There is a corner of my imagination where the Lost saga continues on beyond the moment where we left it (or rather, where Lost left us), with Hurley receiving stewardship of The Island from dying Jack Shephard and then deputizing Benjamin Linus to sit as his right hand and help execute the holy function of metaphorical wine bottling. How will The Dude and Bug-Eyes manage The Light of the World differently from Jacob? We can only dream. But at least we now know how that story begins thanks to “The New Man In Charge,” a 12-minute coda to the final season of Lost starring Ben (Michael Emerson) and Hurley (Jorge Garcia), produced exclusively for the season 6 DVD set now in stores.
As far as DVD extras go, 12 minutes of brand new Lost--scripted by three members of the show’s writing staff (with oversight from exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse) and shot back in April during the filming of the series finale, “The End”–is a generous offering. But “The New Man In Charge” will be best enjoyed by those (non-existent?) Lost aficionados who come to it expecting nothing. That’s not so much commentary on the short’s quality, but rather a comment on the state of post-finale Lost fandom, which seems to still be in a tender, touchy place three months later. Some critics have been bothered by the decision to make viewers pay for resolution to mysteries that they should have gotten for free from the series. I think that’s a fair point for debate. (Go ahead. Debate it. I’ll wait.) One critic, Jace Lacob of The Daily Beast, has chosen to view “The New Man In Charge” as an “additional ending” to the series and has deemed it “a cop out” that undermines the integrity of “The End.” Jace is entitled to his opinion. I disagree with it. [Full disclosure: I was quoted in Jace's piece as saying I was "disappointed" with "The New Man In Charge." He quoted me accurately, though I do not count myself among the critics who are "crying foul over the cop-out."]
To be fair, “The New Man In Charge” is a tricky thing to assess: I accept “The End” as the conclusion to the final chapter of Lost that was season 6. So I choose to view “The New Man In Charge” as the official epilogue to that story, not a new final chapter, as it conforms best to most definitions of “epilogue” that I’ve found (i.e. an afterward that peeks into the future of the characters and makes a final comment on the story’s themes). “The New Man In Charge” is exactly that… but it’s also a little more, as it also takes the opportunity to address a few mid-level Island mysteries and provide something like closure for one notoriously unresolved character. Some of the “New Man” haters would say that the epilogue invites their criticism (and, apparently, more griping about the series finale) by overstepping the bounds of a traditional epilogue. Okay, but I think you can be critical about the epilogue–and there is much to criticize–without being cynical about the entire enterprise.
Before I go further, a word about my expectations. Unlike other fans, I was mostly content with the amount of mystery resolution that the final season of Lost and the finale in particular gave me. My exceptions? I wish the show had given me more info about the baby-making problem, about Eloise Hawking, and about Daniel Faraday’s days with The Dharma Initiative in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Claire’s days with Smokey on The Island, and Ilana’s days as a soldier in Jacob’s employ. I do think the sixth season of Lost could have found a way to give us one or two episodes a la “Ab Aeterno” and “Across The Sea” to tackle some of my pet causes. But you know what? I’m not angry at the show for not hooking me up with the intel I wanted. And I’m grateful that I have an imagination that finds fun in brainstorming possible solutions for myself. So I didn’t really come to “The New Man In Charge” looking for “answers,” nor did I come to it looking for catharsis and closure. “The End” was the end of Lost for me. I wept; I’m good. So all the epilogue could really offer me were some ideas for only-in-my-mind fan fiction about the Hurley/Ben regime and a buzzy hit off the Lost nostalgia bong. What I discovered–surprisingly–was that despite my intense curiosity about what the epilogue might contain, I’m not ready to feel sentimental about Lost. Not yet.
