Episode 15: Follow the Leader
It is getting so hard to talk about these final episodes without giving away the season finale and the various revelations along the way – but only two more episodes to go, so I will do my best!
This episode, as its title suggests, circles once again around the idea of leadership. In particular, we get back to Locke and his resumption as leader of the Others. He shows up, much to Richard’s surprise, and immediately takes Richard and Ben on a journey into the jungle, the purpose of which is to get Richard to confront an earlier Locke and tell him he will have to die in order to bring back the Oceanic 6. Once again, we see the limitations of Richard’s knowledge and power. He is not an omniscient being, showing up at exactly the right moment of his own volition, but merely a servant to the leader – as Ben says, a kind of advisor. It is also another reminder that everything we’ve seen happen so far is well orchestrated by careful choices. Twice now we’ve watched Locke tell Richard what to do to ensure that things will unfold the way we’ve seen them unfold. Which means the present as we’ve experienced is dependent upon the time-traveling future that leads back to the past. Once again – really confusing our sense of agency, fate, and free will.
An aside on this theme: Eloise decides to help Jack detonate the nuclear bomb, presumably to take back the shooting of her son. What we do not know is whether the older Eloise we know – the one who sent Jack back to the island in the first place – remembers helping Jack with the bomb when she was a younger man. If she does, it raises the question of whether or not everything Jack is doing, including whether or not his mission will be successful, is not just “what already happened” – meaning that even though he thinks he is creating something new in time, he might just be a patsy to determinism. If so, perhaps he is about to create the very incident he is trying to prevent and the whole chain of events as we know it is set in motion by his actions. Then again, he might be breaking the chain of events with something new, and that, my friend, seems like the big mystery for season 6.
But back to Locke. We have lots of clues that Locke is acting strange. Richard says so directly, and although Locke tells him it is merely that he has a purpose now, you’ve got to admit that he is acting a little funny. During the “previously on” we also have a return to Ben’s speech to Sun about how, whatever miraculous things happen on the island, dead is dead (“you don’t get to come back from that”). This could just be some exposition to let us know that the killing of Daniel (which we will see again) is really real, but I’m pretty sure it is also supposed to draw our attention to Locke’s strange “second-life” state. As leader, he announces to his people that he will lead them all (under Richard’s guidance) to see Jacob, with the intent of making transparent the hierarchies of knowledge and power that seem to govern the island. Of course, he then tells Ben that his real purpose is to kill Jacob, which also seems very un-Locke like. Did the image of Locke leading his people across the island sand have biblical resonance to you – Moses leading his people in the desert and all that? But Moses leading his people to Yahweh to kill him? Hmm…
Another central theme of this episode is whether or not it is desirable to wipe the slate clean. Both Jack and Eloise are attracted to this idea, but Kate is skeptical, both of the means and of the end purpose. Not only is detonating a hydrogen bomb a risky move to begin with, she isn’t interested in erasing the past. This is a fascinating theme to me because I find myself torn down the middle. In general, I’m not a big believer in the fantasy of new beginnings – what does it even mean to think of you who you are without thinking of the web of actions and relationships that have brought you to any given point? Yet, the fantasy is powerful, especially if one has experience as much loss and trauma as our dear Oceanic survivors have. The very fact, however, that Jack is being motivated to do away with the entire past that has made him who he is, makes me skeptical that it will in fact work. Not to mention, his headstrong desire to detonate the bomb reminds me of his similar desire to get the people off the island, and we all know how well that worked out.
Two other stray observations: I loved Dr. Chang’s questioning of Hugo (“So you fought in the Korean war?” “There’s no such thing?”). And what about the ominous intrusion of Kate into Sawyer and Juliet’s intimate moment on the sub? If Kate is forever going to haunt them, maybe it would be best if the past could just be erased.
Onward to the incident!
So much in this episode – yes, I too loved Dr. Chang’s questioning of Hugo re: the Korean war and whoever the president might be in 1977. That was great. I also enjoyed watching Miles watching Chang get him (at least, the younger him) and his mother onto the boat. I sort of knew something like that was coming (come on – Chang just seemed to love his baby son too much for his to be so sinister as Miles imagined). The other small detailed I enjoyed was the narrator use of “30 years later” to take us up to our present day – a reminder that at this point in the game, time truly is relative. Oh, and yes, John leading his people across the desert totally reminded me of the Israelites being led by Moses. But you’re right, Moses leading his people to kill Yahweh is certainly a problem, and it makes me wonder how much closer we’re getting to some event in which the god of the island is challenged by the leader of the people unto the people’s destruction – bringing together theologies of tribalism, hubris, Fall and, perhaps, redemption into one great narrative.
