Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Midside: S5E07 The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham

It’s nice to remember that the writers can actually pen a good story. This episode had it all: character development, action, philosophy, and it was bookended with the two important dichotomous characters of the series. It actually seemed like someone knew what they were doing, and I liked it. Let’s just hope this episode isn’t The Constant of this season though. What I mean by that statement is that episode was in the middle of last season, just as this episode is in the middle of the season, and was by far and away the best episode of the season. If this episode is the best episode of the season, we have nothing else to look forward to. Well, the Sawyer and Kate reunion should be interesting, I guess. We can always look forward to that scene.

The directing of this episode was just as good as the writing. Jack Bender was back behind the camera and you could tell. When he revealed Locke under the blanket (even though it wasn’t a surprise at all), he did a turn shot to the front of him just like in Season One. Also, when Locke was talking to Alana on the beach, the image was extremely reminiscent of any conversation on the beach in Season One. Yeah, the scenery is nice, but it’s awesome how Bender focuses on the characters and lets the actors tell the story, unlike Stephen Williams who adds in all types of weird lighting and colored imagery.

And speaking, or writing, of letting the character’s tell the story, we got an interesting look at some of the most important characters in this series and a possible goodbye to a formerly important one. Let’s consider them heavily, shall we? We’ll do it in order of appearance in this episode…


You have to love the section title here. It sounds like a stand alone movie or show in its own right. I may even use it in the future. It’s delightfully esoteric. The Academy would love it. (Did I really just call something delightfully esoteric and worry about what the Academy would think?)

So, Locke pushes the wheel back into place (you have to wonder what that act did to the time traveling on the island) and appears in the desert in Tunisia where Ben did. Then terrorists come and pick him up and bring him to a hospital where they reset his broken bone. How scary must that have been? But if you remember correctly, terrorist stereotypes attacked Ben when he appeared in Tunisia. Odds are that those people worked for Widmore and were trying to stop Ben. Did Ben know that when he defended himself? Probably.

Locke and Widmore finally meet, and it’s hard to believe they haven’t met before (as adults). But they haven’t and Widmore marvels over the time difference between their last meeting (four days for Locke, a few decades for him), and the two share some interesting conversation. Let’s pick it apart from the perspective of figuring out if Widmore is good or evil

Widmore claims he was fooled into leaving the island by Ben and at the time he was the leader of the Others. He said he protected the island peacefully for more than three decades and “then I was exiled by him.” What’s most interesting about Widmore’s telling of the story is there is no mention of the Dharma Initiative. Was Widmore exiled before or after the purge? I’m not sure, but combining Widmore’s version of events with Ben’s flashbacks from The Man Behind the Curtain, I’ve come up with the following idea.

Widmore was in charge of the island, peacefully protecting it, when he decided to found the Dharma Initiative with the help of Alvar Hanso and his foundation. This turn of events explains his wealth off the island (of course, he could have been wealthy before or after his time on the island). It also explains why he was exiled. When Ben was a boy, Richard Alpert reached out to him. This contact eventually led to the purge and elimination of Dharma and Ben’s rise to power (and explains why he believes he’s one of the good guys, he was at one time). When Widmore founded Dharma, Jacob and/or Richard (if they’re not the same person) didn’t like the island being “exploited” so they sought out Ben to eliminate the threat. However, now that the threat is gone, Ben is too aggressive and violent of a leader. Jacob and/or Richard need Locke to lead the island peacefully, returning to its, essentially good state of nature. Get it, John Locke, essentially good state of nature?

This idea, of course, has many consequences. Most notably, the important dichotomy is no longer Widmore vs. Ben, it’s Locke vs. Jack. It also means Jack isn’t the leader he thought (thinks) he was (is). Locke is.

On to the next day conversation where Locke plays the role of the audience:

Locke: "Why, why would you help me?"
Widmore: "Because there's a war coming, John, and if you're not back on the island when that happens, the wrong side is going to win."

Widmore recognizes the need to lead the island peacefully, and thus doesn’t want to allow Ben to run the island. He has acknowledged his own mistakes and understands Locke is the proper leader for the island. If Locke isn’t on the island, then Ben will control it. This idea would put Widmore on the good side. However, I have problems with him being repentant about the Dharma Initiative. I think Dharma was a great thing, man harnessing natural resources for his own improvement.

Locke: "How do I know that you're not the one who's lying?"
Widmore: "I haven't tried to kill you. Could you say the same for him?"

