LONG LIVE BEN Tonight's ''Dead Is Dead'' episode promises to put Michael Emerson at center stage -- and for Doc Jensen, that raises hope for greatness
Do I dare hope for all-time Lost greatness? Because that's usually what happens when Darth Ben takes center stage. (See: ''The Man Behind The Curtain,'' in which we witnessed Ben's tragic origins and got our first [and only] fleeting glimpse of Jacob; and ''The Shape of Things To Come,'' in which Ben beheld the sight of Alex's assassination and uttered, ''He changed the rules,'' thus launching his V for Vendetta persecution of Charles Widmore.)
According to the promos for tonight's episode, ''Dead Is Dead,'' Ben will speak once again of these ''rules.'' Perhaps we will learn what they actually are. FUN FACT! There was a 1993 film flop entitled Dead Is Dead, the plot of which, according to Amazon.com, goes like this: ''While Eric Shepherd tries to find answers to his brother's death, he is partially dismembered by an unknown creature. A young woman finds Eric and gives him a miracle drug called Doxital that grows back his severed limb and saves his life. A chain of haunting events follows Eric on his quest for the truth.'' Might this shlocktastic cinematic endeavor be a code key that deciphers the secrets of Lost? Please, feel free to investigate on your own and then tell me all about it. JeffJensenEW@aol.com is my e-mail.
But back to Big Bad Ben. It boggles my mind to consider how this character was originally intended to be a short-term season 2 proposition. Thanks in large part to Michael Emerson's performance — and how it captured the imaginations of both the audience and writers — Ben became an inextricable part of the show. Might it be argued that the whole of Lost is really Ben's story? The season's time-travel saga, in which we've seen how the castaways have shaped his life, has been further evidence for such an interpretation. Regardless, I like the idea that Ben himself is exactly like Emerson: He is a survivor. He is a man who has essentially outlived his intended purpose to the Island — leading the Others until Locke came to town — but who has prolonged his power, his significance, and perhaps even his life through guile and ingenuity. Ben is living an improvised existence — and success has promoted his status from special guest star to series regular in the Island's grand narrative.
What more can I tell you about ''Dead Is Dead''? I can tell you names. Desmond. Smokey. The Galaga. And Sterling Beaumont, the young actor who plays Young Ben, who was last seen being carried into the Temple by Richard Alpert for life-saving surgery...and apparently, soul-warping innocence-removal. Press play on today's episode of Totally Lost to see Dan and me and a very special guest put some extra mustard on those teasers. PLUS! Ding, dong, the pig is gone! Someone shot Pig E.! My heart sings to a joy fantastic! Let April 1 now forever be known as Liberation Day in the land of Totally Lost. Still, I have enough empathy to wonder: Who shot that tiny toy tyrant? Dan and I bite back on our glee over Pig E.'s pain to begin investigating the question in this week's installment, presented in glorious Crazyvision here at The EW later today.
LOST UNTANGLEDYour weekly ABC-produced recap of Lost, presented as action figure theater.
When you're done — and if you have the time — check out this brief article over at docarzt.com, in which a film-savvy Lost fan analyzes a couple key scenes from last week's episode. You'll think it's a little dry at first, but by the end, I betcha it'll enrich the way you watch Lost, or any TV show for that matter.
LOST'S NEWEST TIME-TRAVEL DEBATE
Who remembers what and when? And can Desmond explain it all?
Remember earlier this season, when we found ourselves debating the business of...well, remembering? Specifically: Did 2004 Rousseau recall encountering Jin when the two met in her first days on the Island? Well, it appears we have a new version of the same time-travel noodle-cooker on our hands, thanks to Sayid's shooting of Young Ben. Has the über-Other always had that memory? Last week's episode — in which Kate and Sawyer brought wounded Young Ben to Richard Alpert — provided a possible answer: No. ''If I take him he's never going to be the same again,'' the eyelined enigma explained. ''He'll forget this ever happened and his innocence will be gone. He will always be one of us.'' Maybe Alpert's healing process includes a memory-wipe and an installation of false memories. Which means that Ben technically may not have been lying back in season 3 when he told Jack that he has lived on the Island all his life.
Nonetheless, I have stubbornly maintained for a few weeks now that Adult Ben has conducted his reign of terror against the castaways knowing what Sayid had done to him in the past. My conviction is an expression of my big-picture view, originally articulated by Daniel Faraday and re-articulated last week by Miles Straume, that ''whatever happened, happened'' — which is to say, the time-traveling castaways were always part of the Dharma past, and therefore Ben's past. But it seems some of you believe I am grossly mistaken.