As you know, I’ve been captivated by the Ellie/Eloise/Daniel/and sometimes Widmore story for a while now. Ellie’s motivations are indeed complex and fascinating at this point, as you say. And I also had to wonder if she’s actually pregnant with fetus-Daniel at the moment when she shoots adult-Daniel. When her and Charles sneak a moment in quiet together, his hand moves immediately to her stomach while she talks and, not to be crass, but we certainly got a lot of buxom boob-shots off of her. Sure, Lost has always enjoyed its low-cut tank-tops, but I wondered if we were supposed to learn something from those camera angles rather than just be titillated (pun intended) by them?
Blerg Kate onto the sub with Sawyer and Juliet. Seriously, folks, cut our girl Julie a break. Sawyer was loyal to her in this episode as his love for her was evident (although I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the interrogation didn’t turn to beating her sooner?!). Why complicate it with Kate? Let those two crazy kids have a real stab at it – stock in Microsoft, Cowboys in 78, and whatever other scheme they may create along the way (hey – how about Ann Arbor being emphasized again as they sat on the sub discussing their future – good call, I’ll be watching it).
In terms of leadership, what intrigued me was how much the leadership is getting dispersed. Sure, Juliet follows Sawyer, but Kate’s arrival makes me wonder how far that following will go. And Kate, of course, refuses to follow Jack in the end and finally – for better or for worse – branches off on her own. Sayid ultimately decides to follow Jack, but in a bid that has no anticipation of an outcome but rather finds some form of death in either option. And of course we’ve got the folks blindly following John into the woods to confront their spiritual leader, Jacob, to challenge his very existence (did it creep you out how docile and obedient they were – really, no one wanted to question his motives there besides Ben?). The interesting thing binding all these forms of leadership to me is the blindness they exhibit. Folks are departing from and connecting up with various leaders, but with no sense of where their leader might actually take them. And this connects to my previous ponderings regarding trust issues in Lost – folks are not afraid to blindly trust each other in this show, and I love that quality to their characters. It’s so refreshing in a pop culture that takes trust issues to the mark of character depth!
Ok, so this episode really got me into thinking more about Richard. First of all, seeing the two Johns so close to each other, but spanning 30 years, made me realize that Richard and John both have this ever-youth or fixed-age quality to them. And it renewed my wondering as to why Richard stays forever young. And, as is often a clue with Lost, it got me wondering about his name. In real life, Richard Alpert is a spiritual teacher, born in 1931 and still alive. Alpert was an early experimenter with LSD, who traveled with the famous Timothy Leary (of “turn on, tune in, drop out” fame), became disillusioned with academia and founded a commune of intellectuals (which hosted Allen Ginsberg and the Grateful Dead, among others); a commune that sought God or something higher through drug induced states. Eventually Alpert left the drug philosophy behind to find his true purpose of ‘serving others’. This servant role developed as he studied a spiritual path in India and earned the new name, Ram Dass, which means “servant of God”. So like John Locke to Jeremy Bentham, the real life Richard Alpert too underwent a name change once his true purpose became clear. And like our Richard Alpert, he lived an intentional life of servanthood to the Divine and to the Divine’s leaders.
So what I find interesting about our Richard Alpert (besides this servant to God/s narrative) in regards to our musings regarding the whole series is that his namesake blends together multiple religious traditions in his search for truth – Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, druggy, yoga, and various forms of meditation, to name but a few. We’ve noted often how Lost blends the philosophies and spiritual paths of the world to make sense of the island, and now it seems that our most constant figure on the island (really, Richard is the only one who seems to stay there always) is named for a man who did the same in our world. Very interesting!
Lastly – didn’t we think those temporal flashes were the island moving through time, not our people? We have the play of constant and variable happening here in a very confusing way; too confusing to track. But at the very least, we’ve got a great visual image of a variable (the flashing John with the bullet removed from his leg) and a constant (the resurrected John instructing Richard to remove that bullet) within meters of each other. Perhaps further pondering on this would enlighten us further.