There's never a dull moment in a Ben-centric episode of "Lost." Tonight's was a doozy. In truth, it felt a little bit over-stuffed. There were some moments -- like Ben's confrontation of Penny and Desmond at the dock in L.A. -- that seemed really rushed, and thus lost some of their impact. (After a second viewing, this didn't bug me as much and the whole seg grew on me considerably.)
But in the main -- we sure did learn a lot in "Dead is Dead," written by Brian K. Vaughan and Elizabeth Sarnoff and helmed by Stephen Williams. It might've also been titled "Rules are Rules," or "The Loves of Benjamin Linus."
Ben does go on and on about doing everything for the sake of "the island," as does Widmore (it's getting to the enough-already point), but I think Ben's adventure with the resurrected Locke and in Smokey's underground cavern was all about his atoning for Alex's death -- not about breaking the rules of returning to the island once you've worn out your welcome with Jacob.
We got a lot of glimpses of the bitter battles for island supremacy over the years -- between Widmore and Richard Alpert, Ben and Widmore, Horace and Richard, Ben and Richard, and Ben and Locke. And they all love to play the Jacob card on one another. "The island chooses who it chooses," is Richard's retort when Widmore gets worked up about the decision to take in the dying 12-year-old Ben in 1977. Notice a pattern to the leadership choices here? Maybe it's time Jacob thought about bestowing the crown on a femme (Juliet?) for a change.
We even get the comic relief of seeing Ben and Locke needling each other about it -- as if they were kids in a school yard -- as Locke takes them to the Temple site to smoke out Smokey. But boy you can really see, as Ben admits, that Locke's intuition about all things Island is bugging the hell out of Ben. He nearly breaks down emotionally when he comes to realize that Locke was dead-on about what Ben's really going to face Smokey's judgment for.
Although I should know better by now, the action in this seg kept me guessing at every turn about Ben's motives and the truthfulness of his statements until the end. And I was right to do so, as proved by the big moment at the end where Alex (
or the ghost of in the guise of Smokey, duh) comes to Ben and orders her guilt-ravaged dad to become a faithful follower of Locke, and to forget his plan to kill Locke for a third time.
Of course, the information-rich flashbacks that we were treated to also puts Alex's life and death in an entirely new, mind-blowing context. Ben didn't so much steal Alex from Rousseau as he saved her from death at the instruction, if not the hand, of Widmore. Very enlightening. And we also know that Ben never did complete his Widmore-directed mission to do away with Rousseau either, probably because she is in fact a part of Alex.
And getting to see younger Ben and young Ethan clumsily try to complete their stealth mission as Others was just like a big hunk of red meat to us Ethan-lovers. It also helps explain why Ethan, son of Dharma leader Horace, is able to survive the purge that comes a few years after Ben takes Alex.
So maybe Ben was fooling himself with his vengeance-fueled mission against Widmore for orchestrating Alex's murder and "breaking the rules." Widmore tells him in the flashback scene that if the island wants her dead, it'll just be a matter of time. But when the moment came in 2004, Ben could have sacrificed himself, and didn't. That's the kind of thing that sends you to the smoke monster with felony charges.
Now, to the question of Locke's rebirth. Ben tells Sun: "Dead is dead. You don't get to come back from that, not even here. The fact that John Locke is walking around this island scares the living hell of out me." Don't believe it. I also didn't believe it when Ben lamely tries to convince Locke that he killed him back in that seedy L.A. motel for the good of all of the castaways. (What is the "information that would have died with you?" that Ben says he got from Locke just before he strangled him. I feel like I should remember this...)
I think the closest thing Ben gets to the truth is his initial surprise when he sees Locke peering over him as he's on the cot in his former Hydra island office: "It's one thing to believe it, John. It's another thing to see it." Perhaps he's wondering if the island would be able to work its magic on his own mother, or Alex.
The showdown scene between Ben and Locke in Ben's old office was classic "Lost," thanks to the fine work of Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn. Locke telegraphs the changing of the guard by propping his feet up on Ben's desk. Ben foreshadows the reappearance of Alex by searching for the photograph. Ben tries to use his old manipulation tricks by pushing Locke's buttons about his having "failed" to bring the Oceanic 6 back. Locke one-ups him with humor: "I was just hoping for an apology."
