Once upon a time, Benjamin Linus was asked by Michael Dawson, "Who are you people?" He was told, "We're the good guys, Michael," and we all wondered how this show was ever going to convince us of such a preposterous idea. What kind of flipped-out storytelling would the next several seasons require where we would actually pull for Ben, feel for Ben, come close to believing that he really did have some better higher purpose to all the lies, deaths, and schemes?

I'm not saying we're completely to that point, but through this excellent episode titled "Dr. Linus," Ben would appear to have exorcised several of his demons. His higher calling of serving the island had previously been poisoned by his thirst for power. His previous acts of sacrifice had been wrong-minded. Now, instead, he is making more appropriate sacrifices, those along the lines of surrendering a prime parking spot, or tending to his infirm father - the kind of sacrifices that allow him to hold his head high, rather than hang it in shame.

And now on the island, thanks to one act of sympathetic forgiveness and acceptance by Ilana, it would seem Ben is able to join the right side, put down the power, and be a part of something again.

After last week's dark turn at "Sundown," we stepped back into the light of day and a less heavy, more redemptive story. Let's take a look at it section-by-section...

BEN'S SIDE-VERSE

We had already learned that Benjamin Linus was a European History teacher at a school in Southern California where John Locke worked as a substitute. At that time, I wrote about him:

"I like to think he gravitated to European History to appease his Machiavellian and Napoleonic tendencies, and as a nod to the show's Christo-religious and existentialist themes."

So how giddy was I to see both Napoleon and Machiavelli referenced in this episode? Ben himself teaches a class on Napoleon's exile to the island of Elba, "where everything became clear." It was there that Napoleon realized that his title of Emperor meant nothing without the power that had previously accompanied it. "He might as well have been dead." This is a theme we've discussed in several recent recaps, particularly in regards to Sayid and Claire, who arguably would have been "better off dead." Will the same come to be true of Ben? Or will he find greater purpose to rise above feeling "like more of a loser than" the burnouts he supervises in detention?

How cool that Ben shares so much in common with Arzt -- teachers at the same school, both with doctorates, both teaching below their standing, both malcontents. But where Arzt has given up hope, Ben never will. Chalk that up as one of his better traits, and the antithesis of his tragic flaw. It's the quality that will redeem him in the end.

Also cool that substitute Locke is the one who puts in Ben's mind that things could really change for the better if he were principal. "If the man in charge doesn't care, could be time for a change." Of course, this also creeped me out, since it's essentially the same words that Flocke used to get Ben to kill Jacob, who Ben also thought "didn't care" (but we learn he did).

Roger Linus is alive, but not exactly well. The biggest reveal of the episode for me was that he and Ben did indeed join Dharma and lived on the island, but at some point they left. It couldn't have been in the evacuation on the day of the Incident, because by that time Ben was already recovering from his reverse-baptism salvation in the Others' camp, and Roger was running around shooting Iraqis. So when did they leave, and what prompted it? Roger seems to regret having done so, thinking his son could have become great with just a bit more Dharma tutilege. We also must ask whether young Ben ever went off into the woods and met Richard.

In this timeline, not only did Ben not kill his father, but instead of making him inhale a canister of toxic gas, he dutifully and lovingly replaces his canister of oxygen.

We also continue our theme of "reflections" by main characters in the side-verse. This time, Ben's face is reflected in the surface of the microwave as he heats up Roger's dinner.

Compare Roger's line to Ben of "imagine how our lives would've been different" to the same words spoken by Frank to Ben on the island. When Frank ponders how different his life would have been had he not overslept for the 815 journey, Ben says don't be so sure. The island still got you...

Alexandra Rousseau! What a joy it was to see this young lady alive, confident, with her whole life ahead of her. Apparently in this timeline the Besixdouze never crashed on the island. In fact, was Danielle ever part of a science team or expedition? It would seem that someone in possession of that kind of education wouldn't need "to work two jobs just to pay the rent." Was the island perhaps already underwater in 1988, the time of Danielle's crash? 

Is that supposed to be the Black Rock in Alex's history book in the section about the East India Trading Company?

