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No One Wins. One Side Just Loses More Slowly.

By Daniel Carlson | Lost Recaps | May 11, 2009 |


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"Follow the Leader" was a rock-solid episode of "Lost" that built momentum and set up the impending two-hour finale. Written by Paul Zbyszewski and Elizabeth Sarnoff and directed by Stephen Williams, the episode didn't focus on character flashbacks per se but expertly shifted between the 1977 and 2008 story lines, often using Richard Alpert as the springboard from one to the other. But it's important to remember right up front that the dual stories aren't happening in different places at the same time; they're happening in different times in the same place. Jack et al. are hanging out 30 years before the events involving Locke, Sun, Ben, and that group. So yes, the moment when Richard tells Sun that he saw Jack and the rest of their friends die is a good shock, but really, they're either dead or in their 60s somewhere. It's like that stupid moment in Back to the Future: Part III when Marty freaks out seeing Doc's grave, even though Doc had gone back 70 years and was already old. Of course he'd be dead by 1955! It's the same on "Lost." Jack and Kate aren't stranded on the far side of the island; they are living in the past, and if they don't find a way to skip forward, they'll either be dead or old by 2008. No two ways about it.

The episode opens in 1977, a few moments before the end of "The Variable," with Daniel holding a gun on Richard while Jack and Kate watch from the bushes. Jack tells Kate this could be their one chance to fix things, but that's when Daniel gets shot. They try to flee but are stopped by Charles Widmore, who comes galloping in on horseback and clocks Jack with the butt of his rifle. He and another Hostile drag Kate and a bloodied Jack down the hill into the camp, where Eloise is frantically flipping through the pages of Daniel's journal looking for clues. She finds the inscription at the front and is stunned to see her own handwriting. When Widmore arrives with his prisoners, Eloise asks if they came with Daniel, and Jack says yes. Eloise orders them taken to her tent, overriding Widmore's warnings about a DHARMA infiltration by telling him the captives aren't part of DHARMA at all.

Back in 2008, Richard is in his tent at the Others' beach camp, building a ship in a bottle, when a woman walks in and says, "He's here." Richard emerges to see John Locke strolling up the beach with a dead boar on his back. "I brought dinner," Locke says, tossing the carcass to the sand. Richard asks where John has been for three years, but Locke says he'll explain on their way to run an errand. Richard examines Locke for a moment and says there's "something different" about him, and Locke grins a bit and says, "I have a purpose now." This is like the 18th purpose Locke has had, but hey, it works for him. Richard looks down the beach to see Sun and a horribly beaten Ben approaching, and Locke says that Ben helped him return to the island. In their own conversation, Ben identifies Richard to Sun as "a kind of advisor" for the Others, adding, "He has had that job for a very, very long time." This is all Sun needs to hear. She hustles up to Richard, pulling the old DHARMA recruitment photo from her backpack and asking him if he was on the island in 1977 and knew Jack, Hurley, Kate, and/or Jin. Richard says that he was there 30 years earlier and does indeed remember the people Sun is asking about, but it's because he "watched them all die." Sun pulls a Marty McFly and just gapes at him.

A little later, Sun is sitting on the beach, forlornly looking at Jin's ring in her hands, when Locke approaches and tells her that there's a purpose to the journey they're making. Locke turns and asks Richard if he still has the compass Locke gave him a long time ago, and Richard pulls it from his pocket. Locke calls out to Ben, sitting a little ways away, and asks him to come on the trip, too. Ben snidely asks if Locke is afraid he'll stage a coup if left to his own devices, but Locke shakes his head and says, "I'm not afraid of anything you can do anymore, Ben." Getting murdered has a way of realigning your priorities. Ben reluctantly agrees to come, and Sun stays behind while Locke and the other two men head off into the jungle.

