Getting Lost (Redux): The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham

John Locke is a very intriguing and unusual TV character. Before I started watching Lost, when my only real exposure to the show were the promos and the summaries I got from my AP Calculus teacher (who was the first real Lost fan I knew and, come to think of it, kind of like Locke), I remember thinking it was very strange that this new television phenomenon had, as one of its central characters, a rather elderly, bald gentleman.*

*It’s very strange to think back to my perception of Lost before I started watching—which was fairly recently. For a while, I wasn’t even sure of the characters’ names. At various points I thought Lost featured a character named “Jack Locke,” that Locke was the first name of Matthew Fox’s character, and that “John Locke” and “Jack” were in fact the same person (since “Jack” is often considered a nickname for “John”**). It’s worth remembering that this is how Lost is perceived by those on the outside of this “cultural phenomenon.”

**Although how you can have a nickname that is the same length, in both syllables and letters, as the actual name is another question.

There are a lot of things that set Locke apart, both from the other characters on Lost and from other characters on TV: his age, his demeanor, his faith, etc. Maybe the most unusual thing about him, though, is how his death was portrayed. In some ways, Locke died four times on Lost: We first saw his coffin in the Season Three finale; we found out he was in the coffin in the Season Four finale; we actually saw his death in “The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham”; we found out that the “Locke” we were watching wasn’t actually Locke in the Season Five finale. Of course, none of these were actually treated as a death—in the traditional TV sense—by the audience. In “Through The Looking Glass” we didn’t know it was Locke in the coffin. In “There’s No Place Like Home” we find out that he was dead, but since this realization occurs in a flashforward we don’t learn how or why he died. In “The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham” we see how Locke dies, but we also get some…extenuating circumstances.

The episode opens with two new characters, Ilana and Caesar, from Ajira 316. Omar is searching the Island for supplies when Ilana tells him that they’ve found someone who apparently wasn’t on the plane—a sharp-dressed man named John Locke. When they ask why he wasn’t on the plane and why he’s wearing a suit, Locke offers a guess: “I think this is the suit they were going to bury me in…I remember dying.” When Locke’s death finally comes, at the end of the episode, we know that eventually Locke will be resurrected, so the stakes are not nearly as high (since Lost has violated the Ivan Drago Rule).

We then get an episode that’s nearly entirely flashback: The story of John Locke’s return to mainland, under the pseudonym “Jeremy Bentham.” By all rights, this should make for a very boring episode, since it is more or less just a depiction of things which we already know happened: “Bentham” visits those who have left the Island and tries to convince them to come back. It is a credit to both the acting of Terry O’Quinn and the writing of Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof that this is actually one of the best episodes of the series. Every scene centers on something important, and the tension of the episode gradually builds to a stunning ending.

The first scene shows Locke at the “exit” in Tunisia, where we saw Ben in “The Shape of Things To Come.” Locke gets picked up by Charles Widmore’s men, who repair Locke’s broken leg and alert Widmore to Locke’s arrival. The scene between Locke and Widmore is perhaps more confusing now than it was initially. As I’ve said the last few days, it’s looking to me like Charles Widmore may be the hardest aspect of Lost’s plot to reconcile when it’s all said and done. In “What They Died For,” he told Ben that Jacob convinced him of the error of his ways “not longer after” his freighter blew up.

This scene in “The Life And Death of Jeremy Bentham,” though, occurs three years after that, though it’s certainly not clear how what he’s doing is helping Jacob. It’s true that Jacob needs the Oceanic Six, who constitute some of the last remaining candidates, to come back to the Island (although Jacob still had Sawyer and Jin to choose from…), but that’s not all Widmore tells Locke. Widmore also tells Locke that he needs to go back because he is special: “There’s a war coming, John, and if you’re not back on the Island when that happens, then the wrong side is going to win.” Knowing what we now know about Locke’s return to the Island, that hardly sounds like Widmore is doing Jacob’s bidding. Locke, after all, BECAME “the wrong side.”

The only way I can make sense of this scene (unless, of course, we find out more about Widmore, which I don’t think is happening) is if Widmore hasn’t been visited by Jacob yet. In that case, the “war” that he is referring to is more likely to be a war between him and Ben, and not Jacob and the Man in Black. In that case, which side Locke is on, as the leader of the Others, will determine who is allowed back on the Island.

Whatever Widmore’s motives are, though, he gives Locke all the information and resources he needs for his task. These “resources” include the “driver” Matthew Abaddon (whose name also does not suggest that Widmore is working for Jacob at this point). Abaddon is not just a driver, but someone who helps others “get to where they need to be” (as well as a badass police lieutenant) as he did by telling Locke to go on a Walkabout after his accident.

First, Abaddon takes Locke to visit Sayid in Santo Domingo. Sayid is trying to commit himself to helping people, and their conversation centers on something I mentioned in my look at “There’s No Place Like Home”: For Sayid, getting off the Island was a good thing. Although he only had nine months with Nadia, they were the greatest nine months of his life, and his inability to let go of the Island led to his manipulation by Ben. Sayid refuses, and Locke asks Abaddon to look up Helen Norwood.

Next, Locke goes to visit Walt in New York, but Locke can’t bring himself to ask Walt to go back. He only asks if Walt is okay, and doesn’t tell him about the fate of his father. The fact that Locke won’t ask Walt is pretty important, since it shows that even Locke’s faith in the Island has limits: He won’t force Walt, who Locke was very close to in Season One, to go through any more of the Island’s torments. When Abaddon tells Locke that this means he’s 0-for-2, Locke points out that he just needs to convince one person, and then the rest will follow.

