Lost's Last Call: A Better Ben

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Mar. 10 2010, Published 8:15 a.m. ET

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Before dissecting this week’s Lost, titled “Dr. Linus,” there’s one issue that begs to be discussed. Many viewers have wondered how the present-day (2007) Island world could eventually merge with this new “Flash Sideways” (2004) reality. They’re asking questions like, “Will the castaways whoosh back into their Sideways bodies when the season ends?”  and “Do the Sideways characters have memories of their Island lives in their subconscious?”

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My thinking is this: The Sideways reality is a result of the bomb exploding — as Juliet said before she died, “It worked” — and it can’t have any interaction whatsoever with the drama on the present-day island.

The Lost writers have always played with the notion of serendipity, that these characters were brought onto the island for a reason, that their brushes with one another throughout their lives were for a reason, that the Easter eggs strewn throughout the series were there for a reason (check out all the references to the numbers that the characters miss — except for Hurley, of course, who obsesses over them). So isn’t it possible that the writers created this Sideways world just to make this serendipity notion really hit home?


In the Sideways world, the characters are living much more predictable, normal lives, much like the viewers do. The average viewer hasn’t crash-landed onto a remote, hidden island, tangled with smoke monsters, developed a love triangle with a con artist and a spinal surgeon, found a secret hatch… and the list goes on. Much like the references to Alice and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, two episodes ago, the Sideways world is on the “right” side of the looking glass. And the Island world is on the “other” side.

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This framing technique changes how people view a show like Lost. The most crazy, unbelievable things could happen on the island now and the viewers might be more okay with it than in the past, simply because when paired with the Sideways world, the Island seems more like a work of fiction. It’s really a magnificent idea, to watch these characters find redemption in a more “real” world in the Sideways story lines, because it has to inspire the viewers to become everyday heroes in their own lives.

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By the show’s end, these two separate realities will still exist; they will never merge in any way and they don’t have to. They are parallel universes, a concept that has been studied at great length — some people believe there are as many as 40 different versions of a person in different realities, all occurring at the same time. Why couldn’t the same be true of the characters on Lost?


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Now, on to this week’s analysis.

Despite his murderous, manipulative ways, Ben always comes across as a sympathetic misfit, thanks largely to the genius of Michael Emerson. In the Sideways story line in this week’s episode, Ben finally becomes a truly likeable character, free of the skepticism that usually surrounds him.

The episode opens with Island Ben running from the temple and stumbling in the woods, likely running from both the Smoke Monster/Man In Black/Flocke and Sayid, who seriously freaked him out when he said in last week’s episode, “It’s too late for me.”

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About last week’s episode: Are we meant to assume that these followers of Flocke are zombies? A legion of undead? How glazed over were their eyes as they plodded behind him? Kate’s eyes were wide open and alarmed, in stark contrast. Who thinks Kate is going to somehow rebel, perform some kind of heroism within this group?


The final scene from last week’s episode was maybe the most dark and jarring of the entire series. It’s the closest Lost has come to a horror film. Perhaps the writers portrayed it like that to prove to the audience that Flocke means business.

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But back to "Dr. Linus" …

Ben eventually catches up with Ilana, Miles, Sun and Lapidus. And Ilana asks Ben where “Jarrah” is (which is interesting because how did she know that Sayid, Hurley, Jack and Kate might all be at the temple, especially since when Ajira 316 landed, they had all time traveled back to 1977, joining Sawyer, Jin and Miles?) Ilana is definitely taking on some Jacob-esque traits.

Ben’s answer for Ilana is that Sayid killed Dogen and Lennon, so he won’t be joining them. Which is ironic because Ben killed Jacob and yet he’s still with the group.

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The show then cuts to Sideways Ben, teaching his high school European history class about the island of Elba and how Napoleon was banished there. He says how even though Napoleon was not killed there, his power was relinquished and that was just as bad (much like how Ben lost his power as leader of the Others when he returned to the island). The school principal then informs him that he has to supervise detention, so he will no longer be able to conduct his history club. Ben is quick to correct the principal when he calls him “Linus.” He says, “It’s Dr. Linus, actually,” holding onto what little status he has in this world.

