I suppose it’s only fitting that Benjamin Linus, the man that has pulled all the strings on the Island and manipulated everyone into doing his will is, in a sideways reality not quite in control of what’s going on around him.
He’s under the thumb of a corrupt and uncaring principal. He eats TV dinners with his disabled father. And he chooses to hang out with Dr. Arzt. Hardly a man in control of his own destiny.
If what Miles said to Ben is to believed, that Jacob had hoped to the last moment that Ben wouldn’t kill him, then despite all the perceived manipulations, then Ben did have a choice. As does everyone else on the Island. Tonight, in an episode devoted to one of Lost’s most compelling characters, we saw Ben spill his soul, confess and apologize, and yet again, when faced with a choice, actually take the path of righteousness.
For Ben fans, this was definitely an exciting episode. In the Sideways timeline, Ben is a teacher of European History who has the brains, but maybe not the ambition to be in a position higher than his current station. He lives with his father, and much like in the Island timeline, both were members of the DHARMA Initiative and spent time on the Island (before whatever happened happened). Principal Dickless forces Ben to cancel the History Club and oversee detention instead. One of Ben’s star students is one Alex Rousseau, who needs a letter of recommendation to get into Yale. Alex lets slip that the principal is involved in some shenanigans with the school nurse. Ben and Arzt hack the nurse’s e-mail and Ben confronts the principal with the love letters. Ben wants the principal’s job. Dickless has a simple counter-offer: if Ben carries through with his threat, he sabotage Alex’s chances to get into Yale. In the end, Ben does what he didn’t do in the other timeline: he does what’s best for Alex.
Meanwhile, in original recipe timeline, Hurley and Jack encounter Richard in the jungle. Richard takes them to the Black Rock and tries to get Jack to kill him, believing with Jacob gone, he is truly better off dead. Jack takes a gamble and learns that whatever protects Richard (Jacob’s touch) protects him as well. At the beach camp, Illana finds out that Ben was the true killer of Jacob. She prepares to kill Ben, who is offered freedom (and the position of Island head honcho once again) by fLocke. Ben runs, and while holding Illana at gunpoint, apologizes:
I watched my daughter Alex die in front of me. And it was my fault. I had a chance to save her, but I chose the Island over her. All in the name of Jacob. I sacrificed everything for him. And he didn’t even care. I stabbed him. I was so angry, confused. I was terrified that I was about to lose the only thing that ever mattered to me–my power. But the thing that really mattered was already gone. I’m sorry that I killed Jacob. I am and I do not expect you to forgive me, because I can never forgive myself.
Ben prepares to go join fLocke, because he thinks that’s the only place where he’s wanted. Illana welcomes him and Ben takes her up on the offer. Hurley, Jack and Alpert meet up with the beach gang, all under the watchful eye of a submarine commanded by Widmore, who we last saw outside Desmond’s hospital.
Quite an episode. Not too much in the way of answers, but a lot of character development. Particularly for Ben and Jack.
fLocke offered Ben a position of power on the Island. But instead, Ben chose to stay among those he had betrayed, possibly realizing that death was preferable to serving fLocke. True, he shouldn’t have killed Jacob, but like he said, the damage was already done with Alex’s death.
As an aside, I’m not really sure that Ben was responsible for her death. True, because he refused to leave his house, Keamy pulled the trigger. But at the time Ben was under two assumptions: first, that some “rule” between he and Widmore prevented Widmore’s goons from taking his daughter’s life. And second, Ben knew that even if he surrendered himself, Keamy and the boys would kill everyone on the Island anyway (which we later found out was their plan all along).
Additionally, nearly 20 years earlier, Ben had saved Alex’s life. He rescued her from a life of being cared for by a crazy woman and he ignored Widmore’s wishes that she die. Maybe Alex would have been a sacrifice the Island demanded and would have died anyway, but until she died, Ben gave her one of the best lives of anyone on the Island.
Similarly, Sideways Ben also has Alex’s best interests in mind. While his superior only cares about lowering the cost of running a school, Ben cares about education, and he has no student more promising than Alex. Ben has a choice: he can do wrong or right. Similarly, on-Island Ben was given this choice, but it was portrayed as him having to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. But Sideways Ben goes the other direction-he gives up a shot at becoming principal (and possibly improving the situation for students, teachers and himself) to give Alex the life she wants.
Not only that, but he puts up with Roger. Sideways Ben must be a saint.
The other character that experienced a big character change was Jack. He’s been teetering on the edge for a while, but now it can be said that Jack Shepard is a man of faith. He now accepts that he was brought to the Island for a reason (took him long enough). He has a purpose. He may not know what it is, but he’s willing to do whatever it takes (including sit down next to a piece of ignited dynamite) to find out what it is.
Last season, we saw the emergence of this Jack. He thought his destiny was to detonate a nuclear device and cause the Incident. But now, he realizes that righting the timelines is small potatoes compared to whatever else Jacob has in store for him. By becoming a man of faith, Jack also restored the faith of Richard Alpert, who has followed Jacob’s ways for a long time. We saw Richard a broken man tonight, realizing that his enemy has won and the force he has invested so many years in no longer exists. For some reason, Richard is important too, and the Island isn’t done with him yet either.
Some other thoughts:
-Great casting of William Atherton (a.k.a. Dickless from Ghostbusters, a.k.a. Professor Jerry Hathaway, a.k.a. Richard Thornburg) as the slimy, corrupt Principal. It was crushing when he turned the tables on Ben. But at the same time, you got the sense that Ben was willing to make that sacrifice. I have a feeling though, that Island Ben wouldn’t think twice about siccing the Smoke Monster on Principal Dickless.
-Didn’t expect to see Widmore at the end there. I’m guessing that after the hospital encounter, he teamed up with Hawking to use the Lamppost to find the Island. He told Locke that there was a war going on, and if Locke wasn’t on the Island, then the wrong side would win. Well, Locke was on the Island, and his body is currently being used by someone else, so I’m guessing that Widmore isn’t on Jacob’s side.
-Worst “next week on Lost” promo ever.
What did you think?