"I'm starting to think John Locke is going to be trouble." -Richard AlpertOf the many recurring themes of "Lost," the question of what makes a good leader -- and how someone can be the perfect leader in one situation and a complete disaster in another -- has always been one of my favorites. It's fun to watch, and to debate -- I can go on for a few hours about all the ways in which Sayid was the perfect leader for nearly every situation of the first four seasons, not that anyone on the show was ever wise enough to notice -- and so an episode with a title like "Follow the Leader," with so much musing about who deserves to be in charge of different factions, was right up my alley.
"Why do you think I tried to kill him?" -Ben
Between 1977 and 2007, we have many past, present and future leaders coming into conflict with one another -- some on their way up the leadership track, some on their way back down -- with the one constant being immortal Richard Alpert.
We see in both eras that Richard's role is to be the "advisor," as Ben puts it, to whoever the island has chosen to lead the Others -- a coalition of Eloise and Widmore in 1977, Locke in the present -- and to aid them in carrying out their plans. It seems he has to listen to them, to go along with whatever they're doing, even if he disagrees with it, and even though he's older, wiser and more tightly-connected to the island than any of them. But we also see throughout the episode -- just as we did back when Richard was introduced back in season three, when he helped Locke to undermine Ben's leadership -- that he's not quite as subservient as he appears. He's not happy with Ellie's decision to follow Jack, nor with Locke's insistence on going to see Jacob -- and taking the rest of the Others with him -- and you can see in both eras that he's trying to figure out a way to follow the letter of whatever law keeps him from being the leader while ducking the spirit of it.
Sometime between now and the end of the series, we almost have to get a Richard flashback episode, one that likely goes back to the Black Rock era (as hinted at by the ship in a bottle gag at the top of the episode), if not all the way back to when the statue and the Temple were built. There's too much island mythology to unravel any other way in the limited time we have left, and as Ben notes to Sun, Richard's had this job "for a very, very long time." He's the man who's been witness to so many things that the show has only implied so far, and we have to find out what he knows to understand it all.
And among the first things we have to understand is who exactly Richard reports to: Jacob, or the island? Until this episode, I would have assumed the two entities were more or less the same. But Locke is getting his marching orders -- including instructions on how to orchestrate Richard's end of the compass scene from the season premiere -- from someone or something, and whatever that force is, it's telling him he needs to kill Jacob. Is it possible that Jacob -- and the people like Ben, and Widmore, and possibly Richard, who have claimed to follow him -- don't really have the island's best interest at heart at all? And if so, which side should we be rooting for? Jacob did, after all, ask Locke to help him back in "The Man Behind the Curtain," and in a tone that implied he was a prisoner of the cabin, if not the island itself. As with the Widmore/Ben feud, it's unclear who, if anyone, is the good guy in this particular conflict.
Back in the '70s, we have a variety of power struggles among different factions, just as the Oceanic 815 survivors were constantly bickering over who got to deliver the orders. Radzinsky stages a wartime coup of sorts among the Dharma Intiative, even as Dr. Chang (having meditated on Faraday's warning) is doing his best to get the women and children out alive. Sawyer's reign as an important man among both the Dharma group and the time-travelers comes to an end after he's caught by Radzinsky and Phil, and so he reverts back to his self-preservationist roots, trading a map to the Others in exchange for submarine passage for himself and his special lady Juliet. And Kate, who once would have followed Jack blindly into the gates of Hell, rebels against his attempt to follow through with Faraday's plan to explode Jughead in the Swan, preventing the Incident and all the deaths that followed.
It's that last conflict that's the heart of most of the 1977 scenes. Jack means well, but he's willfully operating with blinders on, as he so often does. He doesn't know exactly what Dan intended to do, nor how it's going to work, but he's so caught up in the idea of preventing the plane crash and all the bad things that happened that he's wiling to go forward with the insane idea of detonating a hydrogen bomb, without even having a quantum physicist's knowledge of how this is all supposed to work.
Kate, conversely, initially seems against Jack's plan for selfish reasons: sure, dozens upon dozens of other people (from the anonymous Socks to people she knew well like Boone and Shannon and Michael) might not have died, but Kate would still be a prisoner, and she'd never get to have all that fun, sexy love triangle time with Jack and Sawyer. As she puts it to Jack, "It was not all misery!"
But the more the episode went along, the more it seemed that Kate was the one thinking clearly. Jack doesn't know what he's doing, and is consumed with a Locke-like mania, predicated on the belief that he has some grand destiny to fulfill, and that faith is all it will take to make that happen. Locke acted that way, and people died -- and I suspect more of them will die in his crusade to take out Jacob -- and the same will very likely happen with Jack being this stubborn.
