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Exile: The Redemption of Benjamin Linus on "Lost"

"Imagine how our lives would have been if we'd stayed... Who knows what you would have become?"- Roger Linus

The notion of redemption and of exile hovered over last night's episode of Lost ("Dr. Linus"), written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horotwitz and directed by Mario Van Peebles, as in the Lost-X timeline, Dr. Benjamin Linus, now a doctorate of European history, teaches his class about Napoleon, the doomed self-made Emperor who was stripped of his power and exiled on a tiny island. An island called Elba.

Since he was first introduced in Season Two, Michael Emerson's Benjamin Linus has proven one of Lost's most complex and dynamic characters, a schemer willing to deploy all manner of slight-of-hand, manipulation, and intrigue in order to achieve ends that someone else has dictated. A man all too willing to kill his own father and massacre the people who took him in in order to wield the power that had been denied him his whole life.

At the end of last season, Ben raised a knife and murdered the entity known as Jacob, the puppetmaster who had seemingly been pulling his--and all of our characters'--strings. At that point, it seemed as though Ben had made his alliance with the darkness, content to punish and destroy, rather than turn the other cheek. Or did he? Could it be that there's hope yet for Benjamin Linus?

What did I think of this week's episode? Fire up your email account, prep your microwave dinner, and light a stick of dynamite as we discuss "Dr. Linus."

This week's episode marked a major turning point in both the plot of Season Six of Lost and that of Benjamin Linus himself. Ben has been a fairly enigmatic character throughout the series' run, participating in plots that he had engineered, reverting to manipulation and subterfuge, and attempting to use others as pawns in his larger war with Charles Widmore, a war which might just echo that fought over the centuries between Jacob and his unnamed nemesis.

I'm glad that the writers brought back the motivations behind Ben's decision to murder Jacob. Much was made of the fact that Ben acted out of rage and frustration at the end of last season, stabbing Jacob in an act of defiance and anger that spoke volumes about how he felt manipulated and used by this entity but had been ignored by him. Yet, as we found out last night, there was more to Ben's impulse to punish Jacob. After all, Jacob had placed him time and time again in a series of no-win situations, where he was forced to choose the island over his own personal desires. It was this Catch-22 where Ben was forced to watch his daughter Alex be murdered... and Jacob did nothing to intervene or protect the girl. Ben's murder of Jacob wasn't just about anger, it was also about a keening sense of loss over the one true, beautiful, and perfect thing in his life.

But as much as Jacob forced onto Ben, one can't shake the feeling that it was all a test in the end. Jacob knew just what he was doing to Ben, what he was requiring of him, but he needed Ben to be forged by the fire, to emerge as steel and not break under the pressure. As Miles tells Ilana and Ben, Jacob's last thoughts, even as Ben's knife pierced his heart, were that he hoped he had been wrong about Ben, that Ben wouldn't commit to the darkness within him, that he had a soul.

While Miles says that Jacob must have been right about him, I don't think that's entirely true. This week's episode proves that Benjamin Linus has the ability to change and the capacity for true redemption. His efforts to claw his way to power have resulted in his abandonment by everyone around him. He is in exile on Elba, just as Napoleon was. Despite the fact that Ben managed to find a loophole, a way back to the island (against all of the rules that existed about him coming back), he did return, only to find that his power had been vanquished and his people had moved on.

Ben could find Jacob's Nemesis and join his cause, though his rationale isn't that he craves power or wants to be on that side but because he believes no one else will have him. He's shocked when Ilana, trembling, tells him that she will have him. It's an important turning point for both of them; for Ilana to let go of the hurt and loss she had been feeling and for Ben to receive the grace of forgiveness.

It came down, for both of them, to a choice. Ilana, whether to avenge or forgive; to enact a Biblical vengeance or to turn the other cheek. Ben, whether to kill Ilana and escape or explain why he did what he did, to unburden himself and ask for forgiveness. A pair of mismatched metaphorical rather than biological fathers and daughters. (Just as Ben had lost adopted daughter Alex, so too had Ilana lost Jacob, the closest thing she had to a father.)

Free will is a funny thing. Ben acted to murder Jacob but without doing so, it's entirely likely that he would have remained on the path of destruction he was on. Having killed Jacob, he is instead set on a path of redemption, blessed by the spirit of forgiveness. Could it be that things are unfolding just as Jacob had foreseen? That Jacob knew he had to sacrifice himself in order to push Ben onto a different path? Hmmm...

