Friday, April 25, 2008

The Midside: S4E09 The Shape of Things to Come

Alright, this is how it’s going to be. From now on, LOST is just a story. The characters and the conflict have been set up, although we’re still not completely sure about either; and the execution will follow. I don’t mean execution in the sense that the show’s head will be cut off so the poor can overthrow the upper class. (Yes, that’s a French Revolution reference). I mean that the writers spent the first three seasons typing in “4 8 15 16 23 42” and hit “Execute” at the beginning of this season. Now, we have about 2112 minutes (or 48 episodes or two original length seasons) before the show implodes forever. Technically, after this week’s episode, we only have about 1716 minutes left. Enjoy it while it lasts. Isn’t quantifying things fun?

I’m pleasantly surprised at the fact that this episode was able to surprise me a few times, a couple pleasantly, one not so pleasantly. Let me list them:

-I didn’t think Alex would actually be killed. Up until the second she dropped dead, I was sure she would escape the jaws somehow. This surprise was setup well by a couple writing choices. First off, killing Rousseau and Karl before the break made me think that the deaths had stopped for awhile. Second, teasing Claire dying earlier in the episode (made believable by the knowledge that Kate ends up mothering Aaron), but not following through with it setup the expectations of narrowly escaping death in the episode. Well, maybe not narrowly escaping. Considering Claire’s house was blown up and she emerged with only a concussion, she’s doing pretty well, a lot better than Alex anyway.

Speaking of, let us take a moment to pour one out for our fallen homies: Rousseau, Karl, and Alex. I suppose Alex was always on borrowed time once the other two died; and her fate was especially sealed when she called Rousseau her mother. Plus, someone had to die to make look Widmore look like a dick. The three will be missed. They added a certain innocence and hope to the show. Now all my hope is in Desmond and Penny.

-I love perfect transitions. Even though it should have been completely obvious to me, when Ben said he was going to kill Widmore’s daughter, I was in shock. To quote M. Night Shyamalan in Robot Chicken, “What a twist!” I’ve been saying for awhile now that the end of the series is intertwined with Desmond and Penny, and now my predictions have all but been confirmed. Will Ben be able to kill Penny? Will he send Sayid to kill Penny? Will Desmond get off the island and be able to protect her? Will she find the island and reaching it will ironically bring about her death? Although, with all the people they’ve killed, I would argue that the writers can’t really kill Penny. Where would our happy ending be?

-The mention, and death, of Nadia was a complete and utter shock to me. It was arguably the most shocking event in the whole episode. Another trope I’ve been repeating recently is that Sayid’s storyline is tied up with finding Nadia. Well, apparently he found her, married her, and lost her again. Once again, her death signals the loss of another happy ending, or at least a romantic ending. Did the writers bring Nadia back because they had forgotten about her and suddenly remembered or because it’s part of some greater plan? I think they probably always intended on bringing her back, but weren’t sure when.

Likewise, I wasn’t sure when I was going to bring back my second section in this column, but now I know my when is now (err):

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

I use this section heading this week because it is a perfect description of Ben. He’s sometimes good, usually bad, and always ugly. It also speaks to the crux of his character that has become the crux of the storyline this season: the tension between his good and bad sides. More so than other seasons, the writers have really gone out of their way to portray Ben in a positive light, especially recently. The difficulty I am having with the storyline is that I don’t buy the positive portrayal.

What is supposed to make us believe that Ben is a good person is the allocation of his passion. Every once in awhile, he will show that he really cares for someone or something. In his flashback, we obviously saw his love for his mother and Annie. In island time, we saw his love for Alex. Over the entirety of the story, we see his love for the island. If there is one thing he allocates his passion to at all, it’s the island. Thus we see how the possibility of Ben being good is directly tied to the central question of the series: What is the island? If the island needs to be protected from the outside world, then Ben is good.

