The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham
Lost Season 5, Episode 7: The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham
Re-watching this episode, I was kind of surprised to remember that they gave us the basic arc of Locke/Bentham’s time off the island in such a straight-forward manner. We learn that there is a specific exit from the island, in the desert of Tunisia. Charles Widmore is watching this exit (and presumably sent those warriors on horseback to take out Ben when he first exited as well, but we don’t know that for sure) – and he makes direct contact with Locke, telling him that he too was tricked by Ben to leave the island and give up his position as leader of the Others. We also learn that the Others fancy themselves defenders of the island, but we are not told anything else about who they are. Charles offers to help Locke round up all the Oceanic 6 and tells him that there is a war coming to the island and that Locke needs to be there to assure that the right side wins. Who that side is, of course, is a mystery.
Not to be outdone, Ben is watching Locke’s progress with Widmore and takes the drastic action of shooting Matthew and eventually killing Locke. It is hard to see how we are not supposed to think Ben might somehow be the “good guy” here – though why it is so important that he kill Locke himself, and not let him just commit suicide, is unclear. Does he kill him only because Locke mentions the name of Eloise Hawking, which takes Ben by surprise? Or does Ben only preserve Locke for a short while to try and exhort information from him (he does leave, after all, with two crucial pieces of info: that Jin is still alive and that Eloise Hawking can help them get back on the island)? What does it mean that Ben doesn’t know this about Eloise, even though he does know who she is? If we remember that just before Locke left the island Christian told him that he, not Ben, had to be the one to leave and bring the others back, and that Christian gives Locke, and not Ben, the information about Eloise, it is clear that Ben is usurping Locke’s place, and probably not for any good. Why does Ben need to be the one to round up all the others and lead them back? And why does this require him to kill Locke, thus fulfilling Richard’s prophecy that Locke’s death will bring the others back?
We also have the slightly heavy-handed theme of Locke wondering if he is important or not, with the climactic moment coming when Jack tells him he is suffering from delusions of grandeur. Far more interesting to me than the John/Jack showdown, was the revelation that Locke told Jack that his father is still alive – or at least acting as some sort of intermediary on the island. This means that Jack knew about his father when he performed the shoe swap, meaning he might have anticipated/hoped for something as improbable as John’s resurrection when he struggles to believe what Eloise tells him. If there is a connection between Jack and Doubting Thomas then there is also a connection between John and Jesus, a point that seemed very subtly reinforced when we are told at the beginning of the episode that John was discovered standing in the water, seemingly coming from no where (does that sound like a baptismal/resurrection image to you?). What all this has to do with Ben’s van with the anagram for re-incarnation, I am not sure, but I am betting something.
Final thought: Ceasar and Ilana – who are they and what do they have on Sayid and were they trying to find the island?! That opening scene, where we see Ceasar riffling through an office and then we realize that he is on the island, at an old Dharma Initiative office, took me by surprise, even for the second time.
I can’t wait to hear what you thought of our dear Jeremy Bentham’s wanderings and what you think is going to happen next!
Considering how much I love Locke, I’m surprised to say that I wasn’t crazy about this episode. Perhaps it’s because it was so straightforward? I’m not sure. But you’ve definitely raised a few points here that I want to follow up on.
The first is this Widmore/Ben cosmic battle of good and evil without us knowing which is which. This type of ambiguity is one of my favourite aspects of the show, and we often see it with Ben’s actions most clearly. Characters put their trust in Ben, only to feel betrayed, but then find themselves needing to put their trust in him once again (Locke is such a case in point for this!). But what I love is that in the desperation of trying to do all the things they find themselves needing to do, these characters throw themselves into these necessary trust relationships again and again, even when the evidence is stacked against trusting anyone. I like this because I often tire of the over-done theme in tv shows where a character has “trust issues” (and even names them as such) and just needs to be brought out by the right person. Despite the normal guards so many of us put up, I think this ad hoc tossing about of trust is much truer to the way in which most people I know operate…because good and evil are never black and white or absolute, but rather good and evil are context specific and often have strategic implications that require us to act with elements of each with each action we perform. I would actually be quite happy if we never knew which one of Ben and Charles were truly good and truly evil and, instead, they both continued to function as ambiguous agitators in the struggle of life.
Ok, on to John, Christian and the shoes – how, how had I forgotten or not pieced together that Christian was also in a coffin on the plane and had gone through some type of resurrection? We’ve had so many dead characters/ghosts/whatever-beings milling about the island, I just sort of slotted Christian into those types of apparitions without thinking that there might have been an actual path that he took to the island. By that I mean, I just unconsciously suspended disbelief on the explanation of how he got there rather than noticing that they had actually (in a backhanded way) told us how he did.
We see again in this episode that there are many paths to this island (how’s that for a nice “all paths lead up the same mountain” view of the world’s religions?!). When the Ajira flight crashes, some end up as survivors on the ground (Caesar and Ben included – answering one of my questions from last time); our Oceanic 6 (or at least the accounted for ones) do some sort of flash; and John comes back to life – he resurrects. It seems then that with our original Oceanic crash, we had at least the first and third of these scenarios. I wonder if we had the second?? Either way, it seems that neither Christian nor Locke’s resurrections were flukes, but that this is a thing done – and that Eloise knows how to do it. And so my reflections on Locke and the shoes being some sort of ‘following in Christian’s footsteps’ came more true than I expected! He followed Christian’s footsteps on the path through death into life/second life/I don’t know what.
And yes, we have two episodes in a row in which Ben finds out something about Eloise that surprises him. First that she’s Faraday’s mother, and now that Locke has been sent to see her. I enjoy this non-all-knowing Ben; watching him figure out some of the pieces of the puzzle alongside us.
My favourite random part in the episode – Widmore’s total transparency about the name he gives John Locke/Jeremy Bentham. Up until this point, the fact that characters’ names line up with real life names or make allusions to them has been treated as a literary device. No one thinks or mentions that they are named for famous philosophers, scientists, religious motifs, etc. Nor did we expect them to! Part of the play of the allusion is the character not being conscious of it. But Widmore puts it out on the table – literally – with his own passport joke, and in noting that John’s parents gave him a mocking name too. John has no response and, I wonder, then, if he doesn’t even get the joke. It’s a moment that gives Charles Widmore a more meta-quality or a quality to being both in the world of Lost but also outside of it somehow. He participates in what’s going on, but can see the action from our perspective too. It was a wake up to the viewers who weren’t already checking names to start doing so. It was an affirmation to those of us who’ve been puzzling about the names. But I feel like something even more interesting happened there in that it was also a wake up to us that he might know things about all these players that his opponent, Ben, has no knowledge of. Which is going to make this coming war quite scrappy and fun!
Funny – for an episode I wasn’t crazy about, I sure had a lot to say!