Back in 1977, Jack and Kate are getting the Gitmo treatment from a particularly hostile Hostile, who knocks Kate to the ground before kicking Jack across the face. When the guy leaves, Jack says he thinks Daniel was onto something with his idea to pre-empt the explosion at the Swan that would lead to the creation of the hatch and the eventual crash of Oceanic 815, and that if they carry out his plan, all their friends will still be alive. Kate, who is fickle and emotionally manipulative and not at all to be trusted in the ways of love, gets a little petulant when she asks Jack if they're just supposed to reset their lives like they never met. Jack, spitting blood, says, "All the misery that we've been through, we'd just wipe it clean." Kate says it wasn't all misery, but Jack, who has grown up a lot this season and is probably thinking about how Kate hopped in his bed for a hate-screw just a few days earlier, replies, "Enough of it was." Good man, Jack. Eloise comes in and tells Jack that the man she just shot is the same man she met when she was 17, who told her to bury the bomb shortly before he disappeared into thin air. She's beginning to break a little as she realizes she killed the son she hasn't conceived yet, telling Jack she'll believe his explanation of the situation. Jack persuades Eloise that Daniel was trying to prevent an accident that could still be stopped -- which would in turn spare Daniel's life -- and she agrees to take them to the bomb. There's just one catch: It was buried under what is now the Barracks. Eloise says that Jack and Kate should be able to get at it no problem because they've been passing as DHARMA members, unaware of the firefight and chaos that broke out before Jack and Kate escaped. Jack hits the perfect mix of commitment and fatigue when he says, "It might be a little more complicated than that."

Over at the Barracks, Sawyer and Juliet are cuffed in chairs in the security bunker, surrounded by Radzinsky, Horace, Phil, and a couple others. Radzinsky fires up the incriminating tape and asks Sawyer where Kate is. "Call my lawyer," he jokes, but that just makes Radzinsky beat him repeatedly. Horace tries to call him off, but Radzinsky says he's "getting answers" and tells Horace he isn't in charge anymore because he doesn't have the stomach to do what needs to be done to protect DHARMA and its work. Horace slowly steps aside, apparently ceding decisions to a wartime consigliere who is quantifiably insane, while Radzinsky has Phil shove Sawyer against the monitor bank. "Okay, Jim, last chance," Radzinsky says. "You tell me where she is, or so help me God, I will kill you." I believe him. He keeps wailing on Sawyer, while Juliet cries out for him to stop. Radzinsky eventually punches Sawyer so hard across the face that his chair topples over, and Juliet begs again for him to quit. He wheels on her and demands to know what happened to Baby Ben, but Juliet attempts to play to his diminished humanity, reminding Radzinsky that she's know him for three years and has no desire to hurt him. From the floor, Sawyer tells her not to waste her breath, since they won't believe her and whatever she says will only wind up getting more people in trouble. Horace picks up Sawyer and votes to stop the torture, but Phil says he can make Sawyer talk. He steps forward as if to attack Sawyer, but instead that dick turns around and slaps Juliet across the face. Even Radzinsky looks shocked, which means you know you've gone too far. Sawyer shouts and struggles to get out of the chair, promising to kill Phil, who smugly looks back at Sawyer as if daring him to try. Bad idea, Phil. That will probably catch up to you later. Just then, a DHARMA member named Mitch runs in with the sub manifest and info about the escapees, saying that though there's still no sign of Miles or Jin, he's noticed that Hugo Reyes was a late-minute addition to the sub like Jack and Kate and must therefore be working with them. Radzinsky asks, "Who the hell is Hugo Reyes?" Phil replies, "He's the fat guy."

I was going to get a little upset at Phil for being callous, but the next shot is one of Hurley eagerly dumping food into his backpack as he prepares to make his escape, which is just sad deep down. Stocked up on vanilla cookies, Hurley tries his best make a surreptitious run for the jungle, as if hunching his head down is going to make him invisible. He doesn't see that he's being followed by Dr. Chang. Just outside the Barracks, Hurley meets up with Jin and Miles, who scoffs at the idea of a rescue and says they need to retreat to the beach. Chang catches up to them, and Miles and Jin raise their rifles at the doctor. Chang wants to know if Daniel was telling the truth about their being from the future, and Hurley steps in quickly to tell him the idea is ridiculous. Bad move, Hugo. Chang quizzes Hurley about his date of birth and who the president is in 1977, which bumfuzzles the big man, who also thinks Chang is inventing the Korean War. I'm no scholar, but come on, Hurley, how did you get out of high school? Miles caves and admits that yes, they're all from the future. Chang moves a little closer and says, "It's true, then? You are my son?" Miles admits to that as well, and it's a nice moment that's not overdone. Chang reveals that Daniel wanted him to evacuate the island because of a "massive accident" about to happen, and though Miles doesn't seem to know what Daniel meant, he admits that "he's been right about everything so far." Chang accepts the idea and looks committed to the evacuation.

