Monday, April 13, 2009

The Midside: S5E12 Dead is Dead

Here we go again. Another week, another episode of LOST, another edition of the Midside. Are you sick of it yet? I hope not, because if you are, I’m writing for an audience of one, and my thoughts are sufficient to satisfy me. You have no idea how many I have and how fast they go. If I were to twitter, it’d be out of control. You’d be getting updates every five seconds because of some great revelation I just had. And I’m not even joking. I’m mocking, but I’m not joking.

However, it’s all irrelevant. This column isn’t about me. It’s about the dichotomous television program we’ve come to call LOST. Why would I describe it as dichotomous? There is essentially two different stories being told: The Triforce of LOSTdom (Locke/Ben/Widmore) and The Survivors and Friends. Obviously, there must necessarily be some crossover between the two tales, as they are both smaller segments of a much greater narrative, but pretty generally the characters stay to their separate corners. Well, they do except for one notable exception: Richard Alpert. His importance is apparent again.

The Triforce of LOSTdom plot has subtly been in the show since S1, yes, through Locke, but most notably through Ethan. At that point in the show, Locke was still part of The Survivors, and thus his story was still a guy trying to survive on a mystical island. Since then, the Triforce plot became more and more important until it finally took center stage during the mini-arc over the first part of S3. Since then, it has directly interacted with certain characters, most recently Sun.

True, it also interacted with Frank, but we saw what happened to him. He reached his breaking point and might end up dead because of it. So, next time you try to come at LOST rationally remember Frank. Now we’re ready to take another journey into the Midside, one that will surely be muddled as we only have one section to cover three characters.

THE TRIFORCE OF LOSTDOM

We’ve finally reached the shift in the Ben-Locke dynamic that has been teased since, arguably, S2. Ben was acting like Locke, and Locke was acting like Ben. The most important character to look at this episode is, of course, Ben, as the story was all his. However, before we delve into all that crap, it’s also important to note the heavy inclusion of Charles Widmore in this episode. He was perhaps in it more than Locke. His presence, and the portrayal of his time as leader of the island, means we now know about three separate island eras: Widmore, Linus, Locke. Each are marked by separate philosophical trends which I’ll delve into in a minute (and yes, Widmore is still a good guy).

Here we finally saw Ben for what he is: weak, sniveling, manipulative, and unknowing. OK, so we knew about manipulative and I’ve always supposed the rest, but it as all still in the example. The first view we got of him was his manipulative side, and it was a perfect example of how he works. When talking with Caesar, he convinced him Locke was never on the plane and that he (Ben) was the good guy. He achieved this lie by playing on Caesar’s lack of information and paranoia. Ben had a little bit more information than Caesar (ok, so maybe a lot more) and used it to eventually shoot him. I’m not exactly sure what the point of getting Caesar on his side was besides maybe having an ace in the hole in the long run. Of course, isn’t that how Ben works? Always have a contingency plan.

And that’s an easy trick to manipulation: find the people who know the least and exploit them. It’s especially easy to pull one over on them if they don’t have an established opinion of you. Caesar had no idea who Ben was, so Ben could play innocent. Although, I have to wonder if Caesar was sick, as it appears Ilana and company maybe. Of course, they didn’t exactly seem trusting of Ben, so if Caesar were sick, he probably wouldn’t have trusted Ben either. Regardless, hopefully he’s not dead, as he would feel like a waste of a character. If he is, I guess that would make him the S5 Arzt. You’d think I’d start expecting these random minor characters to die. The second I start to though, they’ll all live.

Next, we saw him as weak, sniveling, and unknowing through his interactions with Locke and the Monster, which they don’t have a name for (really, they don’t have a name for the monster? Come on now!). Now that Jacob (or the island or whoever) has picked Locke as the new “leader,” Ben has no idea how to deal with him. We can see this confusion in two key quotes from his conversation with Sun.

First, he said: “Dead is dead. You don't get to come back from that, not even here, so the fact that John Locke is walking around this island scares the living hell out of me.” Except, Dead obviously isn’t dead on the island. Christian is alive and walking around (or is he?). Locke is alive and walking around (or is he?). Clearly, there are things going on Ben isn’t aware of, and it scares the crap out of him. However, Christian and Locke could both just be apparitions of the Monster (which could just be Jacob/the island). Consider how the Monster has taken many forms throughout the series, most notably Yemi and Alex. It’s not that far fetched to think it took Christian and Locke’s forms, except that neither of their bodies are in their respective coffins. Dead isn’t dead for my money. Ben doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Second, he said, in a clever bit of writing because he was actually anticipating the Monster: “Because what's about to come out of that jungle is something I can't control.” Locke then immediately walked out of the jungle, and we realized that since Ben met Locke he has been unable to control him. Locke has always been kind of a wild card, especially ever since he became the “leader.”