This argument is one of the strongest for Widmore. Unlike Ben, he doesn’t go around kicking the crap out of and killing people. He doesn’t have that sociopathic edge that Ben does (which is exactly why Ben was chosen to purge Dharma). Well, he might, because remember…

Locke: "You sent a team of killers and a boatload of C4 to the island. That doesn't exactly scream trust."
Widmore: "I needed Linus removed, so it could be your time."

This explanation satisfies me. Ben is a crazy dude. I can see it taking that many people and that much weaponry to kill him. Or more. You know why? Because the amount that was sent to the island wasn’t enough. Ben’s still alive. And he’s back on the island. Plus, the answer was straight forward and to the point. That type of answer is more than Ben ever provides.

In this next quote we see more of Widmore recognizing the importance of Locke, but we also seem him give a sketchy answer.

Widmore: "The island needs you, John. It has for a long time."
Locke: "What makes you think I'm so special?"
Widmore: "Because you are."

Because you are, really? Who do you think you are Widmore, Ben? This answer hurts Widmore’s ethos a lot, especially after he was doing so well. However, when dealing with the island, is it any surprise he would say something so abstract? If there is one word to describe the island, it’s abstract.

So is Widmore good or evil? I’m still putting him in the good category. Maybe reformed good is a better description. I’m not sure how I feel about the reformed part, but it’s better than making him the villain.


So Locke gets in his wheelchair (because when you leave the island, you revert to your crappy past), and goes to visit his friends, if they can be called that. Except, the first person he visits is Sayid, who is extremely happy with his life, contradicting the idea that when you leave the island, your life necessarily sucks. Maybe what matters is the individual taking control of his own life? Horrors no, a message of personal responsibility in LOST? This show sucks.

It hasn’t been all peaches and cream for Sayid though (huh?). He recounts and bemoans the fact that Nadia was killed. However, what’s important is that he calls his time with her the best nine months of his life and invites Locke to stay and do some “real good” with him. He even challenges Locke: "Why do you really need to go back? Is it just because you have nowhere else to go?" And part of us agrees with Sayid. Hasn’t that always been Locke’s story? But still, the most interesting part of the conversation was:

Sayid: "For two years I was manipulated into believing I was protecting everyone on the island."
Locke: "Who was manipulating you?"
Sayid: " who is manipulating you?"

We still don’t know who killed Nadia. Was it Ben? We were led to believe, as was Sayid, that someone was opposing Ben. Did Ben just manipulate Sayid into being his bodyguard against Widmore’s assassins? Also, Sayid’s question of who is manipulating Locke is meant to make us believe Widmore is manipulating Locke. However, Locke wanted to bring everyone back to the island before he met Widmore. Locke even says that he is speaking for himself. Still, we can’t help but wonder if Locke is still being manipulated, at the very least by Richard Alpert.

Next, we, in all likelihood, said goodbye to Walt. Last column I complained that they didn’t bring Walt back to the island with them on the plane. This episode we got an explanation as to why. Locke stated, “The boy’s been through enough.” Really, that explains why he wasn’t needed to increase the odds that the plane would crash? Does the universe have a sympathetic edge that I’m unaware of? Is that why it killed Michael? Oh, no, I forgot. Michael was killed because the writers of LOST are racist. They’re so racist, they didn’t even have Locke tell Walt his Dad was dead. And what final explanation do we get as to Walt’s role in the show? He had a dream that we know is true, so it’s confirmed that he can view the future. That ability is how he’s special. The end. Goodbye, Walt!

Btw, Ben is watching, because Ben is always watching.

Next we visit Hurley. All I have to say about this scene is I can see benefits of living in an insane asylum. You can act crazy and no one looks twice. Social conventions are out the window. Of course, that also means everyone you know will be crazy, but isn’t everyone crazy already?

Next, we randomly cut to Kate, and I have to ask, where is this Kate normally? I really liked this Kate. Was this permutation of her just a case of character being made subordinate to the story? They must have wanted a character to bring up the love issue so Locke could get closure on his relationship with Helen. That would explain why Kate was so touching and said this: "I think about you sometimes. I think about how desperate you were to stay on that island. And then I realized. It was all because you didn't love anybody."

I’m not sure how I feel about a sense of purpose filling a void for love in your life. The statement seems to privilege love over a sense of purpose. Shouldn’t you live your life for a sense of purpose and love will come from that? Or maybe I’m just saying that because I have a void of love in my life. Wait, that comment was kind of Emo. Strike it from the record. I already had my Emo episode a couple columns ago! Move along, nothing more to see here.

