."

Professor MARIANNA TORGOVNICK (English, Duke): Some of the most famous works of literature - like "The�Iliad,"�for instance - just sort of end in the middle of things.

SMITH: Marianna Torgovnick is an English professor at Duke. She wrote a book about how literature wraps things up. In the 19th and 20th centuries, authors preferred that something life-altering happen at the end of a narrative.

Prof. TORGOVNICK: So the big three are the death of the character, the marriage of the character, or the character moving on to a different place or locale.

SMITH: So, barring a smoke monster bloodbath or a very special wedding of Kate and Sawyer, a pleasing literary�ending for "Lost" almost demands that some folks�get off that dang island.

But�Time�Magazine's TV critic James Poniewozik says a sci-fi mystery show like�"Lost"�has to do better than that in its final episode.

Mr. JAMES PONIEWOZIK (TV Critic, Time Magazine): Fans look at that not just to give you catharsis. They're looking at it as like, the answer to the puzzle. It's supposed to be the thing, the key that makes the other 120 hours you spent watching this series worth it or not.

SMITH: Talk about pressure. At Professor Thom's, a bar in Manhattan, hundreds of people gather each week to watch�"Lost."�You can tell they're sharpening the pitchforks. Ariel Gonzales has his personal pride on the line.

Mr. ARIEL GONZALES: I have a buddy at work who's been telling me for probably about the last six or seven weeks that it's all a big waste of time. Nothing's going to get answered, and it's just going to be a waste of six years.

SMITH: What do you tell him?

Mr. GONZALES: I tell him to shut up. You don't know what's going on.

SMITH: And yet, every person here has some deep fear about what might happen.

Unidentified Woman #1: The whole it-was-all-a-dream thing.

SMITH: Oh, I hate that.

Unidentified Woman #1: I would riot. I would riot.

Unidentified Man #4: If they kill everyone off and it ends in this big, giant void.

Unidentified Woman #2: That they're all in hell.

Unidentified Man #5: If there is no hero in the end, that would be a copout.

SMITH: The producers of�"Lost,"�Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, say wait and see. They've been working toward this ending for years now, and they point out that one of the themes of the show is the power of faith. Of course, another theme of�"Lost"�is deception and con artists. So take your pick.

But they did send a not-so-veiled message to fans in last week's episode: A woman wakes up on a beach and sees a mysterious figure.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Lost")

Ms. ALLISON JANNEY: (as Mother) Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.

SMITH: More questions? We've been warned.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of "Lost" theme music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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