Ben gets the ammo he needs to take down Principal Reynolds from Alex, when she tells him of what she witnessed between Reynolds and the school nurse. Ben is still skilled at lying, though, when he tells Alex he won't use this information. "A promise is a promise," he says (and has said in the past).

"What do you want" is a line spoken in this episode to Ben twice - once by Principal Reynolds, the other time by Ilana. Each time, Ben has just grabbed the upper hand, either with a folder of lascivious emails, or snatching up a rifle conveniently planted by Flocke (perhaps in the very hopes that Ben would eliminate Ilana, doing the very thing he told Sayid made Dogen a big jerk for - getting someone else to kill your enemy). What Ben wants is something he has to consider very heavily. He has one chance to get it right. And the thing he regrets most is how he didn't previously take his "one chance" to save his daughter. Now, his "Machiavellian maneuvers," as Reynolds calls them, have brought him to the point of choice yet again. Reynolds puts the ball back in his court (another gaming metaphor) by threatening to "torch" Alex's chances at getting into Yale. Now here is what is interesting to me about this whole thing and how it shakes out...

Ben does NOT sacrifice Alex this time... not even for an arguably greater good (which was also the case when he let Keamy kill her - his thought process (which he now rejects) was that one person's death - no matter how painful - was still insignificant if it would protect the island and everyone on it). Consider: she's a bright person. She'll succeed no matter where she goes to college. It doesn't have to be Yale - a place that's going to put her in debt to her eyeballs to pay for anyway. So would it really be so awful to derail her chances of getting into ONE of this country's many excellent colleges when the alternative would be fresh, competent, caring leadership for this entire student body from a principal who isn't just playing out the string and carrying on with the nurse? It doesn't matter. Dr. Benjamin Linus remembers that his charge is to best serve his student from his current role, and he does this, using blackmail to do nothing more than get out of detention and restore the History Club. This done, he takes a deep breath. Holds his head high. Knows he has done the right thing for Ms. Rousseau. He has done his job, and did not let the idea of power get the best of him. He's even happy to give up his parking spot to Dr. Arzt. It feels good doing the right things for the right reasons, making sacrifices that leave one with a strong sense of purpose.

In this timeline, Ben remembered that it's "about the kids," and that's why he makes the choices he makes. It was even the reason why he felt better leadership was needed at the school, because it was about the kids. Is LOST also "about the kids"? Kids like Alex, and Aaron, and Ji Yeon, and Little Charlie, and David?

BEN ON THE ISLAND

Ben waxes nostalgic over the day flight 815 broke apart and completely changed his life. Among Sawyer's old stash, one of the things Ben finds is The Chosen, a book that is very heavy on themes involving baseball, fathers and sons, taking over an important position, and Judaism - just like LOST with its patriarchal names, references to the Abraham-sacrificing-Isaac story, and many references to baseball.

One more question solved: why did Ilana gather up Jacob's ashes? Well, at least one reason was to let Miles have a go at 'em. And sure enough, this is what forces Ben to come clean with truth. Jacob was the closest thing she ever had to a father (we still need to see more of their backstory), prompting one of the episode's best lines from Miles to Ben: "Uh-oh!"

Ilana forces Ben to dig his own grave, sending Ben back into pouting mode. He digs slowly and petulantly (which is understandable, I suppose). He turns his nose up at a "last meal" of green beans and bananas. He tries to bribe Miles with his "fast network of people and resources." And he whines that he's being punished for killing a guy that didn't even care about being killed. Miles sets him right about this. Oh no, he cared. "Right up until the dagger entered his heart, he was hoping he was wrong about you." Don't have to be a genius theologian to see the Judas-and-Jesus parallels here. Just because a Christ figure lets himself be killed doesn't mean he didn't care; it probably just indicates a higher purpose, despite a hope to let this cup pass. Jesus was betrayed by a follower, a friend. He knew what Judas would do, and that it needed to be done, but perhaps also hoped he was wrong. Ben regrets his choice, just as we are led to believe Judas regretted his. Both were deceieved, twisting their minds. But what Judas never got is another chance. Ben finds that when he finds Ilana willing to "have him." You don't have to go to the dark side, Ben. They're not the only ones who will have you. This was one of the most moving scenes of the season for me (and them holding guns on each other in the jungle flashed me back to Sayid and Danielle doing the same in Season One, but from that point after, they were friends). And I think Ilana's choice to show mercy and forgiveness is going to be the key to much.

