Thursday, February 26, 2009

LOST 029: Perfect Strangles

"You have no idea how important you are."
-Ben Linus

"Have you ever stopped to think that...maybe there's nothing important about you at all? That you're just a lonely old man . . . ?"

-Jack Shepherd

For a show that has built such a foundation upon the confounding of expectations, this episode did an interesting thing: It pretty much gave us exactly what we expected, namely, John Locke as Jeremy Bentham, going to each of the Oceanic 6 (less Sun), asking them to come back to the island to save their friends (though one suspects that saving the island is Locke's true motive), and getting shot down one by one.

But in the margins, where the deeper matters of Lost lie, they were totally pulling the rug from under our feet. One of the abiding conflicts of the series is that between Charles Widmore and Benjamin Linus, and one of the abiding questions is the one concerning which of these two men's motives are pure, and which are destructive. In other words, is Benjamin Linus the good guy or the bad guy? Is Charles Widmore the good guy or the bad guy? Tell us who to root for, already.

Last season, Charles Widmore sent a boat chock full of explosives and men skilled in the finer points of killing, where they proceeded to exterminate as many people on the island as they could, with the expressed purpose of capturing Ben. This tipped the scales pretty emphatically in favor of Ben as a good guy who does bad things and Charles as a bad guy who does worse things. But, as with "The Jughead" last month (in which Desmond Hume visited Widmore and got more help and concern than we'd expect, to say nothing of receiving far less scorn and bullets in his throat than we'd expect), we've now seen a somewhat different side of Widmore, haven't we?

Haven't we?

Welcome to the central mystery of last night's episode.

Charles meets Locke in the desert, where he'd had cameras and the world's roughest ambulance service waiting for our injured walkabouter. And, incidentally, this knowledge casts a whole new light on the confrontation with Bedouin that Ben had in Tunisia immediately after turning the donkey wheel, no? It means that those dudes would likely have turned him over to Widmore, and it further means that Widmore probably knew that Ben was scampering about starting in 2005.

Tunisia is the exit, said Charles. Well. I suspect it is AN exit, since we've discovered that Ben comes and goes as he pleases, and if there was just one exit, Charles would have laid that smack down. But OK.

So, Charles is waiting for Locke, and provides him with the roughest possible medical care for his broken leg. But then he lays the bomb: He was the leader of the Others, and Ben pushed him out. He sent the freighter to the island to push out Ben so that Locke could have his time, and he desperately wants Locke to get back to the island, because in the epic confrontation that's coming, there will be all kinds of doom if Locke isn't there. Then he sets Locke up with Abaddan as a driver, and the resources and intelligence he needs to complete his mission as quickly and efficiently as possible. And he thoroughly rejects the notion that Locke is going to die.

Nice guy, right? Right?

Ben, meanwhile, has already tried to kill Locke once, as Chuck Widmore was smart enough to point out to John. He's also alienated Sayid, who has retreated to humanitarian work after coming to believe that he was being manipulated by Ben into believing that Widmore was trying to kill his friends (Imagine we'll find out how that happened in the upcoming Sayid episode). He then kills Abaddan dead, visits Locke in his crummy motel room, talks him out of killing himself with an extension cord, and then . . . um, kills him with an extension cord. How villainous . . . and inconsistent!

What a weasel, right? Right?

But let's start picking at the thread of this sweater and see how it unravels. Widmore's story just doesn't hold water. In the 50s, he reported to Richard, and was a bit of a insubordinate hothead. He wasn't the leader of the Others at the time of the purge, which was organized by Richard and Ben, he was the driving force behind the Dharma initiative. We know this because the freighter's TPS reports all had Dharma cover sheets, mmmkay? Now, the Dharma initiative was waging guerilla war against the Others, who were led by Richard in hair extensions. Furthermore, Widmore certainly didn't send the freighter of mercenaries on a "Ben Linus only" mission. They were there to rampage and kill.

On a more metaphysical note, this episode was all about fulfilling destiny, from Locke calling his friends to return to their own destiny, all the way to the ultimate fulfillment of his own. Which was, Locke knew . . . to die. The scenes of Locke trying to convince the O6 to return were dramaticly bland, and why? Why was Locke so passive in his coersion, if he knew how much was riding on the line, if he was so obsessed with completing his mission?

This episode was not about Locke convincing his island buddies to return. This episode was about Locke realizing that fate had determined that they would never return unless he died . . . and if he did die, that fate would make sure that they returned. It was about Locke coming to grips with that reality. It was about Locke struggling to believe that that could be true. And did he finally realize it? Was his interrupted suicide an act of despair or submission? It's left ambiguous, because in the end, Locke didn't jump . . . he was pushed, by a seemingly sorrowful Ben.

Locke needed to die. And Charles Widmore was trying to prevent it.


Ben stopped Locke from killing himself. Then he killed Locke.