Rather than go to that person, though, Locke goes next to see Hurley in the mental hospital. Once he convinces Hurley that he’s not dead, Locke tries to get him to go back to the Island. Hurley doesn’t seem opposed to the idea, though he notes that none of the others will agree. When he sees Abaddon, though, Hurley tells Locke that “that guy is evil,” and refuses to hear Locke out anymore.

Finally, Locke moves on to Kate, who flatly refuses Locke’s offer. She even accuses Locke of having nobody to love, since that’s the only explanation for why he was so determined to stay on the Island. “That’s not true,” Locke says, and he tells Kate about Helen. O’Quinn does a great job of conveying Locke’s regrets in this scene. Though he is committed to his work for the Island, you can see Locke wondering how his life would have panned out had he committed to Helen. When Kate asks why things didn’t work out, Locke explains, “I was angry… and obsessed.” To which Kate gives the obvious response: “Look how far you’ve come.”

At this point, Locke forces Abaddon to take him to Helen, even though Abaddon had claimed not to be able to find her. The truth, which Abaddon was trying to shield him from, is that Helen has died between 2004 and 2007. Abaddon takes Locke to her grave and tells him that she died of a brain aneurysm. Before they can leave the cemetery, though, Abaddon is shot and killed. Locke tries to flee, but he’s not exactly in peak physical condition, and he crashes the car.

Locke wakes up in Jack’s hospital, with an angry Dr. Shephard wanting to know why he is here. Locke seems to have a renewed spirit and tries vehemently to convince Jack that winding up in this hospital is fate, that he is supposed to bring Jack and the rest of them back to the Island. Jack, though, says it’s not fate, it’s probability. “Maybe you aren’t special at all,” he tells Locke. “Maybe you are just a lonely old man that crashed on an island.”

This, of course, is the central question of Locke’s character, and the central question of this episode. Locke almost goes through his meetings with a resigned sense of fatalism—he seems to know that nobody believes like him, and that nobody will take him seriously. Only with Jack does Locke seem to get worked up, probably because Locke believes that Jack, deep down, believes Locke, and just won’t admit it. And unlike Locke, Jack can convince others to go along with him.

When Locke fails to convince Jack, though, he plans on killing himself. Before he can, though, Ben comes bursting through the door and tries to talk Locke out of it. He gets down on his knees and tells Locke, “You have no idea how important you are.” But why does Ben think Locke is so important? Why does anyone think Locke is so important?

Widmore thinks Locke is important because Locke wandered into Widmore’s camp in 1954, looking exactly as he looked in 2007. We know that the only reason Locke was time-traveling, though, was because Ben turned the wheel, and the only reason Ben turned the wheel was because he thought it was Locke’s turn to lead the Others. Widmore thinks Locke is important because Ben thinks Locke is important.

Why does Ben think Locke is important? Ben thinks Locke is chosen to lead because Locke heard Jacob say “help me” in the cabin. But we know now that it wasn’t Jacob that Locke heard in the cabin, but the Man in Black. Ben thinks Locke is important because the Man in Black thinks Locke is important.

Why does the Man in Black think Locke is important? The Man in Black thinks Locke is important because he needed to use Locke to get off the Island. Why did he use Locke? As he said in “The Last Recruit,” he chose Locke because Locke “was stupid enough to believe he’d been brought here for a reason.” The Man in Black thinks Locke is important because Locke thinks Locke is important.

So we have a recursive loop—the only reason anyone thinks Locke is important is because Locke himself believes it. And yet, ultimately, Locke was right to believe that Oceanic 815 crashed for a reason. Jack, it seems, does know this, since he bought a plane ticket after Locke’s appearance in the hospital.* This is enough to convince Locke not to kill himself, but as soon as Locke gives Ben some key bits of information, Ben kills Locke.

*Jack’s decline happens amazingly quickly. The period time between Locke’s death in this episode and the events of “Through The Looking Glass” can’t realistically be more than a week apart, but in that time Jack has lost his job at the hospital, been replaced as Chief of Surgery, grown a thick beard that would probably take at least a week to grow out, become addicted to painkillers, and been flying across the Pacific nightly. That’s a pretty rough week.

Now, it’s conceivable that Ben only went there to get information from Locke, like the presence of Jin’s wedding ring, but Michael Emerson plays that scene as if the murder was a spontaneous decision. Once Locke mentions the name Eloise Hawking, Ben’s demeanor changes. Perhaps Ben thinks of her as aligned with Widmore, and therefore Locke’s knowledge of her is dangerous, but the fact that Ben goes to visit her seems undercut that hypothesis. It’s not obvious to me why Ben would be threatened by Locke mentioning her name, but that does seem to be why he killed Locke—I really doubt that he went to the hotel room with that in mind, especially since he leaves and says “I’m going to miss you, John.”

Luckily, Ben won’t have to miss Locke for long, since Locke is brought back to life when he returned to the Island. Of course, we know now that he wasn’t really brought back to life, but that’s how it was presented at the time, meaning that the “death scene” in “The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham” wasn’t treated with the same finality that similar scenes, like the deaths of Charlie and Jin and Sun, were.

We would only know that Locke was gone for good in the Season Five finale. Explore Locke’s fourth “death” tomorrow, when we look at “The Incident”…

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] Aught Lang Syne « Getting Lost (Redux): The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham […]

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  2. […] the Church. There was nothing external holding him back, but rather a lingering sense of guilt over what he did to Locke. He was not ready yet to go inside and accept his […]

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