The problem with Ben’s allocation of passion is every time he does so, his actions are immoral. Yes, he wanted to protect the island from Dharma, but was it really necessary to gas every member of Dharma? But the depth of the immorality of his actions doesn’t stop there. His father was gassed among the Dharma people. But it’s not just that he killed his father as well. It’s how. He personally drove him out in the van and watched him die. You have to be a really sick person to not only kill your father, but kill and watch him die in cold blood. Yes, I know Ben’s father was a drunk and treated him poorly, but if acting in such a manner justifies cold blooded murder, then our society is in trouble. And yes, I believe in forgiving people their sins, but there are certain sins you can’t forgive.

The depths of Ben’s evil do not end there, however. Even worse is how he refuses to take responsibility for any of his actions. In this episode, this quality manifested itself in the event of Alex’s death. Who did Ben blame for Alex’s death? Widmore. And while it’s certainly true that Widmore’s mercenary was the one who fired the death shot, he also certainly did not have any specific orders to kill Alex. Ultimately, there is only one person responsible for Alex’s demise: Ben. Every choice he made concerning he resulted in her untimely end. First, he kidnapped her from Rousseau. Then, he raised her as his own. Then, he was a way too overbearing and obsessive parent. Then, he sent her into the jungle knowing that there were people on the island looking to kill him. Finally, when she was a hostage and all he had to do was emerge from the building, he thought falling back on his old manipulative tactics would work. Did they? Nope. Likewise, he always uses those manipulative tactics to put people into impossible choices and then blaming them when they fail to find success. You know who that description sounds like? Here’s a hint: he’s the villain in a movie Michael Emerson starred in. Yup, Jigsaw, the killer in the Saw movies. He sets up impossible traps and says he’s not a murderer because he gives his victims a chance at survival. In other words, Ben is comparable to an iconic horror movie villain.

The final demonstration of Ben’s character is the fact that death follows him. Anyone who allies with him or is associated with him ends up dead. It began with his mother dying while giving birth to him and has continued ever since. He killed all of original Dharma. He sent Ethan and Goodwin to their deaths. Most of The Others were killed at the end of the Season Three. I’m not saying that some great leaders and great men haven’t sent men to their deaths. It happens. It’s a fact of life. But if all that follows you is death, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, you’re pretty messed up.

Are we supposed to believe that Ben is good because he said, “We’re the good guys, Michael” way back at the end of the Season Two? Remember, what’s most dangerous about evil is that it believes it’s doing good. Do you think Hitler believed what he was doing was bad for Germany or the world? No. And I’m not really comparing Ben to Hitler. Or maybe I am. Sort of.

THE REST OF THE TRIBE

I completely enjoyed the way we were brought back into this season only to have that moment smashed a few seconds later. After a month away, LOST reopened with Kate taking off her top. It was as much of a dream come true as Forgetting Sarah Marshall were I was able to stare at Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell for a couple hours. But then, after that glorious open shot, Kate swooned over Jack trying to capture his attention. Way to knock me off my high, guys.

Speaking of Jack, a friend of mine wisely pointed out that his addiction to pain medication began in this episode. I’m not saying he isn’t sick or in pain, but based on our knowledge of the future, we can safely make the deduction that his downward spiral is continuing. The leader continues to fall and others seem to be stepping up to take his place. Others like…

Sawyer. This guy completely upped his badass quotient in this episode. I’m not saying he wasn’t a badass before, but in an episode where Ben should have had the most badass moment after he dismantled two guys in the desert who had machine guns with only a knife, Sawyer shined brightly. His running around the Others’ village, flipping over the picnic table, rescuing Claire from the rubble of her house, and then entering the stronghold through the window was so ridiculous. Can anyone actually believe that this guy is the character people thought was useless and didn’t care for anyone at the beginning of the series? Is there any doubt that he is ready to take over for the dear doctor when he falls?