Lost-X Ben. In the Lost-X timeline, Ben is a doctorate of European history at a budget-affected Los Angeles public school. But rather than craving power for himself, Ben cares more for his flock, the souls in his care. Faced with choosing between power (the position of principal), a potential role he engineered through blackmail (a trick forever in the arsenal of our Benjamin Linus), and protecting the future of his protege Alex Rousseau, Ben chooses the path of righteousness. Despite having power within his grasp, he chooses to acquiesce and instead safeguard Alex's future, a reversal of the decision he made on the island, where he was faced with choosing between saving Alex or saving the island.

While Ben speaks of Elba, he could really be talking about our island, that site of mystery and miracle, over which so much blood has been shed in the name of... Well, we're still not quite sure just what the eternal battle has been over just yet. But Ben's history lesson might as well be about Benjamin Linus himself: his constant need to hold onto power at any cost, his Machiavellian instincts, and his fall from grace as he's banished from the thing that he fought so hard to control. Napoleon may have been exiled to Elba but the main timeframe's Benjamin Linus was cast out of the island.

(But there are other entities that have been exiled as well: both Charles Widmore from the island and, seemingly, the Man in Black to the island. For Jacob's Nemesis, the island is his Elba: a prison from which he cannot escape, jailed against his will, and stripped of his power but not his vestments.)

Interestingly, the relationship between Ben and his father Roger is inimical to that on the island. Here, Ben cares for the sick man, replacing his oxygen tank where on the island he had killed his father by gassing him. (Ironic, that.) But it's the conversation between the father and son that's even more significant. Roger wonders just what would have happened had they remained with the Dharma Initiative and stayed on the island, how their lives would have been different.

It's an important exchange for several reasons: (1) It's the first Lost-X mention of the island and the first time it's been addressed at all since Oceanic Flight 815 flew right over it, and the first Lost-X mention of the Dharma Initiative. (2) The island must then have been sunk beneath the ocean after Ben and Roger left, as they couldn't have left someplace that's under the water. (3) Roger and Ben seemingly chose to leave, rather than were forced to. It wasn't the Swan Incident that precipitated their departure as Roger wonders what would have happened to them had they stayed... and had the circumstances been at all dangerous, I don't think Roger would wonder in that fashion. (4) It would seem that, due to Roger's wondering about what might have been, that Ben wasn't ever shot, so therefore wasn't ever brought to the Temple, and therefore never under risk of losing his soul in the Temple pool. And he wouldn't have been shot as Sayid had never been in 1977 to shoot him because the plane never crashed on the island.

In detonating the hydrogen bomb, Jack and Co. created an entirely divergent timestream, one in which events played out entirely differently because the plane never did and never would arrive on the island; their actions create ripple effects but for the future and the past. Alex's presence here in Los Angeles supports this theory as well. Danielle Rousseau's team additionally doesn't crash on the island, so that Rousseau raises Danielle in Los Angeles and Rousseau never changes the looped message on the radio tower. (As for why Rousseau's team never found the island, it's because it was already underwater at that point, so it definitely sank before 1988... and likely after 1977, given that Ben was on the island as a child at that point.)

Siege Perilous. I believe that the Lost-X universe is just as real as the main timeline but represents a sort of cosmic what-if exploration of the characters, placing them in similar situations but granting them their hearts' desires, erasing old wounds, and mending broken relationships. To slip into nerd speak, it's the equivalent of the Siege Perilous, itself named after the empty seat at King Arthur's Round Table. (In Arthurian legend, the vacant seat is fatal to anyone who sits in it, save for the knight who would return the Holy Grail. In other words: the worthy candidate.)

In the X-books, the Siege Perilous was a multi-dimensional gateway that appeared like a jewel. In looking through it, one could see various alternate incarnations of one's self (huh, just like the Lost-X alterna-verse). Activating the gateway and stepping through it, one was judged by cosmic entities who then transformed the user in some way, returning them usually without memory of their previous life. Which is a way of looking at the Lost-X timeline as a whole. Each of the characters still must deal with their issues but in the context of having gotten what they always wanted. Do they still make the same choices? Or do they fix them this time around? Which makes me wonder: if the characters are faced with choosing between this seemingly perfect world, one in which they've attained what they always wanted or needed, will they be willing to sacrifice it, should the need arise?