Back in 1977, Widmore kneels over the corpse of Daniel Faraday and says the man looks familiar; he doesn't remember meeting him 23 years earlier. Eloise approaches and tells Widmore that he and Erik -- the guy who was beating up Jack and Kate -- are going to accompany her and the captives on a mission to the bomb, and she then orders Jack and Kate to have their hand-ties removed. She takes a tender moment to close her dead son's eyes, then stands and gets into a quiet but heated argument with Widmore about her plan. One of the things Widmore mutters is, "Not in your condition," and as he says it he lightly places a hand on Eloise's stomach; looks like she's already conceived the man she just shot. A few yards away, Richard tells Jack that the man talking to Eloise is Charles Widmore, and when he attempts to define Widmore and Eloise's relationship, he gives up and says, "Love can be complicated." Jack and Kate absorb the news but mainly project it onto their own situation; Kate really doesn't look like she wanted to be reminded about the pitfalls of romance. Eloise and Widmore end their conversation, and Eloise tells her group it's time to move out.

In 2008, night has fallen as Locke, Ben, and Richard move through the jungle, carrying torches to light the way. Richard asks again where Locke has been in the three years since Ben turned the frozen wheel, and Locke is surprised that Richard really doesn't know the answer. Locke tells him that Richard is about to see where Locke disappeared to, and that after that Locke wants to go see Jacob. That announcement stops Richard and Ben in their tracks. Richard can't even come up with a response, and Ben cautiously says, "That's not how it works, John." Locke, who apparently watched Glengarry Glen Ross a few times back in the States, steps up to Richard and asks if that's true and if it will be a problem. Richard tries to tell him there's no rush to see Jacob since Locke just returned, but Locke cuts him off and reminds him that he's now the leader of the Others, and he wants to see Jacob. Period. Locke turns back to the path and tells them to keep moving since they're "almost to the plane." Ben has no idea what plane Locke is talking about, but they soon come to a small clearing where Locke points out the rotted fuselage of the drug smugglers' Beechcraft. Locke turns to Richard and tells him to listen up, adding, "You're only gonna have about three minutes to get this right." Locke begins telling Richard that a man who's been shot in the leg is about to emerge from the jungle near the plane, and it's an amazing moment where the series' greater story doubles back on itself. Locke hands Richard a pack with a first aid kit and says he'll need to remove the injured man's bullet, and that Richard has to tell the man that "he has to bring everyone who left back to the island. And when he asks how to do that, you tell him he's gonna have to die." Sure enough, at that moment the wounded Locke comes into view, limping from being shot by Ethan during his skips through time. Ben, unable to process what he's seeing, asks Locke who the man is. Locke, who is clearly enjoying every minute of this, says simply, "Me."

So the bleeding and frightened Locke gets patched up by Richard, whose dialogue in the exchange now has a wonderful added weight to it, especially the uneasy way he tells the hurt Locke that he'll tell Richard about the injury in an unspecified future. From their hidden vantage point, Ben and Locke watch Richard do what needs to be done. Ben comment on Locke's impeccable timing and asks how it was done, and Locke says the island told him when and where to be. "Didn't it ever tell you things?" he asks, but Ben says no it hasn't, adding that he doesn't think it's actually told Locke anything or else he wouldn't need Richard's help to find Jacob. Locke guesses that Ben has never seen Jacob himself, and Ben doesn't come out and deny it. There's a popping sound as the air rushes in to the space the time-traveling Locke just vacated, and Locke says his other self just went to give Richard his compass back. Richard returns to the two men and holds up the bullet he just extracted, asking if Locke wants to keep it, but Locke says no. Richard says the other Locke seemed convinced by Richard's testimony, especially the part about dying, and Richard says he's glad that didn't come to fruition. Casting a damning glance at Ben, Locke says, "Actually, Richard, it did." Ben looks like a kid who just got called into the principal's office as they set off for camp.

Back in 1977, Chang heads down the stairs to the security station and is already announcing his evacuation plan when he stops and sees Sawyer and Juliet still tied up and the whole crazy scene still in play. Radzinsky, who is now the douchiest douche on the whole island, douchily douches at Chang that the scientist should be at the Swan station preparing for the next day's groundbreaking. Chang tells him that the drilling is what's going to cause the accident, but Radzinsky tells him to stick to the schedule. Chang attempts to appeal to Horace, but Radzinsky again asserts his own authority and says the plan will continue. Sawyer, battered and bloody, speaks up and tells them to put him and Juliet on the sub with the other evacuees, at which point he'll tell them whatever they want to know. "You okay with that, sweetheart?" he asks Juliet, who's crying a little. "Absolutely," she says. Radzinsky hands Sawyer a notebook and pencil and says he only gets on the sub if he draws a map of the Hostiles' location.

