For my money, "Lost" has officially gone two for its last two. After a strong episode last week, there was potential for a let down. But they came right back with it, and some things got really interesting.
The Happenings: "LaFleur" picks up immediately after Locke's disappearance down the well. We literally open on the shot of Sawyer holding the rope that now leads directly into the ground. Once Locke gets "the record" back on track, Sawyer, Faraday, Jin, Juliet, and Miles must figure out when exactly they are. After commenting that Locke must have succeeded, someone asks what they should do now, to which Sawyer responds: "Wait for him to come back."
We, the viewers, however, don't have to wait, instead jumping ahead three years to the main Dharma camp. There two men argue about contacting "LaFleur," and how he will react once they give him some bad news. This is mainly a ploy to build suspense for the reveal that Sawyer is LaFleur, and he is now security chief of the Dharma initiative. He rides out with Miles to pick up the group's leader, Horace.
This sets off a set of flash-forwards and flash-backs that establish a new group of Islanders. With Sawyer, now known as Jim LaFleur, as one of their leaders, the Dharma Initiative has fully become a part of the show. We see that Sawyer and friends win the Dharma folks over in a couple of ways, first by saving Amy (who many will remember from early seasons of "24") and then by convincing Richard Alpert to honor the "hostiles'" truce with the Initiative. Horace takes Sawyer into his inner circle, eventually making him security chief, and Sawyer and the rest make lives for themselves among the others.
The show traces the course of the entire intervening three years by incidents that happen at the both the front and the tail end. The former was saving Amy, the latter was safely delivering Amy's baby, which Juliet uses her future powers of obstetrics to do. The other major development that is charted over course of these three Island years is the relationship that develops between James and Juliet, which culminates in their being in love (and possibly marriage). The episode ends, as any "Lost" devotee could have predicted, with the arrival of Jack, Hurley and Kate, escorted by the Dharma-decked Jin.
The Craziness: During the briefest of time jumps, we were treated to one of the most monumental (pun intended) in jokes in "Lost" history -- THE STATUE! -- which stands whole, a good 100 feet in the air.
We know that Amy conceived her child on the Island, and that she is able to carry it to term. Sawyer fills in the blanks while talking to Juliet by insinuating that whatever kills the babies in the future, may not have happened (or arrived) yet on the Island.
Though it's unclear at the outset, we're told that the year is 1974, which would make the three-years-later time 1977.
Though it's never explicitly stated, it's clear that the "Others," who they call the hostiles, co-habitated at least for some period of time, peacefully, on the Island.
When Sawyer speaks with Alpert he mentions specifically the bomb, "Jughead," and whether or not Richard and his people buried it. He also mentions John Locke, and the fact that he, Sawyer, is waiting for him.
The Verdict: "LaFleur" is a great example of "Lost" at its best. It had compelling story arcs, elaborated with enough of a splash of sci-fi for fans to buy in whole sale. In many ways, it almost felt like a one-off; the situations and characters that we met and who interacted with Sawyer and company were completely new and may even prove to be self-contained, but their interactions carried so much weight because of what we know about the Island, about the future, and about the survivors. I was also profoundly struck, as has been the case in the past, with how much emotion and development the writers were able to wring out of so little screen time. This is partly a virtue of the fluid nature of time that has been created on the show, but it's also just a testament to the level of talent they have producing these episodes. In lesser hands this could have felt campy or even just crappy, but for me at least, "LaFleur" carried real weight in a way that few other shows are able to do.
As has been the case in past seasons, "Lost" has conquered by dividing -- the crew that is. With the last several episodes spent breaking the Island and the mainlanders apart, these last two week's we've been able to spend time with each location and set of characters independently. It appears as if going forward, we'll be back to familiar ground, at least as far as the cast is concerned, but so much has changed in only a few short episodes, it's almost impossible to say where things are going to go from here. Which is just the way I like it.
The Wild Speculation: In my mind, there were a few big questions hanging over this episode. The biggest, by far, is what of Locke and Ben? From what we've seen over the last two weeks I have to believe that they are stranded on the Island in the year 2009 (or 2008, or whatever year is "present" on the show). We know that Jack, Hurley, Kate, Sayid and Sun all "flashed" out of the plane before it crashed, presumably dropping them in 1977. But Ben and Locke didn't flash, and therefore may not have time traveled. So how do they meet up? They have to, that much is clear, and one would think it would be in the present.
Another major question is to what extent did Ben know or plan on this outcome? It seems unlikely to me, as it would be difficult to believe that anyone could have predicted at what time the Island would stop moving. There would appear to be some sort of connection, though, between either the survivors (to one another) or that specific time. Otherwise, we would have to assume that the entire Island, the 1977 version of it anyway, exists in present day. This could be possible, but why then would Cesar and Locke have been wandering around a deserted Dharma station.
I've got to stop there, because frankly, the harder I think about these time traveling issues, the more I feel like I'm working myself into loops. There seems like there's a plausible or at least rational in the world of the show explanation for when/where/how everyone is where they are currently. For the rest of the tonight anyway, I'm comfortable waiting to see how it all plays out.