“The New Man in Charge”
August 6th, 2010
“The New Man in Charge” is entirely unnecessary.
There is absolutely no creative justification for this epilogue to ABC’s Lost, which will appear on the Season Six and Complete Collection DVD sets releasing August 24th, unless we admit outright that fan desires play a prominent role in the creative process. Of the three non-commercial functions of this epilogue, which I’ll get into below the jump for the sake of avoiding even the slightest spoilers for those wanting to remain pure, only one feels as if it comes from an honest creative place: the others, meanwhile, seek to answer unresolved issues in the eyes of fans rather than unexplored ideas in the eyes of the writers.
I have no intention of spoiling the epilogue, as it isn’t “out in the wild” through legal means and I don’t want to make ABC angry with me, but I do want to talk about it in a bit more detail after the jump if only to try to understand its existence.
I was hoping it wouldn’t seem so crass.
There’s a line early in “The New Man in Charge” where characters demand answers as if they feel they are entitled to them, and it says a lot about this epilogue’s basic function: the people wanted answers, and so the Lost producers are going to give them to you. The episode doesn’t actually have what one would call a story, instead delivering a basic structure which allows for two separate scenes which serve two separate functions.
The first is to directly answer some questions regarding the island which any intelligent viewer who was paying attention would have figured out a long time ago. They manage to find an excuse to show another Orientation video, but what we see isn’t actually news at all, which means that the only function of the video is to make certain fans say “I was right!” For me, so much of the finale resisted this sort of blatant pandering to the audience’s desire for answers: even in the Flash Sideways, things came together in a way which returned to core emotions rather than plot details largely because they knew that a large portion of the audience relied on the latter and Damon and Carlton were uninterested in traveling in that direction.
Specifically, I was incredibly annoyed that the Polar Bears were laid out for us: it was one of those mysteries that I solved myself by just paying attention. We saw Charlotte discovering a Dharma collar in the Tunisian desert, and then we saw Ben turning the Donkey Wheel in an extremely cold environment – we had more than enough information to put together what they put together here. I like Dharma videos as much as the next person, and I thought it was cute to discuss the Hurley bird and other sorts of experiments, but there comes a point where the tongue-in-cheek opening just didn’t work with how I engaged with the show. Perhaps it pleased fans, but I think I expected something different from an epilogue, which implies a connection to the main narrative, than a silly little bonus feature.
This raises the fundamental problem with “The New Man in Charge,” in that its function seems at odds with the entire point of the finale. “The End” said goodbye to the island and these characters, showing us the end of their journeys and emphasizing the series’ importance in their lives. By returning to a point in between where they left (or remained) on the island, the epilogue brushes against questions which the finale seemed to suggest weren’t as important as the characters’ experience on the island. Since it has already been revealed that it involves Ben and Hurley, I can say that it doesn’t fill in anything which gives us new information on why Ben decided to remain in the Sidewaysverse, nor does it really offer much time with the two characters interacting with one another. It uses the basic idea of the two men running the island and delivers convenient scenarios for responding to fan desires, which means it avoids having any real meaning despite existing in a space where such meaning seems possible. I understand why there isn’t deeper meaning there, as they don’t want to directly wade into the finale’s conclusion, but by entering the space it all it raises the questions, making the lack of answers that much more awkward.
In the case of the second “scene” in the episode, the function does shift in a slightly more interesting direction: it still relies solely on what seems like fan-driven response to the series, but the surprise cameo feels more purposeful and has a stronger creative energy. If it’s cold and uninviting to have facts clearly established during the season laid out for those too lazy to figure it out for themselves, it’s warm and inviting to see a character who we perhaps didn’t see enough of throughout the series itself.
Now that it’s out in the wild, we can talk about Walt in a bit more detail. I like the idea of bringing back Walt, but I do think that the scene coasts on the cameo without providing any legitimate drama. Nothing that’s reveals feels particularly poetic, or particularly meaningful: the “explanation” for Walt being special is less explanation and more vague statement, and the idea that he’s going to go with Ben and Hurley to the island doesn’t really offer anything different than our pre-existing “Cool things happened on the island that we don’t get to see” reaction to the Hurley/Ben pairing at the end of the finale. Tying Walt into that isn’t worthless, as he was one of the characters who was given no form of resolution by the finale – if only he knew that he would be totally shafted after his death – and all, but I think there needed to be something more substantial to make this a necessary epilogue for his story as opposed to a DVD extra for those craving more content.
However, since so many were craving more content, this epilogue feels purposeful: it’s wonderful to see Michael Emerson back in the role of Benjamin Linus, to see how the nuances of his character have changed in order to play this new role. I don’t care about knowing small details about the Dharma Initiative, but I do care about spending more time within this world. As a result, I wish that there was more in this epilogue that really focused on smaller moments of lives being lived. While I understand why they wouldn’t return to the island, both logistically and in terms of having already said goodbye to that space within the finale, the epilogue can’t escape how manufactured it feels – robbed of true character moments, every line of dialogue feels designed to say something to the audience or to answer some question instead of sounding like how people would talk. Without those moments, the pleasures of seeing Benjamin Linus and Hugo Reyes again are fleeting, quickly replaced by the sense that this exists solely for the purpose of selling DVDs.
That’s why we’re really here, isn’t it? “The New Man in Charge” exists as a glorified DVD extra masquerading as a bit of narrative closure, closing narratives which exist more in fan’s heads than on the screen. Perhaps Lindelof and Cuse can justify the epilogue’s existence by suggesting that this sort of tension between fan and creator narratives has always been integral to the series, but I think that they would have been better served delivering a few enjoyable scenes featuring enjoyable characters rather than so turning over the narrative to fan interests. As a fan who loved the series’ character focus in the finale, I didn’t want the epilogue to revert to a mode of discourse which lacks subtlety and which elevated subtext to text without any creative justification.
For those who purchase the Sixth Season, or the Complete Collection on DVD on August 24th, I think you’ll probably take something positive from “The New Man in Charge”: perhaps one of the answers will satisfy a curiosity, or maybe seeing Michael Emerson return to this role one more time will be worth the twelve minutes. However, taken as a short narrative, this epilogue feels precisely the opposite of the series’ finale: where the finale breathed life into death, this epilogue makes a series once alive with potential seem sterile and perfunctory, which is unfortunate whether we consider this a narrative extension or a throwaway bonus feature which is supposed to enrich, rather than muddle, our response to the series.
- I’m aware that there’s an ethical minefield to be navigated here, but considering that ABC is asking people to shell out considerable money for the DVDs based largely on this epilogue’s existence, I think it’s fair that consumers have some idea of what they’re getting, especially with pressure to pre-order the Complete Collection for the sake of its silly tchotchkes.
- As it has not aired officially, I would suggest that you resist spoiling it in the comments if you have seen it already – I’ll be policing.
- One thing I am interested in hearing in the comments: if anyone who didn’t like the finale has watched the epilogue, did it play any better for you (without details, of course)? I’m curious to hear from that side of the equation.