Flocke's group is hanging out on Hydra Island. Why there? Are there still some 316 survivors hanging out over there? I wonder how he is planning to leave the island? Or why leaving the island requires MIB to have followers? Doesn't that seem a little strange? "I'm gathering a group to leave the island," he tells Ben. We can only assume that these followers are somehow a requirement for him to be able to leave, but why? How? What will he do with them once he leaves? We also learn that Flocke wishes no such thing as Ben's death, and that he even recommends him to be in charge of the island after they leave. Is this a joke? Letting Ben be a solitary king of a rock that has no magic to it (as he has already told Sawyer), especially if there are no people surviving on it? Ben gets to be his own little Emperor-in-Name-Only ruler of a zero population island? Or does Flocke have some sort of obligation to where, even if he is set free, he still must make sure the island is set up with a new Jacob of some sort?

Sun wants to know why Ilana wants to find Jin. This leads to us being told that there is still confusion on which Kwon is a candidate: Sun, Jin, or both of them. We are also told that there are "only 6 [candidates] left." Who would they be? This feels like back when we were trying to guess who was and wasn't part of the Oceanic Six, and it was somewhat tricky because we weren't sure whether or not to count Aaron. Here, we assume the six are Hurley, Jack, and Sun in the current camp, Sawyer, Sayid and Jin in the other camp. Locke was a candidate but he is dead. But... he was one of the original six names. So how can there still be six? Especially when Ilana told us she wasn't sure which Kwon is a candidate? Shouldn't the correct answer be, "5 candidates left, possibly, I suppose, 6, depending on you and Jin?" Because if there were 6 originally (as corresponding to each of the six numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42), there should be 5 now...

Coolest reveal of the episode for me -- Miles doesn't need Ben's bribe because he knows something Ben doesn't: there's 8 million dollars in diamonds right below their feet, buried with Nikki and Paulo! And Miles did indeed dig 'em up! If those diamonds somehow come into play in helping resolve the story it's gonna be way cool.

JACK, HURLEY, & RICHARD

Jack makes the decision to follow Richard because, if nothing else, at least he isn't stalling about a return to the Temple, like Hurley clearly is. Not only is Hurley aware that something bad was supposed to happen at the Temple (and it indeed did), but he's quite possibly awaiting further instructions from Jacob - an admirable quality considering what we've explored previously about patience vs. rushing in. 

Earlier in this recap we explored how the show ever took us in the direction of being able to see Ben as a good guy. Well, consider how in this same episode it also finally took us full circle into seeing Jack Shepherd as a ministering man of faith. Locke's old refrain to Jack about how Jack does so believe in miracles, "you just don't know it yet," has always been one of my prooftexts for a time-loop theory - that all of this has happened before and will happen again, in some way shape or form. We're now seeing what that means. Here, Richard Alpert of all people has lost his faith - a faith that was based in the concept of Purpose. He's at the point of recommending that Hurley not trust Jacob... even though it's clearly a pretty special and unusual thing if Hurley is communing with a guy about whom Richard says, "I know he's dead." Despair has truly got the best of him if he can't even see through that disconnect. He views his gift of longevity as a curse now, which it would be if it had truly been for no reason and just a cruel joke (ala Flocke's view of the world).

Richard can't kill himself (reminiscient of Michael being unable to do so because the island was not finished with him yet), and Jack is immediately willing to put to the test whether any of them can die as long as there is still Purpose for them. This episode strongly suggests that faith has a lot to do with miracles which have a lot to do with purpose. If some higher power has something for you to do, then no matter what, you are going to see cool stuff happen: healings, death-defying moments, amazing coincidences, etc. Those things will strengthen your faith, which will only strengthen your resolve to see the purpose done. Jack is so convinced that Jacob had a reason for showing him that he's been watching him all his life that - even though he doesn't know what that reason is - he is ready to light the fuse (and even another fuse: "Should we try another stick?" he asks). Whe the fuse goes out, interestingly enough, Richard's fuse of faith is re-ignited, but he and Jack have essentially changed positions. Once upon a time, Richard had all the answers and Jack had none, being willingly blind to faith and purpose. Now? Now I can't make up my mind whether Jack is more suited to be the new Dogen, the new Richard, or the new Jacob. He would seem to have parallels to each part of this former island Trinity.

