Getting Lost: Dr. Linus

It’s time for another installment of “Getting Lost,” where John S takes you through all the salient questions from last night’s episode of Lost:

So, were you expecting Ben to die? I was, mainly because of the declaration in last week’s previews that this episode would see him “meet his demise.” So even after he ostensibly made peace with Ilana, I was half-expecting him to die some other way, either because Ilana had been lying, someone at the beach still harbored resentment at him (and let’s face it: pretty much everyone has a reason to kill Ben), or through some freak accident. After all, this show does have a history of jerking the audience around and fake-out endings.

I bet you were happy that he didn’t die, though, am I right? Of course. Ben is one of the most compelling characters on the show—why wouldn’t you keep him around? At the same time, this episode felt like kind of a waste. The main theme—Ben’s guilt over Alex’s death—was already dealt with in last season’s “Dead Is Dead,” and there wasn’t a whole lot of new stuff on that front: He still can’t forgive himself, and he still wants the Island to give him a chance to redeem himself.

As for the alternate-timeline story, with Ben as the titular Dr. Linus, an overqualified public school teacher (Who is he? Walter White?) who now has Alex as a student, it did what the alternate-timeline stories have done throughout the show: It gave Ben a second chance. This episode may have been the most explicit recreation of an on-Island event. From the very beginning, Locke, now firmly established in his role as the substitute first introduced in “The Substitute,” pretty obviously makes the connection between the school and the Island: First he tells Ben that he “obviously cares about this place” and then offers to “listen to him” once he’s in charge.

Then the show did what so many shows do—it equated a high school student not getting into her top college with death. Alex needs a recommendation from the principal to get into Yale (although I think she may be overvaluing the role of recommendations in the admissions process), and if Dr. Linus exposes the principal’s secret, that letter will destroy Alex’s chance. Instead of telling Alex to look into some safety schools,* Ben backs off—valuing Alex’s “life” over his own power and the “place” he cares so much about.

*Obviously, what Ben should have done was wait for Alex to receive Yale’s decision and THEN show the emails to the school board.

So what’s wrong with that? Don’t you want the characters to get second chances, particularly the ones you like? After all, you LOVED “The Substitute”… Well, there are two main differences between that episode and this one. The first one, obviously, is that Locke—the real Locke—is dead, so any resolution/conclusion for that character has to come in the off-Island storyline. Ben, meanwhile, is alive and well on the Island, and, as I said, his guilt over letting Alex die was already dealt with last season.

The second main difference is that one of the central questions about Locke’s character was whether the Island was a fundamental part of his fate. So having a story in which he found happiness off the Island enriched his character. For Ben, this question isn’t as important. The best parts of last night’s episode, I thought, were the parts about the Ben/Jacob relationship, like Miles telling Ben that, even right before Ben stabbed him, Jacob “was hoping he was wrong about (Ben)” and Ben’s obvious regret and confusion over Jacob’s death. But since Ben isn’t as important to the Island and to Jacob as Locke is, that plot had to play a secondary role to his grief over Alex.

Come on, by that logic, none of the alternate timeline stories will be good anymore, since nobody is as important as Locke. Well, I’m starting to agree with that. I’ve been a  (comparatively) big defender of the alternate timeline stories, but I think it’s starting to look like wheel-spinning. At this point, every story has followed the same basic pattern: “Character is shown off the Island. Things are oddly different. S/he crosses path unknowingly with other Island people. Some iteration of the recurring theme of that character (Kate=running, Locke=accepting his fate, Jack=daddy issues, Sayid=is he a killer?, Ben=Machiavellian power plays) ensues.” This has been reminiscent of the flashbacks of the show’s early seasons—just as the producers said that Season Six would mirror Season One in tone.

