I don’t want to keep saying the same thing every week, but ya know, maybe in a way I do. If Lost keeps it up at this pace, while it might become repetitive for me, I’d love to keep repeating myself in saying that Lost is fantastic. Now, in last night’s “Dr. Linus,” did we get much closer to our destination? Well, not really, I guess. Real, clear answers to seasons’ old mysteries there were not. Unlike Widmore at episode’s end, we could not raise our telescope and say, “Land ho.” But I say we must enjoy Lost for the journey. I mean, if you’re flying from the southwest back to Poughkeepsie, do you close your eyes while you fly over the Grand Canyon? Not only that, but are you pissed that you even flew that way?
So here we are, as we’ve always been, over a chasm of great unknowns, but a beautiful, humbling one — so majestic you pretty much have to believe it’s there by design. The comfort, faithful viewers, is that we are not staring down going deeper; we’re slowly raising up, riding on what sometimes feels like creaky donkeys on steep cliffs, but we’re gonna make it up out of there. In this case, the donkeys we’re riding, the omniscient designers of the canyon itself, and the pilots of that flight back to Poughkeepsie are all Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse — show-runners and head writers of Lost. I’m telling you people, they’re gonna get us there.
I’ve met both of these dudes (name-drop central!), and they’re nothing if not very aware of the reception of their show. If anything, they’re quicker to its faults than any praise you’d wish to throw at them. Case in point: no one likes Niki and Paulo? Dead. But try to tell them how thoroughly the show rules? Demure deference. These are not the writers of 24 (sorry, 24, I used to love you) who let their show languish in tripe until, as Daily Variety tells me this morning, it whimpers off the air (Jack Bauer, you’re better than this). Rather, “Team Darlton” are highly vested in the quality, novelty, and lasting conclusion of their work. So, at some point during this season, after my utter disappointment with “What Kate Does” (still a sucky episode) and before last night’s “Dr. Linus,” I’ve decided to enjoy the view and, especially this year, I think that’s going to be our best way to watch Lost. This is supported by the fact that last night there was so much to see.
To your left, you’ll see an atypically nebbish Ben Linus--school teacher, bad hair cut. He’s a doctor of early European history, but he’s trapped running detention and complaining about coffee in the teacher’s lounge. To your right, you’ll see an atypically defeated Ben Linus digging his own grave on Lost island. Nope, not too many mysteries here, sorry. But compelling drama? Yes. Many times yes.
Benjamin Linus has been, since his debut in season 2, one of the most compelling things about Lost. His cagey nature has kept him interesting and intriguing since the beginning, much like Lost on the whole. Minus some action beats throughout the rest of the season, I believe last night was as much a resolution to ol’ Ben as we should expect. Off-island Ben was a school teacher who, when we meet him, is going on about Elba, the island of Napoleon’s exile where, Dr. Linus told us, his punishment wasn’t so much the isolation of banishment but instead banishment from power. For the deaf, this was Darlton screaming, “This is like Ben! On and off island, he’s an exiled, authoritatively impotent man!” “Oooohhhh,” says audience. Eventually, Locke, the substitute, gives Ben the idea that he should be principal. “The big job.” This is a funny contrast to the “big job” of world-changing island-running. Or how maybe, just maybe, we inflate positions and conflicts in our own lives to try and satisfy our larger ambitions. It’s not so much making a mountain out of a molehill as trying to fit a tiny puzzle piece into a space much too large for it. Dr. Linus, banished to a lesser life but totally unaware of what the larger life would have been, picks battles like high school administration instead of time travel and murder, and…you know, the usual stuff. Maybe what Lost has got here is a sly joke about “high school drama.” Key to Ben’s principal power-play? One Alex Rousseau. A promising young student that keys Dr. Linus into an inappropriate dalliance that the principal committed with the school nurse. Using this information, Dr. Linus tries to take the principal (or, and I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to say this, the-reporter-guy-from-Die Hard) down. (Fun throwback fact: Ben got Widmore’s position on-island by outing an affair of his.) But then Die Hard guy says if Ben goes through with it, he’ll “torch” Alex’s recommendation to college. Ben is forced to choose power or Alex. At one point on the island, he chose power, and Alex ended up dead via mercenary’s bullet.
Speaking of which, island Ben, who was once sentenced to exile off the island but wrangled his way back, is still punished by an utter lack of power. Beyond that, he’s also been told to dig his own grave by an angry Ilana for murdering Jacob. Ooops.
Before he’s shoved off to that task, though, we watched as Ben struggled to connect with anyone he was left with, after everything he’d believed in was lost. We even discovered that Jacob was hoping “he was wrong” about Ben and that Ben would not stab him when tempted to do so. To say Ben was in a fragile state would be a bit of an understatement. So he dug. And then Smoke Locke glided over on all his ominous noise and told Ben to come with him because, after he and his new people left the island, Ben would need to run it. Further temptation now, this time by power.
