MOMMY ISSUES: Ben may be a bastard, but he’s a bastard with a soft spot for mothers
By Jeff Jensen
If there's a theory to be had that Lost is the sci-fi version of Survivor, we now know where tribal council takes place: In the subterranean court of The Island's pitiless judge, Smokey, an ancient chamber adorned with hieroglyphics and images of the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis, an underworld deity who serves as a shepherd to lost souls and the adjudicator of a truthful heart. In ''Dead Is Dead,'' certain to be hailed as one of the season’s best episodes (marred only by some really bad hair pieces), Benjamin Linus crawled into the crack underneath The Temple's outer wall and found himself standing before The Monster's bench. The charge against him: Being a really crappy father. Steaming out of tiny holes in a perforated stone slate and accompanied by its trademark clicking, Smokey gathered itself into a black thunderclap crackling with psychic energy, then swallowed Ben whole.
A veritable ''Previously... on Lost'' recap of his tragic history with adopted daughter Alex flickered in the haze, from the moment he refused Charles Widmore's order to kill her when she was an infant to the day he allowed Keamy the Mercenary to blow her brain out across the Dharmaville green. I thought he was cruisin' for a Mr. Eko bruisin'... but then The Monster dissipated and curled back into the bowels of The Island. Phew. Linus was seemingly acquitted, but then Undead Alex showed up, looking pretty as a CW starlet — call her a Golem Girl. Pinning Ben against a pillar, Little Miss Death Becomes Her got even-steven with her faux pa for failing to prevent her murder by issuing the following, humiliating Island edict: Humble yourself before your new lord, John Locke. ''I know you’re already planning to kill him again,'' Alex seethed. ''You will listen to every word he says and you will follow his every order.''
Moments later, after Golem Girl had vanished, Ben found himself looking up into the gaze of the born again Island golden boy who now controls his destiny. ''What happened?'' Locke asked. ''It let me live,'' Ben replied queasily, looking like he'd just been slapped with a death sentence. Now you know what control freaks look like when they're made to go cold turkey.
Of course, we should be careful about drawing conclusions about Ben's guilt: The Island's judicial system seems to me as muddy as the dirty water that filled that... well, what the hell was that thing at the end of the rocky corridor on the other side of Ben's glyph door? It was a basin with a stopper, but when Ben reached down to unplug it so he could yell down the drain, it suddenly became communication device. Part bathtub, part telephone, I guess you could say it was... a teletubby? And who was on the other end? Jacob? Richard Alpert? The clandestine oomp-loompas who pull the levers and crank the wenches in The Island's engine room?
How many half-truths, obfuscations, and outright lies did Linus lay on us this episode? Part of the brilliance of Michael Emerson's performance is that it's hard to really know, and it forces you take a stand and make an interpretation that just might be totally incorrect. Here is mine: ''Dead is Dead'' was the story of how one of Ben's most ambitious fibs backfired big-time on him. His downfall began the moment he awoke in the Hydra Station and found Locke sitting by his cot sporting yet another one of his classic Season 5 grins. Hiya. Remember me? The guy you strangled to death? Yeah, that didn't really work... Ben told Locke that he knew his Island magic would bring him back. The surprise etched all over his face certainly suggested otherwise, but silver-tongued Ben explained it away by evoking his Doubting Thomas Sunday school lesson from ''316:'' ''Because it's one thing to believe it,'' he said, ''but it's another thing to see it.'' Then Ben told Locke that he had broken the rules by returning to The Island and claimed that he had a desire to be judged by Smokey. (''We don't even have a word for it,'' Ben clarified, ''but I believe you call it 'The Monster.''')
At the risk of impugning Ben's honesty... oh, wait, that's impossible. Anyway, my theory is that Ben really was totally shocked to see Locke alive again (Alex's line ''I know you're already planning to kill him again'' would seem to confirm that Ben wanted Locke dead dead, not temp dead), and I think he was trying to buy himself some time with Locke by dropping an idea that he knew would capture Locke's imagination: The prospect of The Island giving Ben cosmic comeuppance. After all, it wasn't like Locke was going to take vengeance. We know he ain't a killer. See: Season 3, when Locke couldn't knife his father to prove himself worthy of leading The Others. This is all to say that I think Ben had no intention of submitting himself to Smokey. I think what he wanted was to get back to The Island and hook back up with The Others. The Monster was just supposed to be... well, a smoke screen. But the great twist of ''Dead Was Dead'' was how circumstances, John Locke, and probably The Island itself conspired to make Ben's lie come true.
