Another indepth review of The Man Behind the Curtain by the always interesting J.Wood.
"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf.
in the morning devouring the prey,
and at evening dividing the spoil"
— Jacob's blessing on Benjamin, Genesis 49:27
The eyes of Horace are closed, and Locke's are open. But despite all we see, this is an episode of questions and lies.
The central question of "The Man Behind the Curtain" is did Locke see Jacob? And did you? Because for a brief moment, just after Ben is flung against the wall, we do see an old man with shoulder-length hair, his face in shadow, sitting in the chair. But the other questions revolve around Ben.
Ben misses his mother Emily, but she's not the only woman Ben loved and killed; although we don't see it, we can presume that Annie, whose name Kate used as a pseudonym in Australia, was also killed in the purge. When Ben brings out the wooden doll Annie carved for his birthday, he is commemorating his original life and his new life at the cost of the lives of the people he loved.
In some ways, Ben was precocious: he was born two months too soon, seemed to be a good learner, and somehow became the leader of the Others. He also didn't talk much at first, but he didn't exactly have a nurturing father. Roger Linus didn't give a damn about his education and never remembered Ben's birthday: "Kind of hard to celebrate the day you killed your mom." Roger was clearly not a good person — he was no Anthony Cooper or Wayne, but he was no hero, and fits right into the Lost pantheon of feckless fathers.
But something changed after Ben's foray out into the jungle, which revealed a few things, perhaps most surprisingly that the seemingly-ageless Richard Alpert was already there on the island. Perhaps there was something special about Ben; he saw his deceased mother Emily twice on the island, which piqued Richard's attention and made him ready to adopt a child of the tribe he was at war with. After this meeting, Ben seems to come out of his silent shell. We next see him years later as an adult, and learn that, like Horace Goodspeed suggested, he's speaking and has found something to say, as Roger mentions how he's usually a "chatty Cathy" in the morning. Like the books on Ben's shelves suggest, he's gained word power.
Has Ben gained any other kind of powers? The nod to the well-known wizard Harry Potter is unmistakable (the other alluded wizard of this episode); he even has the rabbit, recalling "Every Man For Himself" and "White Rabbit," as well as Sawyer's copy of Watership Down and its theme of tribal warfare. When Ben and Locke approach Jacob's shack, they cross a barrier of what looks like black ash (but may be something else, as it smells funny to Locke ). In magical rituals, salt or some other substance is used to make a consecrated circle that contains the thing conjured. Did Ben bring Jacob to the island? Perhaps: the episode focuses on Ben's birthday, December 22; since we have the presence of a ritual circle, and we know numbers are symbolically important, we can look for any symbolic meanings with the numbers of the episode. In numerology, the number 22 is one of three Master Numbers (the others are 11 and 33); there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, 22 paths within the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (the Sephiroth), 22 arcana of the tarot, and 22 can manifest archetypes in reality. Richard saw something in Ben, perhaps some kind of adeptness. Perhaps Ben did bring Jacob to the island, and is he keeping him trapped in that shack (and is that what those sick-looking jars of liquid are for?). If so, that may be why Jacob asks Locke to help him.
Watching that scene closely, we can see Locke was looking right at Ben when Ben was flung against the wall. We can see Jacob for a split second during that shot (if we catch it), but did Locke? Ben didn't hear Jacob, and Locke apparently didn't see him, but given Locke's newfound ability to bend the truth as necessary, Locke may have just told Ben he didn't see him in order to keep some advantage over him. And it may be why Ben shoots him; Ben, being the con man that he is, may recognize Locke's playing him and shoots him to maintain his own advantage — Benjamin is a ravenous wolf. But where did Ben's gun come from? Was that Locke's gun, and if so, how did he get it?
The appearance of Alpert raises another question: Just how long have the "Hostiles" been on the island, and where did they come from? Are they — or some of them — from the Black Rock, or were they there when the slavers ended up in the middle of the island? Did they have something to do with Jacob, and what's with the whispering? It now seems they're continuing some of the work begun by the Dharma Initiative, but we still don't know what their goals or purposes are. They clearly introduced Ben to the secrets of the island, and somehow between the time Ben was Harry Potter and a patricidic janitor with a great education, he also became the leader of the Others. Ben is the checker piece who gets to the other side and is crowned.
Before this, however, Ben was a junior member of the Dharma Initiative, brought in with his father Roger by the man who first met them on the day of Ben's birth (and Emily's death), Horace Goodspeed. The Dharma Initiative had set up Otherville and the sonic fence, and like the Lostaways, did not get along with the Others. Horace was a mathematician, and was probably recruited to work on the Valenzetti Equation. His name is certainly evocative; of the few historically significant Horaces and Goodspeeds, there is the Roman poet Horace, and the early 20th C. biblical scholar and translator Edgar J. Goodspeed, who are in their ways mirror-twins.
