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April 28, 2008 |

By Daniel Carlson | Lost Recaps | April 28, 2008 |

So, apparently Ben can teleport.

Sure, there are other explanations for how he wound up in the middle of the desert wearing a parka at the beginning of “The Shape of Things to Come,” the ninth episode of the fourth season of “Lost,” but given the show’s track record of defying the laws of physics, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Maybe Ben got sucked into a wormhole or entered one willingly; maybe somebody was trying to wish him into a cornfield and instead dropped him in the Sahara. Whatever the reason, it was a great and weird opening to another consistently pleasing episode. There’s no denying that this is the season where “Lost” got its mojo back, returning to the frenetic drive of its first year while turning every expectation for the series on its ear. “The Shape of Things to Come” is another of the show’s increasingly enjoyable flashforwards, and it fills in several key gaps in the story even as it sets up potentially huge showdowns in the future. But “Lost” is a mosaic, and the final picture won’t be evident until the series ends.

The episode opens with Kate quasi-stripping on the beach so she can, I don’t know, bathe her shoulders. It’s not really clear. She sees Jack walk by, and they exchange a little wave that hints at the romance Jack’s going to try to reestablish once they get off the island, and probably before then, too. She follows him to one of the tents and finds him popping some antibiotics for what he says is a “stomach bug.” Kate’s worried about why Sayid and Desmond haven’t come back from the boat yet, since she doesn’t know they’ve been busy listening to Michael’s backstory. Jack says they’re probably fine, just delayed by the engine repairs, and that he’s not really worried: “My gut says we’re getting off this island.” Jack and Kate’s (very) mild flirtations are interrupted by Vincent’s barks and Bernard’s shouts for help from the shoreline. They run down to the water and find Bernard yelling and trying to retrieve a body that’s washed up. They all lift the corpse out of the sea and carry him up a few feet, where they drop him and roll him over to see who he is: It’s Ray, the doctor from the freighter, and his throat’s been slit. By this time, Jack and the rest have been joined by Daniel, Charlotte, and Juliet, and Jack can see from Daniel’s terrible poker face that he recognized the body. Daniel admits that it’s the doctor, and doesn’t look to happy about it.

The action then shifts to the Barracks, where Hurley, Sawyer, and Locke are having an intense conversation in close-ups about how they’re all gonna die and the bad decisions are each theirs to make. They’re clearly not in any real trouble, since nothing’s been established for them to be doing yet in the episode, but it’s still a cute transition very much in the tone of co-writer Brian K. Vaughan, who shares credit on this episode with Drew Goddard. Vaughan’s comics are big on fakeout transitions that turn out to be jokey, and while it’s somehow really predictable that the three men are playing Risk and not in actual danger, it’s still a cute moment. Hurley maintains that “Australia’s the key to the whole game,” a nice nod to his own character’s obsessions.

Out in the woods, Alex — who’s still reeling from seeing her mom and her boyfriend gunned down — is led blindfolded by men with machine guns to the sonic fence, where she’s forced to enter the code that deactivates the security measures. She enters 1623, which starts ringing the phone back in Locke’s house where he and the boys are engaging in war games. Locke, puzzled, picks up the phone and hears a recorded voice repeating, “Code 14-J.” Hurley asks who’s calling, and Locke deadpans, “I think it’s for Ben.” Ben is back in his room playing the piano and looking generally creepy when Sawyer and Locke come in and ask him to explain what Code 14-J means. Ben loses his cool and retrieves a shotgun from the piano bench before telling Locke and Sawyer that they’ll all have to leave the camp right away. Locke asks what’s happening, but Ben just says, “They’re here.”

Flashforward: Ben shows up in the Sahara Desert wearing a Dharma-branded parka with the name “Hallifax” on the left breast, and he’s also got a wound on his right arm. There are no footprints leading to his position; he’s just there. Ben, disoriented from traveling through space and probably time, pukes onto the sand and stands up. A pair of Bedouins ride up and level their guns at Ben, who pleads for safety in a variety of languages before one of them makes the mistake of searching Ben and finding a collapsible club in his pocket. Ben clubs the man in the face, whips him around, and uses his gun to kill the second rider before turning back around and hitting the downed man with the butt of the rifle. This is easily the coolest thing Ben has ever done. Ben ties off the wound on his arm, saddles up, and rides off.

