So here we are. Nearing the halfway point of Season Six. And Arzt has gotten more screen time this season than Desmond and Jin combined. Let’s make sense of our surroundings after the jump.
While it didn’t have the action of last week, or a ton of great one-liners, “Dr. Linus” worked as a dramatic construct in a way that no other episode this season has. And it did so for two reasons: it focused on a character that we care about and are still capable of learning something about, and it brought Lost’s religious themes into sharp relief. So…thank God for Ben Linus.
Issues of faith have always been central to Lost, but rarely has the show so openly embraced the central dilemma with the very concept of faith itself: How can you believe in something you can’t see? This episode was filled with leaps of faith, crises of faith, and the deconstruction of blind faith as a viable way of life.
At what point does it become reasonable to give up on faith when promised rewards don’t materialize? At what point does the patience of Job become mere insanity? For we learned tonight that Richard Alpert and Ben have both served as island versions of Job: asked by Jacob to trust him, to trust in a plan he couldn’t explain. Ben waited decades; Richard waited centuries. Both eventually reached a breaking point.
Ben allowed himself to murder the man he professed to love and believe in above all else, and Richard felt so betrayed by Jacob’s apparent abandonment that he’s go to any length to end his overly long, overly subservient, underexamined life.
The three characters most central to this episode were at three different stages in the questioning of their faith. Richard is in the midst of his darkest hour — where Ben was the night he stabbed Jacob. He’s seen a lifetime of sacrifice go for naught, and he’s had a lifetime of questions that he was told would be unanswered left unresolved (Richard as the ultimate Lost fan). Ben’s already lost his faith, and appears ready for redemption if he can find it, penitence if he can offer it. Perhaps because of his trust issues with Jacob, Ben appears to see through Smoke Locke’s promise that he’ll let him be in charge of the island after he’s gone. That sounds suspiciously like Ben is passing up the chance to be the next Smoke Monster. And Jack, the former man of science, well, Jack’s gone full-on zealot on us. He’s setting off nuclear bombs, swallowing poison pills and staring down lit sticks of dynamite, all to prove to himself that he’s got a purpose.
Faith and power go hand in hand, and the holders of the latter often abuse the holders of the former. Dr. Linus tried to impart a lesson to his class about Napoleon’s grip on power: a grip that was almost on entirely built on faith. To remain in power, Napoleon, who came from no royal lineage, needed the people to believe in him. That he, and he alone, could lead France to its exalted destiny. That by following Napoleon, common men became blessed with some holy purpose. Napoleon turned the secular into the religious, exactly like Ben version 1.0. Is Jacob playing the same kind of tricks, or does he truly have the universe’s better angels in his corner?
With this episode, we’re also starting to grow more deeply entangled in the thorny issues of good and evil that threaten to overwhelm every other purpose Lost has ever had. Is Ben “good” now, because he didn’t overthrow the principle in the alterna-verse, and because he didn’t shoot Ilana or follow Locke on the island? Is he redeemed, even though he slaughtered dozens of Dharma-ites? And how can we ever consider Jacob to be righteous when he presumably ordered that very same genocide?
We’re in the weeds right now on good and evil. Between claimings and infections and possessions, and the lack of clarity over whose orders The Others were actually following all these years, it’s impossible to know definitely who’s right and wrong about anything. The entire fucking show is an unreliable narrator right now.
But back to Ben — there’s no way this episode works as well as it does unless he’s at the heart of it. Part of that has nothing to do with the writers, or any grand plans — it’s just that Michael Emerson is fucking awesome, and can sell absolutely anything. Regardless, we care about Ben, and we care about his fate, whether we hate him, root for him, or pity him. And Ben, like Desmond and Juliet, was brought onto the show late enough that we haven’t been beaten over the head with too many flashbacks focused on him. Ironically, in this season in which Cuse and Lindelof insist they’re bringing the focus back to the Oceanic 815 survivors, I find myself caring much more about characters who didn’t enter the canvas until later seasons.
- It seems likely that the group on the beach is eventually going to take a kayak ride, and end up getting shot by the time travelers.
- We seem to have our “good” and “evil” groups set, with the cast divided into two groups and locations. But I have the feeling there’s going to be a lot of switching back and forth, like when we were trying to figure out how The Oceanic 6 would end up on the freighter.
- Ilana kind of sucks, no? I can’t have been the only one who was hoping Ben would put a bullet in her head.
- Sun got through an entire episode without saying, “Have you seen my husband?”
Rose and Bernard Annoyance Factor: 0! An episode of Lost without Rose and Bernard is like America without Republicans. Waffle Houses without the South. Attending a Justin Timberlake concert without the shame and the judging stares.
Hey! It’s That Other! Ben’s Dad…yawn. Alex…zzzzz.
Answers: According to Richard, Jacob’s touch grants eternal life. And Richard can’t die unless someone else kills him.
New Questions: Not really. So, that’s progress, right?
Potential Lost Spinoff of the Week: “The Others Breakfast Club.” Dr. Linus hosts a series of special detentions on Saturday mornings for a pack of kids who ran afoul of Principal Reynolds: a brain (Jack’s dork son), an athlete (Aaron), a basket case (Walt), a princess (Alex) and a criminal (Sawyer’s kid, Clementine). “I want to give you something nice to hold onto, kids, because the rest of this term…is going to be very unpleasant. And don’t mess with the bull. You’ll get the horns.”