There’s an old truism among Londoners that I always used to hear exploited by comedians when I lived there that the way their buses ran, you’d wait 45 minutes, and then three would come at once. I’m terribly sorry about doing my very best imitation of a batch of errant double-deckers, but sometimes life gets hectic and takes precedent even over Lost, though I know the good Doc would disagree.
That said, WOW! Wowee wowee wow wow. Didja see when the smoke monster…? And he shot Desmond…? And Locke looking all…? And Miles & Hurley going all Han & Chewy on us…? And Dan! Poor Dan. Poor Ellie. Poor everyone. It’s so not going to end well. At least Des is on the mend and looks like he’ll be OK. For now. (*insert ominous music here*)
Season 5 of Lost is now and forevermore to be known as the Greek Tragedy Season™. And it’ll be even more of a tragedy for me if I don’t start tearing through the last few episodes.
But don’t panic. Base eight is just like base ten really…if you’re missing two fingers. Shall we have a go at it? Hang on.
I know that the above quote from dear Mr. Lehrer doesn’t really apply so much except for the “Hang on” sentiment, except perhaps in that, throughout the present-day narrative in “Dead Is Dead,” Ben was starting to show us a side of himself that we’d rarely seen: the side that has a problem he’s not sure how to solve. In fact, harking back to “He’s Our You,” Post-Donkey-Wheel-Turn Ben has if anything been someone giving the appearance of fighting the future. Granted, he’s using a very advanced toolkit of skills and resources that allows him to improvise better than some people’s best-laid plans, and he’s fighting with the tenacity of an animal in a trap willing to gnaw off its own leg, but the fact remains.
In the grandest of Lost traditions, “Dead Is Dead” has re-contextualized previously-seen events, making us see them in a whole new way. From his reveal as the leader of the Others at the end of Season 2 to Ms. Hawking dressing him down in “The Lie,” Ben Linus looked like one of The Major Players in the grand game at the heart of the show. But the cracks in that façade started becoming more and more obvious as time went on…and around…and twisted back on itself…and, well, you get the idea.
But now…now we see it differently. We see Ben chastising Widmore for being too seduced by the perks of being The Other Lama™ only to become, if anything, even more seduced by them in the post-DHARMA era than Widmore likely ever was. Don’t get to literal in assessing the story of Alex as pertains to Ben’s life. When Smokey was showing him that montage (and, by the way, does Smokey moonlight as the background in inane political commercials for wingnut groups? Just askin’…), it wasn’t that Alex’s life was being held as more valuable to the Island than anyone else Ben ever killed, cheated, tricked, or lied to. It was that the story of Ben’s adoptive…OK, larcenous…fatherhood of Alex was indicative of lost humanity.
Ben went from sparing Rousseau’s life and adopting young Alex to being the doting father and faithful Island steward to being willing to sacrifice teenage Alex like a piece on a chessboard. He’d come to value his position and power more than the life of the person closest to him in the entire world. And even then he didn’t get it, choosing not to atone but to compound the wrong by storming down the path of vengeance, willing to take the life of someone who’s never done him a single wrong rather than admit his own complicity in Alex’s death.
It seems that the Island needs its leaders to be able to make hard decisions and do dirty work, but it also needs them to retain their sense of compassion for their fellow human. Why else would the knife be such a deeply wrong choice in the Other Lama Test™? The seed of that humanity remains, as witnessed by Ben’s hesitation to kill Penny Widmore when her golden-haired moppet showed up saying, “Mommy?” And I suspect that this is the only reason that Ben wasn’t killed outright by Smokey the way Eko was at the end of “The Cost of Living.”
And his penance of serving Locke faithfully with a great, big, bolded, italicized, all-caps OR ELSE? Priceless. The Island won’t have any of this self-preservation or -aggrandization. Oh, no, you have to give big, bad Papa Island everything—your pride, your faith, even your life.
You’re the largest liar that was ever created. You and Pinocchio are probably related!