Out in the jungle, Eloise, Jack, Kate, Richard, and Erik arrive at a creek. Kate wants to go around, but Eloise says they have to go underwater to reach "the tunnels." This is apparently the last straw for Kate, who says she's not going and turns to leave. "I can't go any further with you, Jack," she says. Jack reminds her that the DHARMA people tried to kill them, but she replies, "And what are you trying to do?" She seems to think that (a) Jack's plan can only end in disaster, which means somehow that (b) it's safe to return to the Barracks. Kate no good plan make. She moves to leave, causing Erik to raise his rifle and tell her to halt. Jack tells him that's not necessary, but Eloise says the Hostiles don't let strangers in on their secrets and then just walk away. Kate keeps walking, Jack keeps shouting, and it looks like Erik is going to go through with it. A shot rings out, and in a parallel with Daniel's death, the victim turns out to be the gunman. Erik takes two in the chest and falls to the ground as Sayid (!!) emerges from the trees and raises his pistol at Eloise and Richard. Best comeback ever.

Moments later, Richard checks Erik's pulse and confirms the kill. There have been a lot of bodies dropping in Hostileville this week. He's confused that Eloise seems unconcerned that one of her people just got killed, but she tells him that if the newcomers are right, it won't matter. A short distance away, Jack is catching Sayid up on his intent to carry out Daniel's plan, saying they can change things. Sayid says that changing the future is impossible since he killed Ben Linus and nothing happened, which dude: How can an assassin leave a target without making a head shot just in case? Kate says Baby Ben survived being shot by Sayid, and that she and Sawyer took him to the Others so he'd live. Sayid, showing admirable restraint, quietly asks why Kate did that, but she gets all preachy about not killing kids and blah blah knock it off. Jack says the three of them got raptured off Ajira 316 and into the year 1977 to change things, and that this is their density destiny. Kate accuses Jack of sounding like Locke, though she doesn't say his name, adding, "He was crazy, too. You said so yourself." Jack pulls his own Crazy Ivan and admits, "Well, maybe I was wrong." Maybe Jack really does think he was wrong to doubt Locke; whatever the case, he's fired up at the idea of having a purpose now, and he won't back down. Kate says she's going back to the Barracks to find the rest of their people to see if they can stop Jack, since she obviously can't. Burn!

Down by the pier, Miles, Jin, and Hurley are hiding out and watching people load onto the sub. A van pulls up and unloads the young Charlotte and her mother, followed by Chang, Chang's wife, Lara, and the infant Miles. Chang raises his voice and commands his wife to leave, and Miles suddenly understands everything: Chang didn't abandon his family, he did what he had to do to get them to leave and survive. Just then a jeep pulls up bearing Sawyer and Juliet, still cuffed, and as they're lead out of the car and toward the sub, Hurley reasons that everything will work out because Sawyer always has a plan. Walking toward the sub, Sawyer tells Juliet that they'll be okay; they can invest in Microsoft and bet on the Dallas Cowboys in the 1978 Super Bowl. He grows serious and apologizes for not letting her get on the sub three years earlier, but she looks at him and says, "I'm glad you talked me out of it." That's sweet, which makes me think something bad is going to happen. Juliet boards the sub, and Sawyer follows. Before he's inside, he takes one last look at the island, growls a good riddance, and descends into the submarine.

In the jungle, Richard plunges into the creek and begins swimming for the tunnels. Jack, standing near the bank, turns and tells Sayid he'll understand if he doesn't want to follow. He takes a deep breath and dives, following Richard to the opening in the bottom of the rocks at the far side. He moves through a narrow underwater passage before emerging in a pool inside a room whose walls and pillars are adorned with hieroglyphs: It's just like the underground chamber where Ben visited the smoke monster, and could very well be connected to it. Jack asks if they're going to get the bomb out through the pool, and Richard, getting understandably testy from the day he's having, says, "It's a 12-foot long, 40,000-pound hydrogen bomb. No, not through the pool." Eloise emerges from the pool, taking a torch from Richard as she walks out, and Sayid appears right behind her. Tying his soaked man-locks behind his head, Sayid tells Jack he came because if the plan works, everything will be fine, and if it doesn't, "at least you'll put us all out of our misery." Following Richard, they head off into the tunnels.

