All season long—and for much of the last three years on the Lost timeline—the show’s official hero Jack Shephard has been acting anything but heroic, and has been more or less sitting around, sometimes peacefully and sometimes spitefully, waiting for one of those “signs” that Locke always seems to jabber on about. He’s been taking all the craziness in stride—as he said last week, “I’m getting kind of used to insane”—and waiting for his purpose to be revealed.
This week he seemed to have found that purpose, thanks to poor dead Daniel, but the very title of this episode “Follow The Leader” may have been openly mocking Jack's certainty. We saw so many different leaders and would-be leaders tonight—many with a tenuous hold on their followers—that “follow the leader” was almost like “follow the bouncing ball.” Just who’s in charge around here anyway?
Consider Jim LaFleur, the well-respected head of DHARMA security, who punches out, ties up and confines just one of his employees and all of a sudden loses whatever status he formerly had with the hippie clan. Radzinsky—still mad about being shot by a physicist—gives LaFleur what-for, and turns the vengeful Phil loose on his former boss. And when DHARMA bigwig Horace steps in, Radzinsky shows no respect to the long-haired alcoholic’s authority, saying essentially that protecting what DHARMA is up to on the island takes precedence over following any utopian codes of ethics. In fact, Radzinsky all but calls Horace a paper tiger, saying that the boss couldn’t do what needs to be done because he doesn’t “have the stomach” for it.
Or consider Pierre Chang, DHARMA’s resident Mr. Wizard (both for his science skills and his telegenic qualities). Whom is he the boss of? While LaFleur and Juliet are being tortured—despite Juliet’s insistence to Razinsky that “we are not bad people”—Chang heads into the jungle after a scurrying Hurley, and gets Hurley to admit that he, Miles and Jin are in fact from the future. (Chang tricked Hurley with the very question he was afraid he’d have to answer: Who was president in 1977?) Chang is now convinced that he needs to evacuate the island before “the incident.” And though he apparently doesn’t have the authority to prevent Radzinsky from drilling, he does have enough pull to get his wife and son—and Sawyer and Juliet—on a Michigan-bound sub.
What about John Locke? He strolls into Otherville at the top of the episode bearing boar, and tells Richard Alpert that the two of them have an errand to run. He drags Ben along with them—though not, he stresses, because he’s afraid Ben will start a coup—to the exact point in time when Richard pulls the bullet out of Locke’s leg and tells him he has to leave the island. Why does he want Ben there? Mainly so he can wow Ben with how in tune he is with the island. (Before, Locke could predict rainstorms; now he can predict time travel.) And why does Ben need to know how powerful John is? Because John Locke is about to assert his will as the leader of The Others, and take all his people on a trip to see their true leader, Jacob. “So I can kill him,” Locke tells Ben.
And hey, what about that Richard Alpert? That builder of ships-in-bottles, that mysterious island “advisor”—who has had that job “for a very, very long time” according to Ben—and the most level-headed Hostile/Other around? Rumor had it that “Follow The Leader” was going to be a Richard-centered episode, and it was, inasmuch as he was the linking point between 1977 and 2007 (much like Jin and Sun were back in “Namaste”). But “Follow The Leader” didn’t reveal much about who Richard is… at least not explicitly. If you read between the lines—which is what we Lost-freaks do so well—I think we maybe learned a little about the power structure of Richard's whole organization, vis-à-vis the island and Jacob and The Others. Richard seemed almost amused by Locke’s attempts to establish his leadership bona fides, perhaps because he knows—as Ben probably knows, and Widmore and Hawking knew way back when—that “leader of The Others” is largely a ceremonial position. I’m not sure Richard really takes the New Age-y stuff that Locke feeds on all that seriously. And I’m not sure that when Richard tells Sun the ultimate fate of her husband and friends in 1977—“I watched them all die”—that he’s being entirely truthful.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about the overall quality of “Follow The Leader” because like last year, I feel like the climactic episodes of this season are all of a piece, and until the full picture comes together, I hesitate to pass anything like a final judgment. Did I enjoy “Follow The Leader?” Yes I did. It was packed with dramatic confrontations, capped by stinger lines, followed by whoosh-cuts. That’s what I look for from Lost on a consistent basis.
But did I find some of this episode confounding, and perhaps even mildly disappointing? Yeah, I have to confess that this is also the case. I thought that as moving-the-pieces-into-place episodes go, “Follow The Leader” was one of Lost’s more entertaining efforts, but as I contemplate all the little time-loops and plot-holes, my head starts to hurt. Why wasn’t Richard ever wrenched away through time like the bullet-ridden Locke was? How is DHARMA going to evacuate the island in hours with only one sub? (And one that doesn’t seem all that well-populated at that.) I know that some of these questions probably have perfectly logical explanations, and in the larger scheme of things they don’t really matter, but it can be a little exasperating when Lost devotes precious screen time to plot points that don’t make immediate sense.
(Or maybe I’m just grumpy because I was hoping they’d fill that time with Richard flashbacks.)
That said, I fall much more heavily on the “enjoyed” than “annoyed” side when it comes to "Follow The Leader," largely because of scenes like the one where Sawyer and Juliet fantasize about a life together off the island—just before Kate re-enters their lives, messing everything up again—and the moment where Sayid reappears and helps Kate escape from The Hostiles. And perhaps it’s just my lifelong infatuation with secret passageways and hidden rooms, but I was thoroughly jazzed-up by the sequence where Richard, Jack, Eloise and Sayid swim through an underground tunnel and make their way to the chamber where they’ve stored Jughead, under the DHARMA village.