Even more notable is how confident and Ben-like Locke was acting in this episode. He always had something rude or condescending to say to Ben. He always acted like he knew exactly what was going on, even if he didn’t. When Ben tells him he doesn’t know the first thing about what the island would want, he asks Ben if he’s sure. When Sun wants to find Jin, he says he has a plan. How exactly does he know how to travel to the past to get Jin? Is his plan to go back to the Orchid? It can’t be, as that would kick him off the island again. Later, when Ben asks him how he knows where he’s going he says he just does. If it hadn’t been Locke speaking that line, I would have thought Sarnoff and Vaughn wrote that dialogue for Ben. Finally, Locke was the one leading Ben to be judged.

Ben’s judgment was little more than a more concrete/explicit version of what we saw with Eko. I don’t understand why people are freaking out over the scene/episode and telling me it was huge. The Monster surrounded Ben and showed him flashbacks? Yeah, after Eko was killed because of the flashes in the Monster then I supposed that all the show’s flashbacks come from the Monster and they are all always being judged. The Monster took the form of Alex and communicated with Ben, demanding something of him? Yeah, remember when it took the form of Yemi and tried to make Eko apologize for his sins? I do. Maybe my problem is I just remember too much about LOST.

What’s most important is that Alex demanded power be transferred to Locke, and Ben agreed not to kill him, as he was supposedly plotting. The Ben era is finally over and its finality has some interesting implications regarding Alpert and Widmore. In regards to Alpert, Richard seemed to have picked Locke as the leader back in S3 when he sent him after Sawyer to have his father killed and acted as if he were the leader ever since. This seemingly the same goal as the Monster makes me wonder if there is some relationship between Alpert and the Monster. There has to be other ways to summon it besides an old school drain inside of a secret room inside of a secret room. Besides, it already seems like the Monster is connected to Jacob and Alpert is connected to Jacob, they all have to be connected, right?

The end of the Ben era makes me also consider the end of the Widmore era. Interestingly, the only time we ever really saw Widmore in control is when he talked to Harry Potter, after that scene it was always Ben undermining his leadership, as Locke undermined Ben’s leadership from the latter half of S3 on. The first thing I want to discuss is Widmore’s banishment. Supposedly, he was banished for continually leaving the island or, essentially, acting of his own free will and not doing what the island wants. Near the end of S4 and this season, Ben has tried to act like leaving the island is wrong. However, we have seen several characters off the island throughout the series that we know were on it before and after the scene: Ben, Locke, Alpert, and Ethan. Oh yeah, and the Oceanic Six (minus Aaron). I don’t think leaving the island was a problem for the island.

I think it was an excuse Ben used to get Widmore kicked off the island. What’s interesting is their exchange regarding this “offense:”

Widmore: "And what makes you think you deserve to take what's mine?"
Ben: "Because I won't be selfish. Because I'll sacrifice anything to protect this island."

Ben is essentially a thief who stole Widmore’s position as leader of the island. This exchange of power is especially interesting to consider when we realize Locke didn’t steal Ben’s power, it was given to him. Regardless, we see two important contrasting philosophical ideas here: selfishness vs. altruism. This dichotomy is especially important to consider with Sawyer’s apparent rise to power with a Randian perspective from The Fountainhead. Rand is all about being selfish (not self centered, there’s a difference) and despises the ethic of altruism in our culture. Likewise, Sawyer has always been “every man for himself.” In contrast, Jack, who allied with Ben early in this season, has always been the altruist “live together, die alone.” As I’ve said repeatedly throughout the series, Ben and Jack have done the most wrong, whereas Widmore and Sawyer have done the most good. Are we actually entering the final arc or will there be a double twist and Ben and Jack will see their rise to power again? I hope the former is true and not the latter.

But wait a minute, Jay, isn’t Widmore bad because he wanted to kill Alex as a baby? Even Ben realizes, apparently, that children are sacred. It’s an interesting turn of events that even Ben protects children on this show. They seem to be the one sacred cow. However, people like Ben with childlike mentalities often identify with children the most and thus want to protect them. Go read “Catcher in the Rye” if you don’t want to believe me (or want to torture yourself. I hate that book). I don’t believe Widmore is at fault for the Alex situation for two reasons. The first can be revealed through the second half of his conversation with Ben on the dock:

Widmore: "And what makes you think you deserve to take what's mine?"
Ben: "Because I won't be selfish. Because I'll sacrifice anything to protect this island."
Widmore: "You wouldn't sacrifice Alex."
Ben: "You're the one who wanted her dead, Charles. Not the island."
Widmore: "I hope you're right, Benjamin. Because if you aren't, and it is the island that wants her dead, she'll be dead. And one day, you'll be standing where I'm standing now. You'll be the one being banished. And then you'll finally realize that you cannot fight the inevitable. I'll be seeing you, boy."

