The ending of Lost was inevitably going to be controversial. Years later, while it’s more accepted, it’s still a heavily debated topic any time you mention it on Twitter or elsewhere. About three months after the finale aired, an epilogue to the series titled “The New Man in Charge” was included in the boxset for the final season. The epilogue had leaked a few weeks prior and quotes from Carlton Cuse (executive producer) and star Jorge Garcia (Hurley) fueled speculation about what would be included in this final chapter of Lost. How many questions would be answered? As of this writing, “The New Man in Charge” was released 11 years ago and in this essay, I plan to look back on it, its connections to the show and more.
Namaste and Good Luck
“The New Man in Charge” opens in Guam, a location familiar to Lost fans from the fifth season, when the Oceanic 6 took a flight to Guam to re-enter the Island. Two men are working in a factory, preparing a pallet drop for the Dharma Initiative, like the pallet drops discovered in the show’s second season. Ben Linus enters the facility and tells them that Dharma hasn’t existed for 20 years and there’s a new man in charge who has sent him from the home office to “tie up loose ends”. Ben tells the men that the Lamppost station (the station in Los Angeles we see Mrs. Hawking in during Season 5), sends out an automated message to their post, requesting the pallet drops. In a moment designed to echo the sentiments of many fans, the men tell Ben that they deserve answers and Ben agrees to answer one question each from them.
When Lost ended, a lot of people were upset that so many of the smaller in size mysteries had not been resolved in any way. The show had built up this incredible intrigue around the Island, the Others, Dharma and more, and ultimately treated it as world building mystery rather than crucial information. For people such as myself that was fine, but for others there was a sense that they had invested years of their life into this series and they should be coming away knowing more about it. For people who felt that way, “The New Man in Charge” certainly gave them some return on investment.
While we the audience already knew this, Ben confirms in response to the first man’s question that the Island couldn’t be found because it’s always moving. The second man asks about polar bears in the South Pacific (another frequently debated question) and Ben responds by playing a never before seen Dharma video (Video 1 of 5), this one for the Hydra station. While all of the Dharma videos were always informative to some degree, this one is considerably different in the sense that its purpose is to provide answers and not additionally build up more intrigue like the others.
There are tongue in cheek moments, like Dr. Pierre Chang asking for his identity to not be revealed so he wouldn’t have to resort to using aliases. Then in rapid fire succession, the video explains that the Hydra was used for a variety of tests on animals, including “genetic alterations”. We hear a bird that sounds identical to the “Hurley bird”—the fan name given to the bird that followed Hurley in the Season 2 finale, “Live Together, Die Alone“—that Hurley was convinced was saying his name. The video explains that the point of the test was to see how these hybrids would do with the Island’s unique properties. While the bird was not a large mystery in the grand scheme of things, for obsessive fans, it was a really interesting note to see that Season 2 question expanded upon.
The video then shifts to the polar bears and there is a noticeable edit here when Chang is beginning to explain the tests they want to do with the bears, involving electromagnetic activity. While this part of the video has been altered, it’s a reasonable assumption to conclude that Chang was referring to taking the bears to the underground section of the Orchid station and getting them to move the frozen wheel.
As we would see in Season 4’s “Confirmed Dead”, there was at least one polar bear with a Dharma collar that came out the exit point in Tunisia. While it isn’t explicitly stated, we can reasonably say that Dharma was performing space and time experiments involving the electromagnetic force under the Island, with polar bears as the test subjects.
The final note on bears is a particularly interesting one, with Dr. Chang reminding everyone to ensure that female polar bears must not be pregnant before being taken for experiments, as the electromagnetic levels have a particularly harmful impact on early pregnancies. This jumps out as an answer to the long asked question about why Claire could successfully deliver Aaron on the Island and why the Others were so interested in studying a late term pregnancy. More answers!
The video then switches over to Dr. Chang explaining tests that were done on “the hostiles” or as we typically called them, the Others. Room 23, which was first shown in early Season 3, had many people curious about the tests the Others were conducting. This video shows that it was indeed Dharma capturing Others and performing experiments on them. They were captured, sedated and brought to Room 23, which speaks greatly to the dynamic and poor relationship between Dharma and the Others, a relationship that we know would end with Ben defecting and helping the Others eradicate the remaining members of the Dharma Initiative. Dr. Chang explains in the video that these experiments were to better understand their way of life, their origins and their worship of Jacob. He concludes by saying that these measures were the best way to avoid breaking the truce with the Others.
Let’s take a brief detour for a moment. It’s completely understandable that the Dharma Initiative would want to know more about how the Others got to the Island and about Jacob. These were questions that we the viewer asked frequently throughout the show’s run. When the episode “Across the Sea” aired, that was one of the biggest complaints—we got answers but those answers gave us more questions we wanted to ask. In that sense, we the viewer are like Dharma. We are curious. We want to know how things work and how everything came to be. But to what lengths are we willing to go to get those answers? The Dharma Initiative went to the great lengths of kidnapping and drugging people in a quest to satisfy their curiosities, and ultimately, they paid with their lives. Did some viewers kill their enjoyment of the show by being so fixated on knowing all of the answers? Not for me to answer but certainly an interesting thought.