The poet Horace was known for his Satires and Epodes; the Satires rejected public life, ambition, extremes, and embraced wisdom through serenity and balance — very Dharma-ish. The Epodes sound a little more like satire than the Satires, and mocked social abuses and conventions, mainly through their form; they seem to be praise, but the meter they were written in was used for personal attacks and ridicule. We may find it difficult to find the hidden mockery and satire in some of these works, but we're in an age of Colbert, not Maecenus. A writer of social satire, though, also recalls the Dickens of Little Dorrit.
But the second name, Goodspeed, may be from a relatively famous biblical scholar at the University of Chicago named Edgar J. Goodspeed. He translated a widely-used 1923 edition of the New Testament that did away with floral, formal, poetic speech; very un-Horace-like. In his preface, Goodspeed notes that the dialect the original texts were written in were "the common language of everyday life," and that "the most appropriate English form for the New Testament is the simple, straightforward English of every-day expression." In the name Horace Goodspeed, we get a mirror-twin of two literary heavyweights with very different formal concerns, one of royalty and one of the common people. This also seems to reflect some of the social concerns of the island: will people organize themselves under cults of personality, or democratically?
Another mirror-twinned scene is when Locke whips Bakunin. Locke's namesake recalls the enlightenment philosopher of the social contract, and indeed Lost Locke has only used violence selectively and for a clear purpose (like when he beat Charlie). Bakunin's namesake recalls the 19th C. philosopher of anarchy who embraced streetfighting in the revolution of 1848. When Lost Bakunin rushes back to the camp with news of Naomi (and explains that the sonic fence didn't kill him because it wasn't set at a lethal level), he's offended that Ben would answer to Locke, who wants to go see Jacob. Without a second thought, Locke beats Bakunin senseless to maintain Ben's attention, and we see the man of social balance acting in an extreme way against a man of extremes who is questioning social imbalance. But as we've seen, these names are used more or less to introduce themes and ideas, and shouldn't be directly mapped onto specific characters; the social contract and anarchy are to be worked out amongst social groups, not individuals. We'll see that played out before long; just as the Dharma Initiative couldn't live with the Others, neither can the Lostaways. And the look Bakunin flashed Locke said "this isn't over."
That is, if Locke gets out of the mass grave alive. When Ben finally comes clean about not being born on the island, he puts a bullet into Locke's ribs, seemingly because Jacob said something to Locke that Ben couldn't hear. Jacob's call for help suggests Locke has a connection with Jacob that Ben doesn't. When Ben brought Locke to the Dharma Initiative mass grave, he's also bringing him to the remains of the Tribe of Benjamin. The Book of Judges describes how the Tribe of Benjamin was, in effect, purged by the other tribes of Israel after a certain offense (as recounted earlier in this blog by dharma bum). Since we know Ben Linus's tribe was the Dharma Initiative, the purge makes more sense now. But the biblical purge gives us a bit more to work with, since it was based on a con.
The entire biblical purge — the story of which seems inflated — resulted from one unnamed Levite and a gang from Gibeah. The story is all about hospitality and the lack of it: the Gibeah gang knew the Levite was housing a traveler, and wanted to have their way with the guest. Instead, the Levite tossed his concubine (not a full legal wife) out to the gang to be raped. In the morning, the Levite finds the woman laying unresponsive on the threshold of his door; she may be exhausted from pain, or she may be already dead. At any rate, the Levite cuts her up into twelve pieces and sends the pieces out to the twelve tribes of Israel, claiming the Gibeah gang had cut her up and something needed to be done. And with that, the Levite saved his own skin, killed (or at least desecrated) his wife, blamed it on some others, and brought down some righteous wrath upon the Tribe of Benjamin. Nearly all of the tribe were killed/purged, including the Benjamite women and children. The Israelites then stole women from Shiloh to replace the ones they killed so the Tribe of Benjamin could continue.
It's a crazy story that has some resonance with what's happening on the island, but there are two points from the Book of Judges that are worth noting: The Benjamite warriors fought left-handed, and a Shekinah resided in the Benjamite land. Ben Linus isn't left-handed (he shot right-handed), but the term is used as a metonym for keeping an opponent off-balance — and we've already seen how the Others deal with the Lostaways, constantly keeping them off-balance ("We're the good guys, Jack"). A Shekinah is basically a dwelling for god. We know that Jacob seems to have god-like powers; according to Ben, Jacob's the cancer-healer, and even helped Rachel. Jacob's shack may be a kind of debased Shekinah for a god-like figure — a shackinah. But if so, this is a haunted holy house, a mirror-twin of what it should be. The horror of Jacob is that if he is somehow god-like, this god is imprisoned by a ravenous wolf and needs help.
It may all depend on if Locke can crawl out of that grave and heal like before. But the fact that he played such a manipulative role in Cooper's death may have altered Locke's "good" character, and his ability to be healed so quickly. We're not in Kansas anymore.
Recap by J.Wood