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In the teachers’ lounge, Ben discusses the school’s miserable finances with Arzt (his coworker in this reality, and still a ninth-grade science teacher), who has basically given up hope that anything will ever get better. But Ben tells Arzt that he refuses to give up.

Strangely enough, substitute teacher Locke chimes in and recommends Ben become the principal. This is pretty different from how Locke interacted with Ben in the early island days. Locke always felt he had a stronger connection to the island than Ben did and that Ben had no business leading people through deception. He never wanted to have to answer to Ben.

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But in the Sideways world, he recognizes how much Ben cares about the school and when Ben asks who would ever listen to him, Locke says, “I will.” This gets echoed later in the show when Ben says how Flocke is the only one who’ll have him and Ilana says, “I will.” Sometimes it’s just as satisfying to be accepted in a group as it is to feel compelled to lead it, especially if that leadership is riddled with corruption.

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Back on the island, Ilana talks with Ben about how the Smoke Monster/Flocke killed everyone in the temple the same way it killed Jacob. But she seems skeptical of Ben’s story. She asks Miles if he’s the one who can talk to the dead and hands him Jacob’s ashes. Miles does his weird meditative thing and then says plainly, “Linus killed him.” Ilana’s really unhappy to hear that, of course, and she tells Ben that Jacob was the closest thing she ever had to a father. And in one of his funniest lines to date, Miles says, “Uh, oh,” to Ben and walks away.

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How heartwarming is it that in this episode's Sideways story line, Ben takes care of his aging father? Instead of gassing him to death, he replaces his oxygen tank so he can live. This is a great metaphor for the new-and-improved Ben Linus.

One question, though: Uncle Rico — I mean, Roger Linus — mentions how if they had never left the island and the Dharma Initiative, Ben could have turned out much more powerful and successful than he did. Does that mean that Ben still got shot by Sayid on the island when he was a boy and he and Roger left shortly after the bomb was detonated? And if Ben still got shot, why would Roger regret leaving the place? He was never happy there. The irony, of course, is that if Ben stayed on the island, he would have become a power-hungry, murderous monster. He’s much better off living in the off-island world and thinking he’s more of a loser than the kids in his detention hall.

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It was great to see Alex again, this time as Ben’s student, and obvious that he would somehow make up for what he did to her in the Island world.

Back on the island, Sun reminds Ilana that she needs to find Jin and Ilana says she wants to find him too because his last name is Kwon… here Ilana reveals even further what she knows about Jacob’s intentions, much more so, it seems, than Richard knows, who is someone most viewers have deemed as all-knowing throughout the series.

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I loved Hurley’s “cheese curls” dream and his feeble attempts to delay Jack, who wanted to return to the temple as soon as possible. I would love to know, by the season’s end, how Richard seems to just pop up so silently and with very little warning, much like Flocke does. Did Jacob’s gift to him involve extreme stealth?

And just to add to his air of intrigue, when Jack asks where he came from (finally, someone asks that of him!), Richard says, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Jack says he could try and Richard tells him “not yet.” Arrrghh, more of the maddening mysteries of Lost.

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Meanwhile, on the beach, Ilana threatens Ben’s life and orders him to dig his own grave. She puts a cuff on his leg, reminiscent of the handcuffs and chains Richard sorts through on the Black Rock with Jack and Hurley.

In probably the most interesting plot twist of last night’s episode, Hurley and Jack are now following Richard. After being asked by Hurley if he’s a vampire, Richard explains that when Jacob touched him, he gave him this gift, but it’s really a curse. The never-ending Richard has suddenly gone suicidal.

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Inside the Black Rock, Richard tells Jack that he needs him to light the dynamite because despite his efforts over the years, he’s never been able to kill himself. Those cuffs and chains are such a great metaphor for how shackled Richard has been to this island life.  He was a slave before, and now he's still a slave. I'm guessing Jacob made a deal with him much like his deal with Dogen.

Jack says he doesn’t believe the dynamite will go off, presumably because he now thinks that he’s invincible, or he believes that Jacob knows what he’s doing and he's keeping Richard alive for a good reason.

