Normally I like to wittily set up these recaps. But know what, Lost fans? I’m too gosh darn excited. I just wanna jump into this, Kris Kross-style. But, like, with my pants facing the right way. I’m just a traditionalist like that.

(Interested in my initial take? Look no further.)

The Shape of Things to Come

4) In Summary

"The hunt is on."

8) Present Day

On the beach, Kate almost takes her shirt off and smiles at Jack. I’m just reporting the facts here, people. That’s what happens. She notes him holding his side while going into his tent, and catches him popping a few pills. No, not future pills, antibiotics for what Jack calls a stomach bug. The two discuss the lack of communication with the boat, when cries for help from Bernard beckon them forth. What they find isn’t pleasant: it’s the doctor from the ship, dead from a slit throat.

In New Otherton, Hurley tells Sawyer they’re all gonna die. Locke’s there too, acting equally grave, and God bless Lost, it’s all a set-up: the three are playing Risk. (Potential shout-out from co-writer Drew Goddard to the Dungeons&Dragons scene in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer finale?) And, apparently, in Risk, Australia is the key to the whole game. Just sayin’.

Outside the sonic fence, Keamy unmasks Alex, demanding she turn it off. She enters the code 1623 (natch), which prompts a phone to ring inside Ben’s bungalow. Locke hears a mechanized voice announce "Code 14J." They go to Ben, who’s playing a song on the piano. I think it’s that terrible Fray song ABC’s been pushing down our throat for the past month. Ben freaks when he hears the code, realizing the mercenaries are at New Otherton. He throws Sawyer a shotgun and heads out.

Ben wants to hunker down inside his former bungalow; Sawyer refuses, and heads off to find the others to bring them to safety. Ben tells Locke it’s vital that he survive what’s to come, and staying with Ben (whom they want alive, not dead) is his best option.

On the beach, Jack interrogates Faraday and Charlotte about the doctor. Faraday insists the doc was fine last time they talked. When Jack asks when the last time he saw the doctor, Faraday replies, "When…when is kind of a relative term." (Season 5, everyone!) Faraday thinks he can fix the sat phone to turn it into a sort of high-tech telegraph. After Kate leads Faraday to the supplies, Jack asks Bernard for a minute of his time.

Back at the Showdown at the Otherton Corral, Ben and Locke are fortifying the bungalow. Hurley’s less than pleased to hear that Ben won’t allow anyone into the house. For his part, Sawyer engages in the most unintentionally funny scene of the season: Sawyer telling roughly 12 people in a row to get back inside before they are brutally mowed down by Keamy’s Krew. Sawyer luckily doesn’t trip in their massive pool of blood on his way to Claire’s house…just before it’s RPG’ed into smithereens. OK, fun time’s over.

Inside the house, Locke wants to know why he needs to survive. Ben says only Jacob can help them, and he needs Locke alive and Hurley to lead them there when possible. Outside, Sawyer manages to find Claire, because he’s awesome. She calls for Charlie, because something fiercely weird is starting to happen with Claire. As Sawyer carries her to Ben’s bungalow, Hurley throws an ottoman through the window, granting them access.

Suddenly, the doorbell rings. They move cautiously to the door, and who can it be knocking at my door? Go away…don’t come round here no more. It’s Miles, and he’s got a walkie-talkie. Looks like Keamy wants to have a little chat. Miles tells Ben that Keamy has Alex, which changes Ben’s demeanor drastically. Keamy beckons Ben to look out his window, where Ben sees him giving the creepiest smiling wave in the history of smiling waves.

Keamy wants Ben to come out, promising no harm to anyone else. Ben references some mercenary time in Uganda as a shortcut to describing his moral character. OK, fun time’s over. (Like, for realz, this time.) Keamy beckons for Alex, and what follows is one of the most brutal scenes in Lost history. No recap can do it justice. Keamy insists he’ll kill her if he doesn’t come out. Ben takes a moment, then tells Keamy to leave the Island at once. Keamy hands the walkie to Alex, where she begs for her life. Ben insists everything will be fine, but the last thing Alex ever hears in this world is Ben tells Keamy she’s not his daughter, and means nothing to him. So if Keamy’s going to kill her, why doesn’t he…

…and then does. Holy #$%^ing @&%#.

While Sawyer and Locke discuss strategy, the camera pans slowly, relentlessly, towards Ben’s catatonic face. Ben suddenly says, "He changed the rules," then beelines for his secret closet. Looks like this secret closet holds one more surprise: a giant, ancient door, covered in hieroglyphics. I wonder what my wife (an interior designer) would say about the mixing and matching of styles in this room. Ben opens the door, and enters an unseen hallway.