Now, I don’t know if you’ve read your Dante, but the Ninth and lowest Circle of Hell was reserved for traitors and betrayers. And Ben’s betrayed everyone at every turn. He betrayed his father (who admittedly kind of deserved it) by killing him, he betrayed his extended DHARMA family by helping plot their slaughter, he betrayed his leader (Widmore) by mutinying, he betrayed the Island by going off course in so many ways, he betrayed Sayid by cutting loose after making an assassin of him, he betrayed both Locke and Juliet so many times it’s not even funny, and then he betrayed the Island again by coming back when he wasn’t supposed to.
Even despite the admonition…and threat…from Smokey-as-Alex, can anyone really think that he isn’t going to turn around and betray everyone (but especially Locke) again before all’s said and done?
What’s more, what always seems to lurk behind the betrayal is the raw, festering wound that was young, Roger-abused Ben. Think back to his tantrum to Juliet as Ben pettily showed her Goodwin’s decaying body, his petulance as he turned the Frozen Donkey Wheel, his “nyah-nyah” attitude anytime he’s one-upped someone.
The only conclusion I can draw is that Ben, for all his intelligence and endurance (I mean, the man spends most of his time in a state of recovery from being beaten to within an inch of his life, doesn’t he?), is like a child with a toy. Big, bad Charles has what I want. WAAA! Mean old John and Richard want to take my magic box away. WAAA! I’m being sent to my room (the outside world) for being bad. WAAA!
The ultimate tantrum/betrayal of wounded-child Ben can only be yet to come — probably as Ben tries to either a) ingratiate himself with the “Shadow of the Statue” people and/or b) destroy same from within — and you don’t want to be anywhere nearby when it happens.
Gimme head with hair…long beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen!
OK, I have to ask. Are the hair & makeup people on Lost having an extended joke at our expense? I mean first, we get Jack’s chin-badger. Then we get the Michael Emerson in the ludicrous rug pictured to the right. And Alan Dale in a piece that looks to me eerily like a more “salty” version of my departed father’s kinky salt-n-pepper ‘do. The rest of the time, Lost’s actor image enhancers seem to do such a good job, too.
At least Dale got a stand-in to play his younger Widmore of Arabia self. And Fionnula Flanagan got no less than two stand-ins for various points along her personal history as Eloise “Don’t Call Me Ellie” Hawking.
But we’re actually supposed to buy Emerson as a twentysomething. I mean, the guy’s an amazing actor and all, but at this point I’m surprised they didn’t try to have him play tween Ben as well just to mess with us.
And the second we see Desmond in a novelty nose, glasses, and mustache, I’m taking a hostage.
Right before your eyes see the laughter from the skies and he laughs until he cries, then he dies, then he dies. Come inside, the show’s about to start, guaranteed to blow your head apart!
But the centerpiece (as opposed to the hairpiece) of the episode was the Ben & Locke Show, which has now taken a dramatic reversal. Suddenly, Ben’s mojo is completely gone with his former dupe, John Locke. He can still work a yokel like Caesar without difficulty (alas, poor Ceasar, did we hardly know ye?), even sow the seeds of doubt with no less a Ben-skeptic than Sun.
But rain-divining, Island-attuned, fully faithful Messiah Locke is having none of it, and is going to make a truth out of Ben’s probable lie that he came back to be judged for his misdeeds. And along the way from watching Ben’s waking eyes bug out over seeing him, the resurrected Locke played an oddly ascendant Virgil to Ben’s Dante, out to strip away all of Ben’s self-deception and ensure that the Island actually did get its chance to judge its former Anointed One.
From continued needling about Ben’s notion to engage in the New Otherton (née Dharmaville) “pharisee” life, to reminding Ben that all his manipulations have left him alone, to rubbing Ben’s nose in his previous treatment of Locke, to the repeated hints that Locke was “something [Ben] can’t control,” to ultimately driving home the point that it was no one’s fault but his own (well, and Keamy’s) that Alex was killed. The canary in the coal-mine of Ben’s soul was dead because the toxicity had gotten too high.