Back at the Barracks, Ben is frantically leading Sawyer and Locke over at Ben’s old house so they can hole up and defend themselves from whoever’s on the way. Ben explains that Code 14-J is a distress call that means one of his people has been captured. Sawyer says they can’t start barricading themselves in the house without everyone else, but Ben says he already sent Alex, Karl, and Rousseau away to the Temple. Sawyer says he still needs to get Claire, and when Ben complains that there’s no time, Sawyer just says, “I’ll make time.” Ben says that the only way for Locke to survive the impending attack is to stay close to Ben, since the people who are heading toward the camp don’t want to risk Ben getting hurt.

Down at the beach, Jack is looking pretty terrible but isn’t about to let the whole dead guy issue blow over. Daniel says the doctor was fine the last time he saw him, but when Jack asks when that was, Daniel just shrugs and mutters, ” ‘When’ is kind of a relative term.” Jack’s not at all happy with this answer, and Charlotte uses the one line she’ll get this episode to protest her and Daniel’s innocence. Juliet asks if the satellite phone is fixed, but Daniel says the microphone is busted and at best they’d just be able to broadcast “beeps and boops.” Bernard says that sounds like enough to still be able to telegraph the freighter, which gives Jack an idea he won’t reveal until later. Kate leads Daniel off to comb some of the plane’s wreckage for repair material while Jack pulls Bernard aside to talk privately.

Meanwhile, Ben and Locke are busy stacking furniture in front of their door and trying to fortify the house. Hurley asks how Sawyer’s supposed to get back in, and Ben says he’s not. Outside, Sawyer jogs over to another house and asks some dude carrying sticks —maybe firewood, but they live in houses and it’s summer, so whatever — if he knows where Claire is. The guy doesn’t get out more than a couple of confused sentences before shots ring out and he goes down. Then more people come out to see what happens, and they get shot, too. Sawyer flips over a wooden picnic table and takes cover behind it, because apparently gunfire can be as easily deflected on Hell Island as in “Call of Duty.” Sawyer also takes improbable cover behind a small white picket fence; this man is probably unkillable. Sawyer’s almost to Claire’s house when a rocket launcher fires and the whole home goes up in a sizable explosion, Sawyer yelling Claire’s name in panic.

Second flashforward: Ben is ambling through the streets of Tunisia, where he checks into a hotel using the name Dean Moriarty and says he’s a “preferred guest.” The woman checks her records and apparently sees something worrisome, like maybe Ben is a bad tipper or kills goats or something, because she’s just slightly rattled when she hands him back his passport. Ben asks for the date, and the clerk tells him it’s October 24. But then he clarifies by making sure it’s 2005, to which the clerk confusedly agrees. This is easily the dumbest thing Ben has done, and it’s patently against his character and also disappointing that Vaughan could have been responsible for it. Ben is brilliant and calculating, able to travel the world and constantly talk himself out of being killed and, apparently, transmit his body through the air on a subatomic level. And he couldn’t pick up a newspaper to figure out the year? Even Marty McFly knew how to do that, and that kid was a slacker just like his old man. Anyway: Ben walks away from the desk and sees a news report with Sayid surrounded by paparazzi. Sayid turns to the cameras and says, “I just want to bury my wife, please,” before climbing into the car. It’s a cool moment because Nadia pretty much had to die or at least be unreachable, since Sayid doesn’t seem too attached to her when he’s killing men for Ben in this season’s “The Economist.” Still, it hits hard that she’s going to die.

Back on the island, Hurley is keeping an eye out for Sawyer and Claire while Locke and Ben keep stacking furniture. He sees the smoking ruin outside and asks if it’s Claire’s house, but Locke’s too busy listening to Ben describe the “shock and awe” tactics of their attackers to hear him. Locke orders Hurley to take Aaron to the back room for safety and then asks Ben why he (Locke) needs to survive this. Ben says that the only person who can help them now is Jacob, and Ben and Locke have to go see him together. Locke says that he doesn’t know where Jacob’s cabin is, but Ben reminds him that Hurley does. Outside, Sawyer digs through the wreckage and finds Claire bloodied but alive. She mistakes him for Charlie at first, and Sawyer picks her up and carries her back to Ben’s house. Ben threatens to shoot Hurley if he moves the blockade from the door, so Hurley chucks a footstool through the window so that Sawyer and Claire can crawl in. Sawyer grabs a gun and suggests that they just turn Ben over, but then the doorbell rings. Sawyer and Locke check through the window to see who’s there, then move the blockade and let in Miles, who still looks like a douchebag. Miles hands them a radio and says it’s from the people who let him out, and that they want to talk.

