Thursday, March 11, 2010

Episode 607 - "Dr. Linus" Teaches A Class in Priorities

As always, Ben-focused episodes turn out to be particularly strong. Such was the case with this week's installment, "Dr. Linus."

Smokey's first rejection! Ben's redemption!! The return of Charles Widmore!!! All this, plus a happy ending for Alex Rousseau, and Nikki and Paolo's diamonds, on "Dr. Linus!"

Alternaverse - Dr. Benjamin Linus, Ph.D.
Unlike the other Alternaverse characters, I'll discuss Alterna-Ben with a name he only has in the sideways world - "Dr. Linus." We already knew from "The Substitute" that Dr. Linus taught European History at the same school where Locke2 was hired as a substitute. Here, we got a closer look at his life.

First, we met Dr. Linus teaching a profoundly resonating lecture on how Napolean (all-powerful short guy) faced his biggest challenge when he became a titular emperor, but banished to an island with no real power (brilliant!). After the lecture, poor, put upon Dr. Linus learned from Principal Reynolds that he would have to cancel his chaperoning of the school's 5-student history club in ordr to oversee detention for a week. In a genius bit of casting, the principal was played by none other than Uber-80s villain William Atherton. Atherton's finest role, clearly, was as the weapon's designer/ physics professor in the classic and underappreciated "Real Genius." Also starring in "Real Genius," as marginalized and borderline insane super-genius Lazlo Hollyfield? Jon Gries, better known to Lost fans as...Ben's marginalized and borderline inane super-abusive father, Roger Linus. Love it!

Dr. Linus groused to colleague Leslie Arzt2 (seriously, enough about with the Arzt appearances! He was a lame character whose finest contribution was as a blob of goo on Jack's shoulder after his dynamite-induced surprise demise) about Reynold's disrespect for the school as a place to care for young minds. Listening in is the new sub, Mr. Locke2 piped in, suggesting maybe Dr. L. should be the principal, and offering his fealty to a Linus regime.

Aside #1 - Granted, we know that Alterna-Locke is more self-assured than his late island doppelganger. But wasn't this brief glimpse at Alterna-Locke - his only appearance in the episode - far more suggestive of the seductive Flocke personality? Could it be that the man in black operates in alterna-world, trying to motivate his would be disciples to acts of insurrection? Or is it this potential in real Locke that made Fake Locke choose him for his visage?

That evening, Dr. Linus looks into his reflection on the door of his microwave (the "I see my reflection, but what is showing me?" image has recurred with the principal character in each of the flash-sideways thus far this season). The meal he's preparing is not for himself, but for his aging father, Roger2. Dr. Linus laments his assignment to detention, and confesses to his dad that he feels like a bigger loser than the kids he's forced to oversee. Roger2, clearly feeling sorry for his son (in a way his abusive island counterpart never did), says he wishes life had turned out differently for Ben2. He suggests if they had only stayed with the DHARMA Initiative - people far smarter than he was - maybe Dr. Linus's life would have turned out better.

Aside #2 - the mystery of how Sideways world links to island world got a lot clearer here. We know that the Linuses of this world went to the island, and indeed were part of DHARMA. But somewhere after they arrived in the early 1970s, history changed. We can assume that Ben2 never got shot, since it's hard to imagine an Others-healed Ben turning out any way other than the monster we know from the island present. So, for whatever reason, the Linus pair just...left. Presumably, so did the Goodspeeds, given that Ethan2 ended up working at the Sideways hospital. But the point is, in this timeline, there was an island, and it did house DHARMA.

Doc Jensen has a theory on this: THEORY REVISION ALERT!
Sideways Island Sinkage; Parallel World Historical Discrepancies.
Analysis: Until last night, it had been safe to assume that both the Island and Sideways worlds shared the same history until 1977, which is when the time-traveling castaways detonated Jughead. But the Linus men of the Sideways world blew up that thinking. I took the story to mean that Sideways Roger and Ben left the Island prior to its sinking. But Island Roger and Ben were still on the Island when Juliet banged the bomb. Implication: If the two worlds share a common history, the fork in the road is sometime before 1977. Rebooted Theory:
The divergence begins on that fateful night when some phantom stranger struck John Locke's teenage mother, causing her to give birth three months early. That phantom stranger? I'm saying it's Charles Widmore.