''So you think that Ben remembers Sayid? I disagree,'' says reader Liz Buoscio. ''Remember when Hatch-era Desmond got a visit from time-skipping Daniel Faraday in the season premiere? Daniel told him that he had to go visit his mom [Eloise Hawking] or everyone will die. Then we saw Desmond in the present wake up. Penny told him he was dreaming and he said something to the effect of 'No, it was a memory.' I don't think he had that memory before the moment the conversation happened with Daniel.''
Reader Wendy D. Woodley believes that at the end of last week's episode, when Adult Ben wakes up in the present with a troubled look on his face, he did so having just been uploaded with those new/recovered disturbing memories of his Island youth, à la Desmond waking in the present with a memory of Faraday. True, he may have been shocked to see Locke alive and well, ''but he might have had the same look on his face waking up to new memories the same as Desmond did when he woke up remembering the conversation with Faraday. Ben didn't know Sayid in 2004 because Sayid, in his linear life timeline, had not yet returned to 1977 to shoot Ben. Likely, Ben now knows.''
These theories conform to a certain conjecture that I like to call the Magic E-mail Theory of Lost Time. The idea is that time-travelers retain some kind of connection to the present to which they technically belong. Think of time as a straight line. Think of ''pastward'' time travel as a loop that arcs from a point on the right of that line to a point on the left. When we think of time travel, we usually imagine that arc disappearing once the time traveler arrives at his or her destination. But maybe it doesn't disappear. Maybe it remains as a psychic circuit, linking the time traveler's past to his or her present, as well as his or her tribe. Hence: Faraday was able to send his ''magic e-mail'' to Desmond, a member of his tribe, from a point in the past to the present to which he belongs.
If this makes sense to you: Awesome. If this doesn't: Then I agree. Magic E-mail Theory, at least as I've described it, feels flawed. Shouldn't Faraday's departure date (December 2004) define his ''present''? If so, then how come his magic email didn't land in Desmond's mental inbox until 2007? There might be an explanation, but I'm not smart enough at the moment to figure it out. Besides, there's another reason why Magic E-mail might not be viable: Because Faraday himself may have debunked it.
Remember what Daniel told Desmond right before tasking him to seek out Mama Hawking? ''You're the only person who can help us, because Desmond...the rules...the rules don't apply to you. You're special. You're uniquely and miraculously special.''
If Faraday is correct — and he very well may not be — then Desmond is an exception to the rules, not a rule itself. Which means — sorry, Wendy, Liz, and everyone else — that the Desmond/Faraday moment shouldn't be applied to the Jin-Rousseau or Sayid-Ben situations. That said, Desmond's exceptional status suggests some pretty provocative possibilities: I wonder if the thing that makes Desmond so ''uniquely and miraculously special'' is that he is the only one whose historical arc can be tweaked, altered, or even radically changed. Where this gets complicated — and really interesting — is when you realize that timelines don't exist in isolation. Messing with Desmond's timeline would send ripple effects that would mess with the lives of any number of Lost characters, depending on when the messing takes place. To paraphrase a certain once-cool show's most famous tagline: Change the Scotsman; change Lost history.
Which may explain why both Ms. Hawking and Charles Widmore have been so desperate to guide Desmond's destiny. Yes, Ms. Hawking. Remember the episode in season 3 that revealed that Desmond spent some time at a monastery prior to meeting Penelope? There was a monk who had a photo of himself and Ms. Hawking on his desk. One implication of this blockbuster Easter egg was that there might be little to nothing about Desmond's life that is accidental, including his time on the Island. After all, we now know that Penelope's father, Charles, used to be a big chief Other (along with Eloise) on the very same Island where Desmond washed up after getting lost in a storm during a boat race sponsored by, yes, Widmore himself. Have Chuck and Ellie been micromanaging Desmond's life? If so, for how long? Is he still on the path they want him to be on — or has he left it? What are the consequences to Hawking and Widmore if he isn't?
''HIS INNOCENCE WILL BE GONE
''What is Richard going to do to Ben down in the Temple?
