Lost Secrets Revealed in an Epilogue: Did It Ruin the Show?
The answers that failed to materialize over six seasons of Lost get crammed down our throats in an epilogue released today. Jace Lacob on why critics are crying foul over the cop-out.
When ABC’s Lost faded to black in May with a beautiful but maddeningly frustrating series finale, it seemed that the story of the doomed Oceanic Flight 815 passengers and that mystical island had come to a close.
Some viewers were satisfied by the ending crafted by showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, one in which the plight of the castaways was resolved and the story of their leader, Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) came full circle, and in which the sixth season narrative—the story of what would have happened had the plane not crashed—revealed the characters to be in a collective limbo on the road to the afterlife.
“The New Man in Charge” is little more than an exposition dump of the highest order.
But viewers who had devoted six seasons to untangling the multitude of mysteries unleashed by Cuse and Lindelof cried foul upon realizing that answers to many of the dangling story threads would not be forthcoming.
Today, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released Lost: Season Six and the complete series DVD box set, both of which contain “The New Man in Charge,” a new 12-minute epilogue for the series. Attempting to provide answers to those open-ended questions, the bonus feature wasn’t written by Lindelof and Cuse (that role fell to Melinda Hsu Taylor, Graham Roland, and Jim Galasso), but it proves that sometimes the end of a series should remain just that.
• View our complete coverage of the 2010 Emmy AwardsThe epilogue arrives at a critical time for Lost, which received seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations (including Best Drama and acting nods for Matthew Fox, Michael Emerson, Terry O’Quinn, and Elizabeth Mitchell), and became officially available today after it was leaked on the Internet earlier this month.
As for the plot of the controversial epilogue—the leak of which made Lindelof jokingly tweet, “I'm so glad we made ‘The New Man in Charge.’ I was starting to miss getting yelled at.”—it revolves around Benjamin Linus (Emerson) arriving at a Dharma Initiative installation in Guam, where he informs the workers, Glenn (Ray Porter) and Hector (Ted Rooney), that the Dharma Initiative hasn’t existed for 20 years and their food drops to the island and relevant coordinates have been generated by computer. (One can’t help but wonder whether their paychecks have been as well.)
Ben’s arrival, as the duo load up pallets of food, provokes a need for resolution from these Dharma types, who clearly are meant to serve as the audience’s mouthpiece when one of them actually says out loud, “We demand answers!”
In other words, if you’re the type of Lost fan who has waited for answers to such questions as why is Walt special and where did he go, what were the polar bears for, why are the food drops still happening, what was the deal with the so-called Hurley-bird, why can’t women survive early-stage pregnancies, what is Room 23, and can Hurley and Ben leave the island (along with others), you’ve come to the right place.
But if you’re looking for a well-crafted, full-blown epilogue, you'll be sorely disappointed. “The New Man in Charge” is little more than an exposition dump of the highest order, a bonus feature in which Ben literally answers questions before pressing play on yet another Dharma orientation film and then heading off to meet up with Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) at the Santa Rosa mental hospital, before joining up with the titular new man in charge, Hurley (Jorge Garcia), when all three return to the island.
“A lot of the positive response I saw to it online made me realize that I was apparently just watching a different show for six years from a lot of its fans,” says Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik via email. “I saw comments that this should have been the end of the finale. And I guess for some people, the perfect way to end Lost would have just been with a half-hour Dharma video, followed by an extended scene of Jacob's ghost and/or Christian explaining everything about the Island to Jack.”
“I don't get it, but it's a sign, I guess, of the competing (and maybe irreconcilable) fanbases Darlton had to create for,” he continues. “It seems kind of like trying to have it both ways: i.e., they did the version of the ending that they wanted to do, but if your version of the ideal ending involved the answer to [Island mystery here], then this can be your ending.”
Perhaps it rankles precisely because it leaves the door open for further reflection—and for further stories, which is something that Lindelof and Cuse said wouldn’t be possible after the series finale followed the characters off the island and into the afterlife. But despite the polarizing reaction to the finale, it was an ending, and seemingly the one that Team Darlton wanted to tell.
Entertainment Weekly senior writer Jeff “Doc” Jensen devoted incalculable hours attempting to crack the mythological mysteries of Lost and offered up numerous theories. But rather than get caught up in the reveals and revelations of “The New Man in Charge,” Jensen found himself surprisingly unmoved.
" 'The New Man in Charge’ was a disappointment that actually reinforced my appreciation for the storytelling of the Lost TV series," Jensen tells The Daily Beast. “I was again confronted by the fact that Lost’s mythology is better left to our imagination... Take the Hydra Station orientation film. What I loved about previous Dharma films is they were these cryptic texts that demanded interpretation, and perhaps couldn’t even be trusted. These qualities fired my imagination about Lost. The Hydra film has its moments, but lacked the intrigue and mystery I expect from them… What I wanted was an experience that left me feeling: ‘I’m going to miss Lost.’ It didn’t quite get there for me.”
Not every critic is disappointed by Lost’s additional ending. AOL’s newly minted TV critic Maureen Ryan likens “The New Man in Charge” to the petit fours that arrive at the end of the meal, a “dessert of sorts—a very small and slight one.”
“Nothing about it changes my opinion of the show,” says Ryan. “I still liked the finale and, all in all, I was fine with the answers we got during the course of the show; they were sufficient to my needs. As far as Lost's ultimate legacy, I don't think this tidbit changes anything, really. This was, as advertised, just extra material… If it didn't really touch on Lost's grander themes, well, that's fine with me. I got what I needed in that regard when Jack spoke to Christian and lay down with Vincent in the forest.”
Ryan’s reference isn’t to the final revelation of the series, but rather to the end of the series’ main narrative, where Jack, newly appointed guardian of the island, comes back to the bamboo grove of the pilot episode and closes his eyes for a final time. It was a heart-rending moment, the end of the hero’s journey, that’s utterly at odds with the sort of fan-bait that the writers of “The New Man in Charge” have arranged for DVD purchasers. The answers that are provided here aren’t all that revelatory, really. And there’s something disconcerting about the fact that they weren’t considered important enough to answer in the linear broadcast but are instead relegated to a DVD bonus feature.
It’s all the more head scratching that Team Darlton would go this route after expressing their satisfaction with the mythopoeic series finale, which ripped both the audience and the critical community asunder.
“By the Lost finale, I'd become a no-fun critic, spilling Haterade like radiation,” says New York magazine TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who in May wrote a critical piece entitled, “A Disappointed Fan Is Still a Fan: How the creators of Lost seduced and betrayed their viewers”, that quickly became a clarion call for disaffected Lost fans.
“No, I didn't want to go back to the Island! My rage has mellowed, but three months later, I still can't recommend to new viewers a series that, as entertaining as it once was, devolved in stages toward that maddening cop-out of an ending, a therapeutic Moonie mass-wedding in ret-con heaven… The epilogue didn't change much for me. It had pleasant retro- Lost flavor, mixed with the show's irritating late-stage qualities: meta-references to the show's audience, Ben being sly, Hurley being smug. But the answers didn't mean much to me, now that they're not part of a coherent story.”
“I have no desire to further de-funnify the fun of others,” says Nussbaum. “But to put the best light on it, maybe I'm doing my part for fresh watchers on DVD: lowered expectations improve almost anything.”
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment websites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.