One thought I keep coming back to is if Hurley asked Ben to shut down this station, were there others? Did they visit the Lamppost station or leave that one alone since Eloise Hawking took up residence there? Was the purpose of shutting down this station to end the food drops or to free these men from the endless loop they were working in? I tend to think that Hurley wanted these men to be free and that was his reasoning for asking Ben to visit them, but ultimately, it’s all speculation. We don’t know why “The New Man in Charge” wanted this station shut down, but it does point to an era of change under Hurley’s leadership.
Meet Keith Johnson
Ben leaves the very much confused men in Guam, saying he has to go elsewhere now. We see him arrive at Santa Rosa, a frequently visited mental health institute throughout the series, asking the lady at the desk to see a Keith Johnson. We cut to a teenaged Walt playing Connect Four. Walt asks if Ben is here to kidnap him again and Ben apologizes, owning up to his mistakes in the past and acknowledging Walt’s difficult life. He tells Walt that he’s here to help him, because he’s special and that he has work to do, including helping his (dead) father.
Ben asks Walt if he’ll “go with us” and slips him a Dharma granola bar. The two enter a Dharma bus, just like from the Island, where Hurley is waiting in the back to greet Walt. Walt confides that he had always hoped that someone would come back for him and that they said he was crazy. Hurley tells him that he isn’t crazy but he needs to get back to the Island, and that he wants to talk to him about a job, then tells Ben that it’s time for them all to go home, as they drive off.
While the first half of the epilogue touched upon more lingering questions, the second half of it touched upon a much bigger one. Walt’s seemingly abandoned story had frustrated many for years after much build up to his supposed importance in the early seasons. Additionally, many were left wondering what Hurley and Ben running the Island would look like. “The New Man in Charge” gave us insight into their reign over the Island, all while managing to bring Walt back into the equation, revisiting the fact that he was always indeed earmarked for bigger things.
The epilogue leaves us with the question of what exactly is this job that Walt is accepting? It sounds suspiciously like when Jacob asked Richard Alpert if he wanted a job, way back in 1867. Is Walt being primed for the Alpert role? What happens to Ben? Is Walt the heir apparent to Hurley, which feels like the most obvious connection to make? These questions, along with many others from the series, we’re left to ponder forever, or perhaps at the very least, every 108 minutes.
We can take away the fact that Hurley and Ben are doing things differently than Jacob. They’re hands-on, whereas Jacob was hands-off. Shutting down the Dharma logistics center in Guam signifies an ending of the previous era. The Island’s past is filled with chapters upon chapters of history, but a new protector is in charge now and the relics of the past—relics from an era filled with conflict and trauma—can be moved on from. The Hurley/Ben/Walt era could and should look different.
I like to ask myself what that era looks like. I like to speculate as to how Walt can help his father, like Ben said to him. It’s a story I would like to see, but I can’t. I am, however, glad that “The New Man in Charge” told me that story does exist, if only in our imaginations. It might not be the happiest of endings for Walt and Michael, but it’s something.
Lost didn’t set out to answer all of its questions. It set out to tell the story of a select group of people and the questions that were answered were questions that came up in those character’s lives. “The New Man in Charge” was a bit of fan service after the show was over to answer a few more questions, say goodbye properly to Walt and as I mentioned earlier, perhaps warn us about too strong of a desire for answers—much like the episode “Across the Sea” seemed to in the final season. Lost was a journey and this epilogue extended that journey just a little bit, offering us a chance to say goodbye in slightly different terms.
For those of us who spent years obsessing over every detail, mystery or breadcrumb in Lost, “The New Man in Charge” gave us a little more to think about. As I mentioned earlier, I find myself curious about Hurley’s motivations behind shutting down the pallet drops. Does this indicate that he’s not bringing new people to the Island? Or is he but forcing them to rely on other food sources? Or is this just about wiping out the remains of the Dharma Initiative for good, which Ben would likely be in favor of?
I find myself curious about Walt coming into his own on the Island. It’s where he belonged all along, but what does his potential look like on the Island? We only got to see such brief glimpses of what him being “special” can mean on the show that it’s hard to make any assumptions about what all he can do there, but we do know that it will be significant. If Jack’s job was to defeat the Man in Black and save the Island from sinking, was Hurley’s job to clean up the mess left behind and get Walt in place to lead the Island long term? While Hurley is “The New Man in Charge”, one can help but wonder if the point of the epilogue was to tell us that Walt is the true chosen one moving forward.
Can we get an epilogue to the epilogue?