Enough about remembering and forgetting. Let's talk about another curious aspect of Richard's jungle sermon. ''His innocence will be gone. He will always be one of us. You still want me to take him?'' In my Lost recap, I suggested that Ben might be getting a download of knowledge about the Island and his future, thus making a mess of his free will, and likened this damning mind expansion to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. But maybe I shouldn't have been so Biblical or so negative. Reports reader David Teicher:
''The Adam & Eve story about the fall from grace and loss of innocence vis à vis the eating of forbidden fruit and the consequent advance in knowledge and understanding, is only one variation of this myth. Many cultures have a similar story, most of which include one additional detail: Death. If you read the Sumerian/Babylonian Story of Queen Inanna and the Enuma Elish, you will see that Inanna, in her journey to become queen, must first attain a full understanding of life — and to do that, she must first understand death. She proceeds on a journey to the underworld where she encounters her counterpart and loses her innocence, i.e., she dies, at which point she reemerges in the world of the living as ''enlightened'' and ready to take her throne.... I would posit that Richard must kill Ben and resurrect him — forever altered, enlightened, but tainted. Much like Persephone [from Greek mythology] after eating from the pomegranate or Izanaki [from Japanese mythology] after eating the fruit of the underworld.''
See? You learn, like, real stuff when you read this column! Let's keep the knowledge downloads rolling with this discovery from reader Amanda: ''Have you ever heard of the Egyptian Book of the Dead? If not, I really suggest you dive right into it. Here's a summary from wikipedia.org about the first two sections: 'Chapters 1-16: The deceased enters the tomb, descends to the underworld, and the body regains its powers of movement and speech.... Chapters 17-63: Explanation of the mythic origin of the gods and places, the deceased are made to live again so that they may arise, reborn, with the morning sun.' Oh, and Chapter 125? 'The Declaration of Innocence!' Reborn with the morning sun?' The Egyptian sun god was Ra, and Richard Alpert's initials are RA....''
Okay, now we're getting a little crazy. And I think I like it! To this mix of dubiously applied cosmology, I would like to throw in a little Carlos Castaneda, the author cited by Lost in ''He's Our You.'' Last week, I explained how Castaneda's concepts of ''The Allies,'' ''Mud Shadows,'' ''warrior-travelers,'' memory albums and ''the active side of infinity'' pertained to Lost. Today, allow me to briefly tell you about Castaneda's idea of ''the foreign installation.'' According to Castaneda, people who lack proper ''psychic defenses'' are vulnerable to otherworldly beings known as ''flyers'' or ''predators'' who can essentially take control of their minds. ''We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners. The predator is our lord and master. It has rendered us docile, helpless. If we want to protest, it suppresses our protest. If we want to act independently, it demands that we don't do so.... Predators have given us our systems of beliefs, our ideas of good and evil, our social mores. They are the ones who set up our hopes and expectations and dreams of success or failure. They have given us covetousness, greed, and cowardice. It is the predators who make us complacent and egomaniacal....'' Many of you have speculated that since Richard and Smokey are hanging in the Temple together, the Monster (the ''flyer'' or ''predator'' in this corollary) will be responsible for Ben's loss of innocence and tainting. Of course, this interpretation requires you to view Richard Alpert as representing something that's really sort of evil. I'm not sold on that charge. Indeed, in some respects, one might view the Dharma Initiative as something of a ''foreign installation'' corrupting the soul of the Island. Are the future Purgers villains — or liberators?
''HIS INNOCENCE WILL BE GONE'' (cont.)
Of course, there's another theory, which I like to call the ''Richard Alpert Ain't Gonna Do Anything To Ben That Ain't Already Been Done Theory.'' After all, Ben doesn't really have much innocence left to lose. Bad Daddy. Dead Mommy. Bleak future within Dharma culture. Betrayed and shot by a guy he thought was going to save him. It's hard to think that this kid was going to grow up anything but alienated from his culture and filled with rage toward it. My thinking is that Alpert's florid speech to Kate and Sawyer about Ben's fate was merely an attempt to put Ben's existing human damage — and inevitable consequences — in mythological terms. Why not? If Richard really is an immortal being, he probably sees all of life in a more cosmic, even religious perspective. He may have had another motive, too: to impress upon Sawyer and Kate that they have done nothing to alter Ben's ultimate destiny, and to dissuade them from thinking otherwise. ''Don't go thinking Ben will be your friend because you saved him. And don't go thinking you can do anything to change his fate. Sorry, kids: No matter how much you want to change it...what happened, happened.''
Of course, watch all of this blather get blown to smithereens in tonight's episode. I look forward to seeing how right — or wrong — we may be. We'll count the ways and consider the ramifications tomorrow in my recap.