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Does this mean that every character touched by Jacob isn’t able to die? Or that each character receives a different gift when Jacob touches them? Maybe Richard is the only one whose gift involves everlasting life.

In a real reversal, Richard tells Jack he’s going to follow him because he “has all the answers.” When has Jack ever thought he had any answers to anything?

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Ben’s interaction with Flocke on the beach was hilarious. Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson are always great together, regardless of what they’re talking about.

Ben: What are you doing?

Flocke: Visiting, what are you doing?

Ben: I’m digging my own grave.

Flocke tells Ben that he needs him alive. It seems he basically wants Ben to replace him, to become the new Man In Black, so he can leave the island. He apparently also has the ability to move things with his mind because during their conversation, Ben’s ankle cuff magically unlocks.

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Ben then runs free into the woods, grabs a rifle and has a tense confrontation with Ilana. This is probably the best moment Michael Emerson’s ever had on this show. He explains how he watched his daughter die in front of him, even though he had a chance to save her. He chose the island over her, all in the name of Jacob. Just like suicidal Richard, Ben claims he sacrificed everything for an entity that never communicated with him or explained anything. He finally admits what became his true god: power.

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In a really sad and pathetic turn, Ben tells Ilana he doesn’t expect her to forgive him because he can’t forgive himself, and that she should just let him leave so he can follow Flocke — because he’s the only one who’ll have him. And in a very Christian move, Ilana says, “I’ll have you.” Surprisingly, Ben trails behind her back to the beach.

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Interestingly, in their confrontation, Ilana asks Ben, “What do you want?” His principal asks him the same thing in a confrontation in the Sideways world. Ben is a character who has always taken what he wants with force, or manipulation, because he never believed he could get what he wanted otherwise. But now, he is showing faith in others... for perhaps the first time in his life.

He sheepishly rejoins the group, symbolically resting his rifle on the ground. He actually asks Sun if he can help her set up her camp. When has Ben ever sincerely offered to help anyone? In the Sideways story line, when he attempts to blackmail his principal, hoping to take the principal’s job, he acquiesces because the principal threatens to “torch” Alex. Ben decides it’s more important to him that Alex be happy than he have the power he so desires. This is a new, unselfish Ben.

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It was so fitting that the writers would show Alex running off, ready to set forth into the world as Ben looks on. Quite an opposite ending for their relationship. In the Island world, Ben looked on as Keamy shot and killed her. He sacrificed her instead of making a sacrifice for her benefit.

Notice how Alex’s last name is Rousseau in this Sideways story line. Is this meant to imply that the French woman never went to the island? She couldn’t have ever landed there in the mid-1980s if it somehow sunk underwater.

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“Dr. Linus” ended with one of those slow-motion, musical scenes we’ve seen on Lost many times. Sun has a happy reunion with Jack and Hurley, whom she hasn’t seen since the Ajira crash.

But Lost can never just leave us with a happy ending. Out in the water lurks a submarine, watching the gathering on the beach. And inside that submarine lurks Charles Widmore, who has attempted to come back to the island many times and failed. What’s different now that might enable him to return? Jacob’s death? When he was exiled earlier, Ben said it was what Jacob wanted, but it’s yet to be revealed exactly why he was exiled. Much like Napoleon on Elba, he’s returning to reclaim his power … but something tells me he’s going to have a pretty hard time doing that.

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The last time we saw Widmore, he was telling Locke he had to get back to the island because there was going to be a war. And if Locke wasn’t there, the “wrong side would win.” Does that imply that Widmore is on the Man In Black’s side, because the Man In Black needed a body to inhabit and Locke was his best option?

It’s hard to believe that Widmore could turn out to be a good guy. But a war is definitely coming. Let’s hope the Chosen Ones are all on the right side.

As usual, comments, questions, (answers) and complaints about last week’s missing blog are welcome below. Especially if you can explain why all of Flocke’s followers wear black, gray and brown-colored clothing and look like they belong in Deliverance.

(Also: Did anyone spy Sideways Ben staring into a mirror this time? That has happened with every Sideways character so far.)

By Laura Carney


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