Did Widmore know that Locke needed to die? Did his attempt, which on the surface scans as "good", to help Locke down the path with resources and ease, have as a motive the thwarting of Locke's destiny?

Did Ben NOT know that Locke needed to die, until he suddenly did? This was the second murder attempt on John Locke by Ben Linus, and this was the first temporarily successful one. The first one seemed to be brought on by jealousy, Ben's realization that he had been supplanted by Locke in the eyes of Jacob, though his true motives remain murky. The second one was brought on by the mention of Eloise Hawking, which sent Ben from savior to murderer in the space of seconds. Now, Ben already knew about Hawking, obviously, as he is working with/for her. But the fact that Locke knew about her? That meant he had to die. Why? We'll see. Maybe he didn't want Locke to get back to the island, and he's wicked. Maybe it's something deeper than that. In any event, he definitely felt saddened by what he'd done.

And let's just take a quick paragraph to discuss the role of the late, lamented, Matthew Abaddan. He's working for Widmore, which we already suspected but now know full well. He "gets people to where they need to go" for the W man. But the writers did a great job of keeping his true allegiance ambiguous. He was helping Widmore, yes. And Widmore is the guy who was keeping Locke from his destiny, yes? But we've also seen Abaddan is the guy who sends Locke to his destiny, posing as an orderly and sending him on walkabout. This would seem to contradict the BUT Locke and Abaddan never discuss this in front of Widmore. I think it is still possible that Abaddan was a double agent, stirring fate into Widmore's molassass. Remember, Abaddan claimed he was taking Locke to where he needed to go. Ben claimed that Abaddan would get around to killing him, eventually. I think that these two ideas might not be in conflict. Didn't Abaddan's constant goading seem to be leading Locke directly to his feelings of failure, and from there to his suicidal tendencies? It strikes me that Abaddan had been ordered by Widmore to keep Locke alive, but was trying to subtly drive him in the opposite direction.

In any event, here's the tale of the tape.

Whatever his reasons, Ben sent Locke to his destiny.

Whatever his reasons, Charles Widmore tried to keep Locke from it.

Both men claim that they want the Oceanic Six to return. One of them made it happen, perhaps because he meant to, perhaps for other reasons. Take from that what you will.

My take? I think both men think they are doing good, both men are ruthless, and both men think they are doing what is best for the island. I don't think either of them have been straight in their intentions regarding Locke. I think that the conflict between Ben and Widmore is the Man of Science, Man of Faith schism that Jack and Locke have been playing out. The evidence is piling up that Dharma is not something separate from the Others, but a schism from the Others. Specifically, the scientific Dharma, led by Widmore, vs. the Jacob-led Others of Faith (here I'm thinking of Ben and Richard and Hawking).

Ben as Man of Faith too much for you? Well then. I would ask you to remember that Ben, just last week, was making allusions to doubting Thomas and his main home boy, Jesus. If Jack is Thomas, might Ben be Locke's Judas? Because the guy who died for the sins of the Oceanic Six just came back to life, and though I haven't done the math, I'd be very surprised if it weren't on the third day. The guy who was in the coffin last plane crash and is now walking around? His name is Christian Shepherd. Those of you who were hoping Lost wasn't going to get religious might want to hit eject right about now.

More Stuff? More Stuff.

* Caeser. Illana. Roxanne. New Lostaways! I bet the Oceanic folks envy these people because they got to get straight answers from John and everybody else, now that we the audience have so much information. Nice to see Caesar hiding stuff from his fellow castaways already. He'll fit in just fine. Its going to be fun watching the newbies interact with the old . . . bies. But if Illana starts spewing ink from her eyes and only Caesar can calm her down, I'm going on a killing spree.

* I think that Jack and Hurley and Kate (along with Sawyer/Jin/etc.) are stuck in the Dharma 70s, while the rest are in "present" day, whatever that might mean.

* Wow, Jack and Locke just wrecked each other, didn't they? Jack's speech about Locke being a deluded old man tore his heart out, and Locke's "howdy" from Jack's dead dad greased the skids for his pill-popping, Juaquin Phoenix beard growing, slip N slide ride. Those guys need to be separated for their own good.

* Sayid really seemed at peace with where he was this episode. Sad to know that something is going to send him back into Jason Bourne mode soon.

* Holy Hudson! Lapidus got the plane down in one piece. He's 2 for 2 in island landings under duress. My sources tell me that the hatch Caesar was checking out was the Hydra over on the smaller island, and that the work project Ben had Sawyer and Kate on back in Season 3 was a runway. Cool.

* Lapidus and a woman took an outrigger and left. Gotta be Sun, out Jin-hunting. Sadly he'll be sixty by now. Wonder if they're going to shoot at another outrigger sometime soon.

* Hey remember when our heroes would shoot at Others from time to time back in the early seasons? Ever get the sense that they might have been shooting at themselves?

I love this show.