For weeks now, we've been debating: Has Ben always had the memory of Sayid shooting him as a child, even when Sayid was torturing Adult Ben in Season 2? I have been insisting that the answer is Yes. Last week, however, Richard Alpert seemed to suggest that some kind of amnesia would result from getting healed and becoming an Other. ''Dead Is Dead'' seemed to knowingly poke at this confusion. A couple times, when Ben was asked to recall his early years, he conveniently declined to answer. Then there was contradictory info. What to make of Ben's baffled reaction to the Dharma class picture photo showing Jack, Kate and Hurley? What to make of Ben recalling how he had been brought to The Temple as a child to be healed? And so the debate continues to rage. (FYI: We learned from Ben that The Temple is actually a separate structure, and that the ancient-looking, ivy-choked facade that we thought was part of The Temple was actually a wall built to keep The Temple proper hidden from ''outsiders'' like Locke and Sun. Interesting. Telling of... something. Like, maybe The Temple isn't some crumbling ziggurat, but rather some very modern edifice? Again, I ask, Just how legit are all these ruins? How much of them are just show pieces designed to fool newcomers as to the age and nature of The Island?)
JOHN LOCKE IS NOW:
A. A SUPER STUD
B. A SUPER-VLLAIN
C. EVERY BIT THE SUPER-SUCKER HE’S ALWAYS BEEN.
Born Again John Locke cut a powerful figure in ''Dead Is Dead.'' He was strong and strapping, brimming with confidence and beaming with vision. He knew new stuff, like where Ben had to go to get judged. (But he confessed he didn't know exactly how he knew that. Curious.) And he claimed to know even more, like when Sun asked him how they were going to reunite with Jin and the seventies-stuck castaways and he said, cryptically but sure, ''I have some ideas.'' By the way, I don't really think Locke really has any ideas. Yet. I think he has great faith that he will have a plan — or more specifically, that The Island will reveal the plan to him at the appropriate time. Locke is the Man of Faith that Dharma Jack wishes he could be: Living in the moment, lacking any bit of desperation, letting things play out, listening carefully for The Island's directing voice. At least, for now.
But for one episode at least, Locke got to be the Ben-esque omniscient mastermind, and he relished being in the driver's seat. ''You don't like this, do you?'' Locke said. ''Having to ask the questions you don’t know answers to. Now you know what it was like to be me.'' Locke definitely enjoyed making Ben squirm, no more so during their tete-a-tete in the uber-Other's old Hydra Station office. Taking a seat and propping his feet up, Locke said, ''I was hoping to talk about the elephant in the room,'' referring to how Ben had murdered him. In explaining his motives, Ben said exactly what many of us suspected: He had to save John from suicide to get crucial intelligence out of him — then kill him to motivate the Oceanic 6 to return to The Island. Ben's words have the ring of truth — they almost always do — but I still suspect part of his rationale was to stop Locke from meeting Eloise Hawking and learning what she may have to tell him. Strangely enough, Locke seemed to be — or pretended to be — disinterested in Ben's rationale. But his bitter scowl spoke volumes. Locke was all for Ben getting judged by Smokey. I think he wanted to see Smokey get all Mr. Eko on his ass. ''If everything you’ve done has been in the best interest of The Island,'' Locke quipped, ''then I'm sure the monster will understand.'' It'll be interesting to see in the episodes to come if Locke is a little bewildered if not disappointed by what may appear to him as Smokey's leniency.
As much as I liked seeing Locke stick it to Ben, I worry. For starters, there's always the possibility that Ben actually has Locke right where he wants him — that Ben is still in control, and until that truly changes, Locke is only as powerful as Ben allows him to be. But I also worry that something has gone wrong in the John Locke reboot. I detected a strong whiff of smug arrogance wafting from him, a scent that reminds me of another strong, strapping, middle-aged power player who factored prominently in the episode. I can't help wondering if that strong hint of Euro dude Charles Widmore wafting off Locke was meant to foreshadow the idea that, like the other Other-Heroes that have come before him, Locke is destined to go rotten. They say pride goeth before the fall. Last night, Locke delivered on Part One of the equation. Uh-oh.
