M: As anyone who has seen the show could guess by the title, this week was about Ben. We got his story both on the island and in the flash sidewayses (which I am now convinced is actually Bedford Falls, to the point where from now on I’ll call it that, and not Pottersville). But it wasn’t so much a story of what has happened with Ben, and what might have happened, as much as it was a crossroads. Last week in Sundown we saw Sayid at a similar crossroads, and we found that Sayid, no matter the timeline, past, present, future or alternate, could not avoid his nature. What we found this week was a character proving the exact opposite for himself. We found Ben proving that he is different, that he can be different, and does not have to be the power obsessed manipulator that we have seen since we first got to know him in the locker in the Swan station. What we saw in Dr Linus was the redemption of Benjamin Linus.
Now, the first thing I have to say is that Michael Emerson turned in a brilliant performance in this episode. He has been remarkable in this role for the 5 years that he has been playing it, and has garnered nominations and awards of all kinds for it, each one of them rightfully deserved. That said, I don’t think I’ve seen him better than he was tonight. He had to portray two different versions of the same character, neither of whom were the Ben that we have come to know over the history of the show. Island Ben was at a point of breaking, out of power, no longer able to manipulate the people around him, terrified of Smokey, but more terrified of Ilana and truth of his actions coming out (which, of course, they did). Dr Linus, on the other hand, was a shadow of the Ben we knew, a meek, unassertive history teacher who has become less than what he should have been and is bullied by the people that Island Ben used to use as pawns.
Dr Linus, with the power of suggestion coming from none other than substitute teacher John Locke, starts to become manipulative Ben. He makes a power play on the sleaze ball principal at his school (played by the wonderfully sleazy William Atherton, or as I like to call him, the jerk reporter from Die Hard). He manipulates Arzt (whose presence in the episode just reminds us why we were glad he is not a regular member of the cast, and why we were ok with Hurley “wiping him off his shirt” back in season one), he puts a plan together, and makes his play. However his plan hits a snag, and his tormentor in this reality offers him his Faustian bargain, power, but at the cost of destroying young Alex Rousseau (we’ll get to her).
At the same time, Island Ben is ratted out by Miles, who checks in with Jacob’s ashes to find that Jacob was hoping right until the end that he was wrong about Ben. Ilana, set on revenge, forces Island Ben has to dig his own grave, and thus “face his demise” as we heard in the preview from last week. He is then offered a bargain by Smokey, who shows up and provides him his way out. Come join him, and when he leaves Ben will be left as the caretaker of the island.
Last week’s episode structure was remarkably similar. In the end, Sayid in both timelines chose the dark path. In the end this week, Ben chose the light path. In Bedford Falls, after making it look like he was taking the principal’s office, we find that in fact he chose to relinquish his bargaining position to save the chances of his favorite student. Back in Pottersville Ben raced ahead of Ilana, found the rifle that Smokey left for him, but instead of using it he bore his sole to her. As convincingly genuine as he usually is convincingly manipulative, Ben told of his sacrifice of Alex for Jacob, of being confused, of being angry, and of knowing what it is like to have the burden of the death of another on his conscience. With tears in his eyes and a shaking voice he shared that he was going to join Smokey because he believed no one else would have him, and really, why would they. But Ilana, mustering all the forgiveness that she could, turned as she told him she would take him. Great, great moment.
Ok, now there were a few other things that happened and things that we learned. They pale in comparison to the redemptive journey that Ben took in the episode, but they were definitely either important, entertaining, or just downright odd.
First, we found Dr Linus teaching his history class about Napoleon’s exile on Elba. Short man, master manipulator, obsessed with power, had it taken away from him and that broke him. Hmmm, sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.
Next, in Bedford Falls not only has Rose moved to LA, but Danielle and Alex Rousseau, too? And Ben and Arzt and Locke are all teaching at the same school, and everyone in LA goes to Jack’s hospital? The little cross-overs were cute at first, now they’re just getting silly. If Nikki and Paolo show up I’m just going to be mad. Oh, and speaking of them, Miles is lucky he can speak to the dead, because now he has $8 mil in diamonds. Go Miles!
We also found that in the flashes the island DID exist. When Ben is chatting with his dad, whom he takes care of, Roger mentions that things would have been different if they had stayed on the island and with the Dharma Initiative. This lends more credence to the theory that the flashes are what happened if the bomb did go off, making Juliet’s “It worked” line to Miles accurate. I’m not sure I’m buying that yet, but still, it’s out there.
In the other really important plot line, Jack and Hurley run into Richard on their way back to the temple. Richard, depressed and suicidal, takes them to the Black Rock, and we get one or two questions answered. Richard did, in fact, come to the island on the ship, in chains. Jacob “touched” him and “gave him a gift”, which has prevented him from aging or dying, and the island won’t let him kill himself, which, of course, he wants to try because since he came he’s been doing Jacob’s bidding and devoting his life to Jacob under the understanding that Jacob would let him know why at some point, and that it is for a reason. With Jacob dead, he feels he’ll never know why. Somehow Hurley being able to talk to Jacob doesn’t seem to cheer him up, so he has a chat with Jack after Jack plays a game of chicken with a stick of dynamite. In that we find that Jack is starting to embrace the “man of faith” mantle, and knows that there’s a reason he’s there, and wants to find out what it is.
In the end, two of our splintered groups, the Jack group and the Ben group, meet up at the beach. My guess is next week Smokey’s folks will pick up Sawyer and Jin, giving us just two groups, and thus two plots, to follow. Oh, and at the very end we find a sub, carrying one Charles Windmore, spying on Ben and the others at the beach. The chickens are all coming home to roost!