In contrast, Sayid seems to be on a downward spiral. In island time, or freighter time, he seems to be a close ally and friend of Desmond. However, in the flashforwards, it’s completely conceivable that Ben would assign him to kill Penny. This possibility creates an interesting discussion. Did the writers bring back and kill Nadia to provide sufficient explanation for Sayid joining Ben’s side? Although, I do have to admit that I find it quite funny that Sayid said he was searching for his love for eight years. He was searching for her so intensely that he had time to hook up with a hot young American blonde on an island in the Pacific. Yes, the circumstances were extenuating, but Rose managed to stay loyal to Bernard even though most people thought he was dead. Regardless, the point right now is that two of the most beloved characters (Sayid and Desmond) may be headed for a collision course series ending.

LOSTOLOGY

The interesting thing to consider this week is the relationship between Charles Widmore and Ben. The final scene of the episode is sure to be iconic, and was classic LOST in the sense that it was revealing, but as raised as many questions as it answered.

The first question I have to ask is about Ben’s continual use of the phrase “the rules.” He said on more than one occasion that Charles Widmore changed the rules by killing Alex. Is Ben using a metaphor or are their actually rules? If it’s only a metaphor, why couldn’t Ben kill Widmore? Not being able to kill each other seems an awful lot like a rule.

The second question that I am led to is: What is Ben and Widmore’s relationship? Clearly they have a lot of history, but we have no clue what it is, well, besides what they said to each other in this episode. Widmore said that the island was always his and Ben stole it from him. How could that be possible though? Ben came to the island as a child and Widmore didn’t buy the Black Rock Log until after Ben took over the island. Is Widmore that much older than Ben that he could have had possession of the island before Ben even got there? If not, how did he have possession of it? Was it technically his because it belonged to his family?

These considerations point to the issue of time which was explicitly raised two more times in this episode. First, when Jack asked Daniel about time, Daniel responded that time was a relative term. Second, Ben was sure to ask the lady at the hotel the date, specifically the year. It would have made sense writing wise for him to ask simply as a way of clueing us in to the fact that we were watching a flashforward (because people like me expected a flashback about Annie), but if there were no actual need for him to ask the year, then the dialogue would be cheesy and unnecessary. Has actual time travel come into play (not just mind jumping)?

The final development is Ben’s apparent relationship with the smoke monster. Does he actually control it? If not, the only other option I can think of is that after the mercenaries came through the fence, it went back up. Then, when Ben went under his house, he let the fence down and thus the smoke monster came in. Of course, Ben controlling the smoke monster would explain why it doesn’t just go over the fence. Then the smoke monster will become like the monsters in The Village and I’m not sure how many people would be comfortable with that. Although, I would, as I love that movie.

FREDDY ADIEU

That’s all I’ve got the energy for this week. I hope you enjoy. And if you didn’t and want to talk shit, then I only have one thing to say:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

Jayemel can be reached by email at jmlesniewski@gmail.com.

3 comments:

Patrick said...

haha nice ending, I don't know about this week the whole "rules" thing makes me think Widmore and Ben are in some global competition for world domination that you could only imagine incredibly wealthy men would be able to pull off, the loss of lives and manipulation of people to win their game is of a little concern to either of them, so long as it does not involve either of their families, hence the "rules" reference. But thats probably wrong and entirely too simplistic...

Jayemel said...

Pat,
That idea isn't a bad one, I would just then question why the island is so important. It would have to have some, um, killer powers. Consider a game of Risk. Is one territory that important when you control the rest of the board? So, if Widmore couldn't get the island, wouldn't he go for the rest of the world instead?

Though at the beginning of the episode Sawyer, Hurley, and Locke were playing Risk. And the show has referenced games from the first episode (Backgammon, "Two players, one light, one dark"). Now that you mention it, at first look, the "It's all a game" theory has a lot of credence to it. Maybe you should look deeper into it. Or are you going to leave that legwork to me?

Patrick said...

Well, given my history of half-developed thoughts, and my tendency to leave what I think in my head I think I'll leave it to you.