But it was Smokey in the guise of Alex who ultimately got through to Ben, laying bare his intent to kill Locke anew and assigning him that most humiliating of atonement: serving the very man he’s manipulated perhaps more grossly than anyone faithfully.
Let’s be completely clear about this. Somehow, Ben thought he could challenge destiny. And he got farther than anyone else…you don’t see Widmore back on the Island, after all. He still failed, just like everyone else has this season, and Locke finally gets to be the Other Lama™, even if it ends up being a comparatively short reign.
And speaking of John Locke, I’m going to part company with anyone theorizing that he’s now an Island manifestation a la Christian Shephard or Yemi. When he says he’s “the same man [he's] always been,” I believe him. He’s just unbound by all the things that prevented him from being the Island’s perfect instrument. His anger, his daddy issues, his need for a self-aggrandizing destiny. I think they’re all gone. I’ll grant that he took a bit of malicious pleasure at Ben’s discomfiture, but one can hardly blame him for that, especially when he’s doing what can only be described as the Island’s bidding. But this just points all the more strongly to the Island being Locke’s ultimate exploiter, which I’ve been banging on about for goodness only knows how long. Longer than I’ve been writing for this site, certainly.
Quick Hits From “Dead Is Dead”:
• I actually find I believe Ben both when he says he knew Locke would be resurrected and that it scares him to death because he’s never seen anything quite like it. The rest in both of those exchanges was typical Ben BS.
• The Temple’s outer perimeter is a half-mile in radius?!? With all the over “the line” galavanting that various Lostaways did, not a single one of ‘em saw a massive stone wall surrounding a circular mile?
• Locke should never tell Ben to “shoot.” Ever. Jus sayin’.
• Smokey gets summoned by unclogging an ancient drain? All I ever get in my bathtub is my discarded hair. Yeesh. The only way that could have been more underwhelming would have been if Ben had filled out a form in triplicate.
• Is it just me or did Anubis look supplicant to the image of Smokey in the Temple hieroglyph? I find this…disturbing.
• Ben looked genuinely surprised to see Jack, Hurley, and Kate in the DHARMA Class of ’77 photo. Curious.
• Widmore got some of the best lines, what with constantly sneering, “Boy!” at Ben and getting in a sweet reference to The Prisoner.
• Locke got so very many great lines: “I was just hoping for an apology.” “You just make friends everywhere you go, don’tcha.” “No sense in me dying twice, eh?” And even his little smile and wave to Frank & Sun. Priceless!
• “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” doesn’t sound like the Snowman Joke so much as some kind of Illuminati secret signal. At last, we have our other party in the “war” that Widmore’s always going on about. I’m coming around to the notion that Ben, Widmore, Hawking, Alpert, and now Locke, are all on the same side here even if there’s internecine struggle.
And now, “Some Like It Hoth!”
That is why evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.
From a Ben-tastic mythology-fest to a Miles & Hurley, pop-culture-laden, authentic Lost throwback to the days of pure flashback storytelling…and another one of those “breather” episodes before the roller-coaster that is Season 5 goes into a three-gee barrel-roll en route to the explosive finish.
Now, the discerning Lost fan had long since figured out that Miles was Dr. ChangCandleWickmundHalliwax’s son. So, that revelation was a distinct non-event to anyone reading this blog. But we still got some good insight into Miles’ character…enough to know that he’s a walking, talking example of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, more comfortable with the leftover impressions of the dead than with anyone living.
Me, I’d be surprised if someone being brought up under those circumstances and losing his mother so young didn’t develop intimacy issues and a larger-than-healthy dollop of bitter cynicism. And can you honestly imagine being privy to all the mundane, nasty detritus of a dead mind effectively trapped in amber? There’s a reason Douglas Adams construed telepathy as a punishment in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (And I thought working tech support could give you a dire opinion of your fellow human!)
