Just as I was beginning to wonder how Lost could possibly end well for certain characters - Sayid having spent much of last week drifting further and further from redemption - "Dr. Linus" brought us some closure on an unexpectedly reformed Benjamin Linus.
We now know that all Ben really wants is to be accepted. This is why he murdered the Dharma Initiative when he didn't feel like he belonged there, and why he set up an elaborate system of smoke and mirrors to fool the Others, the survivors of Oceanic 815, and himself that he was the guardian of the deepest secrets of the island and Jacob's plans.
In reality, it's obvious that no one - not Ben, Richard, Dogen, Ilana or anyone else - understands Jacob's plan except Jacob. Jacob needs you to accept what he wants you to do and have faith that it will work out all right. If you want explanations, you can join Flocke on Hydra Island.
My recap is a little shorter than usual but I've included a lengthy part at the end detailing my thoughts on the Religion of Jacob vs. the Philosophy of the Man in Black. I've been meaning to talk about this for the last week or two, so I hope I give you something to think about.
But first, let's take a look at what happened with that most unlikely of heroes, Benjamin Linus, and see how his other life is holding up.
In the Alternate Timeline (ATL) - where Ben and his father dropped out of the Dharma Initiative, sometime before the island sunk, we presume - Ben has a doctorate in European History, and teaches at a public school where Leslie Arzt teaches science and John is a substitute.
The conflict in his story comes from Principal Reynolds, a bureaucrat who doesn't really care about the students or education, and temporarily disbands Ben's history club without a second thought. Arzt, who has no love for Reynolds either, wonders why the school's lab equipment is from the 1950s. A little more subtle parallelism there - right up until their destruction the Others were still using equipment they had taken from the U.S. military in the 50s.
Ben remains idealistically committed to being a great educator, prompting John to comment that Ben should be the principal. When Ben notes that no one would listen to him, John says, "I'm listening."
At first I though, "Oh, poor John. Here we go again." He is always ready to rally behind Ben and is always screwed over in the end. But there John is once again, waving his hand in the air as if saying, "Pick me! I'm gullible!" It wouldn't have surprised me if the plot of this episode had been Ben and John teaming up to overthrow the principal, and in the end Ben gets to be principal and John is fired. How many times has John listened to Ben and regretted it?
But when I re-watched the episode, this scene seemed entirely different to me having watched the later scene where Flocke helps Ben escape from Ilana. Instead of John jumping on the Ben bandwagon, I thought the Man in Black was possibly, deeply subconsciously, channeling John Locke in this time period in order to goad Ben to action. But because I'm not willing to say that one timeline can interfere with another, perhaps I'll just chalk it up to further parallelism.
Speaking of knowing things, Ben knows Dogen's name, which put me at ease a bit. As a former island leader, Ben should know who runs the Temple.
Anyway, Miles does his ghost thing with Jacob's ashes (Are all ashes Jacob's ashes? Did Miles get a touch of the psychic thing when he crossed the line of ash surrounding the Temple?) and reveals that Ben killed Jacob. I thought Ilana might take swift reprisals right there, but all she says is, "Jacob was the closest thing I ever had to a father." Now we know why she cried upon learning that he was dead.
It's good that at least one of Jacob's followers is motivated by something other than "destiny" or a "plan" - Ilana actually has a personal relationship with Jacob. I'm worried, though, that this relationship was one-sided. Remember when he went to visit her in the Russian hospital? She was happy to see him, but he cut right to the chase: he needed Ilana to do something for him, which was presumably going to the island to help him, even though she was in no condition to do anything at the time. I have a feeling that Jacob only acted as a father figure to her because he knew he would eventually need her for something, just like Anthony Cooper did with John.
In answer to Jack's question "Where did you come from?" Richard replies, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you." I know many people think this means that Richard visited the ATL, but I'm not so sure. You could be on to something, though. It seems like a fair amount of time has elapsed since Richard fled from Flocke and Sawyer in "The Substitute". Seems to me like he should have arrived at the Temple before the attack unless he made some other stops along the way.
By the way, I was positive Jack said, "At least he's not Stalin," as in Joseph Stalin, and I was thinking, Lost is totally going overboard with European historical references this episode, but no, at least Richard isn't stalling. Oh. Gotcha.
At the Black Rock, Richard explains that everyone at the Temple is dead, but Kate, Sayid, etc., (the only important people to Jack) might have survived. The Others, not so lucky. It had to be difficult for Richard to go to the only place on the island he thought was safe and find the dead bodies of the people he has been with for decades, his friends. That, coupled with lack of instructions from Jacob, pretty much accounts for why Richard wanted to die.
Aboard the Black Rock, we are all but guaranteed that the mysterious ship is what brought Richard to the island. Taken literally, Flocke's "It's good to see you out of those chains" line, coupled with Richard's lingering gaze at some of the chains on the ship, should confirm this at Richard's origin. I'm still hoping for a proper Richard flashback, though.
We are treated to still more revelations. Richard, in addition to not aging, can't kill himself, courtesy of Jacob's magic touch. He needs Jack to light the dynamite. Jack of course, would never let someone just die: he fixes people. So he lights the dynamite just to make a point - Jack was touched, and subsequently can't kill himself either. The fuse burns out and everybody survives.