Alex did die eventually, proving Widmore was right. In fact, you could even argue that the island (or Jacob or what/who/whenever) needed Widmore to try to force Ben to kill Alex so Ben would protect her so fervently and then she would be killed by Keamy ever. Remember, it could all be part of a course correction in time. Interestingly, Ben was never banished however. This inconsistency in Widmore’s statement can be possibly rectified for two reasons. On one hand, Ben was the one banishing Widmore, not the island, but that all could have been part of the island’s plan as it does use people to do its bidding. On the other hand, Widmore seemingly stopped looking up to the island like a father figure as he made decisions on his own. Maybe he was banished for his lack of faith and no other reason. What’s interesting is he said he was never able to get back. (And, by the way, I still think he could have founded Dharma during his times off the island and that’s how he got rich). Besides, there’s another reason the Alex situation doesn’t make Widmore evil.

Widmore wouldn’t kill Alex. Ben tried to turn it around on him by telling him to kill the baby. Widmore just walked away. Once again, when given the choice to do something bad, we see Widmore not do it. In fact, the only seemingly “bad” things we’ve seen Widmore done throughout this show are own a company, be mean to Desmond, and act in his self interest. Meanwhile, Ben continues to shoot and manipulate people.

While we haven’t seen much of Widmore’s time as leader, it would seem each of the three eras of the Triforce of LOSTdom had/have a distinct flavor to them. Widmore’s seemed like it was always at odds with some opposing force (the American military, Dharma). Ben’s seemed more peaceful, but only after genocide and through continued “the ends justify the means” ideology. Locke’s would seem to be a return to the state of nature, as his namesake would suggest. The interesting thought is that perhaps the island picks leaders based on what is occurring on the island. It’s hard to know why it picked Widmore without learning more about his past (can we get a Widmore flashback please?), but it seemed to pick Ben because it needed a sociopath to eliminate the Dharma people (who probably came from Widmore) and it seemed to pick Locke to move away from the violent turmoil of Ben’s leadership. Is a new leader constantly being picked because of the shortcomings of the old one? If so, why is Locke so important? Why is his story the one being told? We started with him coming to the island and not Widmore or Ben.

These are all things to think about as we forge ahead into the rest of the season.

FREDDY ADIEU

What lies in the shadow of the statue? Isn’t it the temple? Or is it the Orchid? Is that question some kind of password or do Ilana and company legitimately want to know? Are they sick of did someone, such as Widmore, send them? Their twist in the storyline is incredibly intriguing to me, especially considering Ilana brought Sayid back to the island (after refusing to change flights) and we can pretty safely say Ben didn’t break Hurley out of jail. I’ll be interested to see Hurley’s episode (which is probably next considering the next episode is called “Some Like It Hoth) and how these characters play into it all.

And I don’t proofread this week out of laziness, so if you’re mad at me about that, well then:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

6 comments:

Brent S. Robida said...

jesus christ, justin, your mind moves fast. i'm not here to discuss your reading of lost, i'm here to point you to another, more literary one, based on John Milton's Paradise LOST. read the first book of the poem, no doubt a mind like yours will start to make connections.

Brent S. Robida said...

i love the title of your post, dead is dead. the audience is dead, justin. the entire trajectory of the show demonstrates this time and time again, which only reinforces a mystical-christian-gnostic reading of the show. secularism is an evil, yet christianity in a secular vacuum is just as evil.

Jayemel said...

Brent, "Dead is Dead" was the title of the episode and a line spoken by Ben.

The true value of Christianity and faith in the show will be interesting to find out, as I've pointed out continually that faith seems to be a substitute for self esteem.

Brent S. Robida said...

justin,

but ALSO dead is dead is the title of your post. what if i were to suggest that LOST is
itself a substitute for its audience, their self-awareness, understanding, lack of creativity, will, desire, entertainment, and, sure, faith. i saw the episode and know that ben spoke the line, but he spoke it as a dead man - he needed locke's faith to become alive. locke resurrected ben

Jayemel said...

Brent,

I think you're circling around the concept I wrote about in my thesis and the Randian edge of LOST. I quote The Fountainhead:

“When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life.”

Pretty generally, TV audiences are dead. They don't think. They accept things on faith. Is the show saying faith helps or hurts thought though?

Brent S. Robida said...

speaking of deadness as unconsciousness, or judgement as a faculty that can ever be suspended is where i suspend my reading of rand.

the faith of atheists and martyrs is the faith that helps; the faith of poets.