Claire comes into the room, wobbly but OK. Ben returns from the closet, now covered in dirt and soot. He tells everyone to listen to what he says. He wants them to run to the treeline. Why? Because Smokey’s making a visit. A big freakin’ visit. It rolls in, bigger than any version we’ve previously seen, teeming with electricity. Ben and Company stare in shock and awe as the monster attacks the mercenaries. "Did you just call that thing?" Hurley asks. Excellent freakin’ question, Hugo. Ben stays behind, to say goodbye to Alex. Oh, lord. In the middle of this freakin’ smoke monster carnage, the show quiets down for a moment as a man says goodbye to the last person on earth he loves. Just…wow.

Over on the beach, Faraday manages to fix the phone. He Morse codes "What happened to the doctor?" When the reply comes, he translates it by telling Jack that the helicopter’s on its way, so not to worry. Bernard calls foul: turns out he knows Morse code. What they really said? "What are you talking about? The doctor is fine." Um, what??? Bless this show. Jack starts to quite frankly lose his mind, finally asking Faraday, "Were you ever going to take us off this Island?" When Faraday confesses they weren’t, Jack’s entire body AND soul seem to give out at once, as he realizes his folly.

In the jungle, Sawyer tells Locke he’s taking Claire back to the beach. Miles wants to go along. When Ben arrives, Locke scolds him for lying about knowledge of the smoke monster. Ben tells him Jacob can answer all his questions once they arrive. Sawyer beckons Hurley to come along, but Locke pulls his gun out, leading to a tense standoff over the fate of Hurley. Looking to avoid violence, Hurley agrees to go with Locke. In a moment befitting the future on-Island hero, Sawyer insists that he’ll kill Locke if he harms one hair on Hurley’s curly head. Ah, Sawyer. You are going to rule in Season 5, I can feel it. The two sides part and go their separate ways.

15) Back in the Day

Possibly the three greatest shots all season: a close-up, mid-ranged, and long-ranged shot of Ben waking up, gasping, with frosted steam rising all around him, while wearing a Dharma parka (aka, Dharka), IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FREAKIN’ TUNISIAN DESERT. Now THAT’S how you come back from commercial break, people. He notes a wound on his arm, throws up some lovely yellow bile, and spots two men on horseback coming his way. Just another day in the life of Benjamin Linus, people.

The two men have guns, thinking for some reason mere mortal weaponry can harm the man-god that is Ben Linus. One searches his for weapons after Ben’s attempts to communicate fail. The man finds a small baton on Ben’s person, which Ben attempts to play off…before turning into Indiana Bourne 007, extending the baton, whacking his would-be captor, turning that man’s gun against his compadre. He then knocks out the first man, takes his horse, and then has sex with both of their wives. OK, I made that last part up. But why not? He’s on a roll.

A shabby, dirty Ben Linus checks into a Tunisian hotel, under the name Dean Moriarity. Looks like he’s been there before…just not a while. A month? Year? Sixty years? It’s all game now. Curiously, Ben has to ask exactly what day and year it is. After getting his room key, he notes something interesting on the television: Sayid, asking the camera crew for privacy as he buries his wife.

In Iraq, Ben follows Nadia’s funeral procession. He’s wearing the dorkiest outfit alive, but he’s wearing it precisely to stand out while taking photos of Sayid. It works, as Sayid sees him, gives chase, and tackles him in a back alley. Ben makes up a delicious story about escaping the Island via Desmond’s boat, the Elizabeth, then chartering a plane from Fiji. Nothing about suddenly appearing in a Dharka in the desert.

He tells Sayid he’s there to find Nadia’s killer, Ishmael. He tells Sayid that Ishmael works for Charles Widmore. He produces a picture from a traffic camera three blocks from the scene of the crime. Ben tells Sayid he doesn’t know why they killed her (liar!), prompting Sayid to crush the picture in his hand. Ben later tracks Ishmael to a local eatery, choosing as his undercover ensemble the brightest yellow scarf in the world. Once again, Ben uses subterfuge to lead his opponent directly where he wants: into a nearby alley where, you guessed it, Sayid shoots him dead. Like, 57 times. Ben tries to leave, but Sayid wants in on Ben’s war. Ben protests, in the way that I would protest someone who wants to buy me a couple of cases of Sam Adams Winter Brew coupled with a few pizzas.

Some time later, a newly spiffy Ben shows up to a building in London. He tells the doorman he’s there to see the Kendricks in 4E. Luckily, his ruse fools the doorman, lest he eat a baton sandwich. Ben gets into the elevator, pulls out a key, and heads to the penthouse. Inside? Charles Widmore. Behind Ben? A painting of what looks like the Island. Next to Widmore? A painting of the Black Rock. Oh, it’s ON. Not unlike Donkey Kong.

