Benjamin Linus, our favorite bug-eyed villain, finds redemption twice in this satisfying episode: once in the Sideways world, when he relinquishes his opportunity to make a play for the principal’s office in exchange for Alex’s future at Yale; and on the Island, when his tearful conversation with Ilana curries him enough favor with her to wipe the slate clean between them. Or at least that’s the way it seems. For a couple of seasons now, we’ve watched Island Ben wrestle with the guilt of Alex’s death. In the Sideways world, we get to see him do right by his alt-reality daughter. Given the right context, it seems even Ben Linus can be a decent guy, principal blackmail attempt notwithstanding.
This episode, more than any other so far, entertained the myriad possibilities that each choice in life either affords us or closes us off from. From Ben’s father lamenting the fact that they left the Island to Jack’s death wish conversation with Alpert to Ben’s decision to come clean to Ilana to Lapidus’ confession of oversleeping, no episode in LOST’s final season has so blatantly courted this theme. In a way, these Sideways stories are meant to demonstrate how similar these characters fates are no matter the reality: Ben remains a conflicted individual in LA X-ville, albeit his personal demons have less to do with the machinations of an Island deity and are more of the garden variety — dealing with a sick father, a boss that’s a jerk, loneliness, ambition. Artz comments, and we know it to be true, “Linus, you’re a real killer!” But it’s the differences between the two Bens that speak to us most. Did you note the rich irony of the scene Ben shared with Roger, his Dad? In the Island timeline, we see Ben killing his father with poison gas; but LA X Ben changes out his father’s oxygen tank, filling his lungs with life rather than toxic fumes. (You also had to look for it, but Ben’s “mirror moment” occurred here, as he stares at the microwave while heating up his Dad’s dinner.)
The episode begins with Ben teaching his high schoolers about Elba, an Island of exile for Napoleon Bonaparte, a mercurial leader obsessed with one thing: maintaining his power. Yet, in both of his stories from “Dr. Linus”, we find Ben doing just the opposite: he relinquishes his power, first the power to blackmail the principal, then in his dialogue with Ilana. This is no small thing; Benjamin Linus has always been driven by a need to acquire knowledge for himself and withhold or appropriate that knowledge in a way that serves his interests. But laying down this power is, for Ben, a dying to self and the first step toward redemption. Perhaps this is what Jacob was hoping for all along.
Ben is also faced with two temptations in this episode, each coming from the lips of John Locke. Sideways Locke plants the first seed in Ben’s mind; “You should be the principal,” he says shyly. FLocke tempts Ben to run from Ilana and join his merry band of devotees on Hydra Island. But in the end, Ben refuses to take the bait. Again, maybe this is what Jacob was waiting for all along.
I also have to say that Jack was awesome in this episode. I’m a little surprised at how quickly Jack went full-tilt boogie into the whole Jacob-as-divine-string-puller thing; I mean, just last week, the good doc was bustin’ up Jake’s lighthouse pad. But I suppose that long look out at the ocean did Jack some good. He finally seems ready to embrace his Island destiny, whatever that is. Doc Jensen’s guess re: Jack’s destiny? That our hero will need to trek across the Island, dig up dead John Locke’s body and revive him in the Temple’s dirty baptistery of doom. Sounds groovy. Aren’t we all hoping for a John Locke resurrection at some point?
Answers (that lead to some more questions!):
- Richard WAS, in fact, a slave on the Black Rock, as we suspected. It seems that his gift of “eternal life” was granted via Jacob’s touch. Does this mean the other “candidates” (Jack, Hurley, Sayid, Sun & Jin, etc.) can’t die, too? But what about Locke? How come he’s dead? Does it have something to do with him leaving the Island?
- Widmore is the one coming to the Island. Or is he? That’s what we’re left to surmise, but I don’t see how Jack’s encounter at the lighthouse would’ve helped Widmore find the Island — which is the reason Jacob supposedly brought Jack to the lighthouse in the first place. At any rate, things should get plenty good with Charles back on the Island. Expect an epic confrontation with Ben in the near future.
- Jacob hoped he was wrong about Ben. See previous comments re: what Jacob was waiting for all along. Apparently Jacob has been concerned with Ben’s redemption all along. I’m see-sawing back toward thinking Jacob really is the good guy here.
- Jacob’s relationship with Ilana was very much like a father / daughter relationship. Ilana’s comment naturally makes me think of the Ben / Alex relationship we see in this episode. Maybe Ilana was the recipient of Jacob’s grace at some low moment; it certainly seems that she encounters him at a low point in that Russian hospital or wherever it was we first saw her.
- The candidates have been chosen as possible replacements for Jacob, at least according to Ilana. She has been tasked with protecting either Sun or Jin or both. But it seems that MIB is trying to find a replacement, too; he pretty much offers the role to Ben in their exchange. Is he telling the truth? Doesn’t this run contrary to what he told Sawyer, that the Island didn’t need protecting? Speaking of Sawyer, it’s been too long since we’ve seen him.