Good thing that Miles was playing Han to Hurley’s Chewbacca with the DHARMA van standing in for the Millennium Falcon on their little smuggling run around the Island. Hurley, as always, laid on the wisdom. If people just communicated more, they’d be a lot less miserable. And Ewoks suck, dude. Yes, his spelling may be atrocious and he may be ignorant about the time-scale on global warming and he may not be too swift on the uptake about the nature of time-travel in the Lost universe, but when it comes to matters interpersonal, Hurley seems to have more on the ball than any other character on the show.
You’d also think that Miles would be able to take his own advice as given to Mr. Gray (played by Dean Norris, a regular on the truly amazing Breaking Bad. If you’re not watching this unbelievable show, then start. Now!) not to miss his chance to tell a loved one he is loved. But noooooo…or at least, not yet.
Running on a treadmill after you and I’m running on a treadmill now
But it wasnt going to just be easy-breezy Lucas references from opening to closing credits. No, it wouldn’t be a Season 5 episode if there weren’t a few more inexorable time-loops constricting our characters in their coils.
Yes, the one involving Miles is patently obvious. It’s going to be thanks to him and the rest of the time-travelers that Dr. Chang turns his back on his wife and baby to save their lives, thus making him much less of a “douche” than Miles had been led to believe during his upbringing. (Note the way Miles kind of “fell in” behind Chang at various points in the episode, as if indulging his desire to be a boy following his father’s commands?)
But did you see the look on Hurley’s face as he watched the Numbers be stamped into the Swan Hatch-to-be? It was as if the number chisels were being hammered directly into his tormented heart. That was more painful than watching Jack & Kate, the troublesome twosome, trying and failing miserably at allaying the suspicions of Roger Linus about his dying son’s sudden disappearance. Those two really can’t do a damned thing right, can they. *sigh*
Paternal relations aside, I can’t help but think that the reading of Alvarez of the lethal orthodonture was not Miles’ purpose in being back on the Island. After the events of “The Variable,” I can’t help but wonder if Miles won’t be reading poor, dead Daniel to get at the crucial information in his cranium. I also can’t help but think that Miles is also headed to a bad end along with the rest of the freighter people.
Charlotte seems to have been brought back just to realize she’d been there before and to motivate Faraday to work himself up to thinking he can change the past. Faraday had to fail at that and get killed at the hands of his own mother. And Miles? I have a bad feeing about this…I don’t think he’s going to survive The Incident while Chang does, thus forcing another parent to see the ultimate fate of their child who was unnaturally transported to the past. But I hope I’m wrong. Miles has kind of grown on me.
Things that make you go, “HAH!”
• “Circle of trust.”
• “Why don’t we carpool? It’ll help with global warming, which hasn’t happened yet, so maybe we can prevent it.”
• “You’re just jealous my powers are better than yours.”
• “Polar bear feces.”
• “That douche is my dad.”
• “Third day we were here, I was on line at the cafeteria, and my mother got in line behind me. That was my first clue.”
• “We should all… get together for a beer sometime. How awesome would that be?”
• Miles’ deadpan reading of Hurley’s alternate script for The Empire Strikes Back.
• Phil getting beat up and tied up.
• Is it even possible that the DI was managing to build the Swan without the knowledge and at least tacit approval of the Others?
• Emotional scenes with the dead always seem to cost extra with Miles, then end up getting refunded.
• Did anyone not know that it was Widmore who staged the fake 815 wreckage?
• OK, it was nice to know how Miles settled on exactly $3.2 million, even if it was a little underwhelming.
• Wow, but Bram came off like a recruiter for Jonestown in his attempt to persuade Miles. Kind of creepy. Also, their “team” clearly has nothing to do with Widmore, Hawking, Ben, or Alpert. Makes me happy Miles was so snarky with them.
• I so need to make myself one of those stylin’ black jumpsuits Dan was wearing when he got off the sub.
Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of me working through my backlog after “Follow the Leader!”