My theory - Detonating Jughead on the pocket of electromagnetic energy killed Jacob. Jacob, in a sense, is (or at least takes power from) that pocket of energy under the Swan. Jacob also exists simulatneously throughout time, like a Billy Pilgrim of island deities. As such, the 1977 death of Jacob altered both the past and the future by deleting Jacob from time. The result? The castaways never time traveled back, Ben was never shot, DHARMA was a bust, and Ben and his dad left the island when Ben was still a boy. Other results? They are many, and, I believe, include John Locke not being born early because his mother was never hit by a car (sorry, Doc Jensen, but I believe it was Jacob, not Widmore, who caused that accident to take place). And, finally, unchecked by Jacob, Smokey finally got around to doing what he'd waited so long to do - destroy the island, causing it to sink sometime in the late 1970s.

The island reminiscences are curtailed by a ring of the doorbell. Dr. Linus answers, and finds his star pupil - Alex2 F___king Rousseau! She didn't know why her dad, er, teacher didn't show for history club (she's apparently one of the five), and asked for some AP test tutoring.

Aside #3 - is this silly public high school the alterna-world version of the island? With Ben2, Locke2, Arzt2, and now Alex2 all ending up there? Given that the Linuses hail from Portland, and Alex's mom is a maritime Frenchwoman, this is a bit hard to swallow. But I guess if we can suspend disbelief for dead-impersonating smoke monsters and magic lighthouse mirrors, coincidences aren't too tough to deal with.

As Ben2 tutors Alex2, he uncovers Reynolds's dirty little secret - an illicit, extramarital affair with the school nurse. He also discovers that Alex2 wants a recommendation letter to Yale, something she feels only Reynolds can provide. But Dr. L. almost ignores this part of Alex2's story, as the island-Ben-esque plan to unseat his boss and usurp his position starts to form.

Aside #4 - do check out Doc Jensen's recap at He does a great job of drawing parallels between Dr. Linus's quest to oust Reynolds and island Ben's coup to supplant Widmore, both, apparently, by exploiting ilicit affairs.

To hatch his scheme, Dr. Linus approaches Arzt2, who he knows is a computer expert, for help getting the incriminating evidence. Arzt2, whose ambition rises all the way to the level of a better parking space and some new lab equipment, is too happy to help. Arzt2's best line - "you had me fooled with the sweater vest - you're a real killer!"

Dr. Linus confronts Reynolds with the emails he uncovers, only to have Reynolds pull out his own nuclear option - the return threat to "torch" Alex2's efforts to get into Yale. So now Ben2 faces a very similar dilemma to the one that once faced his island self - protect Alex, or secure his position of power. In the end, Dr. Linus reverses course - he drops the blackmail attempt, allowing Alex2 to receive a glowing recommendation. His only selfish gain? Reynolds relieves him of detention duty, freeing him to return to his precious History Club.

Aside #5: Doc Jensen writes, "We were left to wonder why Ben chose as he did. As a historian, Ben probably is familiar with the phrase from George Santayana, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' Maybe Sideways Ben was able to avoid duplicating the fate of his Island world counterpart because of some genetic or past life memory bubbled into his consciousness. Maybe he gleaned a lesson or two about power, priorities, regret and responsibility from what his otherworld avatar had learned in the trial-and-error spiritual classroom of the Island. Maybe that info radiated into his brain via the reflection he saw of himself in the window of his microwave as he was zapping organic turkey for his father. Or maybe not. Maybe Sideways Ben is simply made of slightly better stuff and slightly better experiences a well-meaning if flawed father; exposure to the well-meaning if flawed idealistic culture of the Dharma Initiative; and surely more. Either way, this version of Benjamin Linus found redemption by following his heart. In the words of Napoleon: GOSH!"

Island World - Jack and Hurley
After being absent last week, we rejoin Jack and Hurley in their quest to return to the Temple from the Lighthouse. Hurley, still keeping Jacob's warning about danger at the Temple, tries valliantly to stall, and even suggests a clearly bogus shortcut. That's when Richard arrives, and tells them they're both going the wrong way, and suggests a third path. Jack turns to follow, and Hurley asks if he's just going to trust him. Jack's response? "at least he's not stallin.'"

Aside #6: Doc Jensen writes: "(Another reading of Richard's third way as a metaphor for Lost's storytelling: We won't lead you astray, but we're not going the way you expect. We'll be doing this ''answer'' thing our way. ‘Kay?)"