Third flashforward: An American military truck in Tikrit, Iraq, rides ahead of a funeral procession of men carrying a plain wooden casket on their shoulders. Ben pulls up in a car and darts into a nearby building, where he climbs to the roof and pulls out a camera and attaches a telephoto lens. He takes a few shots of a bald, imposing man across the street drinking coffee, then shifts his attention to the funeral train. One of the men carrying the casket is Sayid, who looks up and sees Ben right as the photo is snapped. Ben hustles to get out, but Sayid catches him in the alley, pummeling what he first thinks is just another member of the press. But when Sayid sees it’s Ben, he stops and backs away. Ben says he’s there to find the man who murdered Sayid’s wife, and that he left the island by taking Desmond’s boat to Fiji and chartering a plane. (Not true, but easier to explain than teleportation.) Ben goes on to tell Sayid that one of the men watching the procession is employed by Charles Widmore, then shows Sayid a photo of the bald man taken, according to Ben, at a traffic light at the corner of La Brea and Santa Monica. I can only assume the bald man was going to Target or Best Buy, but still, he should be careful; West Hollywood is a killer with those on traffic-light cameras, and they’ll get you if you’re not careful. Sayid says that the intersection Ben mentioned is three blocks from where Nadia was killed, then asks why Widmore’s people would want to kill Nadia. Ben says, “I don’t know, but they did.”

Back at the Barracks, Miles tells Locke there are probably half a dozen men in the “security” team that’s outside. Miles holds out the radio to Ben, who initially refuses to talk, but Miles says that the men have taken Alex hostage. Ben takes the radio and starts talking with Keamy, the burly psycho from the freighter. Ben heads to the window so the men can see each other, and Keamy tells Ben to come out and surrender. Ben rattles off Keamy’s bio, citing the man’s mercenary work as proof that he will probably kill Locke at al. once Ben gives himself up. Keamy raises the stakes by calling out Alex and pushing her to her knees in front of him, threatening to kill the girl if Ben doesn’t give up. Alex sobs into the radio a heartbreaking, “Please, daddy,” but Ben doesn’t move. Keamy counts down from 10, and Ben starts to break, exclaiming that Alex isn’t his daughter anyway, that he stole her from Rousseau as an infant. “She’s a pawn, nothing more,” he says, but Keamy calls his bluff: He shoots her dead, gives Ben a calm look, and stalks away.

Damn. Even Ben didn’t see that one coming. He stares in shock out the window at Alex’s lifeless body while Sawyer and Locke argue about what to do next. Ben finally manages an almost incredulous whisper: “He changed the rules.” Before he can be stopped, Ben ducks into a secret passage behind a bookcase and slides the heavy door closed. Sawyer bangs on the door to no avail. Inside, Ben pulls back a panel of wall to reveal an old stone door marked with some kind of ancient runes, through which he disappears.

Fourth flashforward: Ben is still in Tikrit, hanging out at a cafĂ© and trying to keep a discreet eye on the bald man, Bakir. Bakir gets up from his table and blends into the crowded marketplace, so Ben follows. But around a blind corner, Bakir gets the drop on Ben, demanding to know who he is and why he’s following Bakir. Ben tells Bakir his name, which Bakir instantly recognizes, and then adds that he wants Bakir to deliver a message to Widmore. Before he can say anything else, a silenced pistol is fired and Bakir goes down, revealing Sayid behind him, his luscious man-locks flowing in the breeze. Sayid empties his clip into the body, and after a moment, Ben walks away. Sayid tries to stop him, but Ben tells him to go home and move on. “Once you let your grief become anger, it will never go away. I speak from experience,” Ben says. But Sayid protests that he spent the last eight years of his life trying to get home to the woman he just buried, and as such, Ben’s war is now his own. “Benjamin, who’s next?” Sayid says. “I’ll be in touch,” Ben says, and as he walks away, he starts to smile. It’s great to get this vital little piece of backstory that illuminates the context in which Sayid would stoop to working with, and eventually for, Ben in a crusade against Widmore. So, was Elsa, the blonde Sayid murdered in “The Economist,” also working for Widmore?