Just like that, our mirror-smashing hero seems to be back on track. Jacob's trick worked - Jack realizes that he has been brought to the island for a reason, and just because he doesn't know what it is yet doesn't diminish that fact. With only 10 episodes left, it's a good thing Jack is finally ready to lead again.
Next, Alex arrives (I was hoping for Danielle, too. Alas!) Though Ben might not be Alex's father in this timeline (he wasn't, technically, in the Main Timeline, either), he ends up showing more consideration for her than he did on the island. She wants extra help before the AP Euro Exam, and they agree to meet before school, where Alex reveals that Principal Reynolds is having extra-marital relations with the nurse on school property. This launches Ben's attempted coup against the principal for control of the school.
The way Ben's ATL story mirrors his on-island story was terrific. Ben came to power on the island by ousting Charles Widmore for (among other things, probably) having a relationship with an off-island woman - Penny's unseen mother. In the midst of their struggle was Alex, who Charles promised would come to harm. In the ATL, Charles is represented by Principal Reynolds, but everything else is the same. And Alex's fate still hangs in the balance, with Reynolds threatening to write a destructive letter of recommendation about her if Ben doesn't back down.
When put in the exact same situation, last time, Ben dared Keamy to shoot, and that was the end of Alex. But this time, Ben puts her first. He doesn't get Reynold's job, but if his on-island experience means anything, perhaps Ben is better off without that power. He gives Arzt his parking space. On the island, we are seeing the good guy that Ben has become. In the ATL we are seeing the good guy that Ben always could have been if he had been dealt a different hand.
While Ben is hardly the first character who is more at peace in the ATL, his commitment to changing his ways is certainly more pronounced than most, in both realities. It's due to the awesome acting abilities of Michael Emerson that Ben is able to possess such range without seeming unrealistic. Along with Terry O'Quinn, he is really in a class of his own.
1) There are only six candidates left. We know Hurley, Sawyer, Sayid, Jack, and Jin/Sun for sure. Who's the sixth? Kate? Her name wasn't crossed off at the Lighthouse, so it's possible. Or maybe Jin and Sun are both candidates after all. But since I'm a John fan, all I could think was, "Locke is still a candidate! He's coming back to life!" Hey, it could happen.
2) One of the candidates will replace Jacob, but Ilana doesn't know what else the job entails.
3) Frank missed out on Oceanic 815 because he overslept. We don't have any real reason to doubt the truthfulness of this, but it seemed strangely simple.
But just as Ben is doing some bonding with Frank, Ilana puts a gun to his head, marches him to the graveyard and instructs him to dig his own grave.
Ben breaks out his old bag of tricks in an attempt to escape. He tries his mind games, but they fail pathetically with Ilana. He vows to Miles that he can make good on the $3.2 million, but Miles's ghost powers have made him aware of the diamonds buried atop Nikki and Paulo, so he doesn't need Ben's money.
Miles also let's Ben know that Jacob didn't want to die, and was in fact hoping that he was wrong about Ben up until the very end. "I guess he wasn't," Miles adds.
So then, Jacob definitely hadn't planned on being killed, right? Or he knew he would be killed, but hoped that he was wrong about it and about Ben? Jacob seems less and less infallible each moment.
But Flocke wants something else from Ben, although he doesn't say so explicitly. I think he most certainly wanted Ben to kill Ilana. He probably can't kill her himself, just like he couldn't directly harm Jacob or the candidates. That's just "against the rules". Ilana is probably off limits, too, so Flocke was trying to manipulate Ben into killing her.
But despite Flocke's proposition, Ben becomes the first character to resist the Man in Black. Maybe Ben never actually wanted to be the leader, or maybe he's realized now that he isn't the best leader, or maybe he just doesn't want to choose the man who forced him to kill Jacob. Whatever the reason, Ben does not kill Ilana. Instead, they have a surprisingly emotional moment where Ben apologizes for the murder of Jacob, but he's also apologizing for a number of other wrongs he's committed. The one thing he really, truly wants, is not power or responsibility, but acceptance. Ilana gives that to him, and Ben is reclaimed.
I remember reading that the producers want this season to feel like season 1. I think "Dr. Linus" was the first time I picked up on that vibe, save for a few moments in "Lighthouse". Ben helps Sun set up a tent. Frank builds a fire. Miles examines the diamonds he has stolen from Nikki and Paolo's grave while he sits under the shade of what I'm almost positive used to be Arzt's tent. Ilana mourns Jacob. And as the next batch of recruits for the forces of Jacob arrive at the beach, we are treated to yet another terrific reunion scene. No television show or movie has ever done reunion scenes as well as Lost.
This scene reminded me of "One of Us". Richard and Ben stand just a little outside the circle - they haven't fully won everyone's trust yet. But they will.
Meanwhile, Charles Widmore watches them from a submarine just off the coast.