Richard Alpert. We finally got confirmation this week that Richard Alpert was aboard the Black Rock and arrived on the island when the slave ship crashed onto the island. And we also learned for certain that his longevity is the result of Jacob bestowing this gift onto him... though we're still not entirely sure why or how Jacob managed to do so. (Other than the fact that he willed it.) But, given Jacob's death, Richard comes full-circle to return to the Black Rock, to see the shackles that had once held him and to attempt to end his life with the help of Jack and Hurley, seeing his long life as a curse rather than a gift.

But, ironically, it's the skeptical Jack who is able to re-instill a belief in a higher purpose in Richard Alpert. The attempt to blow them up using dynamite backfires as the fuse goes out just before the big boom. Which means that Jacob's influence is still being felt here and is still active. Both Jack and Richard were recipients of Jacob's gifts, both touched by Jacob, and received his blessing. They can't be killed until their purpose is fulfilled, until they are released by Jacob. Richard isn't a leader; he's a counselor who is best used when he provides guidance to the chosen leader. Here, he turns to Jack to tell him what to do next, placing Jack in the role of leader once more. Funny how Jack's own belief in a purpose only came after he reached his own breaking point, smashing the mirrors of the lighthouse, and had to come to terms with the larger picture on his own.

Ilana. I was surprised that there wasn't a reunion of sorts between Ilana and Richard Alpert at the end of the episode, where the Ajira survivors encountered Richard, Jack, and Hurley. Could it be that these two don't know each other, after all? Ilana's role as bodyguard--not to Jacob necessarily, but to his candidates--is an interesting one and speaks of a close bond between Ilana and Jacob. But if Ilana isn't from the island (since Richard didn't recognize her, it seems likely), just where is she from and how long has she known Jacob? Hmmm...

Ilana reveals several things:

-Her job is to protect the candidates who have been selected to potentially replace Jacob, which again confirms that the candidates are Jacob's, not the Man in Black's.
-There are only six candidates left, which could correspond to those who are identified with 4-8-15-16-23-42. But wouldn't Locke and Sayid have fallen off of that list, given Locke's death, Sawyer's recruitment, and Sayid's darkness?
-She doesn't know who Kwon refers to: whether it's Sun or Jin or both of them that she's mean to be protecting.
-The one who is "elected" to replace Jacob will then find out what the position entails.

Given the group's presence on the original beach, I think we're about to see just who was shooting at Sawyer and the time-tossed castaways back in Season Five when they stole a canoe off the beach. Answer: Ilana and crew.

Charles Widmore. And then there was the final scene of the episode, which depicted a sleek periscope emerging from the waters just off the shore of where Ilana and the others have gathered, right by the original fuselage wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815. Said periscope would belong to a submarine carrying none other than Charles Widmore, a reveal that would have been more surprising had Alan Dale's name not been listed in the opening credits.

Widmore's appearance on the island makes me wonder if he wasn't the person arriving on the island whom Jacob mentioned to Hurley a few weeks back. If so, is it possible that Widmore is in fact the mysterious Wallace indicated at the 108 degree mark on the lighthouse compass?

Additionally, I can't help but wonder just what side Widmore is on in this power struggle. After all, he is the one who sent Locke on the path to return to the island, a decision that resulted in the Man in Black taking his form and using a loophole to kill Jacob. Widmore said that a war was coming to the island and that if Locke didn't return, the wrong side would win. Given all that, doesn't it seem as though Widmore is on the side of Jacob's Nemesis, come home to finally free the imprisoned entity by giving him a way off the island, with the submarine?

And just how did Widmore manage to find the island, given that it was so tricky for the Oceanic Six to return and that they had to specifically use the brief window allotted by Ajira Airlines Flight 316 to make their return possible? What's on that laptop that Widmore is toting around?

Best line of the evening: "Uh-oh." - Miles to Ben. (Miles, as a whole, was on fire last night. Loved that he dug up Paulo and Nikki's diamonds from their grave.)

What did you think of this week's episode? What is Widmore's endgame? Is he Wallace? How much of all of this has Jacob foreseen and/or planned? Has the redemption of Benjamin Linus begun? Discuss.

Next week on Lost ("Recon"), Locke entrusts Sawyer with a mission.


Heatherette said…
Really enjoyed last night's episode and thought it was a nice balance of drama (Dr. Linus), mystery (Jack and Richard), and humor (Miles). Just like Lost should be!
greebs said…
I feel pretty strongly that the Kwon refers to Sun and Jin's baby. No evidence to support this but it just feels right.
HipHopAnonymous said…
My only complaint with last night's ep was the directing. I always avoid the opening credits so as not spoil any potential guest-stars, but I actually started wondering about this by the end of the show. I found it so poorly done and out-of-character for LOST that I feared the schedule crunch of trying to wrap up the whole series was beginning to get to the production team.

