One MIGHT say that the LOST writer’s room is trying to inch closer and closer to the redemption line with Ben Linus. I think that would be a huge mistake. None-the-less, some of Mr. Linus’s vulnerabilities were quite revealing. Revealing enough to forgive genocide? Perhaps not.
“Dead is Dead” was a weaveworld of Ben Linus deceptions. For the first time we got to see Ben operate without the average guy facade. We saw the incredulous ‘who me?’ mask thrown on as needed. We saw that every move he makes is a manipulation. He at first seems to be turning on Locke, we later learn he is merely flushing out the weapons. In fact, the only thing Ben was consistent on links directly to the chink in his armor: children.
Ben went through with his judgment without turning the situation on its ear – his agony over the death of his daughter and his role in the situation was real, just as his willingness – nay, need – to be judged. Perhaps most interesting was the parallel between Ben’s commitment to facing his ‘own’ kind of music, to his inability to keep his commitment to his own need for revenge. Killing Penny seemed a cold and apt act in the wake of Widmore’s volition of rule-breaking.
The site of Penny’s child, though, was a turning point for Ben – connected through the needlepoint of the episode. His task, in some regards, was no different than the mission to kill Danielle. He arrived, and at the site of the child changed the rules of the game himself – disobeying his ‘leader’ for a higher moral ground. In both the seizing of Alex and the sparing of Penny, Ben disobeys the Widmore nature – he doesn’t seem to have the backbone for this kind of evil.
All of this revives the question that continues to spin on its own momentum: who is the bad guy between these two? “Dead is Dead” is win one for the Linus fans of the world. Widmore is far more cold blooded than Ben, at least when it comes to children. However, a note of caution to Ben-ites and LOST writers as well; true redemption will elude Ben Linus always, regardless of how popular he becomes. Make all of the Darth Vader comparisons you like.
Sure, even though Anakin stood by while a whole planet was blow’d up real good, and we still cheered when he threw the emperor over the rail. We were also always aware of this greater evil that seemed to pulling his strings, not to mention an overarching mythology that included an equal opportunity corruptor known as the dark-side of the force. Ben linus has neither of these plot conveniences on stand-by to save him from the horrors of gassing the men and women of the Dharma Initiative, or any of the many smaller sociopathic displays Ben has snickered through.
Finding the human side of a psychopath is always the most fascinating part of stories that choose to go there, as long as they do not lead blindly to a redemption that fails to bring the villain to any kind of justice. It’s an argument that makes returning to the question of who is the good guy/bad guy between Widmore/Linus all that much more volatile. Personally, I’ll stick to “worse of two evils” line, and hope that at the end of the day the ghosts of New Otherton are waiting to drag a sneering Ben Linus to his just desserts.