But seriously though, since when was Kate sane and rational and able to give advice to other people? Maybe it’s just because Locke is that crazy. Or maybe the writers were trying to juxtapose Sayid and Kate’s happiness to Hurley and Jack’s insanity, which we’ll get to in a second. First, we have to get to that closure.

Matthew Abaddon wheels Locke to Helen’s grave and they mourn. They also have an interesting exchange.

Abaddon: "Helen is where she's supposed to be. Sad as it is, her path led here. And your path, no matter what you did, no matter what you do, your path leads back to the island."
Locke: "You say that like it's all inevitable."

Is Abaddon’s line another example of fate or another example of manipulation? Locke has always wanted to believe in destiny, which has made him extremely pliable. Certain elements of this episode also fly in the face of the idea of fate, especially a fate intertwined with the island. The most notable is Sayid. However, if Abaddon is speaking the truth, then show is integrating determinism, which I’m not sure how I feel about. Of course, the smart response would be that all time travel stories must necessarily assume determinism for anything to make sense.

Then Ben shoots Abaddon, driving home Widmore’s murder point and ending any speculation about a possible LOST/Fringe crossover. Good. Fringe sucks. And Reddick’s character was so much better on LOST than on Fringe. His character on Fringe is useless. In fact, every character on Fringe is useless except the doctor and Olivia. Yes, I watch it even though it sucks.

Next it was time for Jack. Did Matthew Fox just decide it was time to start acting again this episode or was he was he just determined to outperform Terry O’Quinn? He was phenomenal in this scene, perhaps the best I’ve seen. Maybe he’s just really good at belligerent conflicted Jack, which is what this scene was all about. Well Jack, are you a man of science or a man of faith? Apparently he’s the latter because he bought a plane ticket from Sydney to Los Angeles, which would explain why he turned to drugs and alcohol and joined Ben. He was raised a man of science. It’s gotta be tough to have everything you based your life on be underminded.


That’s pronounced pilot, btw, not pilate, like the workout technique. What I’m referring to is Ben’s execution of Locke, turning him into the Jesus figure of the show. Which, btw, could Locke have looked anymore like Jesus standing on the table? I wonder how many times they had to reshoot the scene to make sure Terry O’Quinn was holding his hands correctly. Regardless, Ben was the judge, jury, and executioner in this scene, raising a couple interesting points.

Widmore said we could trust him because he didn’t try to kill Locke. Ben did kill Locke. Are the writers trying to tell us that Widmore is the good guy or is this all part of the epic twist that Ben is ultimately the good guy? I’m leaning towards the former (of course).

It’s interesting to consider what caused Ben to kill Locke. He started the scene not intent on killing him and then two major comments caused him to change: Locke mentioning the promise he made to Jin and the name drop of Eloise Hawking. The promise to Jin sent the wheels turning (in a brilliant acting job by Michael Emerson) and the name drop made Ben snap. Did Ben kill Locke because he no longer needed him and knew that Locke would be the leader of the island if he returned to it? Or did he kill him because he always had to die, so Ben just cut to the inevitable when he realized he didn’t need Locke to manipulate Sun? Either of the last two options I put forward make sense.

These scenes also featured two key quotes:

Ben: "No John, he used you. He waited 'till you showed up so that you could help him get to the island. Charles Widmore is the reason I moved the island. So that he could never find it again. To keep him away so that you could lead."

This quote can help us understand why Ben killed Locke. If he truly believes Locke was going to lead, he probably killed him to get him back to the island properly. However, Ben is almost always lying, so it’s tough to tell. We also hear Ben’s side of the story concerning Widmore being evil; and whereas Widmore provides a reason for Ben being evil, Ben just calls Widmore evil again. I’m always wary of that kind of argumentation.

Ben: "I'll miss you, John. I really will."

Ben turned and said this line after Locke was dead, meaning it’s possibly the only time we’ve gotten a look at the inner Benjamin Linus. Of course, he could somehow be aware this is a show and lying to the audience. But in all seriousness, the line shows he did like Locke, and killed him out of some purpose, not blood lust, which pretty much confirms what we all thought about Ben. He does some messed up things, but he feels like he is fighting for a higher purpose.


It’s been a long one this week, and I only have one thing left to add. Caesar’s story of Hurley and all disappearing with the flash means that the O5 (O6 minus Aaron) are time traveling with the rest of the 815 Survivors. The only question I have now is when we’ll see the rest of them on an in-depth level. I would venture that over the next few weeks we’ll get a Hurley, Sayid, and Kate episode. It may be awhile before Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, and Faraday become important to the story again. That sucks. And if you don’t agree with me then, well, you know what you can do:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

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