”Lost” recap: Ben unleashed
Exactly two years from now, when ”Lost” is in the home stretch of its final season, I have no doubt that the editors here will suggest the nifty idea of setting the stage for the show’s climactic arc with (what else?) a list. In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sneak into my secret room (sorry: can’t let you in) and confirm this inevitable assignment by popping into the future using my own wormhole-powered Quantum Leapster. Just let me set the controls and follow the directions on my ancient hieroglyphic tablet here and…BZZZZZZ-BLINK. Bingo! There I am, sitting at my desk on April 25, 2010, typing up the list, just as I expected (except for the part where I’m actually employed by Wood Cabinetry Weekly; what the hell happened to me?), and there it is, sitting very high on this ranking of all-time pivotal Lost moments, the scene that we all witnessed in last night’s episode: Ben’s shell-shocked reaction to the assassination of his adopted daughter, Alex: ”He changed the rules.” As for No. 1 on the list, that would be season 5’s revelation that Jack is actually…BZZZZZZZ-BLINK. Damn! My frakking Quantum Leapster ran out of juice! Stupid alien technology! Maybe next week….
Of course, the irony of my fantastical scenario lies in the profound significance of Alex’s death. The future has become unknowable and unreliable — at least as far as the once great and powerful Oz of the Others, is concerned. ”He changed the rules,” muttered Ben, his battered and bloodied face dawning with horrifying awareness. ”He” is Charles Widmore, the man on the other side of the cosmic chessboard to which fate-whipped Ben is shackled. And in ”The Shape of Things to Come” — the ninth episode of Lost‘s fourth season — the whiskey-soused, nightmare-plagued billionaire Brit made a desperate, most unexpected move against Ben in his mad bid to gain (or is that regain?) that which was once his in the past, or (buckle up for this one, kids) that which was supposed to be his in the future.
(That was your brain sliding out your head and onto the floor, wasn’t it? Don’t worry. It gets slightly less ridiculous from here.) (Maybe.)
Benjamin…Benjamin of Araaaaaaabia!
”The Shape of Things to Come” was one of those deliciously dense episodes in which the nourishment of revelation is mixed with huge chunks of sugary intrigue. Case in point: Ben’s flash-forward, a kind of Indiana Jones tale — that is, if said tale focused exclusively on that evil idol-swiping rogue Rene Belloq. It began in the Sahara, where King Other suddenly (but perhaps not unexpectedly) found himself lying in the broiling North African sand, suffering from a bloody wound on his arm (also unexplained) and wearing a borrowed Dharma Initiative-issued winter parka. Was that a gust of frigid air we saw escape his mouth? I thought so. If Ben can bend space and time like our friend Hiro Nakamura — and this episode was studded with clues suggesting he has the means to do so — perhaps moments before doing the old squishy-blinky he was hanging with Penelope’s geologists in the Arctic Circle. Or building a snowman with Henry Gale in Minnesota! Time to brush off my Heroes/Lost theory….
Seriously, I think we are looking at some kind of time-warping teleportation hoo-ha here. The name on Ben’s Dharma jacket merits investigation: ”Halliwax.” If you’ve seen the Internet-distributed orientation video for the Orchid, a Dharma station not yet seen in the show (but it will be — soon), you know it was narrated by the latest incarnation of Marvin Candle/Mark Wickmund, one Edgar Halliwax. You are probably also aware that the popular speculation is that the Orchid was conducting teleportation and/or time-travel experiments, perhaps using polar bears as guinea pigs. Did Ben launch himself into the Sahara from Dharma’s own Quantum Leapster? And when? Is that where Ben disappeared to when he ducked behind his glyph door? Or is his time traveling yet to come?
NEXT: Ben the desert avenger
Like Ben, I’m getting ahead of myself. After dispatching two gun-toting Bedouins on horseback, Ben wearily trekked to Tozeur, Tunisia. (Famous denizens: Aboul-Qacem Echebbi, a poet whose famed poem ”To the Tyrants of the World” sounds like it was written for Charles Widmore.) Like Peter O’Toole walking out of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia, Ben walked into a hotel dusty and parched and checked in under his On the Road-inspired alias, Dean Moriarty. How often has Ben been here? He claimed that he was a ”preferred guest,” and the clerk’s nervous eyes confirmed that he was either an important client or a really notorious one. Oh, no! Not the guy who whizzes on the walls again! She was also a tad baffled when Ben fished for the correct date. It was October 24, 2005. I’ll let you guys research the date for illuminating connections, although I can’t resist noting that (1) October 24 is Take Back Your Time Day, appropriate to this season’s time-travel themes, and (2) October 24, 1593, is the day in which a Spanish soldier named Gil Perez ”suddenly appeared” in Mexico City, claiming that he had just teleported from the Philippines. Believe it…or noooooot. (My Jack Palance needs some work, huh?)
