I’m now switching to movie trailer man voice.
“In a world where bad television still exists, there are some episodes of television that make us wonder why we would ever bother with movies. Episodes like “The Constant,” “Through the Looking Glass, Part 2,” and “The Man Behind the Curtain,” so epic and groundbreaking that it makes Homer look like he just went to the variety store for cigarettes. Now comes a new episode to topple all others. [music swells, cut to Locke saying “Welcome back to the land of the living”… Ben shouting “Tell Desmond Hume I’m sorry!”… Desmond pummelling the crap out of Ben… Ben with Pee-Wee Herman/Alfalfa hair holding Alex and shooting into the sand… Ben pushing the bookcase away from the wall… Ben saying, “What’s about to come out of that jungle I can’t control”… music swelling as Penny yells, “Please don’t hurt my son!”… Smokey swirling around Ben’s ankles… Ben’s bloody face as he lands in the water…]
“One man returns to the island for the one thing he cannot get on the mainland [music suddenly halts, and Ben quietly says, “I came back to the island to be judged”… BOOM of the music]
“Dead Is Dead. Coming yesterday to a television near you.”
I swear I felt like I’d run a marathon when this episode finished. Bloody brilliant.
And SO much to talk about. But I should focus on one thing. (Me. Focus. That’ll be the day.)
So, I’m going to talk about Ben. (Shock.) Is he a good guy or is he a bad guy? Lost has always been about bad parenting, and the children who live as the results of what their parents have done for them, without them, or to them. The writers didn’t just insert all of the Oedipal stuff in there in the first couple of seasons for kicks – it’s important to realize that a child is formed by the things that happen to him/her. The Enlightenment philosopher John Locke believed that everyone was born a blank slate, and if we take that philosophy to be true, then what has been written on Ben – an alcoholic, distant, abusive father; being shot; being blamed for his mother’s death; a rebirth on the island that changed him – has been an epic poem.
Ben is a liar, pure and simple. He’s lied in just about every scene, whether he needs to or not. If you asked him his favourite colour, he’d probably say purple, even if it was blue… just to piss you off. But he was forced to lie early on. He was turned into one of the Others in his early adolescence, yet continued to be a double agent for them, re-integrating into the DI and pretending everything was fine. In the Others, he wore raggedy clothing; in the DI, he was a Work Man. In the Others, he had a baby daughter; he presumably left her behind when he went home to Dharmaville.
But what fans want to know is, is Ben good or is he bad? Is he Satan, or is he the Angel Gabriel? Is he really doing what’s best for the island, or what’s best for him? I’ve long maintained that he’s the good guy and Widmore the bad. In “The Life and Times of Jeremy Bentham,” we were led to believe that Widmore was the good guy (helping out good ol’ John Locke, saving his life) and Ben the evil little devil (helping out good ol’ John Locke by talking him out of suicide, only to strangle him the moment he wants to live again). But I believed that was purposely deceitful. And I still do. After last night’s episode, I’m pretty convinced of it.
Ben was transformed in the Temple, and was changed. Richard Alpert is not normal (most likely he’s as ancient as the hieroglyphs in the Temple). John Locke and Christian both came to the island as corpses, and are now walking around as very different people than who they were in life. But Widmore didn’t undergo a transformation, as far as we know. In 1954 he’s a scared young man, deferring to Alpert. In 1977 he comes riding into the camp on a horse, as if he’s running the Others camp, but not part of it, and he seems to use the rhetoric without any of the passion behind it, “Everything I did, I did for the island, yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah.” When Alpert lies and says Jacob told him to take Ben to the Temple, Widmore seems a little flustered, “Jacob, yes. Right. Of course. Jacob.” You can tell he’s never seen Jacob. Locke has. Richard has. Ben has. Christian has.
Widmore went off the island, made millions, and started a family. The island was like a getaway to him, a possession he wouldn’t let go of. But the island was everything to Ben; he went off the island in pursuit of things for it (or to hunt down anything that threatened it). When he says everything he did was for the island, I believe him. When he said in season 3 that he was born on the island, he means it – he’s referring to his rebirth in the Temple.
When Ben was ousted from the island by turning the FDW, he did everything he could to get back to it. When Widmore was banished from the island for breaking the rules (and then couldn’t find it again, leading me to believe someone turned the FDW to hide it from him, or maybe “The Incident” hid it from him), he first sent Desmond back as a guinea pig to find the island, then a plane full of people, then a freighter full of mercenaries. Now Ilana and her ilk look like they could be connected to Widmore, and if so, once again he’s sent in a gang with guns. Ben, on the other hand, took a chance and came back to the island himself. And not to make it his possession, but to be judged by it and accept whatever judgment it passed.
Widmore wanted Rousseau dead. Ben, wanting to prove himself, offered to do it. But when he realized Rousseau was a mother, he took the baby and sent Rousseau into hiding, knowing that if she were saddled with a baby, Widmore would find her and would kill them both. He raises Alex with as much love as if she were his own. He stole a woman’s baby – we can’t forget that. But maybe he didn’t realize what choice he had in the matter. Now, in the present, he marches up to kill Penny out of revenge. The moment he realizes she’s a mother, he hesitates. His mother died giving birth to him, and now he cannot kill another mother. Imagine what he must go through every time an Other gets pregnant on the island and dies.
The island is drawn to men of faith. Remember back in season 2, when Eko faced the smoke monster, he, too, was judged by it. First it showed him the painful moments of his life, and he just stared back hard in the face of it. Ben, on the other hand, breaks down when he has to rewatch Alex’s death. When Not-Yemi comes to Eko and tells him to repent, Eko refuses, saying he was given a certain life, and did the best he could with what he was given. Ben, on the other hand, apologizes to Not-Alex, admits to Locke that he really did kill her, and repents. The smoke monster lets him live. But it’s not so generous with Eko.
It has let him live, but it forces him to acknowledge that Locke is the man in charge, and the island’s true chosen one. Ben tested Locke in season 2. He tried to kill him in season 3. He followed him through the jungle and then took his place at the FDW in season 4. One would think he despises John, but I wonder if he’s recognized that he is a catalyst who must make things happen in order to save the island, but not the actual person who WILL save the island. When he turns to John just before turning the wheel, he apologizes for effing up his life (not the last 3 months, but his life, making us believe he’s been watching Locke for far longer). When he strangles Locke, he leaves the room and says to him, “I’m going to miss you John,” referring to the poor, broken, flawed John Locke he’s just killed, knowing that a new, confident, caustic John Locke will replace him.
After everything he’s done for the island, Ben is but an angel or an agent. John Locke, on the other hand, is seen as the true saviour. Will Ben accept that?
Nikki Stafford is the author of the Finding Lost series of books, which offer episode-by-episode guides to each season. The guide to season 4 is now available at Amazon.com. She posts regularly on her television blog, Nik at Nite.