For the past few episodes, The Beast With Locke’s Face has been talking about how his escape plan requires all the surviving Candidates to be together, and as “The Last Recruit” opens they are together, and in his camp to boot. But they’re divided into factions and sub-factions, just like the old days. Meanwhile, Ben’s on his way back to Otherville with Richard, exactly where they were when this whole adventure started in Season One. And Desmond? Well, he’s stuck in a hole in the ground that only Locke knows about. Sound familiar?
And yet, as Jack so astutely notes tonight, “We’re all different now.” I argued before the season began that Lost as a whole has been about cycling through various kinds of storytelling modes, and examining how the characters do and don’t take charge of their respective stories. Season Six, in my view, has made that theme more explicit, by literally turning the characters we thought we knew into different people—and not just in the sideways universe. On The Island, Claire’s not Claire, and Sayid’s not Sayid, and I’d be willing to argue that Jack, Hurley, Kate and Sawyer and have also all been profoundly changed in the three years since they last sat around a campfire with a guy who looks like Terry O’Quinn.
In “The Last Recruit,” we see a variety of alternatives to Lost as we’ve known it:
1. The Alterna-World.
With Desmond acting as a catalyst, the sideways versions of the Losties are coming together. Jin and a bullet-punctured Sun arrive at St. Sebastian at the same time that the Des-clobbered Locke rolls in with Ben. (“It’s him… it’s him!” Sun says in a panic when she sees Locke.) Desmond also intercepts Claire in the lobby of an office building and steers her away from an adoption agency to the law office of Alterna-Ilana, who’s preparing to read Christian Shepard’s will to Jack and David. And after engaging in some playful banter with the incarcerated Kate, Sawyer joins Miles on a raid of Nadia’s house, where they arrest Sayid with the help of a well-placed garden hose. So it’s business as usual in that strange not-quite-real place we’ve been visiting all season, although we seem to be approaching a crisis point where the scales are going to fall away and all our sideways heroes are going to have to face the same kind of choices that the inhabitants of The Island have been wrestling with for years.
But as already noted, things are pretty different on The Island too, as Jack continues to play “I’m not the hero any more” and let others take the helm. Case-in-point....
2. What if Locke were in charge?
Hurley, having done what any passing ghost has asked him to do, is out of the leader business now that he’s delivered everybody to Locke. So Locke is springing into action, hastened by the arrival of those Candidates he ordered and by the warning of Widmore’s Chief Nerd Zoe that Widmore can rain fire from above at the push of a button. But Locke has an odd method of mobilizing the troops: first, he breaks them up. He claims that he does this because, “The bigger the group, the slower it moves,” but really that’s been the way he’s worked for as long as we’ve seen him in action. This creature still doesn’t have a name, but if you name animals by the sounds they make, you might as well call this guy, “Can I talk to you a minute?”
That’s a marked contract to Jack’s leadership style, which at its peak was all about “live together or die alone.” Locke—or at least this version of Locke, who is Not-Locke—prefers to pull people aside and put bugs in their ears, leading through insinuation and confidences. It seems to work, too—at least Creepy Claire thinks so, as she welcomes Jack into the fold and tells him that he joined the team “the moment you let him talk to you.” But the problem with The Devil On The Shoulder Method of leadership is that as soon as Locke steps down off the shoulder, he risks losing his prey’s attention. Witness Zombie Sayid, who dutifully walks off into the jungle to kill Desmond, and then starts to get his soul back when Des quietly, insistently asks him whether Locke’s rewards are worth it. Even if Locke can bring Nadia back, Desmond asks, “When she asks what you did to be with her again, what will you tell her?” Score one for the good guys. (Or so I assume. Sayid tells Locke that he killed Desmond, but c’mon. I believe that like I believe in fate.)
3. But what if Sawyer were in charge?
Locke tasks Sawyer with going out to get a boat that they can all use to sail to Hydra, but as soon as Locke’s out of earshot, Sawyer orders Jack to get Hurley, Sun and Frank (a.k.a. “that pilot who looks like he stepped off the set of a Burt Reynolds movie”) and meet them at a different spot than Locke’s preferred rendezvous point, so that they can put Operation: Sub Hijack! in action. But there’s dissension in Sawyer’s ranks. Kate doesn’t want to leave Claire behind (and Claire presses the issue herself when she shows up at the dock with a rifle in her hand). And Jack? Well, Jack says that something doesn’t feel right about this. And though Sawyer waves him off with the wisecrack, “They got pills for that, doc,” Jack is coming to realize that if The Island is going to keep jerking him back no matter what he does, it’s probably pointless for him to try and escape until he knows once and for all why the hell he’s there. So he tells Sawyer, “I’m sorry that I got Juliet killed,” and he dives into the drink to swim back to The Island.