Widmore’s not surprised to see Ben in his room. When Ben asks when Widmore started sleeping with a bottle of MacCutcheon besides his bed, Widmore replies, "When the nightmares started." Good enough reason for me. When Widmore asks if Ben has come to kill him, Ben cryptically replies, "We both know I can’t do that." OK then. Widmore tells him that he knows who Ben really is, and that everything Ben has he took from Charles himself. Turns out Ben’s looking for a little retribution: an eye for an eye. Or rather, a daughter for a daughter. So, the "hunt is on": Ben’s after Penny, and Charles remains searching for the Island.

16) The Mythology

Here’s the really crazy thing. Even crazier than a 500′ electrified smoke monster, time travel, and Ben’s sudden ninja skillz. In many ways, this is the pilot epiode of Lost. Sure, we had to wait nine episodes into the fourth season to get it, but who ever said Lost did things the normal way?

That last scene between Ben and Charles lays the groundwork down not only for everything to come (the shape, as it were), but also largely fills in the shape of what’s already happened. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth stating again and again because I think it’s vital to understanding why such a late revelation of the show’s overall agenda isn’t some desperate, Hail Mary, Heroes-esque refutation of all that’s come before. Rather, it’s a revelation that suddenly puts everything we know into a new, deeper, and altogether more fascinating scenario.

Remember the opening shot of the true pilot episode? Of course you do: it’s Jack’s eye, opening in close up. That’s about as tight a focus as you can give this side of a CSI-esque trip inside a victim’s colon. We followed these people not because they had all the answers, but because they had none at all. They were stand-ins for us, the audience. There were us not only because of character/temperament, but also perspective: their wonder, their fear of the unknown, their gradual understanding of their situation happened in lock step with ours. We held a few more pieces of the puzzle than any of them at a given time, but we weren’t offered an omniscient perspective that gave us a true leg up on them. They were us, we were them, coo coo ga joob.

But in this episode, what was long hinted finally came into laser-sharp focus: what the show Lost had shown us, and what these characters had experienced, was but a drop in the bucket in terms of the history of this Island. And I’m not talking about the Dharma Initiative: I’m talking four-toed statues, slave ships, hieroglyphic doors, and dudes that don’t know about birthdays anymore. Much like the citizens of Zion in The Matrix, the Lostaways are unwitting participants in this particular cycle of war over the ownership of the Island.

This war has been fought for millennia by The Army of the Light and The Army of the Dark, names I’m assigning based on the backgammon motif established in the pilot episode. These two sides wage eternal battle over this Island, with Lost depicting merely the most recent iteration of that struggle. And that’s why I call this episode the true pilot of the series: because it overtly states this struggle for the first time, giving the show its true "shape." What we thought was a show about people trying to merely escape a mysterious Island is in fact perhaps a show about the last, final struggle to seek some sort of balance in this long-fought war.

23) The Moment

I don’t know about you, but I _felt_ Alex getting shot. I just felt it. And what Michael Emerson does in the 30 seconds afterwards is miraculous.

42) In Retrospect

  1. Maybe they always knew, but in this episode the writers really started solidifying Sawyer’s place as THE leader on the Island once the Oceanic 6 left. You could argue that his transition from coward to leader was a bit herky jerky, but it’s hard for me to really intellectually fight when I see him risking his life for Claire and defending the man who used to be the butt of nearly all his jokes.
  2. While rewatching Season 4, I’m marveling at how sidelined Jack is during this season. Nearly half of his scenes are spent asking Faraday and Charlotte questions to which they have no answers. Then again, with the possible exception of Faraday, nearly everyone in the show pales in comparison to the force that is Ben Linus in this season.

108) In Summary

I know you all like to joke about how I have something like 32 episodes in my Top Ten list, should all my mentions of it be literally taken. But folks, this really IS a Top Ten all-time episode. I have no doubt about it. It’s as sure a bet as "The Constant," "Walkabout," and "Stranger in a Strange Land." (Just seeing if you’re still paying attention.) In terms of expanding the story of the show, it’s second only to "Through the Looking Glass." In terms of mythological expansion, it’s second perhaps only to "Orientation." But throw in some of the best Ben Linus stuff ever seen on the show, and it exceeds both in being the very best of what makes Lost the best show on television.

Leave your thoughts about this episode below!

Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude, then peruses Zap2It’s Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to join the all-new Zap2It’s Guide to Lost Twitter feed. Pretty soon he’ll have as many platforms as Ben has off-Island identities.

Posted by:Ryan McGee