The main problem, for me, is that I always hated those stupid flashback stories. It seems weird to be a Lost fan who hates flashback stories–like being a Led Zeppelin fan who hates guitar music–but I always found those to be the worst parts of the show. They were boring, clichéd, and predictable. What energized Seasons Four and Five, in my estimation, was that they replaced flashbacks with flashforwards and time-travel stories. Instead of providing clarity and perspective for the main plot, as flashbacks do, flashforwards/time-travel actually add confusion to the story by creating an informational asymmetry between the audience and the characters. Since we know something about where the characters will end up, but pretty much nothing about how they get there, the plot becomes more compelling. Each plot twist contains elements of surprise and revelation.

With these alternate timeline stories, though, one has no bearing on the other. As a result, their main purpose has been to repeat tired themes, much like the flashbacks of later seasons, when every new flashback seemed to repeat something from an old one.

But they eventually WILL mix, right? How could they not? They almost certainly will—there have been a number of hints that the realities will bleed into each other at some point. Until they do, though, we just have to watch hoping that they intersect eventually, which can be frustrating when there is so much going on and so many questions to answer.

You’re not really going to get hung up on having them answer questions, are you? This is Lost we’re talking about, right? Fair point. Lost has never really felt obligated to answer all the questions it raises, and I’m OK with that. I do want them to advance the story, though, but right now feels a little like stalling. What really happened in last night’s episode? Ilana and Co. went to the beach. Ben didn’t get shot. That’s pretty much it.

You forgot about Jack and Richard almost blowing themselves up. Ah yes. I actually thought that was the best part of the episode. I thought Nestor Carbonell did a good job with a rather clunky speech about living a life without purpose. And I particularly liked Jack’s renewed faith. This is consistent with the New Jack, the one who was willing to set off a hydrogen bomb in the name of his beliefs and who, after a brief setback at the Lighthouse and some time spent looking at the ocean, is willing to believe that he has a purpose again. What I liked the most about that story was that the show didn’t really drag it out or dwell on it—they let the one scene speak for itself and establish Jack’s new state of mind.

I’m sure they’ll bang us over the head with it in a few weeks. Yeah, you’re probably right.

Any other observations? Yeah: High school students knock on their teachers’ doors way more on TV than in real life. When you were in high school, did you even know where your history teacher lived?

I suppose I should talk about the ending. I mean, why was Sun so happy to see Hurley? The real “twist,” of course, was the appearance of Charles Widmore’s submarine. That seems like an ominous sign—particularly since his instruction to “go ahead with the plan” made it sound like that plan involved blowing up the whole Island. But could Widmore actually be the person Jacob wanted Jack and Hurley to bring to the Island in “Lighthouse”? Since Jacob doesn’t seem so fond of Ben, perhaps he and Widmore have been in cahoots for a long time now. Even if it’s not that clean-cut, the Ben/Widmore rivalry has never been completely clear on who’s good and who’s bad. With that said, I don’t think this is good for Ben.

Also, I got a prediction for this week kind of right, with Jack and Hurley meeting up with Ilana and Co. at the very end of the episode. I thought the reunion would be at the Lighthouse, but I obviously should have realized that the beach would make more sense given this season’s Full Circle theme.

Predictions for next week? The previews ABC has produced for this season are getting weirder and weirder, which is actually a good thing—it allows me to make my predictions unencumbered.  I don’t think we’ll get much on the Widmore sub front, since the show likes to jump away from big reveals like that. More importantly, we haven’t seen Sawyer in three episodes now. That number can’t get bigger. I think next week will see a Kate-Sawyer reunion in Locke 2.0’s army of evil. I also think we’ll see more of that mysterious kid from “The Substitute,” who told Locke that he couldn’t kill Sawyer. Until then… 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Aaron on March 10, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    Also, everyone knows that AP Tests happen at a much different point in time than when college recs are do.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Tim on March 12, 2010 at 2:18 AM

    Biggest question: Why was there a Confederate flag on Alex’s backpack? Did the bomb dramatically alter American history? Or does she just like a band I’m not aware of?

    Reply

  3. […] what’s Ben’s endgame in all this? It’s not really clear. He seemed to have a real conversion back in “Dr. Linus,” as if he were truly sorry for killing Jacob. It’s very odd, then, that he would jump back into […]

    Reply

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