Do the Dumb Things I Gotta Do, Touch the Puppet Head

My opinions of “Lost” episode “Follow the Leader”.

This is chock full of spoilers for this week’s episode of “Lost” (“Follow the Leader”), so be forewarned.

Probably my biggest problem watching “Lost” is that I have no way of gauging how smart I am compared to the source material. I’m embarrassingly dense about most of the naming and the historical and literal allusions, as well as some of the details from previous seasons. For instance, I keep waiting for angry bearded Dharma guy to get his comeuppance with a gruesome death, but the internet tells me he’s already gotten it. Apparently, he’s the guy who was stuck in the hatch before Desmond showed up, until he went crazy and killed himself.

On the other hand, I’ve read enough comic books and seen enough science fiction concepts translated and re-translated through years of pop culture, that all the time traveling and alternate reality stuff seems more obvious than the show (or its fans) are letting on. I keep reading complaints that the series “got all weird” this season, and I’m just left wondering: what series have you guys been watching? Because the one I’ve seen had polar bears, numbers stations, smoke monsters, psychic premonitions, and miraculous healing all within the first couple of episodes. When the characters are spending entire episodes going over how time travel works, I’m left wondering: is this supposed to be complicated? Am I missing something complicated, or are they trying to pander to the millions of ABC watchers who are trying to keep up?

So I make this observation: if an “incident” on the island in 1977 caused a massive amount of energy to be unleashed, resulting in a hatch to contain the energy and the warning that you weren’t allowed to go outside without a hazmat suit, the solution to that isn’t to go back in time and detonate a nuclear warhead. In fact, it seems extremely likely that going back in time and detonating a nuclear warhead is exactly the “incident” in question. But I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be obvious, or if they’ve already addressed it, or if it’s nonsensical based on the hand-waving “electromagnetic energy” the show is basing everything around.

Which wouldn’t be a big deal — I’m perfectly content to just shut up, stop speculating, and wait to see what they come up with next — except that we’ve been building up to the big season finale and I have yet to be able to tell where the big tension is.

So far, everybody has reacted to the whole time travel business by doing exactly what they were supposed to do. I was disappointed that Farraday’s fate seemed to be pretty much “go back in time because I know you’re supposed to go back in time,” and I’ve been concerned that the same thing was going to happen with Locke. And then this episode pretty much made that explicit: Locke is important only because he went back and made himself important. There was a scene earlier in the season where he meets Richard Alpert during his time travel, and that was intriguing: who is Alpert, and how does he know the things that are going to happen? Then we see it played out from another angle: he knew it was going to happen only because Locke told him so. The whole gestalt of “Lost” is that the questions are always going to be more intriguing than the answers, but I didn’t expect that the answers would be this mundane.

So ignore the plotting for a second, and get back to the “meaning” or the overall themes of the series. Locke & Jack have basically switched roles: Locke is now a leader, and Jack is the one who’s blindly doing what he believes he’s “supposed” to do without thinking of the consequences. Locke has found his purpose, while Jack is just wanting to escape from the ruin he’s made of his life while off the island. Locke knows why he’s here, Jack is still asking why they came back, what it is they’re supposed to do, and grabbing at anything to give himself purpose. (For Locke, it was pushing the button; for Jack, it’s apparently Farraday’s journal and his plan).

That’s a very neat shift in characterization, one that’s been pretty well handled. It’s just that there’s a giant snowball of plot points bearing down on this philosophical character study, waiting to be answered. For one, apparently Sayid has been waiting behind a bush this whole time, just waiting for somebody to walk by and threaten to shoot Kate. And I’m still wondering how Sexy Bounty Hunter and the rest of the castaways on the other island are going to come back into play. (Incidentally: I’m assuming that when “The Island” vanishes, that includes the side island with the polar bear cages, right? And that’s where Frank and the gang are hanging out now?)

Our momentum leading us into the 2-hour finale is based on two things: Locke says that he’s going to kill Jacob; and Alpert says that he watched Kate, Jack, and the others all die. I suppose the third question is what’s going to happen when/if they detonate the warhead; will they be able to change history, or is that the “incident” that started the whole mess in the first place? It says something when the least interesting aspect of an episode of television is a group of castaways and seemingly immortal people swimming to an underground temple to detonate a nuclear bomb. I’m not sure what it says, exactly, but it’s something.

And is it time to start with the “who or what is Jacob?” conjecture again? For the longest time, I was sure it was going to turn out to be Locke: he went back in time and somehow inserted himself into the timeline as the main prophet of the island. Now I’m wondering if it could be the Jughead bomb that the Others are worshipping, Beneath the Planet of the Apes-style.