But there Ben went, running into the woods, away from what we’ve at least been lead to believe are the good guys. And when Ilana caught up with him and he had a gun pointed at her, he explained only that he wanted to explain, and in a stretch of a minute or so, the character arc that was Ben Linus essentially completed itself. Ben was confused, alone, apologetic, and unforgiving of himself for letting Alex die. He explained that his thirst for power blinded him from what was truly important, and that his following of Jacob was a confusing nothingness since Jacob wouldn’t so much as recognize Ben, and now he’s gone. Pitifully, when Ilana asked him why he was following Locke, and we suspected it was for the power he had lost, he said it was because he “was the only one that would have me.” In a big ol’ gooey emotional payoff — a catharsis, if you will — Ilana said, “I’ll have you,” and then Ben, ever the eager shepherd, timidly followed Ilana back to camp a sheep, though perhaps now not the black one.
An equally triumphant ending awaited Ben off-island as well. We saw him enter the principal’s office and look at the name on the desk. We thought, “Oh no! He’s going to slam his name down there and poor Alex will be screwed.” Rather, Dr. Linus was dropping off the names that would be in detention that afternoon, and in walked a happy Alex, radiant about the principal’s glowing recommendation. There was something beyond relieving about watching Dr. Linus make this sacrifice, about watching the dude right a wrong he committed in another life — another season or two ago. It reminds me of this conversation Luke Skywalker had with his dad once, while his dad was still having some cyborg-dark-side health issues. Says Luke, “There’s still good in you, I can feel it.” Says Vader, “No son, it is too late for me now.”
Jacob et al represents the Luke side of dialogue, Smokey et al the Vader side. “Look, I’ve been mostly robot for like 30 years or something. Plus, you could never understand what I’ve been through. I used to hang out with Jar Jar Binks. Don’t know who that is? Good. Now leave me alone.” What this season is really about is who and how what characters will throw which evils down what shafts. Man, I hope some of the people that read this thing are as geeky as me.
Back to task: seeing Ben being on the Luke, or better equated — Good Vader — side of things was an abundantly pleasant surprise.
Last week, I yapped about not wanting to go into wild, showy theory for the sake of text or titillation. I’m mostly going to stick to that here. I’m sure there’s extrapolation to be done, as it comes to Napoleon’s biography, the East India Trading company, the European dark ages and enlightenment, Spanish slave trade or, even if the island has been a kind of detention for our castaways, presided over by a frustrated Ben Linus at the orders of a disconnected principal (Jacob) where said castaways are meant to reform. That line of thinking is most tempting.
But I’d like to focus on some other, perhaps more important, perhaps more satisfying things (message boards, better writers, and Wikipedia await those wishing to dig deeper into some of the above).
Last night’s two most important moments were the following:
1) The revelation by an old and sickly Roger Linus that the island has, in fact, existed in this time-line — and not only that but that Ben and Roger had been there and left it. (Call this Lost‘s weekly requisite mind-blow).
2) Jack’s suicide hotline stint in the Black Rock with Richard.
The first blindsided us with crucial information triggering a landslide of conjecture. So okay okay, Dharma totally still happened in this timeline. Roger and Ben were a part of it. Does this mean the jug-head bomb was exploded in this timeline? The Linuses also didn’t seem aware the place has since keeled over in the ocean since Roger was imagining how much better Ben’s life would have been, had they stayed there. I’m sorry, I feel like my brain is in a microwave. Maybe I should consult some of those better writers I pointed you to above. But now that we know the island existed as such, who else has been there? Who hasn’t? And what has and hasn’t been the same as we’ve seen it? Significantly, what has happened to Jacob and Smokey in this time-line? Sleeping with the fishes or partying in the USA? I need to know! And will Miley Cyrus be there?!?! (Anything to get as many people watching this show as possible.)
Second, with real Locke dead and buried (for now), last night also provided the full conversion of Jack Shephard. In “Lighthouse,” Jack went into one of his throwback rages and then took a time-out at the ocean. The question: Sink or swim? Fight or go with the flow? Richard, something of an immortal who’d spent hundreds of years following Jacob’s lead without concrete evidence of conclusion (sound familiar, audience?), was finally ready to die now that all that seemed for naught. He revealed his immortality had happened because Jacob “touched” him. And the usual gift/curse debate followed. Since Richard could not kill himself, he asked Jack to do it for him. So Jack lit up some dynamite and by fuse-light and, through sweat, we saw the baptism of Jack Shephard. As that TNT crackled, Jack told Richard how Jacob had made him see the lighthouse for a reason, that Jacob had a purpose for him there, that it wasn’t done yet — that Jack had a reason. Richard indicated how, in light of the boom-stick and everything, Jack was taking a pretty big risk on his hypothesis. But then nothing happened. As much vindication as there was with the Linus storyline, there may have been even more in this moment of victory for fate.
