"There is no helping me. I'm a failure." -John LockeI sit here, typing this review, in simple awe of Terry O'Quinn.
Structurally, "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" was almost identical to last week's "316": exciting scenes on the island at the beginning and end, sandwiched around a whole lot of real-world material that's all about filling in blanks and getting characters where we know they're destined to go. But where "316" frustrated me with an extremely thin Jack arc at its center, "Jeremy Bentham" was compelling throughout because Lindelof and Cuse have crafted such a memorable character, and because O'Quinn plays him with such soul that I really don't care that I knew almost everything that was going to happen through the mainland sections of the hour.
Even the climax, where Ben interrupts Locke's planned suicide, wasn't that surprising, in that we knew Locke was going to end up dead, and I think most of us assumed (before the news last week that it was a suicide) that Ben had gotten over on poor John one last time. One way or another, that cord was going back around John's neck, and as he told Ben more and more about the details of his mission (Jin's ring, Ms. Hawking's name and role), I knew Ben would be the one holding it. But that knowledge didn't matter, didn't suck away any of the tension, because there was so much pain on O'Quinn's face that I was completely absorbed into the moment.
Cuse and Lindelof like to talk about how they believe the characters are more important to the show than the island mythology, and an episode like this bears that out. We got a few clues about the island -- the Tunisian desert is always where the frozen donkey wheel spits out its movers, Ben tricked Widmore into moving the wheel years before, the island isn't just animating corpses but bringing people (Locke, at least) back to life -- but really, this was just the story of John Locke, lonely zealot, and it was more compelling than the last few episodes leading up to it, even though those featured more action and/or more more mythology.
The Locke we see as Bentham isn't quite the madman he was on the island, but he's also not the bitter loser he was before the crash of Oceanic 815. He's somewhere in between. He's back in the wheelchair, but only as a temporary convenience, and he's still capable of moving without it, even being a man of action, when he has to. He's passionate about trying to get the Oceanic Six (minus Sun, since he kept his promise to Jin) back to the island, but the mania he showed when he was leading Boone to his death or blowing up the Dharma sub has been replaced by a weariness. Away from his beloved island, not really sure how much to trust either Charles Widmore or Matthew Abaddon, and with Richard's warning about his death always present, John is tired, and he's more empathetic than we've seen in a while. He genuinely grieves when he hears of Nadia's death. He takes a detour to see Walt just to make sure the kid's okay. He tells a mistrustful Kate a little about Helen, and he never pushes anyone too hard about coming. He knows his mission is important, but he also genuinely cares for these people, and he's neither crazy nor ruthless enough to try anything more than a passionate argument.
It's just a pleasure to see all the emotions wash over O'Quinn's face in every scene, and also to see how being in his presence makes every other actor raise their game. The scene in Kate's kitchen may have been Evangeline Lily's strongest moment on the series to date, cutting and insightful but still very much in character for Kate. And that central Jack/Locke relationship always brings out the best in Matthew Fox. (It helped that Jack was in a different, more interesting emotional place in this episode than he was in "316.")
The trick of the final season and a half of "Lost" is going to be whether Cuse, Lindelof and the other writers can find a way to move the plot forward and solve all the mysteries while still providing an interesting character hook. The season's first few episodes did that, and so did tonight's. Let's hope they continue to pull off the balancing act.
Now, this episode did raise a lot of questions on the margins, and also hinted at answers for others, so I think the best way to discuss the rest of it is to go straight to the bullet points:
• Okay, so if I have my time travel math right, Jack, Kate and Hurley are back in the '70s with Jin, Dan and company (and, I'm hopimg, Rose, Bernard and Vincent), while the rest of Ajira 316 -- including the resurrected Locke, Ben, Caesar, Ilana, Frank Lapidus and, I'm assuming, Sun -- are on the beach in the present. Frank and a woman (again, likely Sun) took off in one of the outriggers, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them shooting at Sawyer an episode or two from now.
• I was wrong on three things from last week. Having killed off most of the remaining anonymous Oceanic 815 passengers, I assumed Cuse and Lindelof wouldn't want to replace them with anonymous Ajira 316 passengers, but most of the flight appears to have survived. Also, Locke's note to Jack read "I wish you had believed me," not "I wish you had believed in me." And Locke did tell Jack about meeting Christian, which Jack is in denial about on the surface, but which obviously was the tipping point to get him to the place we saw him in during the "Through the Looking Glass" flash-forwards.
• The island's healing power in action: not only does it bring Locke back to life, but it heals up his leg, which was still broken at the time of his death.
• Lostpedia says that the Dharma purge -- which was when Ben officially joined up with The Others -- happened in 1992. And yet Widmore -- who was in the real world long enough to have a daughter and build a business empire -- tells Locke that it was Ben who tricked him into moving the donkey wheel and becoming exiled from the place. So is he telling the truth, and, if so, does that mean he wound up returning to the real world in the past?
• I've given up on trying to guess which of Ben or Widmore is the good guy -- probably because it seems like neither one is. Ben we know to be a ruthless, manipulative, compulsive liar who will play or hurt anyone who gets in his way, and who seems to place his own agenda over even the island he claims to care so much about. (He knows the island wants Locke to be its savior, and he keeps trying to kill Locke.) But Widmore's explanation about Keamy and the freighter full of explosives doesn't hold water, he clearly manipulated Desmond into winding up on the island, and the version we saw in 1954 didn't seem particularly trustworthy.
• It was a nice gesture on Locke's part to not ask Walt to come back, but it's kind of a frustrating one from the writers. The narrative has now caught up with Malcolm David Kelly's growth spurt, so there's no excuse to not bring him back into the action. After all the time they spent in season one on Walt's psychic powers and his own connection to the island, it doesn't seem fair to make that another narrative dead end, and I hope he comes back again before the end of the series.
• The Locke/Walt scene was also kind of awkward because of how little interest Walt showed in finding out more about his dad or the other Oceanic passengers or anything else. I believe (though I haven't watched the season four finale in a while) that his encounter with John takes place before he sees Hurley in the mental hospital, but either way, even estranged from his father, you'd think he'd show more curiosity about either Michael or the other people he was stranded with.
• I have to say that I loved the shot of Locke staring out at the view from the beach. Just gorgeous to look at, and a neat visual encapsulation of how happy this place makes him.
• Have we seen the Dharma facility where Caesar finds the shotgun before? I briefly thought that they might have landed on Alcatraz, but then I recognized the beach and the outriggers, and I know that Sawyer's group was traveling only through time and not space, so what is this place? (UPDATE: Enough people have convincingly argued that the station is the Hydra, from Alcatraz, and that perhaps Lapidus landed the plane on the runway that was being built in season three, that I'm willing to go with that. We still have to account for the other outriggers that wind up on the original Oceanic 815 beach, but I expect that will be explained in short order.)
• Seems like half the places Locke visited in this episode had "Santa" in the name, furthering the New Testament connotations to his mission and the way he has to die and be resurrected to save his flock.
• Well, I guess we don't have to worry anymore about whether Lance Reddick will be available to appear on "Lost" so long as "Fringe" is on the air, do we? I reserve all judgment on Matthew Abaddon's status on the good/bad axis until we learn a whole lot more about Widmore.
What did everybody else think?