[SPOILER ALERT! Major plot points revealed and discussed in the paragraphs to come.] “The New Man In Charge,” which is divided into three distinct sections, is set in the present (if that’s 2010, then a couple years after Jack’s death and Hurley’s election to Island guardian) and finds Ben in the outside world wrapping up loose ends from the Jacob-era of The Island. His first stop: a Dharma Initiative warehouse on Guam, where he agrees to answer a couple questions (but only a couple) for a pair of baffled employees–a knowing sequence that winks at Lost’s notoriously cagey approach to mystery resolution. His last stop: the mental institution where Hurley spent two stints of crazy, about which we should say nothing. The micro-sode features appearances by two other iconic Lost characters: Dr. Pierre Chang (Francios Chau), who shows up to narrate an orientation film for (at last!) The Hydra Station; and—in a much-rumored-about appearance, but DOUBLE SPOILER ALERT, anyway–Walt (Malcolm David Kelley). As this has become an issue, let’s be clear: “The New Man In Charge” is considered canon. The revelations “count.” The drama “matters.” At the same time, the whole thing feels relatively unessential. “The New Man In Charge” may formally resemble an epilogue, but in spirit, it’s actually a meaty, madcap footnote like the kind David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest) once specialized in.
The epilogue moves from a light and winky tone in the first half (which I enjoyed) to an attempt at tear-jerking poignancy in the second half (which I thought was less successful). Both modalities are very Lost-esque, but I was bothered by the sudden shift from irony to sincerity. Had the epilogue been longer and given more room to live and breathe, it could have better juggled those compting tones. As for “the answers,” I have mixed feelings. I loved the revelation that the pallet drop was running on automatic pilot, and I dug the whole idea that there might be all these different parts of the greater Dharma operation that never got the memo that Dharma’s Island activities had gone bust. (Unless some benefactor–Charles Widmore? Eloise Hawking?–kept Dharma running to keep the castaways flush with supplies.) And I really liked this notion that The Whispers–the ghosts of the dead on The Island–can be helped and encouraged to “move on” into the afterlife.
Nonetheless, “The New Man In Charge” was one more proof that Lost’s mythology is best left to our imagination. Take the Hydra Station film. Previous Dharma films were cryptic texts that demanded interpretation, and perhaps couldn’t even be trusted. These qualities fired my imagination. The Hydra film has its moments, but lacked the intrigue and mystery I expect. I never doubted that Dr. Chang was telling me the truth. Bummer.
And then there’s Walt. I’ve never been a huge Walt-o-phile; I’ve never needed any more elaboration and resolution. So I wasn’t looking for “answers” about his “specialness”—I was looking for an emotional character pay-off. I didn’t feel it. The short puts Malcolm David Kelley in a tough spot. After spending most of five seasons on the sidelines (with the exception of his few appearances in season 2 and cameos in seasons 3 and 5), the young actor was given the challenge of nailing what needed to be a deeply felt, deeply affecting scene, maybe Walt’s most important scene ever. Plus he had to hold his own with Michael Emerson. That’s a tall order for even experienced adult actors. I’m surprised “The New Man In Charge” didn’t give more time to Walt and Hurley together, as the two characters—and their actors—have more of a meaningful, lived-in rapport. It would have undermined Hurley’s delayed reveal, but it would have made for better scenes.
Then again, if we’re going to imagine how the thing might have been better had it been different, I think I would have preferred something that was truly old-school Lost, like Ben and Hurley hiking through the jungle of The Island, revisiting iconic landmarks and engaging in some high-quality Darlton banter before arriving at some major revelation. Actually, now that I’m being all fan fiction-y, you know what would have made for a really killer epilogue? A pregnant woman landing on The Island, Ben and Hurley scrambling to help her give birth–and she does. To twin girls. And the mother doesn’t die. End of Island curse. Beginning of new Island future. Good-bye, Lost.
But you know what? The more I explicate my disappointment, the more I feel like a nitpicky-grinchy geek. I hate being that guy. I really do. And to be honest, I wonder how much of my “disappointment” is due to the fact that I think “The New Man In Charge” is actually too much, too soon. It will undoubtedly age well with time–or rather, my Lost fandom will grow into it. The epilogue clearly wants to elicit some warm fuzzies and even a tear or two from those of us who will look back on the Lost experience with great fondness, as something deep and meaningful. But it’s too soon for that, at least for me. While I’m grateful for the goose to the Ben/Hurley story that’s playing out in my mind, I really am still putting my Lost experience in perspective; I don’t yet miss it. In time, I will, and at that time, I suspect I’ll enjoy “The New Man In Charge” as it was intended.
There’s more Doc Jensen columns ahead, building toward my final Doc Jensen column, posting on Sept. 22, the anniversary of Lost’s premiere. Until then, follow me on Twitter @ewdocjensen, or email me your reviews of “The New Man In Charge” at firstname.lastname@example.org