Hurley confirms (because he's a bit behind) that Richard has not been time traveling, but rather looks the same as he did 30 years prior. Richard's response is that he was given a gift by Jacob, but now Jacob is dead. Richard leads them, not to the Temple, but to the Black Rock. His answer for his deception is that everyone at the Temple is dead (though he did not see their friends), so whatever they hope to find there won't be there. As he says this, he stops looking at Jack and Hurley, and instead stares, almost awestruck, at Black Rock. He warns Jack and Hurley not to do anything Jacob told them to do, then says he came to this place because he has something he needs to do - die. And with that, he heads into the old slave ship.

Richard goes in to the ship, and finds a particular spot in the hold, then stares at a particular set of chains, with intense recognition. Jack asks if he's been there before, and Richard responds yes, but this is the first time he's ever come back.

Aside #7 - It's not explicit, but it's pretty clear in the subtext - Richard was brought to the island as a slave on this ship, before Jacob set him free and gave him the "gift" of long life. Of course, we'll likely get confirmation in 2 weeks, when we'll see the first Richard-centric episode.

Richard emerges from his memory lane trip to find some dynamite. He says he can't blow himself up, because once you've been touched by Jacob, you can't kill yourself. But if one of them lights the fuse (then runs away), at last he can die. He explains that Jacob's touch was considered a gift, but in fact was a curse. Jacob had told him he had a plan, a special plan, that Richard was a part of, and that, someday he'd share it with him. Unfortunately, Jacob up and died, making Richard's long existence nothing but a lie, a life with no real purpose. As Hurley starts to back away (remembering the fate of Island Arzt), Jack says that, if Richard wants to die, he's not going to stop him. Jack lights the fuse, but rather than running, he sits down, looks at Richard, and says, "now, let's talk." Richard urges him to leave, but Jack says he doesn't think he's going to die. (I loved Hurley's exit line - "if you need me, I'll be like a mile away). Jack tells Richard about their trip to the lighthouse, which made him pretty sure he's part of Jacob's plan, too. The fuses fizzles out, and Jack asks, "wanna try another stick?" Richard seems convinced - maybe his life again has the purpose that he thought was lost with Jacob. Jack takes charge, and says they're going back to where it all started.

Aside #8 - In this moment, Jack stops being wishy-washy Mr. Fixit Shephard, and instead morphs into a combination of another TV Jack (Bauer) and his own former idealogical nemesis, John Locke. It appears Jack's stare out at the ocean moment helped to clarify a lot for him, and indeed set him on his path.

Doc Jensen, however, questions if there's another reading: Does Jack want to know Jacob's purpose so he can faithfully fulfill it... or so he can angrily subvert it? He crackles with so much crazy mania, it's hard to know if he's a true believer or a great deceiver. Is it possible the title of the episode hints at an even more provocative possibility: that Ben, a.k.a. ''Dr. Linus,'' has replaced Dr. Shephard as the story's hero, while Jack has replaced Ben as its villain? Consider that sentimental slow-mo reunion sequence that ended the episode. We saw everyone in their huts and tents including Miles, inspecting the diamonds he purloined from Nikki and Paulo's grave (all $8 million of it? No going dutch on coffee with him!) as Jack, Hurley and Richard approached. This moment was staged to deliberately echo the scene from the season 3 episode ''One Of Us,'' when Jack, Kate, and Sayid returned from New Otherton, bringing Juliet with them. When the beach crew saw her, the happy-huggy moment abruptly ended, and everyone gave her the stink-eye (especially, ironically, Sawyer) just like Jack and Ben traded suspicious looks in last night's episode. We learned at the very end of ''One Of Us'' that newbie Juliet was indeed shady; she had been sent by Ben to spy on the camp. (The moment was mirrored, I think, by having ''Dr. Linus'' end with Widmore's submarine spying on the castaways.)

Personally, I disagree. I may not be fully convinced that Jacob is "good" (though I still believe that to be the case), but I'm pretty sure that, by removing Hurley and Jack from the Temple, Jacob set them up to be the keepers of his vision.

But Jensen continues with his psychological analysis of Jack: "Why might Jack be so angry? Oh, I don't know. The same reason Sally Brown was so angry after spending all night in a pumpkin patch with Linus Van Pelt waiting for transcendent revelation to arrive. This Island thing Jacob, Ben, everything has made a big mess of his life, and he wants someone to take responsibility for it. He wants payback. Sally's cry is his cry: 'YOU OWE ME RESTITUTION!'" Of course, back in season 3, Juliet and Jack were nurturing heroic double-crosses. Still, at this point in the season, I'm looking inside Jack's heart, and wondering which way his scales are tilting. Will he be replacing Jacob by season's end... or Smokey?