Of course, we must note here that Lost has once before brought us to Tunisia. Flash back to ”Confirmed Dead,” when freighter folkster Charlotte Lewis discovered the Hydra-station tag at an archaeological dig — the one that turned up a polar-bear skeleton. In my ”Confirmed Dead” TV Watch, I wondered if Dharma was using polar bears as guinea pigs in its time/space-warping experiments. But given the implication that Ben is something of a frequent visitor to Tozeur, I wonder if he’s the conniving agent responsible for the skeleton. After all, there is the increasingly popular theory — well promulgated in this space over the years — that dark forces have been manipulating the lives of the castaways so that they would wind up on the Island for the purpose of preserving (or destroying) the current timeline. Certainly the freighter folk could have been similarly manipulated; did Ben plant that dead polar bear in the desert to facilitate a future in which Charlotte came to the Island? Time will tell.
After Tozeur, globe-trotting Ben bummed it to Iraq, which also happens to provide a crucial setting for the book from which this episode took its title: H.G. Wells’ 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come, a work of speculative sci-fi in which a technologically oriented cabal based in Basra attempts to foist its notion of world-state utopia upon the planet. (Wells also penned a screen adaptation, 1936’s Things to Come, in case you believe that investigating a moldy movie for Lost resonance is easier than reading a moldy book.) What brought Ben to Iraq? Giving flash-forward Sayid his avenging-angel makeover. We discovered that early in his off-Island Oceanic 6 life, Sayid reunited with lost love Nadia and married her. Alas, shortly before the events of this episode, she was killed, and according to Ben, the murderer was an assassin in the employ of Charles Widmore. Ben’s pursuit of this Widmore pawn was merely an elaborate setup designed to manipulate Sayid into wanting to become his dark-knight avenger — confirmation of and payoff to Sayid’s cryptic assertion in the climactic twist ending to ”The Economist.” But the revelation here is that both master and servant — the Darth Sidious and Darth Maul of Lost — are motivated by deep personal loss. With just a few scenes to execute this business in a busy-busy episode, Michael Emerson and Naveen Andrews did some really nice work selling us on everything we needed to know and feel about their angry, bloody alliance. (Coincidence or conspiracy? Bob Kane — creator of pop culture’s most famous heartbreak-spawned dark knight, Batman — was born in 1915 on…October 24.)
There Will Be Blood. And Smokey, Too!
Ben’s V for Vendetta motivations were established in his part of the episode’s Island-present story, in which Widmore’s freighter mercenaries stormed New Otherton determined to abduct their boss’ nemesis. I liked the comedic touches: the high-stakes game of Risk (Sawyer’s foolish if successful play for Siberia foreshadowed Ben’s mad and unsuccessful gambit to save Alex); the ringing phone signaling the deactivation of the sonic fence (”I think it’s for Ben”); the ringing doorbell bringing Miles Straume into the action. (I was also amused to learn Ben was hiding a shotgun in his piano bench; so much for being under house arrest.) The action was intense; lots of redshirts got wasted, while Claire’s house was obliterated by a rocket, though Aaron’s mama herself survived. Kinda hard to believe, but I rolled with it. (FYI: A scene in which Claire experienced a hallucination/prophetic vision was shot for this episode but cut for lack of running time, but I’m told we can expect Claire intrigue to ramp up next week.)
The death of Alex was hardcore. Clearly, the girl’s executioner, Keamy, didn’t want to pull the trigger, despite his vaunted Ugandan badassery. My take on what happened is this: Papa Linus — hoping Keamy wouldn’t have the stones to kill Alex if it gained him nothing — tried to convince him that his adopted daughter, kidnapped from ”an insane woman” out of pity, really did mean nothing to him. It was a moment reminiscent of the coldhearted father-son square-off in the final act of There Will Be Blood. (I will spoil no further if you haven’t seen it.) Keamy put a bullet in the back of Alex’s head, anyway. Ben was devastated, naturally, but there was more to his soul-rocked shock than the mere sight of Alex’s murder. My interpretation of ”He changed the rules” wasn’t so much Widmore and I agreed to wage our battle according to a certain set of limitations and regulations, but rather, simply This was not supposed to happen. As I’ve long insisted, I believe Ben’s genius is derived from having knowledge of future events, via time travel, Desmond-esque precognitive flashes, or the other hot conjecture of the moment, time-loop theory, the idea that Ben has lived this life many times before. So a monkey wrench like this pretty much wrecks Ben’s entire game.