My best guess at this point, actually, is that Dan was right in the first place: whatever happened, happened, and every action the time-unstuck characters take will only ensure that history goes along the proper course. Maybe if Radzinsky weren't losing his mind about a possible attack by the Hostiles, or if Jack weren't attempting to assault the Swan with a freakin' hydrogen bomb, the Incident never would have happened. We've already seen Charlotte and Miles and their mothers evacuated from the island just as they remember -- with Miles finally coming to understand why his father was such an apparent bastard to him and his mother -- and that only happened because of the time travel. As Eloise told Desmond, the universe has a way of course-correcting, and I'm assuming the season ends with the Incident having taken place, followed by Jack, Sayid, Kate and company hurled back to the present, having accomplished nothing but ensuring the predetermined flow of history.
Now, to get there, a lot is going to have to happen, starting with the Dharma sub making a u-turn to deposit Sawyer, Juliet and Kate back onto Craphole Island.
In the end, the reign of LaFleur ended just as messily as every other leader's tenure on this island. (Maybe that's a part of being a leader of any island faction: with great power comes the inevitable beatdown. Sawyer's face looked an awful lot like Ben's by the end of the episode.) Even as Sawyer lost his Churchill-like wisdom and serenity, Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell continued to kill it in showing Sawyer and Juliet's deep love and trust of one another, in the Dharma security office, on the dock as they said goodbye (and, in Sawyer's case, "Good riddance") to the island, and on the sub as they pondered a free life in the real world of 1977. But on "Lost," happiness doesn't even last as long as a leader's time in office, and so of course Kate had to be dumped into the sub and shackled next to them. Awk-ward! Great looks on everyone's face, and lots of promise for next week's two-hour finale.
Some other thoughts on "Follow the Leader":
• Though we couldn't hear all of Widmore and Eloise's conversation, the snippets we did hear, and his pat of her belly, implies she's pregnant with Dan in 1977, which answers some of my chronology questions from last week (and means that Jeremy Davies was playing quite a bit younger -- and that the Dan that Desmond met in 1996 was only 18 or 19). I'm assuming that part of the fallout from the Incident will involve Eloise moving to the mainland to have and raise the son she knows she's destined to kill.
• Speaking of which, for the benefit of the people who don't read all of the comments, I want to again commend all the posters last week who suggested the reason for Dan's awful destiny was to put his journal in his mother's hands, so that Eloise would know most of what would happen for the next 30 years. This also explains why she told Penny last week that she no longer knew anything that was coming next. I'll still miss Jeremy Davies, who was incredible in his spotlight episodes this season, but I at least feel better that Dan didn't just die to close a chronal loop.
• While Radzinsky and Phil were slapping around Sawyer, all I could think of was why they didn't drag Sawyer out to see crazy Oldham from "He's Our You." I know Stu thought time was of the essence, but that seemed the easiest and most secure way to get a confession -- unless, of course, everyone was so spooked by what they thought was the failed interrogation of Sayid that they've dismissed the idea of Oldham's truth serum.
• Hurley, terrible liar. Doesn't know when he was supposed to be born, or who the president was, and assumed that the Korean War question was a trick of Chang's. Hilarious scene.
• Locke gets to kill another boar, and to return to Others camp with another corpse on his back.
• Regardless of what Richard is up to, what do you suppose Ben's game is? Is he really already disobeying the orders he got in "Dead Is Dead"? Or is he setting up Richard? Or just amusing himself while following orders? Either way, it's a lot of fun to watch Michael Emerson play a sidelined but still troublesome Ben, and it continues to be great to watch this serene, cocky Terry O'Quinn.
• For that matter, it was amusing as hell to see Richard and Ben so at a loss in the time travel scene. Nice to see the shoe on the other foot now and then.
• And speaking of the compass scene, we still don't know where the compass originated from (Richard gets it in 1954 from Locke, who then gets it from Richard in 2007 to give back to Richard in 1954), and we find out that Locke's instructions to bring back the entire Oceanic Six originated from Locke himself. Now, some of that also came from Ben and Ms. Hawking and Christian Shepard, but mostly it's like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
• I know nearly every network show has had its budget trimmed some in this rough economy, so I'll give the show a pass for the cheesey-looking CGI on the submarine departure sequence, which managed to look worse than Lapidus landing the Ajira plane on the Alcatraz runway.
What did everybody else think?