Once upon a time, a vengeful Benjamin Linus crept his way into Charles Widmore's London penthouse bedroom at night. His face was half in light, half in shadow.

 

"Wake up," he said to Charles, who admitted he'd been having nightmares (were these related to the visit from Jacob he would reference in "What They Died For"?, ala Scrooge's visit from another "Jacob" in another famous London-based story?), and as such now slept with a bottle of Scotch by his bedside.

 

"Are you here to kill me, Benjamin?" Charles asked.

 

"We both know I can't do that," replied Ben, his words heavy and loaded with meaning.

 

So, what has changed? In this penultimate episode of LOST, the next-to-last one we're ever going to get, Benjamin Linus shot his rival and fellow former leader of the Others Charles Widmore three times, killing him. His stated reason? "He shouldn't get to save his daughter."

 

Hmmm. Somehow, I thought we were past this. I thought Ben was past this. He already had his chance to make sure Penelope Widmore didn't get to go on living, but ultimately, when he saw she was a mother, he stayed his hand, enduring a savage beating from Desmond as a result, just before boarding Ajira 316.

 

And again I ask: what's changed? Did walking past the spot Alex was buried snap Ben - whose story of forgiveness and redemption we were so enjoying - back into rage-filled maniac mode? Did learning of how Widmore was saved from the error of his ways via a personal off-island visit from Jacob boil his bitterness? Was it a snarky bit of foreshadowing during the scene in Ben's kitchen when Charles told him, "If you shoot me, then your last chance of survival will be gone"? Is Ben ticketed for death in the finale now?

 

Or… could it all be a ruse, one last gambit from humbled super genius Ben Linus, champion of liars and schemers? Might he be less bitter about losing Alex than he is about being played upon like a violin ("I was told that was where I could summon the monster. Until I realized he was summoning me")? Is his too-quick-for-my-tastes acceptance of Smokey's plan and the chance to do some killing a ploy to get close enough to Smokey to find a way to extinguish the evil menace?

 

Was Charles Widmore merely a sacrifice in that battle? One Ben was kinda happy to make? One where Ben was perhaps actually trying to kill Charles before Charles could tell Smokey his secret? One where Ben viewed letting his former leader die quickly by his hand as a more honorable death than letting him be squished to jelly by the Smoke Monster?

 

I sought out one of my best friends, Scott Bartley, a champion of the character of Ben Linus, for comment. Scott says, "The rules are different since Jacob died. Ben will sacrifice himself destroying Smokey. He doesn't like that he was manipulated, so he's doing the same to Smokey now."

 

I don't know if Scott's right, but I hope he is. This would explain Ben's motives and sudden seeming switchback to his old ways. It would keep his redemption arc intact. It would explain why Ben can kill Widmore now where before he could not (dead Jacob = rules not currently in play; the Island possibly done with Charles now, etc.). And it would make for a cool end to Ben's story. I honestly don't believe for a second he any longer is motivated by the "when I leave, you can be King of this little rock with no people on it" line Smokey sells him. That's just not where Ben's journey ends.