NEXT: What’s behind that door?
Then came the episode’s other soon-to-launch-a-thousand-theories scene, not to mention what might be one of the most important ”Easter eggs” Lost has ever planted. After yanking himself out of his stupor, Ben retreated to his secret room, the Island’s wizard scurrying behind his curtain to consult his gizmos and magic for answers. Shutting out Locke and company, Ben opened a wooden door carved with all sorts of hieroglyphics — similar to the ones on the countdown timer in the Hatch — and disappeared down a secret passage. As it happens, when I visited the set of Lost a few weeks ago during the filming of this episode, I stumbled on the glyph door. Take a look:
Have fun decoding that. I’ll take my stab at a theory in my Doc Jensen column next week. But where did Ben go? For now, I’m going to side with what is certain to be the popular conjecture: that he crawled into the Island underworld and asked Smokey the hellhound to eat that bad man who killed his daughter. His ash-covered clothes would seem to confirm that. So would the fearlessness and glee on his face as Smokey indeed thrashed the freighter mercs to death in the most spectacular display of Smokeyness the show has ever given us; it reminded me of the God storm unleashed upon the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. While all of this seems almost too obvious to be true, for the moment I can’t come up with any alternative theories, but if we were to find out that Ben’s hidden corridor leads to the Dharma Quantum Leapster (created, no doubt, using instructions decoded from that glyph door), and that in the five minutes he was absent from Locke and company he did weeks if not months of off-Island traveling (and grieving, regrouping, and re-strategizing) before coming back focused, strong, and empowered with the necessary knowledge to defeat his enemies, well, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Island…
Jack wobbled around the beach, sick; the freighter doctor washed up in the surf, throat slit; Faraday telegraphed the freighter and told the castaways that all was cool, that the choppers were coming to rescue them in the morning; Bernard, who can decipher Morse code, busted Faraday for lying, revealing that what the freaky physicist was actually told was that the freighter doctor was still on the boat, alive and well; and Jack, finally resigning himself to the fact that Locke was right and he was wrong about the freighter folk, asked the question that promises to finally galvanize his season 4 story line: ”Were you ever going to take us off of this island?” Faraday broke his heart: ”No.”
I’m sticking to basics here, as I happen to know more than I can tell; reporting our recent feature story made me privy to upcoming developments in the Jack Camp arc, and I find it hard to analyze and theorize without betraying what I know. More on this next week.
(Fun Fact! The first U.S. transcontinental telegraph line was finished on — yep — October 24, 1861.)
In the episode’s final moments, Ben paid a visit to Charles Widmore at his London home in the middle of the night. Ben blasted his enemy for killing his daughter. Widmore — who has taken to self-medicating with MacScotch as a result of nightmares — blasted right back, saying it was Ben’s own damn fault that Alex was dead. ”We both know very well that I didn’t murder her at all, Benjamin….You have the audacity to pretend you’re the victim….I know who you are, boy! What you are. I know everything you have you took from me….That island’s mine, Benjamin. It always was. It will be again.” Ben then dared him to find it — right after pledging to get even with his game-changing opponent by killing his daughter, too: none other than Desmond’s sweetie, Penelope.
Widmore’s cryptic comments will no doubt be as debated as the glyph door. My interpretation returns us to the beginning. Ben and Widmore seem to be engaged in a war — a war for the Island, a war over time itself. For a long time, Ben was winning that war by either facilitating or managing a new timeline of events, one that denies Widmore his predestined life — a life that may have been ruinous for the entire world. But victory for Ben hinges on knowing or at least anticipating the future — and with Alex’s unforeseeable death, it appears Ben has become omnisciently challenged. Once, he was able to see the shape of things to come. Now, the future is as hazy as Smokey himself.
And with that — PLOOOP! I turn it over to you. What did you see? What are your theories? Why do you think it’s so important to Ben that Locke stay alive? What do you think is ailing Jack? Go!