Charles Widmore, circa 1977: A cool fantasy hero stud saddled with atrocious hair. I asked my wife what he looked like to her. Response: ''A mushroom.'' Widmore was pissed that Richard had brought Young Ben to The Temple. Richard neutralized him with four words: ''Jacob wanted it done.'' This is pretty significant: We now know this unseen entity has held sway over The Others since at least 1977. Why did the mention of ''Jacob'' shut Widmore up? Probably because he felt threatened. It's been suggested that Jacob likes to play favorites, so Widmore probably realized right away that Ben represented a rival. You know what they say: Keep your friends close — and your future replacements closer.
One of the episode's blockbuster revelations was that Charles Widmore had ordered Ben to kill Rousseau shortly after her arrival on The Island. Perhaps it was a leadership evaluation, akin to how Locke had been challenged by Ben and Alpert to murder his father back in Season 3. (Was Ben being assessed to fill Eloise ''Ellie'' Hawking's shoes? After all, she was mysteriously MIA from all the flashbacks.) Anyway, arriving at Rousseau's tent, Ben discovered that the frazzled Frenchie had given birth to a child. Suddenly, all of his snakey heartlessness slithered away. Behold Ben's Achilles' Heel: Moms. Which makes sense. His own Bad Daddy had pumped him full of guilt for his mother's death during childbirth. Mamas are the line that this Locke-killing, Dharma-purging fiend just can't cross. So he spared Rousseau's life and returned to camp with Infant Alex and got scolded by soup-sucking Chuck for being so darn empathetic. ''You were supposed to exterminate that woman,'' Widmore said. Yet Ben stood his ground — and stood up to Widmore. ''Is this what Jacob wants?'' Ben asked. Then, he dared Widmore to kill Baby Alex himself. Widmore just walked away. Meanwhile, Richard Alpert watched, and his eyelined eyes made me wonder if he was thinking ''Time for a regime change.''
Yes, Widmore played the jerk in this drama. Yet we must ask ourselves: Was he correct? It all depends on if you think everything that has happened during the Ben era of The Island was supposed to happen. And for now, I am taken with the notion that it wasn't. Benjamin Linus was a stop-gap for John Locke who outlived his usefulness, a mistake that won't go away, and his ongoing struggle to remain essential to The Island's story (if not simply survive) has created history that deviates from destiny. We know, of course, that Fate can correct an altered course, but either its repair job is following a long-term, slow-developing plan, or Survivor Ben, cockroach resilient, has been outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting Fate at every turn. So far, at least. Just as Desmond learned in Season 3, you can only cheat The Island for so long. Widmore seemed to be warning Ben of this as he was being led to The Galaga for his exile. ''If... The Island wants her dead, she'll be dead,'' Widmore said, speaking of Ben's decision to spare Rousseau and save Alex for himself. ''And one day you'll be the one standing where I'm standing, and you’ll realize you can't fight the inevitable. I'll be seeing you, boy.'' FUN FACT! ''Be seeing you!'' was the creepy salutation that the Others-like inhabitants of The Village said to each other in Patrick McGoohan's classic Lost forebearer, The Prisoner.
We heard why Charles Widmore was exiled from The Island, though we didn't see the drama that produced the event, and I hope one day we will. For now: Gossip. According to Ben, Widmore fathered a child (Penelope) with an ''outsider'' (not yet seen), spent too much time off The Island, and exploited The Island for selfish gain. Of course, unless I am misunderstanding all the passports and cash and fine threads in Linus' closet, it looked as if Ben was ultimately guilty of similar sins. Are you beginning to get the sense that life as Big Chief Other ain't all that it's cracked up to be? Inevitably, you end up spending too much time worrying about staying in power, as well as spending too much time trying to get whatever it is that you ain't getting (or what you're not supposed to get) on The Island.
There was a moment right before Widmore's departure scene that had a weird vibe to it. We saw a twentysomething Ben with a laughable Clay Aiken haircut pushing Alex on the Dharmaville swings. They were happy. Richard walked over, also beaming with joy. Purging dozens if not hundreds of hippie scientists with cynanide gas = good for the soul. (My prediction, by the way, is that our time-traveling castaways will be long gone from doomed Dharmatown before The Purge ever happens circa early nineties.) Anyway, Ben gave Alex a big push and then Richard said, ''Any higher and you'll fly her off the island.'' Richard and Ben then exchanged an awkward glance, as if the ageless enigma had just put his foot in his mouth. What did you guys make of that? Feel free to shoot me a theory at JeffJensenEW@aol.com.