Back at the Barracks, Sawyer is continuing to pound on the blast door in hopes that Ben will open it; it’s a dumb plan, but then, it took him a while to figure out the fish biscuit machine. Claire staggers in, looking bleary, and Sawyer asks how she’s doing. Claire says she’s “a bit wobbly, but I’ll live.” At this, Miles — who’s also a psyhic, as well as a douchebag — says, “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.” But no one hears his prediction of doom because at that moment Ben emerges from the secret room, his face and clothes streaked with dirt. Ben ignores Sawyer’s demand for answers and tells everyone that they will need to soon leave the house and run as fast as possible toward the trees and away from Keamy’s team. The house starts to shake like a train is passing through it, and Ben rushes to the window to see the smoke monster pouring into the encampment like the tenth plague. Everyone darts outside to see the monster swirling and groaning through the nearby woods, and beneath the monster’s sounds can be heard the screams and gunfire of the commandos. “Did you just call that thing?” Hurley shouts at Ben. One of the soldiers makes a break for it, but the smoke monster reaches out a tentacle and sucks him right back into the carnage. Ben sends the others off while he staggers over to Alex, still lying in the lawn. While the storm rages behind him, Ben kneels and weeps over his adopted daughter.

Finally, the beach folks get some more action. While Ben has been busy avenging Alex by summoning the inky demon of death, Daniel’s been working on rigging up the sat phone to talk to the freighter in Morse code. He taps out the message, “What happened to the doctor?” The reply is a flurry of dots and dashes, and Daniel says the reply didn’t say much about the doctor but did indicate that Sayid and Desmond would be arriving on the helicopter in the morning. Jack turns to Bernard for confirmation, but Bernard calls shenanigans on Daniel. Bernard tells the group that the boat’s reply was actually, “What are you talking about? The doctor is fine.” Daniel has the balls to look a little annoyed that Bernard knows Morse code, and Jack pounces on him and demands to know the truth about whether the boat was ever going to rescue the castaways. Daniel, finally defeated, just says, “No.” Jack, spirit broken and looking like he’s in no small amount of physical pain from whatever’s in his system, doubles over before righting himself and staggering away. I don’t know what’s wrong with his body, but the interesting twist of the flashforwards is that by confirming that Jack will indeed live to escape the island and flirt with Kate in a parking garage, the writers can put him through all sorts of hell on the island, knowing that he has to make it out. He can get sick to the point of death, and all kinds of things can go wrong, but he’s got to survive.

Out in the jungle, Locke breaks out the torches as Ben catches up to the group. Locke says he’s sorry about Alex, but that Ben still lied when he claimed to be ignorant of what the smoke monster was. Ben offers an awesome non-apology by telling Locke he can ask Jacob all about it at the cabin. Sawyer’s totally lost as to who Jacob is, and decides to bail and take Hurley and Claire back to the beach. Miles opts to go, too. Locke raises his gun and tells Sawyer that Hurley has to stay with them, and Sawyer draws his own gun and tells Locke that Hurley’s going to the beach. Hurley ends the standoff by agreeing to go with Locke and Ben, but not before Sawyer can threaten Locke that he’ll kill him if Hurley gets hurt. Seriously, when are Sawyer and Hurley gonna do a buddy movie? Sawyer, Claire, and Miles head for the beach, and Hurley follows Ben and Locke to look for Jacob’s ghost cabin.

Final flashforward: Ben’s in London, getting out of a cab and rolling up to a swank apartment building. He gives the doorman a fake story about seeing friends in the building, readying his kickass club, but the doorman just lets him up. Ben picks the lock on the elevator’s control panel and rides the car up to the penthouse. He walks into the darkened bedroom and finds a man sleeping there: It’s Widmore. Ben and Widmore have the kind of playful hate-banter you’d expect from a confrontation of supervillains, but what’s interesting is that when Widmore asks if Ben’s going to kill him, Ben replies, “We both know I can’t do that.” This has got to be related to those rules Ben mentioned earlier that Widmore presumably broke by killing Alex, or at least by having Keamy do it. Widmore tells Ben that Alex’s death is Ben’s own fault, adding, “I know who you are, boy. What you are. I know that everything you have you took from me.” Widmore asks Ben what he’s doing there if he won’t kill him, and Ben replies that he’s going to kill Widmore’s daughter, Penny. Ben adds that Penny’s death will put Ben’s grief in perspective for Widmore and make the old man wish he “hadn’t changed the rules.” Widmore says Ben will never Penny, and Ben says Widmore will never find the island. With that, “the hunt is on,” and Ben walks out into the night.

It’s solid episodes like this one that make it worth getting through the series’ torturous second season. It’s almost like “Lost” had to go a little crazy and get the kinks out of its system before it could get good again, and now it’s turning out reliable episodes that forward the plot, deepen the mysteries, and fill in the gaps. “The Shape of Things to Come” was just that: A good look at where the show is going, and how it plans to get there.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.

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