In the end though, “Follow The Leader” all comes back to Jack, and his desperate need to believe that he’s found his purpose: detonating Daniel’s bomb and thereby pressing the reset button on his recent life. That’s Jack all over, really. He’s a man who loves the grand gesture, even if it’s folly. And I appreciated the way that Kate challenged him all the way, telling him that this is a stupid, dangerous plan, even if it works. “It was not all misery,” Kate says about the three years that Jack wants to erase. “Enough of it was,” Jack replies—which for him constitutes an incontrovertible reason to proceed.
I also dug Kate’s little look of exasperation when Jack tells Eloise that they arrived with Daniel. Kate—and later Sayid—can’t believe that Jack would trust Eloise just because in the past/future, Eloise will help them all get to this point in their lives. But that's the thing about all Lost’s little self-fulfilling time-loops—in a way, they're starting to make perfect sense to me, thematically if not necessarily metaphysically. Little mind-benders like Locke becoming the leader simply because he keeps popping up at crucial points on the timeline and saying the right things—these oddities seem to me to be establishing a new overarching theme for the series, and one that looks like it’s going to dominate Season Six. Lost has long been a show about confidence games, and what one person can get another person to believe. And as we move into the final season, it appears we’re going to have multiple factions with an interest in the island, and multiple leaders who claim to have this piece of real estate’s best interests at heart. To that end, this one exchange of dialogue might end up being the most crucial of the whole series:
Eloise: “Does he know what he’s talking about?”
Kate: “He thinks he does.”
-The continuity folks had a little trouble getting the blood on Jack’s face right during his conversation with Kate.
-The secret to getting rich in the past: Buy Microsoft and bet the Cowboys.
-Gotta love the return of Lost’s “adventure theme”—an annual tradition!—as Locke leads his people out of camp.
-Korean War? No such thing.
-Did anyone else expect Sawyer to jump in the water after he saw Juliet get in the sub?
-As a mild claustrophobe, I was squirming through the swim-through-tunnels scene. It was a lot further than I thought it was.
-I’ll leave it to Yummsh to note how attractive young Eloise looked after her little swim.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-So why wasn’t Richard ever wrenched away? I mean, I know that the Richard we see with Ben and Locke in 2007 exists on an island that isn’t skipping through time. But was an earlier version of himself—from three years ago—skipping? Or did being at the temple keep him and his people safe?
-I’ve been thinking a lot about Daniel’s big “The variable is made out of people!” speech from last week, and I even wrote a little something extra about it in the comment section last weekend. My understanding of his new theory isn’t that it’s some lovey-dovey “people can do anything” hoo-hah, so much as a growing awareness that since the time-travelers are experiencing the past as the present, and since they’re human beings with free will, they are under no obligation to try to avoid changing the past. They should just do what they do and let the chips fall. I’ll add that in the most recent podcast, Darlton said that the original script contained a longer explanation from Daniel about how much they can alther the past. To wit: If they do little things, they’ll change nothing, much like a tiny stone makes a little ripple but has no lasting effect on the stream it’s tossed into; but if they do something huge, they can make a big enough splash to redirect the flow.
-On that same subject, Eloise’s “course-correction” theory and all the chatter about how “the island’s not done with you yet” makes a lot more sense if you take time-travel into account. “The island’s not done with you” could just mean that Eloise (and others) have first-hand experience of those people appearing on the island again. And “course-correction” may not be some cosmic effect so much as Eloise and her band of “whatever happened, happened” zealots hustling their buns off to make sure that the course remains fundamentally the same. If I’m right about this, her “Eh, close enough” Ajira 316 plan doesn’t seem quite so slipshod after all. For years, she’s been putting the pieces in place the best she can, and improvising where necessary. It's like synchronized swimming. Above the water, it looks pretty graceful, but under the water, they’re paddling as fast as they can.
I re-watched—and still loved—“The Variable” over the weekend, and while I understand some of the fan complaints about the episode’s implications for the future of the series, I’m sticking with my standard shoplifting theory of Lost. Nothing’s irreparable (or unanswered) until the series ends*. One little thing I noticed about “The Variable” though that I didn’t take note of the first time: When Daniel is explaining what will happen when he explodes the H-bomb, he makes a point of saying that the freighter “I was on and Charlotte was on” won’t ever get sent. Leaving aside the obvious paradox—if it’s never sent, then how will he explode the H-bomb?—what I find interesting about that speech is the way he mentions Charlotte. There’s been a great deal of grumbling about how someone as smart as Daniel would suddenly get religion and discover a loophole in his own rigid theory of time travel. My proposal: There is no loophole. Daniel’s just a lovesick fool, hoping for a Hail Mary to save Charlotte’s life.
*As a case-in-point, in last week’s comment section someone complained that Jack didn’t rush out and immediately offer medical treatment after Eloise shot Daniel. This week we saw that he planned to do just that. We also saw that Eloise did remember Daniel. Some of the stuff we nitpick turns out not to have been worth griping about—while some definitely is. We’ll be able to sort out which is which in about a year.