Lost: Dead is Dead
Season 5, episode 12
I’m sorry to keep harping on one theme, but this episode also revolved around questions of parenthood and child abandonment. We learn how it is Ben came to act as a father toward Alex and that Charles Widmore, whatever he might be now, was a harsher man back on the island (namely, Ben takes the baby and refuses to shoot Rousseau even that is apparently the mission Widmore sent him on). It is intriguing to me that as we try to piece together the duplicitous sides of Benjamin Linus he appears to have come into his leadership of the island both by questioning the more brutal methods of Widmore and by eventually having Widmore banished (by what process? Trial by smoke monster?). We learn that Widmore used to leave the island and has a child by an outsider (mark that one, my friend). Though the code of the island is still a bit obscure as is the relation of the Others to this code, even I can imagine this is not proper protocol. So we are left wondering if, at least at first, Ben didn’t have the greater good of the island in mind?
The whole episode, in a sense, revolves around the question of Ben’s guilt or innocence in relation to the death of Alex: whether Charles is right and Alex was meant by the island to die all along or whether her death is Ben’s fault. Interestingly, the return of the kick-ass Alex from the belly of the smoke monster doesn’t exactly answer this question, except to tell Ben his days of decision-making are over. He swears to follow Locke’s every command – though one thing we’ve learned is that Ben is not true to his word, sweat, tears, and fear in the moment aside. One of the things I’ve noticed watching this time around is how much the Ben we already know is present in his younger self: how much the scared, abused, scheming, passive-aggressive, angry, manipulative boy remains in the many-sided man. The fact that we watch Ben in an egregious case of duplicity as he plays Locke and Ceasar against each other (as well as telling Locke point blank that he expected him to rise from the dead while denying exactly this to Sun hours later) alongside his supposed soul-searching seemed perfect to me – both Ben’s are real, or rather there is no “real” Ben at all. Ben is the sum of his scheming parts and they all exist side-by-side.
On the theme of leadership styles, we see a similar reversal to the one happening with Sawyer and Jack in Locke and Ben’s relationship. But in both cases, I am not sure the old leader (Jack and Ben) will be prepared to follow meekly all the way to the end. I am interested in the new Locke: he is so sure of himself it is almost eerie. I guess that is what happens when you pass through death. What is most interesting is how, ever since the end of season 4, Locke has been on his own path, largely unmoored from the life of the other survivors. It is still unclear how his path into the mysteries of the Others fits with whatever it is exactly the Oceanic and freighter folks are up to – trying to stay alive and perhaps fulfill some higher purpose set by the island?
Finally, what did you make of the sudden turn of Illana and her crew into gun-toting self-proclaimed leaders of the remaining Ajira survivors? What does stand in the shadow of the statue?
Another great episode! Don’t apologize for continuing to push the parental themes. I think you’re on to something really interesting there. And I’m intrigued that you’re telling me to put a pin in that reference to Widmore’s family back in the real world. I had simply assumed that they were referencing Penny. But your advice leads me to think there’s something more going on. Very interesting, indeed.
Or perhaps you were just wanting me to pay attention to the fact that Ben knows about Penny, as we finally learn later in the episode how Ben came to get all those ass-kicked injuries he’s been sustaining for a few episodes now (I do love it when Desmond shows up!). Ok, I’ll stop guessing.
Now, perhaps unlike you, I took Ben’s promise to Alex to follow John seriously. Taking on the responsibility of facing the smoke monster for his own selfishness seems like a genuine development of character to me. Plus it seems to echo the ways in which Jack and Kate also came to a greater self-realization and confession of their own self-centeredness in the last episode and, perhaps, is developing another new theme. Ben has been humbled, and I’m curious to see where this takes him. Of course, I also agree with you that all these facets of his character make up the real him, or that the real him resides in them all…but I still take that moment as a moment of growth.
Even more interesting to me is Ben’s belief in John, which I also took to be genuine (even if I also think he spent most of the episode totally mistrusting John and contemplating doing him further harm). Trying to get Sun to fear John echoed his trying to get Caesar to mistrust John earlier in the episode. And so just as he then used Caesar to prove to John that he was on John’s side, I wonder if he’s similarly setting Sun up. We know from an earlier episode that the story of Thomas and Christ captivates Ben. And his statement to John that there’s a difference between believing and actually seeing recalls that moment back in the church in front of the shrine to St. Thomas when Ben told Jack that we all end up believing eventually. I really think Ben, like Thomas, is finally believing. Ah, but maybe I’m naïve.
The connection to that moment shared between Jack and Ben in the church is interesting too, though, because it was the moment when Jack had to decide what to do with his father’s shoes – does he take the leap of faith and put them on Locke’s dead body, or does he dismiss this all as foolishness. Those shoes continue to intrigue me. Did you notice that John took them off for the canoe ride to the main island? What was that all about? Surely he wasn’t just trying to keep his feet dry? The idea of magic shoes seems a bit silly – but the Biblical idea of removing one’s shoes for holy ground might relate here. Or they might be trying to draw our attention continually to the idea of some sort of path being forged. I haven’t quite decided on the symbolism yet, but it certainly intrigues.
Ok, so did you notice the books on Alex’s shelf? The recognizable ones are two key texts about the American slave trade, Roots (a tracing of family lineage) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (a book that deals explicitly with themes of families being separated as well as with reproductive problems), plus Flowers for Algernon, a science fiction short story about a man named Charlie (connection to our Charlie?) who undergoes scientific experiments to increase his low-IQ. He gains the knowledge, but then loses it. So how do these books relate to this ongoing theme of family, parents, reproduction and our ponderings about the upcoming event that will cause the island’s reproductive problems and its possible relation to a Biblical narrative of fall and the acquiring of knowledge?
Finally, seeing as we reviewed Avatar together a few weeks ago, it’s fresh in my mind and I’m noticing some connections here and wondering if we can name a cultural moment together. We both noticed in Avatar how the religion of the Na’vi was something measurable, something tangible, scientifically readable, even technological, yet still spiritual. And I suppose at times, the island on Lost feels like that to me. They can send physicists to study it. Even the smoke monster is both mysterious smoke and technological sound…and it functions as a security system, for goodness sake. The religious views of the island grow out of all the major faith traditions from our own world (albeit, anchored in a largely Western mythology). And back in the real world, with the activities of Eloise and others, we see a great blend of science, alchemy, religion and mathematics. These images from Avatar and Lost are a far cry from the more boring picture of logic/science vs. spirituality that we both bemoaned in the recent Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, they are more akin to the fascinating Illusionist of a few years ago. As we continue to engage contemporary notions of spirituality in pop culture, this might be a theme to track!
Oh, and Illana and her friends? Hmpf. No idea. But I certainly don’t think she was employed by who she said she was employed by now to get Sayid on that plane. The question then for me then is, was she employed by Charles or Ben? It’s a tricky one to parse out seeing as both Charles and Ben could know what Sayid does to the young Ben. What does stand in the shadow of the statue? I don’t know that either – but it was most certainly a coded question that defines who is on what team…Lapides being on the wrong team, then, might make us lean towards Ilana working for someone other than Charles. Oof, but I just don’t know.