“Follow the Leader”
May 6th, 2009
There is something very jarring about “Follow the Leader,” which isn’t really that surprising. As, essentially, the season’s penultimate episode before next week’s two-hour finale, it was bound to be a transition episode, but in the second half of this season it felt like a more substantial transition than we’re used to. The show has been doing a lot more traditional episodes in the back end: Sayid, Ben, Miles and to a certain extent Faraday all had quite simple episodes that relied on the show’s old flashback structure to deliver character pieces for their individual focuses.
This week’s episode didn’t do anything even close to this, in many ways proving one of the least connective episodes in quite some time. The episode was almost entirely without a key theme, and ended with a cliffhanger that was less a huge shock than it was a subtle ramping up of tension. Episodes that only move pieces around are not that uncommon in this series or any other serial drama, but this one in particular felt really vague and distant: this isn’t to say that it was a bad episode, but rather that the big picture never really became any more focused as time went on.
If I had to draw attention to one element of the episode that perhaps explains this, I’ll point to Richard Alpert, who was the source of almost every cut between past and present. It’s no coincidence that this character unaffected by the flow of time would be the one constant in these two stories, and the one man who has always remained an unsolvable enigma that, even with a few clues dropped here and there, has never become more focused in his own right. He also sits in a unique position as it relates to the episode’s title: he’s never actually been the leader, always remaining nothing but the advisor, and it raises important questions about his role in this legacy.
And yet it doesn’t answer any of them, or really any of the questions we have: rather, it puts all the pieces into place for a finale that might get around to some of those pesky questions.
The episode wastes no time dealing with last week’s cliffhanger death of Daniel Faraday, which is certainly a definitive death and one that has an immediate impact on Eloise Hawking: she takes no time whatsoever in piecing together the fact that he was in fact her son, the handwriting in the journal only confirming the already uncanny nature of her past interactions with him, and the episode isn’t interested in her proving skeptical or anything of that sort. She immediately enlists Kate and Jack on a plan to follow through on Faraday’s instructions, detonating the hydrogen bomb and potentially saving both Faraday’s life and their own lives: if the plane lands safely in Los Angeles, everything is going to be fine.
However, Kate is right that this isn’t actually thinking things through on Jack’s part. The episode doesn’t take time to breathe on this point, but Jack is the one person who wholeheartedly needed this mission to happen and the most desperate to find his purpose within it. It wasn’t to be the leader, in the end: Sawyer was already in place when he got there, leaving no chance for Jack to fit into that mold. Instead, he’s been nothing but another follower, and here he’s reaching in his attempt to lead his people again. The show never directly comments on this, but Kate does point out that not everything that has happened to them has been bad: yes, some people died, but they came together, so it’s all worth it, right?
This isn’t Kate’s best argument: what about the fact that Claire was going to give her baby up for adoption, which meant that Kate would never have the chance to be with Aaron? What about the fact that Charlie would likely have never had the ability to both get clean and fall in love before his heroic death? These people who have died, in many ways, had more of a life on the island itself than they did in the real world, something that the flashbacks were often quite fond of showing us. Kate’s argument was more selfish than it was wise, which really shouldn’t be that surprising, but it seemed like the episode needed her to go back to the sub and for Jack to end up as part of the mission to blow up Jughead and their conversations did the trick in the end.
It was consistent with Kate’s character, though, as seen when Sayid returned shooting people and becoming part of the adventure; ever since she’s returned to the island, she’s been concerned about the impact of her actions, like the person who’s scared to accidentally kill a butterfly in case it breaks the space time continuim. I am presuming, considering that the last time we saw Claire was when she was hanging out with Christian and Jacob, that we may be seeing Emilie de Ravin soon enough, and I think then we’ll see what Kate has been waiting for and her moralistic streak here will be more than an excuse to stage Three’s Company on the submarine.
It’s not that the 1977 storyline played out without emotional connection: Dr. Chang’s moment of realization as he follows Hurley into the woods and confirms that Miles is his son was quite touching, as was the fact that it was Miles’ word that Change eventually takes in terms of ordering the evacuation. But in the pantheon of scenes this season where castaways have come face to face with part of their past, the episode didn’t feel particularly special: compared to the first appearance of young Ben, for example, the episode felt more artificial than it should have, a lot of which comes from the fact that they can’t actually fix everything: this is season five, not season six, and the show must go on.
So when it appears that everything is coming together for Ellie and Richard, along with Sayid and Jack, to detonate Jughead and eliminate the island’s problems, there are a number of concerns that aren’t being taken into account. For example: while Chang disappears from the grid sometime during this period, Eloise Hawking lives long enough to give birth to Daniel and Widmore, we presume, has time to go off-island and find Penny as well. If the bomb goes off killing all of them, wouldn’t the entire future be altered far beyond the point of origin? And what would this do to Desmond, who arrived at the island due to its weird magnetic pull and was the one who pushed that button? While Jack appears to think this is really simple, it’s way too much of a Pandora’s Box for the producers to open in the way it’s being presented.
For that reason, as things are coming together to execute Faraday’s plan, my question is not how it’s going to come together but what’s going to go wrong; it’s not “Phew, Julie and Sawyer are on the sub with Kate,” it’s “How is the sub going to get turned around so that Sawyer, Kate and Juliet can be a part of the conclusion?” And while I am really curious to see how they got the bomb into the tunnels under the Dharma village, which the Initiative clearly must have known about considering Ben’s secret room where he’s able to contact our good friend Smokey, I can’t help but be more focused on how the Dharma Initiative being wiped out could make sense if Ben eventually has to kill all of them once he grows up. I spent the entire episode watching pieces align in such a way that doesn’t fit with where I think the show is headed, or where the show is logically headed.