Island - Ben and Team Ilana

The main action this week picks up with Ben fleeing from the Temple massacre. He dives when he comes across a bunch of torches in the jungle, but they're being carried by Frank, Miles, Sun and Ilana. Ilana, since it's her job, asks immediately, "where is Jarrah," to which Ben, pretending to be stung, repsponds, "I'm fine, thanks." He tells them that Sayid just killed Dogen and Lennon. Ilana, incredulous that a candidate would do such a thing, asks if he was sure, to which Ben snidely responds, "I saw him standing over their bodies with a bloody dagger, so I'm pretty sure." When asked what caused the attack, Ben stumbles, responding, "the same thing that killer her men," prompting Ilana to double-check, "and Jacob, too, right?" Suffice it to say, she's less than convinced when Ben gives her a, "oh, well, yeah, Jacob, too." Ilana hands Miles Jacob's ashes, and asks him to reveal how Jacob died. Miles does his seance thing, and says that Ben killed Jacob. Ilana asks if he's sure, and, even as Ben acts dumbstruck, Miles says, "I saw him standing over Jacob's body with a bloody knife, so, yeah, I'm pretty sure." Ilana stares a "bloody dagger" through Ben, and says, "Jacob was the closest thing I ever had to a father," then abruptly turns and walks off. Uh-oh!

By morning, the Ilana bunch make it to the remnants of the 815ers' beach camp. Ilana directs her companions to look for tools, food and firewood, but ignores Ben. He offers to help, but she continues to ignore him, as she strips bundles of wire out of a piece of the fuselage.

Before long, Sun asks Ilana how long they plan to stay on the beach, since she's pretty eager to search for Jin. Ilana tells her, that she's just as eager to find Jin, because, as Doc Jensen put it, "she is now charged with protecting the candidates to replace Jacob. Don't ask her what it means: she doesn't know or isn't telling us. She was asked how many were left, she said six. Was she counting John Locke? Fake Locke? Jin and Sun twice?" Sun asks what she's a candidate to replace Jacob for, to which Ilana responds, "if you've been selected, you'll know."

Aside #9 - ah, the passive voice as a way to perpetuate a mystery. "If you've been selected..." If Jacob is dead, who's doing the selecting? Is that Smokey's role, albeit one he doesn't quite seem to grasp that he has?

Ben digs through Sawyer's old stash, finding some remaining porn, and a couple of books. As Kristin Dos Santos tells us about one of the books, "EasterEgg: The book that Ben reached across to get the Oceanic 815 water in "the library" was The Chosen by Chaim Potok, a best-selling 1967 novel about a boy who is raised in "silence" by his father. At the end of the book, the father breaks his silence and explains that he was concerned his son was losing compassion for others, so he wanted him to experience pain and desire. After realizing the son has compassion, they reconcile and the son is set free. (Ben = the son, and Jacob = the father? Mayhaps! All I know is I have a long list of books to tackle once this show is over.)"

Frank lets slip how he would have piloted flight 815 if he hadn't overslept. He muses about how different his life would have been if he made the flight, to which Ben retorts, "how different would it have been? The island got you." As Frank walks off, Ilana points her gun at Ben's neck, and orders him to walk...over to Boone hill. There she fastens the leg manacle she had fashioned from the recycled electrical wires to Ben's ankle, and a nearby tree. She then orders him to dig a grave. For himself. Since he murdered Jacob. Double uh-oh!

As Ben digs, Miles comes to offer him some food - bananas and green beans. Ben tries to offer Miles the 3.2 million that Miles had tried to blackmail him out of three years previously, to which Miles laughs, why would he need it, in light of the $8 million in diamonds Nikki and Paolo were buried with? (Sometimes, ghost whipering has its perks). Ben tries to reason with Miles, saying that Jacob didn't even care about dying. Miles, who knows the dead's dying thoughts, corrects Ben - he says Jacob did care about dying, and right up until the knife plunged into him, he had hoped he was wrong about Ben. "I guess he wasn't," Miles says as he walks off.