Of course it’s not like Jack has much of a choice, because Sawyer’s leadership style is driven to a significant degree by a lifetime of defensiveness, and a need to prove that he’s no hayseed. He’s a shrewd son-of-a-bitch with no patience for doubters or debaters. He’s not about to let Jack filibuster; he demands an up-or-down vote. Jack chooses down. Afterward, Sawyer seems like he’s about to be proven right. His group arrives at Hydra, and Zoe orders her Nerds to lower their weapons after a momentary standoff. And Jin and Sun get that touching reunion we’ve been waiting for, which rekindles her ability to speak English. (“We’ll never be apart again, I promise you,” Jin says. And Sun, unfortunately, refrains from answering, “Dude, your English is awesome.”)
But then Widmore has a change of heart, and orders Zoe to drive the interlopers to their knees, with their hands behind their heads. Maybe Sawyer should’ve been more open to Jack’s dissent after all.
“The Last Recruit” was, technically, not a character-specific episode, but I tend to think of it as a Jack episode. It’s Jack’s version of leadership and heroism that Lost is ultimately concerned with I believe, and much of the drama of “The Last Recruit” (and I personally thought the episode was highly dramatic, and highly entertaining to boot) had to do with Jack muddling through. He had his chats with Locke and Sawyer, and found out what he needed to know from each: from Locke, that he’d been impersonating Christian Shepard on The Island all along, and from Sawyer that escape was his only plan. If it were up to Jack exclusively, he’d rather not be either one’s “last recruit.”
Of course, sometimes fate does intervene. In the Alterna-World, the episode ends with Jack rushing into surgery to save John Locke (and catching a glimpse of both his own face and Locke’s face in the mirror). On The Island, the episode ends with Widmore bombing Locke’s people and Locke rushing in to save Jack. “You’re with me now,” he says before the cut to black. And yes, that does seem to be the case. But only for now.
-Sawyer, responding to Hurley’s example of someone who was pulled back from the dark side: “Who the hell’s Anakin?”
-Speaking of Star Wars, Michael Giacchino’s score struck me as especially John Williams-y tonight.
-Frank, offering a warning: “That smoke thing runs a hell of a lot faster than we do.”
-How would you spell this: “Jaboni?” “Jabony?”
-Some will disagree I’m sure, but for me it’s worth all the confusion of the flash-sideways for an episode like tonight’s, where everything comes to a head in both worlds, and not a scene is wasted. There’s still a little too much lurching for my taste, as characters say what could be shown or implied (or just said better). Still, few shows have ever been as good as Lost at ratcheting up the tension and the action as a season reaches its end. (Well, The Shield was better. But not many others.)
-In case you haven’t heard, Lost will be off next week. See you back in two weeks for “The Candidate.” It’s going to be an excruciating wait.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-Locke says that the war with Widmore is happening sooner than he expected, which is similar to what Widmore’s team has said. Is there some reason why both camps are having to act faster than they’d like? Some other force at work, perhaps?
-Smokey says he’d taken Locke’s form in part because Locke was “stupid enough to believe he’d been brought here for a reason.” Apparently Smokey excels at exploiting the faithful.
-Are Sayid and Claire on the way to some kind of redemption, now that they’re away from Locke?
-This week, Desmond’s number is 15. (The floor where both Ilana’s law office and Claire’s adoption agency are located.)
-Locke doesn’t know why Sun believes he caused her to lose her ability to speak English. That could be a huge clue, the more that I think about it. It’s clear (to me at least) that what was affecting Sun wasn’t anything medical, but rather a bleed between the two realities. And if that bleed caught Locke by surprise, then maybe that means he has nothing to do with the creation of Alterna-World.
-On The Island, Desmond sits at the bottom of his pit in shallow, muddy water, a lot like the water that Ben used to use to summon Smokey, and that helped revive Sayid in The Temple.
-What is Frank’s role in all this? I think about that more and more each week, as the parallels to Season One become more boldfaced. There was no Frank in Season One. And I don’t think you can say he stands in easily for any of the dead folks. He ain’t Boone. He ain’t Charlie. Who is he?
-Sawyer rejects Locke as “not one of us,” one of many familiar Lost phrases/ideas in tonight’s episode. In Alterna-World, Ilana asks Jack that age-old question: “Do you believe in fate?” And in the boat, Sawyer orders Jack to get out, telling him to take “a leap of faith” (much like Eloise said to Jack in “316”). But the most telling re-use of a Lost chestnut comes after Jack goes overboard. How many times on this show have we heard Jack or somebody else say, “We have to go back!” Sawyer’s response to that? “We’re done going back.”