The blocking seemed to be totally off in numerous scenes, as did the shot selection. Frequently the actors seemed to be positioned awkwardly toward each other in relation to the camera, or their movements were clumsy and unmotivated, almost like they were having trouble hitting their marks. There was also some odd camera-angle choices, and a few strange wide-shots that felt atypical of LOST's existing style to me. I have to wonder if the editors had a hard time cutting this material together. And then the submarine reveal at the end felt so totally over-the-top that I half-expected to see Ernst Stavro Blofeld behind the periscope stroking his white cat.

I never bothered to check the director until I saw the credit to Mario Van Peebles in your review. No offense to Van Peebles, but why-oh-why, Lost producers, would you start bringing in outside directors at this late juncture in the game?! He may be a perfectly great director given his own material, but I sure hope this was a one-time anomaly and they stick with their usual team from this point forward.
usagi said…
I loved this ep. Linus is the character I hate most in Lost, and he made me proud. I was so glad that he was able to redeem, and I really hope he'll keep up that way.

As for The Kwon(s), I actually thought just like Greebs : what if it's the baby? But then, I wondered, why didn't she come back to the island? So maybe not then...

Your review opened new realms of reflexion (as usual) thank you!
frank1569 said…
Widmore told Locke 'the wrong side would win' if he didn't return to the island - and he didn't. His body did, but Locke is dead. Which makes Widmore the last hope? And there's only one way Widmore would know that he was said last hope - Jacob dialed 911.

The Island is underwater on purpose! It didn't sink - Dharma (or ?) sunk it. Hell, they can move it through time and space, right? And we know all the Stations are deep underground and water-tight.

The Island is a giant submarine!

memphisamy said…
In the season premiere, Ilana and her group arrive at the statue and she asks for Ricardus, then Richard says that his name is actually Richard. Then she asks him the shadow of the statue question. I took that to mean that they hadn't met, but she knew of him.
Perry K said…
I don't think Richard was a slave, but one of the crew on the Black Rock.
I think that the fact that if Ben can change, with the history that he has had, that Sayid can change.
I still don't know what side Widemore is on, is he good or bad. If we was against the old Ben, then we could say he was good, but he did hire the mercenaries to kill Ben and probably everyone else on the island, so wouldn't that make his bad.

It is an interesting concept that if you are touched by Jacob, you can't kill yourself. Was Richard thinking that someone else could kill him, or that it has to be someone else that has been touched by Jacob.

I think what needs to happen is that everyone sits around the campfire and tells everyone else what they know. So much has happened because people are only getting half the picture of what is going on.
Unknown said…
Yes, Ben chose his power over his daughter. But if I remember right, he didn’t really believe that Keamy would kill her. He was shocked beyond belief when it actually happened. Ben tracked down Widmore to tell him that he “broke the rules”, and since Widmore was responsible for his daughter’s death, he was going to kill Widmore’s (i.e. Penny). So Ben did make a choice, but he really wasn’t considering that his daughter would actually be killed.

What if Jin ends up on the evil side, and Sun on the good? Sawyer and Sayid both did terrible things in their pasts (but Claire?), and so did Jin. It seems the good in them did not outweigh the evil on their scales. Could that be Jin’s fate as well? One good Kwon, one evil Kwon – guess that would Sun the candidate.

I’m confused about Kate. She was on Jacob’s wheel (51), and she was touched by Jacob as a child. But she wasn’t on the cave wall, and she’s not part of the infamous numbers: 4-8-15-16-23-42. Is Kate a candidate or what?

“Could it be that things are unfolding just as Jacob had foreseen?” I believe you’re spot on with that one, Jace.

Finally, it was nice to be able to start rooting again. Jack has found his way – Go Jack! And when Ilana surprisingly told Ben, “I’ll have you”, I found myself yelling at the TV, “Go with her, Ben!” What a fun episode. (Though I must admit it was weird finding myself rooting for Ben. I’m still ticked off at him for killing Locke.)
Anonymous said…
Siege Perilous. Great - I hadn't thought of that. I've never read the X-books so thanks for the info about that story.

Now it makes a tad more sense why, at the end of the episode, we see Miles holding up a jewel and looking through it... a nice allusion to that story.
Anonymous said…
Did we ever find out who beat up Ben before the Oceanic 6 returned to the island?

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