Director: Don Richardson
Writer: Barney Slater
Cast: Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, Billy Mumy, Angela Cartwright, and Jonathan Harris
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 4/27/1966
Production #: 8529
While retrieving a laser pistol, Professor Robinson is trapped in a cave with Canto—an alien warrior whose evil spirit assumes control of John’s body. Before long, the Robinsons discover that their beloved patriarch has been hijacked by a vicious, ill-tempered psychopath. Only the unconditional love of a forgotten son can save Professor Robinson, once a kind and compassionate father, from the demon that lives inside him.
A poignant and phenomenally written episode, “Follow the Leader” contains a haunting—albeit heavily disguised—allegory of the familial disintegration that often occurs when husbands and fathers succumb to vices (e.g. drugs, alcohol, and gambling) of a worldly nature. Exceptionally remarkable is the performance of Guy Williams, which adds an air of credibility to the shocking transformation of his character.
By behaving in a volatile, unpredictable manner following his initial encounter with Canto, Professor Robinson provides the subject matter of Barney Slater (a frequent contributor to Lost in Space) with a truly sinister quality. In one scene, for instance, John invites Dr. Smith to the breakfast table, offering him a plate of food before exploding into a fit of rage—a chilling outburst from an otherwise rational human being, and one that will no doubt work to convince the audience of Slater’s fantastic narrative conflict (i.e. Canto’s possession of Professor Robinson).
Also praiseworthy, the cinematography showcased in this episode establishes a bleak, ominous atmosphere to embody the dire predicament involving Professor Robinson and his family. Worth commending in particular are the dim-lit cave sequences, which serve as a physical representation of the sorrow and despair felt by Will, Maureen, Penny, Judy, Major West and (ostensibly) Dr. Smith while witnessing John surrender to the forces of evil.
Similar to “The Challenge” from earlier in season one, this installment contains a rare example of Williams—a tragically underused actor—employing his incredible swordsmanship in a fantasy-themed scenario. For this reason, “Follow the Leader” may appeal to fans of the original Zorro series (another television program starring Williams).
For including a veiled commentary on the corrupting influence of addiction, “Follow the Leader” earns its reputation as the greatest and most disturbing episode of Lost in Space. Specifically, John first approaches Canto during a moment of weakness, preventing him from resisting the extraordinary mental and physical abilities offered by the malevolent spirit—a convincing portrayal of how temptation can overwhelm even the noblest of men. Upon returning to the Jupiter 2, Professor Robinson—now consumed with the power of Canto—proceeds to abuse his family and friends in a highly uncharacteristic fashion, paralleling real-life fathers who, while under the influence of mind or body altering substances, treat their loved ones with malice and contempt. Though quite unnerving, John’s abrupt change of personality marks a rare example of Lost in Space—a program typically geared toward young children—daring to address a dysfunctional aspect of human society.
“Follow the Leader” is an outstanding, perhaps even flawless, conclusion to the premiere season of Lost in Space. Thus, for those who enjoy serious, thought-provoking analysis of Robinson family dynamics in a science fiction/fantasy setting, this episode should be requisite viewing.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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