As Ben's macabre labor nears its conclusion, he hears the familiar Smokey ratatatatata. Sure enough, Flocke appears, but stays behind a barrier so Ilana can't see him. Flocke assures Ben he didn't want him to die. He tells him his plan to take a group and leave, but then says that someone needs to be left in charge, and he thinks Ben would be perfect. He tempts him to escape, and join Flocke on Hyrda island, shows him that he's magically opened the ankle cuff, and tells him there is a rifle on a tree stump 200 yards into the jungle, that he'll get to in time to get the jump on Ilana.

Aside #10 - and here is that parallel to Dr. Linus's lecture on Elba. Ben has, in a very real sense, been offered the title of emperor while living powerless on a mostly deserted island. But while Dr. L. mocked such a reduction in status, to Ben, it sure seemed to be a better alternative than dying in a grave he'd dug for himself.

Ben runs, and Ilana chases. Ben, who I must say runs, not just like a girl, but like my 2 year-old daughter, somehow gets to the gun Flocke promised, and turns it on Ilana. She drops her gun, and proudly asks what Ben is waiting for. And Ben, about to complete yet another of his dastardly acts - the murder of both Jacob, and his last protector - instead starts to lose his trademark cool. He says he needs to explain, then confesses everything that was in his heart and mind, "'I watched my daughter Alex die in front of me and it was my fault. I had a chance to save her. I chose the Island over her. All in the name of Jacob. I sacrificed everything for him, and he didn't even care. I stabbed him. I was so angry. Confused. I was terrified I was about to lose the only thing that ever happened to me, my power. But the thing that really mattered was already gone. I don't expect you to forgive me. I can never forgive myself.'' Ben tells her his plan is to join Flocke. When she wonders why he'd do anything so...(stupid? Distasteful? Plot-advancing?) He cries, "because he's the only one that will have me." But Ilana, having looked into Ben's soul during his confession, and realized that he sacrificed more to Jacob's hidden agenda than she ever will, says, "I'll have you." She turns her back to him (with his gun still on her), picks up her gun, and walks back to the beach. And Ben follows.

Ben rests his rifle on the rigging of the shelter Sun is working on, and asks her if he can help. She looks him over, then asks him to assist her with the tarp. As this group starts to work together, they're joined by Jack, Hurley and Richard. The moment is entirely reminiscent of the joyous return of Jack, Kate, and Sayid in Season 3, right down to the tension in the beach camp when they saw Juliet was with them. Here, the tension was between Jack and Ben. And Richard and Ben. But unlike Juliet's arrival, this tension seemed to ease after a moment...

...and then, off the shore, a periscope pops up. There's a sub in the water, and inside is none other than Charles Widmore. He has finally found the island...

Aside #12 - this the same Charles Widmore we've always known, or is it Sideways Widmore? Is there even such a thing as Sideways Widmore. If it's not Sideways Widmore, where did this guy come from? And how is he now able to find the island?

On that, there is an obvious theroy. It's two-part. First, I think Jacob in a very direct sense blocked people from finding the island. With no more Jacob, there is no more interference. Second, as I mentioned earlier, the detonation of Jughead wiped out the electromagnetic anomoly that made the island undetectable. Perhaps it even made it stop moving. Or... having reconnected with Eloise Hawking back in L.A., perhaps Widmore simply got access to the Lamppost station under the church.

Finally, here's another theory, one that dates back further into the history of the island. Smokey seduced Widmore. Much as he tried to do with Ben this week, I think Smokey convinced Widmore that he could supplant Jacob's will. Why limit yourself to being a candidate, or shepherding the island until a candidate arrives, when your master's enemy can offer you the keys to the kingdom? Think about what young(ish) Ben said to Widmore after he refused to kill Rousseau - he questioned whether the order was truly Jacob's, or rather just Widmore's own. Ultimately, the Others banished Widmore, and I'm starting to think it was for being too big for his Jacob-following britches (one aspect of which was the off-island dalliance that produced Penelope). As we now see the battle lines forming, even with Widmore returning to the island, I believe Charles will take the place Smokey offered Ben last night, only to learn that, should he achieve victory for his new sponsor, he'll be left with as meaningless a title as Napolean had when exiled to Elba. Ben, on the other hand, wisely avoided that fate when choosing to follow Ilana in lieu of island dominance.

And with that I leave you for this week, Lostophiles. Next week seems likely to be a Sawyer episode (I hope he's either a sheep in wolf's clothing, or has turned deliciously eeeeeevil). Until then, when we reconvene for "Recon," Namaste.

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