Richard, who had been so in despair from having "devoted my life in service to a man who had a plan," but now with that man gone, with a plan that never did get revealed to him, and with having witnessed much death and destruction, is snapped back to belief by Jack. He says, "Okay Jack, you seem to have all the answers, what now?" And that's very interesting to me. Flocke has promised several people answers. Yet his goal is to leave. Jack is now likewise associated with answers, but his goal is to "go back to where we started," be patient, retrace our steps, we'll find our way. Bailing vs. being willing to start all over again. Which takes more strength, but is worth more in the long run?

Another cool confirmation: Richard did indeed arrive on the Black Rock. In fact, he hasn't been back to that ship in all the time he's been on the island (must have some bad memories associated with it?). As speculated several postings ago, Richard was once in chains on that ship, and this would appear to be confirmed by the way he walks right up to a set of shackles and has a moment of reflection and recognizance. Of course, you don't usually chain up good and innocent men, so one has to wonder about Richard's past, and wait patiently for the Richard-centric episode we all have been anticipating for so long. At least our good writers and producers did us the favor of once again giving Hurley some dialogue to shut up the fanboy theorists. Kinda like when they had Hurley ask Sayid if he was a zombie ("no"), Hurley now gets everything from time travel to cyborgs to vampires out of the way with Ageless Richard. He is none of the above, and the real answer is both simple and complex. He was touched by Jacob. There is both not much more to it than that, and also a whole lot more to tell about it.

As the episode closes, I got a strong sense that whereas in Sundown the forces of "The Legion of Doom" were assembling, here on the beach our "Justice League" is convening. We are treated to a closing montage akin to those that were so prevalent in previous seasons -- a group of lost Losties returns to the beach, music plays, much hugging. And sometimes, an outsider would be along for the ride, like Juliet. This time it's Richard. And when I think of all the characters whom I put more trust in than others, I count among them, well, Hurley. Especially Hurley. But also Richard. And Jack. And Sun. And Lapidus. Even Ilana and a reformed Ben. So when Widmore shows up, that just throws it all into a tizzy. Which side is he on?

Widmore learns of the group on the beach but orders his man to "proceed as planned" anyway. With so little information available to us, this would seem threatening, as if he had planned some assault on the beach, and people be damned, he's going through with it. But that's not necessarily the case. He may have no malicious intent at all. In fact, it would be my argument that this is who Hurley was tasked with using the Lighthouse to help get to the island (I never considered that task a red herring, nor Jacob's belief that, oh well, Jack broke the Lightouse, guess my group will find another way to get here). There's a case to be made that Widmore has been on Team Jacob all along, that Ben merely set himself up as Charles's enemy from the "Machiavellian maneuvers" he employed to get Charles ousted and take his job, and therefore always assumed Charles did not have the island's best interests at heart in his attempts to relocate it. But consider how it was Widmore's man Abaddon who put the Walkabout idea in Candidate Locke's head. And how Widmore assisted Sun in her return to the island, and tasked Locke with getting the O6 to return. He knew a war was coming. And now he's so concerned about it that he's showing up to fight in it himself... OR he could just be bringing the submarine to help Evil Flocke & Co. escape the island...

Things Learned from Pop-Up LOST
Each week we look at what the production team did and did not want us to clue into from the previous episode by what they purposefully typed onto the screen in the re-run...

Notably Mentioned

I had attempted to discern what book Dogen had been reading when Sayid marched into his quarters, but I could never make it out on my screen. In the re-run, we're told this book is Deep River, by Shusaku Endo, and that it is the story of four Japanese tourists to India who find spiritual rebirth along the Ganges. Well, that obviously has some LOST parallels, even more so when you consider that the characters are haunted by issues of death-by-cancer, horrors of war, inability to love, and substitutionary death.