What was interesting about it all is how Richard Alpert was kind of just like us, following along with the episode while doubting what’s happening in both timelines, in the same way that we’re following the writers while getting the sense that something isn’t right here. In 1977, he went with Eloise despite not really understanding what was happening or why it was taking place, and in 2007 he goes with Locke out of loyalty to his new leader and ends up having his entire world turned upside down when Locke, on the island’s orders, knows to tell Richard to be in precisely the right place when Locke, while time traveling back in the earlier parts of the season, needs help with his injured leg. It’s an extremely complex scene, but we realize at a certain point that it’s complex for Richard too: Richard doesn’t seem to know that Locke resurrected, or that this event would happen, or anything even close to Locke’s relationship with the island. For someone who is so omnipresent within this epic story, he’s not actually omniscent after all.
What Richard does, and quite effectively, is find a way to move around his power: feeling threatened by Locke’s decision to infuse the entire camp, including Sun, with the idea that a trip to see Jacob will solve their problems, he immediately leans into Ben as he once leaned in to Locke, planting a bug about the potential of Ben returning to leadership against a rebellious (formerly?) dead guy. We see a similar moment where Alpert tells Sun that he watched all of the people in the 1977 photo die – how, exactly would he do this? Is he simply messing with Sun’s mind, trying to manipulate her in some way, or is he being honest? It isn’t entirely clear, and it’s clear that he isn’t to be trusted: Ben sits in this fascinating position caught between two forces, and he confides Alpert’s concerns in Locke, who simply shrugs his shoulders and notes that his intentions are far more grave than simply reuniting his people or helping Sun and Jin reconnect: rather, he wants to kill Jacob.
It’s the episode’s final moment, and its most surprising: it’s not entirely clear why John is so convinced that Jacob needs to die, but for a character who has only ever been glimpsed in a split second shot he has apparently made a huge impact on him. Again, the “why” isn’t really answered here, so we don’t have a clear idea of Locke’s plan, only that he and the group of Others are off to the tune of Michael Giacchino’s “Traveling Adventure Theme” that I love so much. The 2007 storyline took a really unique turn in that moment, but we have to remember that we’re missing the other side of the puzzle where Lapidus was attacked by Ilana and Bram and where the shadow of the statue was a key element. The episode never connected the dots, but if we presume that either the Temple (where Richard noted that the rest of the Others are located) or wherever Richard is taking Locke could be the location that the third faction are headed towards we could find everybody going to the same place soon enough.
It feels like we’re heading towards the convergence of these two time periods, but we’re still missing some key elements: the location of Rose and Bernard remains unclear, and the scene where (we presume) the third faction fire on the canoe with Sawyer/Juliet/Miles/Faraday/Charlotte in it has yet to be glimpsed. Next week’s finale may connect these dots, or maybe it won’t: as this episode notes, there’s enough connections in the fact that Richard Alpert is simultaneously leading one group to blow up the island with a hydrogen bomb and another group, unwittingly, to destroy the person who apparently governs the island. So on a purely plot suspense level, “Follow the Leader” has the series on a highly interesting path.
The question now is whether Alpert, or anyone else, will stop long enough to think about the mission they’re being led on, and perhaps consider whether or not it’s the right path. Methinks that there won’t be much time in a breakneck Lost finale for sober second thoughts, and remain entirely fascinated to see just what carnage results. Even if “Follow the Leader” didn’t blow my mind, per se, it definitely has me as devoted as ever to following Lindelof and Cuse’s vision.
- At this point, it remains clear that there are only two couples that Lost is unwilling to “mess with” on a petty level: Jin and Sun, because you don’t have a wife believe their husband is dead and then toy with them much further, and Penny and Desmond, because they’re awesome. Sawyer and Juliet, meanwhile, get their heartfelt moment of living together in 1977 for about thirty seconds until Kate is forced down into the submarine. Way to break the mood, Austen.
- I nearly forgot to discuss the fantastic exchange where Chang tricks Hurley into admitting he’s from the future: it was note perfect, as Hurley clearly hasn’t used a Fake I.D. before and was susceptible to both date of birth and “Who is the President.” Just some really clever stuff.
- Seriously, Lost: I know that you thought that a shot of the submarine might look kind of cool, but between this and the rather awful shot of the plane landing a while back it’s clear that whoever is doing your CGI shouldn’t be doing your CGI. Just cut the scenes altogether, and I think we’ll forgive you.
- Has there ever been an episode where people got bloodied up this much: Jack and Sawyer both got crimson masks, and Juliet even got a little bit of blood in this one.
- I enjoy Sayid’s reasoning for coming with Jack to help with the bomb plan: either it fixes everything, or at the very least puts them out of their misery.
- Similarly, Sawyer’s “Good riddance” as he left the island was particularly poignant, but my guess also quite ironic considering that I’m fairly certain that submarine is turning around long enough for our heroes to get off.
- Patrick Fischler should really be concerned about being typecast as a guy who has no appreciation for women: between this and Mad Men, the guy plays sleazeball all too well.
- I didn’t watch the previews, so if you want to comment below please avoid any spoilers about the finale.