In 2008, Richard, Ben, and Locke return to the Others' camp. Richard tells Locke they'll get a tent ready for him, but he says he wants to leave immediately to go see Jacob. Richard, torn between deferring to Locke's role as leader and following the rules of the island he's been keeping for who knows how long, tells Locke they can do whatever he wants but it might be good to talk about it first. Locke cuts him off and asks if the group in the camp includes all the Others, and Richard says some are still at the Temple, but Locke says this group will work for now. He asks to speak to them, and Richard has no choice but to say, "Be my guest." Locke even takes a moment to stare down Ben before turning and addressing the crowd. He tells the assembled that though they've been taking orders from Jacob, no one has ever apparently seen him. He says that there are probably "very good reasons why his existence and whereabouts are secret," but he doesn't know what they are. He even shoots a screw-you look at Richard! Sun, like a kid in an elementary school Christmas play, steps forward and again recites her line about wanting to find her husband, and Locke tells her Jacob can reveal how to bring Jin and the rest of the Oceanic people back to the right time. Locke tells the crowd that he and Richard are going to go see Jacob and that they are all invited to come along. They all nod, and a couple particularly adventurous extras even pat his arm as he makes his way into the crowd, but Richard and Ben are not at all pleased with the turn this has taken. In a fantastic moment that mirrors Jack's own doubts about following Locke at the end of the first season, Richard says to Ben, "I'm starting to think John Locke is gonna be trouble." Ben's matter-of-fact reply is awesome: "Why do you think I tried to kill him?"

Back in 1977, Sawyer and Juliet are handcuffed to tables in what appears to be the galley, because when you're in a submarine, it's always a good idea to be chained to something. Safety first! Juliet asks what Sawyer plans to do when the ship reaches Ann Arbor, and he tells her they don't have to worry. The DHARMA Initiative doesn't have legal control over them, so once they dock, wherever that is, they can be free. (This plan seems kind of vague, but it might not ever be realized anyway.) He takes her hand and says once more that whatever happens, he's got her back. "I love you," she says, and Sawyer smiles and says, "I love you back." Oh man, something really bad is going to happen. Just then, Phil comes down the ladder with one more prisoner who was caught coming back into town. Shortly thereafter, Kate climbs down into the submarine, and she's seated near Juliet and chained to the same table. Sawyer looks worried, and Juliet looks annoyed that Kate intruded on her moment. The sub pulls away from the dock and dives, headed for the mainland.

Down in the tunnels, Sayid has Jack hang back from Eloise and Richard and tells him that Eloise's motivation for following Jack's plan could be to annihilate the DHARMA Initiative. Jack says he thought of that but still trusts her because she's the one who will tell them how to get back to the island in 30 years. Sayid calls shenanigans on Jack's logic, and they enter a much larger room with a sheet-covered hulk at its center. Eloise removes the cover to reveal Jughead, still cracked and leaking, resting on its side on a wheeled palette. "Well," she says, "now what?" Jack just furrows his brow and starts planning.

Up in 2008, morning has come by the time Locke and the rest of the Others are setting out to see Jacob. Locke shoots the breeze with Ben about the weather like he's not a resurrected and possibly supernatural manifestation of a smoke-filled spirit, but Ben tells him that Richard has expressed concern about whether Locke knows what he's doing. Locke, in the same quasi-corporate tone, grins and says, "I appreciate you bringing this to my attention, Ben." Ben starts in on a whole new line of groveling, telling Locke he'll help him reunite his people any way he can, but Locke says he's not interested in getting back to the Oceanic Six. Ben, confused, says that's what Locke told Sun, but Locke says that's not why he's going to Jacob. The real purpose of Locke's trip is much simpler: He wants to kill Jacob. Ben doesn't even respond, he just stops walking and stares as Locke and the Others walk by.

And that's the episode. Overall it was a strong one, and there's no doubt the next episode -- the season finale -- will be a big one. Once again, Jack and Locke are on crusades to save their people or the island, and that dynamic has done as much to define the series as anything else. What's more, how will Jack get the bomb out of the tunnels, and how was it even taken down there to begin with? How old is Richard, and how much power does he have over the island and its events? I'm also nervous about the captives on the sub; "Lost" is fond of sacrifice and watery graves, and it wouldn't surprise me if there was an accident on the sub and Sawyer had to choose between Kate or Juliet's survival. And just how did Jack and the others supposedly die, and when did Richard see this happen? Could he have meant the Purge, the accident, or something else altogether? In what manner does the island talk to Locke, and why does he want to kill Jacob? Now more than ever, Locke is tied to the island; isn't Jacob just as tightly bound to it? Also, I can't wait for Radzinsky to go nuts and be put in the Swan to push the button. I'm getting tired of that guy.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.


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