Dr. Linus, I presume.
Reports of Ben Linus's death have been greatly exaggerated. And I, for one, am relieved.
This past week, with knowledge of the episode entitled "Dr. Linus," the Lost community has been endlessly speculating that Ben Linus would meet his demise, and it certainly seemed likely at times last night. Why the anxiety? Even if he had died, it certainly doesn't mean he would stay that way. Not in the Lost World. But character redemption is so much better than being the walking dead (ask Sayid or Locke), and it was good news that Ben Linus survived Ilana's attempt at revenge for Jacob, the man "who was like a father," and in doing so, concluded the first feel-good episode that we have seen so far this season.
Continuing the trend of character-centric episodes with sideways flashes of "what might have been" or "what will be," along with a couple of scant answers to Lost's myriad of questions, "Dr. Linus" presents Dr. Benjamin Linus, PhD in European History. We were introduced to this version of the usual lying liar Ben Linus during John Locke's off-island life in "The Substitute." In Sideways World last night, we see Ben as a disgruntled high school teacher, overqualified for his job, devoted to his students, but frustrated by the administration of the school (read island) and tempted to take things into his own hands and make things right.
We also meet Ben's father, Roger, who apparently didn't fall victim to patricide and the Purge. Here is the first reference by a character in the sideways world to the island: Daddy Linus, oxygen tubes in his nose, waxes philosophic about the road not taken:
"This is not the life I wanted for you Ben. I wanted so much more. That's why I signed up for that darned Dharma Initiative and took you to the island. They were decent people. Smarter than I'll ever be. Imagine how different our lives would be if we stayed."
This is the heart of the matter for the revisionist flashes. I'm not sure how these two plot lines will be ultimately reconciled, but Pater Linus offers the story's, and the season's, theme: a different life.
This conversation between father and son is not the first time we have seen Lost's Daddy issues resolved when presented with the alternate timeline. In "The Substitute," we can assume that Locke and his father have a good relationship as well — he's on the wedding guest list after all. From the dialogue between Roger and Ben, we think we are going to see a father-son relationship explored in "Dr. Linus," but instead we see a father-daughter bond. Ben makes good with Alex Rousseau. Ben Linus gets a chance in the sideways world to choose a better figurative life for Alex, an Ivy life, in contrast to his choice of life or death, literally, for Alex on the island. Rare happiness descends on the beach camp.
The allusion to Elba in the beginning of the episode invites us to examine Ben Linus's past Napoleonic tendencies on the island. Although I do not know how tall Michael Emerson is — I imagine him to be as tall as he wants to be, the man can act — I don't think that the Elba reference has anything to do with the Napoleon complex: short men being overly aggressive to prove their stature. No, the demon that Ben Linus must wrestle with is his Napoleonic struggles for domination. That's made very clear in Ben's speech to his history class. Another aspect of Napoleonism we can scrutinize this week is the Napoleonic code, a very progressive and popular idea at the time which forbade privileges based upon birth or should we say privileges based upon being touched by Jacob, being a candidate? This is something that did not happen to Ben. Ben is not a candidate. It did happen to Richard, but we'll return to Mr. Alpert and his eyeliner in a moment.
All ends well with Dr. Linus by the conclusion of the episode, with some keen acting by Michael Emerson, something that he's been known for since his Shakespeare in Alabama days. As a side note, I am delighted to brag that I enjoyed Mr. Emerson in a play, Gross Indecency, a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away – Off Broadway in fact.
But enough about the past; what about Ben's future? Keep in mind that Elba was only the first island of Napoleon's exile. He managed to get off that island, make a brief return to power, only to end up on another island – St. Helena for the rest of his life. I think this is a clue to what lies ahead for Ben.
In another prediction, which I hate to do, being wrong so often, I think that Lapidus is going to play a much larger role in the climax of this story than initially may appear. We found out last night that Lapidus was supposed to be the pilot on Oceanic 815 but slept late that day. Ben Linus responds that the island managed to entrap Lapidus anyway. The look Lapidus gives Ben Linus at that suggestion may be significant. Could Lapidus be Wallace – the candidate not yet identified? Everyone's favorite pilot seems to know a lot more than he is letting on.
As for poor Richard, Lost rumor has it that he will have his own episode in a couple of weeks so perhaps more answers are forthcoming, and hopefully a little peace of mind for the unfortunate guy. Nestor Carbonell's grief is quite poignant and Biblical. Richard suffers from despair: the sin of giving up on God.
"Have you talked to Jacob? Don't believe a thing he says."
This is not to equate Jacob with God. Yet. But Richard is certainly experiencing an existential crisis: "I've just found out that my entire life has no purpose."
He seemed on the same path as Dogen and Smokey — trying to find a loophole out of a bad bargain with Jacob. At this moment, Jack had an uncharacteristic moment of decisiveness and calmness when dealing with Richard and his suicidal tendencies: "He wants to die, there's nothing we are going to do to stop him," Jack says in a very Jacobean (or Smokey?) way.
All in all, a straightforward, well-written, well-directed episode by the fabulous Mario Van Peebles of New Jack City fame – how cool is that? There was some realignment between "the recruits" and "the candidates;" but basically things are status quo on the island as per Smokey and Jacob. Best moment? When Ilana allows the prodigal son back into the beach camp. And then there was that swelling music by Oscar-winning Michael Giacchino.
My hour is up but a few questions to worry. The first one has been bothering me for some time now, suggested to me by Cara Lion:
Smokey and his use of John Locke's body: Why does he not need Locke's corporeal body when he apparently needed Christian Shephard's?
Ilana refers to the six remaining candidates. Is Sayid still a candidate since he has gone to the dark side? Is Sawyer? Is Lapidus? Are there more?
What does Jack say to Hurley when Hurley asks if he trusts Richard: "At least he's not stalling" or "At least, he's not Stalin"?
What do we make of Sawyer reading a seemingly fictional book by or about another famous Benjamin, Benjamin Disraeli: Truth and Justice in Action – a variation on a famous quote by Disreali: "Justice is truth in action."
Finally, did anyone else get a whiff of sulfur when John Locke tempts Ben Linus into considering taking over as principal?
Only ten episodes left! Till next week, episode still unnamed, namaste.