"Dogen knows if he kills Sayid, his own balance will tip the wrong way, from good to evil." What, seriously? Sorry, but that's lame. I much prefer an explanation like the one we came up with last week of Dogen having sworn to protect Jacob's candidates (in much the same way Ilana is doing). Or even that Dogen's heart was softened by seeing his son's baseball. Or even that Dogen simply thought of a "better" plan to have Sayid go out and meet Flocke and either kill or be killed.

I mean, are they serious? The only reason Dogen doesn't finish off Sayid is so his good/evil balance won't tip the wrong way? This sits completely wrong with me. The series has made the point several times that killing is permissible in serving the greater good of protecting the island. And what about other characters who we know have killed people? Sayid and Sawyer were still candidates, and Kate doesn't exactly strike anyone as an "evil" person. Of course, these characters are also all now part of MIB's group, whereas others like Jack, Hurley and Sun who - as far as we know - don't have any direct blood on their hands, are not... but I still hate this explanation.

Confirmed: Flocke is "manipulating Claire to get what he wants." Which includes telling her the Others have her baby. Claire comes to find out this is not true. One would assume, then, that instead of wanting to mess Kate up for taking Aaron, she would question why "her friend" has been lying to her for three years. Something tells me that's not occurred to her (yet) though. She's too blind with brainwashing and revenge.

Jacob is described as, "a mysterious person who thought of himself as protector of the island." Some interesting word choices there, especially the "thought of himself" part. Would tend to indicate there is no higher power above Jacob, and that his is a self-imagined, self-appointed position?

Something else that stuck out and I've wanted to ask for a while -- why can't MIB be killed if Jacob could? Contrast the stab-to-the-heart and bloody knife from when Ben struck Jacob to the stab-to-the-heart and no blood from when Sayid (Ben's foil) struck Flocke.

Confirmed: It is "Jacob's touch" that "marks" a candidate. 

Just as Dogen is explaining to Sayid that Smokey "will come to you as someone you know," the subtitles tell us that "various characters have seen people from their past on the island" who could not have been there. The specific list: Jack & Claire seeing Christian, Hurley seeing his imaginary friend Dave, Eko seeing Yemi, and Ben seeing Alex. Here's what's interesting about that: we already knew for close-to-certain that Ben's vision of Alex was Smokey, and that Yemi was the same. So can we assume the Dave visions were Smokey as well? And can we now confirm through association that ALL visions of Christian were Smokey as well? Because there are several reasons to wonder/hope that at times Christian was appearing on behalf of Jacob/the island, among them: the time he showed up on the freighter and told Michael his work was finished and he could now die, and the time he appeared to Sun and Lapidus at the barracks when we know Flocke was otherwise occupied over on Hydra Island. Of course, it could be significant that in neither of those instances did Christian appear to one of his children (Jack or Claire). So maybe it's only when Jack or Claire has seen him that it was Smokey?

The heiroglyph that leads to the secret passageway out of the Temple is called "Shen," which translates as "encircle," and can mean either "eternity" or "to protect."

They make a point of telling us that Flocke continues to recruit, and now has sign-ups from several Others, Sayid, Claire... and Kate, even though "Kate knows Locke is on the wrong side." Doesn't make mention of Jin... but I'm still sticking with my theory (based on Claire's line of "can't you have Sawyer or Jin do it") of Jin having joined this group as well. I think he doesn't get mentioned here just because we haven't seen Jin's story yet and they don't want to spoil themselves.

We're told to remember what Widmore once told Locke -- that war was coming to the island. And if Locke (and the rest of the O6) did not make it back, the wrong side would win. Well, technically, Locke DIDN'T make it back. Is that why the wrong side seems to be winning now? And why Widmore is racing towards the island in his sub?

Notable No-Comments 

  • Nothing about Claire's comment to Flocke about "sending Sawyer or Jin" instead of her into the Temple.
  • Nothing about Dogen's sacred knife, the elaborate box it's kept in, or why Dogen brushes it down before opening.
  • Nothing about Sayid's odd reference to his next job being in Toronto.
  • Nothing about whether or not it was semantics or a technicality that Sayid let Flocke "speak" before stabbing him.