Here are some reasons why the “candidates are fated” thing is so clever and fantastic. Lots of times, our entertainments suffer from the James Bond syndrome. What I mean by that is no matter what tension the storytellers try to create, we’re always convinced that our main characters can never really be hurt. James Bond has been shot at by hundreds of soviets, mobsters, henchmen and other goons 22 times over and never takes a lick because he’s James freakin’ Bond. But in real life, he’d probably die, say, 20 minutes into Dr. No. We’ve learned how to grant the Bond series this, but when it comes to other shows, movies, etc., we can sometimes become frustrated by the implausibility in how our heroes escape disaster. This has been true of Lost. A huge cast of characters has dwindled by death, only to introduce more characters who up and die, and so on and so forth. Only the biggest stars survive. But now we know why — they were fated to, “touched” by Jacob — and in re-watching the series, a certain thrill will come from every moment our characters narrowly or impossibly survive or escape because we will know it was the workings of some omniscient force. That is to say God is a James Bond fan.
This is why, in season four, Michael couldn’t kill himself and why he did die by that season’s end, because “his work was done.” Now, here’s the deal. Who’s work was that? I say Jacob’s. Even though the freighter was filled with baddies and sent by a seemingly bad dude, it seems Jacob knew this was all gonna happen. How could our characters survive a nuclear blast? Because they weren’t allowed to die yet. An H-bomb-gone-boom can be a pretty bad thing, but like this other omniscient being, maybe Jacob is a force that not only has a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen but he can make the bad stuff work out for good. Case in point: Jacob dies in the time-line we’re most familiar with — the one where the H-bomb goes off. As a consequence of certain people not being allowed to die in the event of the H-bomb, an alternate time-line is spawned — the one we’ve been watching in the flash-sideways this season. In this time-line, Jacob is alive and, eventually, by some means, a reconciliation or traveling between the lines will occur whereby the final battle will be fought and won, by the good guys of course.
The above constitutes this week’s THEORY BUMP.
To me, these alternate time-line stories, which seem entirely unrelated to the drama we’ve been watching for five seasons previous, are parables. Cautionary tales perhaps. In 44 minutes or so, we see a character we know well dealing with their core issues and facing them in an allotted time, always with some lesson to be learned, even when the character we see doesn’t learn it themselves. Sayid still kills, but we can conclude that this is a no-no. Ben does the right thing, and we are satisfied in that it is right. This is good storytelling, and Lost has made a sacrifice over the years in that it dared not just to be a drama but a mystery show. In watching it, we should appreciate the story it’s telling (because it does that quite well) and not just the thrill of the goose chase. Enjoy, debate, but let the donkeys do the carrying. We may wonder if we can trust the things, if they can even carry the weight, but they know that canyon better than us. They know it instinctively. They know it by repetition. Best to trust ‘em.
Some other cool beats this week included Miles’s digging up of Nikki and Paulo’s (“those jabloneys”) jewels — something I shouted out would happen watching an episode live two years ago when Miles demanded 3.2 million dollars. Furthermore, it’s just really cool to be doing this nostalgic tour of the island, revisiting the black rock, having beach reunions at the ends of episodes… It’s a clip-show within a show for a show that couldn’t get away with actually doing a clip-show, and like most things about Lost, it’s very clever. Sad points for no one hugging Ben at the end of the episode in the reunion, though only Ilana knows he’s made nice. At least Sun let him play with a tarp.
Things that would piss me off: The flash-sideways of the alterna-reality we’ve been watching are actually an “epilogue” of the show. Pissed. At some point, the past five seasons will be nullified and the alterna-reality will become the true one. Pissed. We never see Vincent again. Pissed. I’m not entirely an apologist or a blind follower. If these donkeys don’t get us outta here clean, it’ll sadden me, but I’ll readily call them asses.
In the meantime, the canyon is beautiful — take it in. Marvel at its layers and depth. Wonder what’s around that next bend as we work our way to the top.
Amongst the die-hard Losties I converse with is my mom (and no, don’t let references to her or Star Wars make you think otherwise — I do not live in her basement. I live in Hollywood on a futon, thank you very much). Mom says, “Boy, Ben seems a lot happier off the island, doesn’t he?” I couldn’t disagree more. This Ben Linus has had less struggle, sure — less loss and turmoil, probably. But he has not grown into the man he was meant to be. He has not gained the victory that only comes after struggle — the gain after pain. What if Napoleon was just a short man? What would we teach if some had not dared to make history? What would we learn, for that matter? What would we call our vanilla, chocolate and strawberry in one carton?
Ben did not know the life he could have had, only that it tugged at him in some inexplicable way. Ignorance is not bliss, friends. It’s banishment.
That being said, Lost does have some explaining to do…