ETA: I'm beyond annoyed at the Walt segment. It was touching, but Walt seemed drugged, and about as specifically interested in what happened to the particular friends he had on the island, or how Locke got back, or ANYTHING, as in who might have won Bingo Night at his grandma's church last Tuesday. What's worse is that this felt like the "good bye" of the show to a character who was totally central to the motivations in the first two seasons -- to say nothing of his surprise appearance at the end of season three. We need Walt explained, Lost. Don't screw this up.


HighOnPoker said...

As per usual, allow me to throw some thoughts into the mix:

I think you are wrong about Ben knowning that Hawkings was involved. It seemed like he was saving Locke long enough to find a way back to the island. Once he learned that Hawkings was Locke's ticket back (and found out about Jin's ring), he had the no need for Locke to be alive. I don't think he killed Locke just out of spite though. I think he knew that Locke needed to be dead for the return to the island to work.

I also think that Ben died in the plane crash. It was very unclear from the episode. However, it would make sense that the island would kill him for returning. After all, didn't Ben say that after he moved the island, he could never return.

I expect that Locke and the new Losties are also in the past. Locke will find Richard Alpert and become the leader of the Others, fulfilling his destiny. That's when he obviously first meets (and probably exiles) Widmore. Ah, shit. That doesn't work though, because the Others were originally wary of Locke when Locke first met the group.

Mike Maloney said...

Ben's not dead. Why would they have him on a bed with the other wounded if he was?

J, I wrote something very similar regarding Walt; it felt very much to me like they were just trying to quietly close the book on the character so we didn't spend the last season and a half wondering what happened to him. I think it's very unfortunate, and if I had to guess I would say that it's due to some behind-the-scenes problems, like maybe Malcolm David Kelley just didn't want to do the show anymore or something like that. Really too bad, though.

If it is in fact Sun with Frank, however, I just don't understand why she didn't go back with the other four. What was so different about her?

jjok said...

Great writeup. Here's hoping for many continued questions and answers

Matt said...

I was mildly disappointed in this episode from a writing standpoint. It seemed the episode was written to show why Locke attempted suicide, regardless of how much sense it all made. I think the Kate scene was the best example. The dialogue about loving someone was used to bring up Helen again, who Locke then visited, which made him even more sad. And like you mentioned, his attempts at convincing them were so weak, but to me, it seemed they were weak by design of the plot rather than Locke's character; if he's really passive, then it's easier for them to say no, then he gets sad, then it's hangman time.

Speaking of weak writing, I'm just going to copy and paste my other comment from one I left on Maloney's blog:

I don't think it was Ben's plan initially to kill Locke, especially considering the talk down. I wonder if his visit was to manipulate Locke into helping him find Penny. I wonder if Ben said that whoever moves the island can't come back because he believed it was physically impossible once the island is moved. When Locke mentions Hawking, he realizes that going back to the island is possible again, and Locke will probably stand in his way given Locke's success at convincing the O6 to come back.

Gunslinger said...

Another excellent write-up. Goat, you make this journey so much more interesting.

"But if Illana starts spewing ink from her eyes and only Caesar can calm her down, I'm going on a killing spree."

I had to explain to my entire office what was so damn funny.

lj said...

my two questions: how could the pilot take off w/ sun if she's stuck in the ' seemed like all the castaways were flashed onto the island, wouldn't that include sun? she was my initial thought also, but i'm curious why she'd be separate.

also, after all his time on the island does ben not realize that people who are killed can come back? why did he kill locke then go through all the trouble of carefully freezing his body and making sure he got back on the plane?

Julius_Goat said...

LJ -- For the first question, we don't know for a fact that it was Sun who left with Lapidus -- that's just my assumption. However, we also don't know for sure that all of the O6 were "disappeared" off the plane, or that all of them were whisked off to a separate time than the rest of the flight. In fact, the only ones that we know for sure did that are Jack and Kate and Hurley. Mike, same answer for you. You wrote that you didn't know why Sun wouldn't have gone back with the other four. We don't know that Sayid went back yet either. My read on the situation is that the island sends you where it wants you. But then again, perhaps the whole O6 actually is raptured back to the 70s, and it isn't Sun that went with Lapidus at all. That's just my guess at it.

My question is, is that flashy-disappeary thing how Jack and some of the other survivors wound up on the island in the first place? Did they also disappear off of the Oceanic flight? Because, if not (and I've long wondered about this), how did Jack wind up in the jungle in the opening moments of the first episode?

As for the Ben question . . . well, yes, exactly. And remember, it is only because of Ben that Locke returned to the island. Some things surprise Ben, but I strongly doubt that Locke's resurrection will be one of them. It's one of the things that makes Ben murdering Locke so ambiguous. It really does seem like something he felt he had to do, not something he particularly wanted to do. What we don't know is why, and what mentioning Hawking's name had to do in triggering it.