We also found out why Ben boarded Ajira 316 all battered and bloody. He had gone to the marina to fulfill his promise to kill Widmore's daughter in retaliation for Alex's death. Classy as always, Ben gave Chuck a jingle to let him know that his runaway child and mother of his never-seen grandson was about to get pumped full of lead. He dropped the name of Desmond's boat, ''Our Mutual Friend,'' named after the Charles Dickens' novel that housed the love letter that kept the Hatch-trapped Scot going during his darkest days. The book, which I have not read, chronicles the consequences of an inheritance that is ceded to other people after the intended heir goes mysteriously MIA and fails to pick it up — which sounds an awful lot like the theory that Ben somehow usurped the Island destiny originally slated for Locke, a mistake that The Island has been madly trying to correct.
We saw Ben pop a cap into Desmond. Right? We agree that we did see that? Okay, so a bag of groceries got in the way, but unless Desmond had some bulletproof cans of haggis in that bag, bruthuh should have been dead, or at least severely wounded. Ben moved down the pier, saw Penelope, exchanged some words, raised his gun… and then he saw Young Charlie. Once again, Ben's weakness for new moms and kids got the best of his hard ass. He lowered his weapon — and then got leveled by miraculously okay Desmond, who sacked him like a blitzing linebacker. And then came yet another classic Ben beatdown, with Desmond pounding the snot out of Bug-Eye's face, just like Jack did at the end of Season 3. The Scot then tossed Ben in the water, which allowed for the brutal visual poetry of underwater Ben barfing blood into the sea.
What was most interesting about this scene, though, was what we didn't see — namely, what happened afterward. How did Desmond survive that near-point blank shooting? Did The Island intervene from afar as it did with Jack and Michael's suicide attempts? How did Ben get fished out of the water? Who fished Ben out of the water? How did his damaged arm get put in that sling? Because Ben was sporting that sling in the episode ''316'' when we saw him calling Jack from a pay phone at the marina. Perhaps Desmond pulled him out the drink in order to ask him some ''Why did you do that, bruthuh?'' kind of questions — but that would blow a hole in the prevalent fan theory that Desmond is now en route to The Island to finish off Ben in order to protect his family from future attacks. If that's what Desmond wanted, why didn't he just make sure Ben was dead at the docks?
Is Caesar dead? No. The Island will heal him.
''What lies in the shadow of the statue?'' Ilana — the bounty hunter who was bringing Sayid back to Fiji when he got zapped back to The Island — teamed up with some other toughs on the plane and cracked open a giant steel case full of weapons and staged their takeover of the Ajira Airlines castaways. Looks like somebody came to The Island prepared for a hostile takeover, if not a war — perhaps the very same war Charles Widmore spoke to Locke about. Ilana gave Lapidus a sphinx-like riddle test that made her sound as if she was intimately acquainted with The Island's ancient mythology. (He flunked, and got hit over the head for his trouble.) No doubt the statue refers to old Four Toe, aka the Egyptian god Anubis. What lies in its shadow? For now, my money is on Jughead. Regardless, I’m hoping upcoming episodes will reveal more about these radicals who have infiltrated The Island via Ajira 316 and what kind of perspective they have on The Island.
''Dead is Dead.'' The episode's title came from Ben’s speech to Sun trying to convince her that while Locke did indeed die, this new Locke represents something he couldn't explain. ''And it scares the hell out of me,'' Ben said. Yet even as Locke was trying to assure Sun that ''I assure you, Sun, I am the same man I've always been,'' he also possesses new Island memories and/or instincts that he didn’t have before, like knowledge about the crack in the Temple wall where Smokey resided. Is Locke merely attuned to the mind of The Island itself — or has he become an afterlife Island entity akin to Christian Shepherd?
Many things I've glossed over, from the firmly established link between The Others and The Whispers, to the significance of Locke's curiosity (and derision?) about why Ben moved The Others into Dharmaville. What did you make of that? Send me emails at JeffJensenEW@aol.com or post below!
My favorite line of the episode is the line I leave you with.
BEN: ''Okay. Have a great day!''