Sun, Locke and Ben made quite an interesting trio in this seg -- I never would've predicted those three to be isolated for an episode together. Sun didn't have a whole lot to do -- compared with her paddle-whack of a few episodes back -- but Yunjin Kim played it just right, dazed and confused.
The other big reveal of this seg of course was the indisputable confirmation that Ilana is more than just a random bounty hunter, and maybe the other Ajira passengers have some connections too. I gotta believe Ilana is working for Widmore. Who else would send huge box full of guns and ammo on a commercial flight.
"Get everyone else; tell them it's time," Ilana hisses to her goons after she KO's Lapidus.
What lies in the shadow of the four-toed statue? I'd like to know, and clearly so would Ilana. But did she really have to be so rough on Lapidus? And what if any is her pre-flight connection to Caesar, who's now got shotgun pellets in his belly after trying to strong-arm Ben.
Few more random notes:
** Widmore is exiled, according to Ben, for leaving the island too much and for having a daughter with an "outsider." So who's Penny's mother? I think the answer will be interesting.
And who were the other Others who were sent off with him.
** Ben does remember being healed by the Others as a boy, but he doesn't remember running into Hurley, Kate, Jack, Juliet and Sawyer as Dharmas in the 1977 time frame. Or at least he's pretending not to when he looks at the group photo that Sun shows him.
** Ben seemed to cringe a little bit at Lapidus' description of "the crazy old man" who told him and Sun to go wait in Ben's old New Otherton house for John Locke to tell them what to do next. I think it was Sun who told him that his name was "Christian."
** A copy of Alex Haley's "Roots" was clearly visible on the bookshelf in Ben's house that hides the entrance to the Closet of Destiny, which in turns hides the entrance to the hieroglyphic-decorated cavern underneath.
** The Desmond-Ben fight scene and the Penny-pleading-for-mercy scene just didn't play well for me. Way too rushed. I suppose we are to believe that the sight of toddler Charlie made Ben change his mind about killing Penny?
** The exchange between Ben and Locke over making the smoke monster appear seems to suggest that while Ben knows how to work the levers of power on the island, Locke has an innate understanding of its inner-workings. "I only know how to summon it," Ben says. "I don't know where it is." Smirks John: "I do."
** Locke to Sun: "I assure you Sun, I'm the same man I've always been." Sun doesn't look reassured.
** Ben, the Devout Other. "We built this wall to keep people like the two of you from ever seeing it," Ben tells Sun and Locke as they approach the Temple, now nearly overtaken by jungle foliage. Could it be that the Temple lies in the shadow of the four-toed statue? (Duh, the Temple's kind of far removed from the coast where the statue is. That's what I get for writing fast and late after a long day at the office.)
** Ben's big scene when the Smoke Monster rendered its verdict was good, thanks to Emerson's talent, but held back down from greatness by f/x that looked a little too cut-and-paste, and rushed. Still, those images of Alex were like emotional 2X4s hitting Ben upside the head.
** Interesting that right before it all went down, Ben actually thanked Locke for "showing me the way."
** Why do I always (often) have trouble catching a key piece of dialogue in the waning minutes of each episode! When Alex has Ben against the wall and is telling him to lay off Locke, did Ben reply
"Like Sawyer, I will follow Locke"?
According to On the Air reader Boetticher, it was: "Yes, I will. I'll follow him. I swear."
More thoughts after the second viewing:
On the whole I liked it better than I did last night -- and part of that definitely could have been me. Long day at the office and I had a toast mishap during the first commercial break.
** Ben is flopping around like a fish with various explanations in the scene where he realizes Locke is alive. I do believe Ben was surprised.
** What was up with Ben trying to set up Locke with Caesar -- noting that Locke didn't appear to have been on the plane, etc. Maybe he was hoping someone else would kill him?
** There were at least two scenes that showed Locke with Christian Shephard's shoes that Jack put on Locke for the casket-trip home. What up with the shoes?
** The scene of Charles Widmore going off to exile on the dock, in which he promises that the same will happen to Ben someday. "You'll realize you cannot fight the inevitable," Widmore snarls. Meaning that Ben will one day play second fiddle to Locke?
** Ben's bullet definitely did not connect with Desmond. The grocery bag must've been full of canned goods -- family size!
** BTW -- where's Rose and Bernard!!