The big question is of course, who's side is Widmore on? The deposed ex-leader of the Others certainly has no love for Ben, which might spoil any chances of Charles fitting in with the Beach Camp crowd. then again, Lost offers many chances for redemption. One of these scenarios is likely.
1) Widmore is working for Jacob. He helped John out in "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" because he knew that John and the others were candidates and that they would all have to return to the island to help Jacob. It is possible that Jacob visited Widmore and told him this, perhaps promising Widmore that he could return to the island in exchange for helping John.
2) Widmore is working for MIB. He knew that MIB wanted to take the form of John, so he made sure to push John into going back to the island. He wanted Ben to kill John, which is why he didn't provide more thorough security for John.
3) Widmore is unaware of or uninvolved in the conflict between Jacob and MIB. He has merely been attempting to return to the island, and now that Jacob is dead, he can.
I could see either 1 or 2, but probably not 3. Because it seemed to me like Jacob did want Widmore to come to the island, I'm going to say scenario 1 might be the most likely.
Compared to the last few weeks, this episode was rather straightforward, wasn't it? I'm not complaining - this gives me some space to talk about something I've been giving a lot of thought to lately...
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE MAN IN BLACK
Most importantly, I now believe that the struggle between Jacob and the Man in Black is actually a permutation of the same ideological struggle we've seen since the early days of Lost: the conflict between Faith and Science. It was best articulated on the way to the hatch door in "Exodus", when John explained that he was a Man of Faith and Jack was a Man of Science.
First, what do these terms mean? Science, here, does not actually refer to chemistry, or technology (yes, we've been told that one or both or neither of Jacob and MIB abhor technology, but if that's true I think it might just be a personality thing). If science meant technology, John would be a Man of Science, too. He almost went to Science Camp as a kid, he builds that giant medieval device to open the hatch in "Deus Ex Machina", he likes computers and computer games, for much of seasons 2 he continues the work of the Dharma Initiative, etc. Instead, a Man of Science is someone who believes in logic, reason and rationality.
On the other hand, the Man of Faith is the one who can ignore the facts, bend the rules, decide what a normal, rational, sane person would do and do the opposite. The Man of Faith believes in something he can't see or prove or know is correct, but believes to be correct because of some sign or minute gesture of confirmation. He is crazy, but doesn't think he's crazy. "They think they're getting saner," John says of crazy people in "White Rabbit". Similarly, Jack frequently refers to John as a crazy man.
Faith and Science conflict because you can't follow both at the same time. Science says, "We've crashed on this very dangerous island. We should work to get as many of us rescued as quickly as possible." But Faith says, "This is a special place, and we are meant to do something here. We should not attempt to leave because this is our destiny."
Free Will and Destiny are in fact just other names for this same conflict. Free Will is a corollary of logic and reason. When one exercises free will, one uses logic and reason to make choices. This is opposed by Destiny, where free will and logic and reason are all useless, because things just are the way they are. If there are choices to be made in Destiny, you really aren't the one making them - some higher entity is, one that you can't understand or interact with or know the will of.
What I am less sure of is that one of these is Good and the other Evil. Which would be which? So because neither seems inherently good or evil to me, I have trouble labeling Jacob and MIB as Good and Evil. Because make no mistake - MIB is Science and Jacob is Faith.
Names, numbers... none of it makes sense to anyone but Jacob, and he's not explaining it to anyone else. Subscribing to this religion can be enormously rewarding or enormously dangerous. Jacob just wants you to do what he says and believe that things will work out. Unfortunately, devotion to Jacob hasn't turned out well for a lot of people, including the dozens of Others who followed him without question for years and were subsequently annihilated by the opposing entity.
Jacob is a lot like Mother Abagail in Stephen King's "The Stand". She tells the heroes what they have to do - not why, just what. She sends them messages in dreams. Many of them die as a result of following her instructions. Jacob, for his part, doesn't tell Hurley and Jack why he sent them to the Lighthouse until after they've already gone there. It's about following orders, not answers.
Rationalization is MIB's constant tool. When Bram enters the Temple, he calmly explains that the reason the bodyguards came to the island no longer exists, and it would make logical sense for them to disengage from their present course of action. He only kills them once they fail to follow his logic.
During his recruitment, MIB doesn't tell the candidates what he wants, he promises to give them what they want. He believes that if he can fulfill their most closely held wishes, they will be loyal to him. Claire is with MIB because he will reunite her with her son. Sayid wants Nadia back. Sawyer wants to leave. MIB has drawn these people on rational, not faith-based grounds.
MIB is like the antagonist of The Stand and other King novels, Randall Flagg/Walter. He appeals to people's desires and exploits them, but he's relatively upfront about it.
John Locke, a Man of Science, says of the island, "It's a place where miracles happen." Now, a man who looks like John but is actually MIB, says, "It's just a damn island." And it doesn't need protection.
If I'm correct in all these assumptions, then here's hoping our final triumph is a refutation of this "either/or" mentality. I would hope our heroes can learn that Faith needs Science, and Science needs Faith. They will neither defeat nor join MIB and Jacob - they will simply learn that this struggle is endless, and neither side is meant to win.
As always, thank you for reading and commenting,
- Robby "Robz888"