"You don't like this, do you?" -LockeIn honor of the Passover holiday -- and the fact that I believe I first introduced the rule in my review of last season's Ben-centric "The Shape Of Things To Come" -- it's time once again to bust out the Dayenu Rule. If you're new to the blog, or to the holiday, "Dayenu"(*) is a song Jews sing about the story of the Exodus from Egypt, in which we list all of the many great things God did for us along the way, each of which would have been enough by itself. If God had only freed us from slavery... dayenu. If God had only freed us from slavery and parted the Red Sea... dayenu. If God had only freed us from slaver, parted the Red Sea and provided manna from Heaven... dayenu. Etc. I invoke the rule when an episode of a TV show is so overflowing with awesomeness that any one particular element would, on its own, have been enough to merit a positive review.
"Having to ask questions you don't know the answers to. Blindly following someone in the hopes they'll lead you to what you're looking for." -Locke
"No, John, I don't like it at all." -Ben
"Well, now you know what it was like to be me." -Locke
(*) Pronounced "die-AY-new"
So, without further ado (and because, much as I liked this episode, I really want to watch the "Life" finale before I go to bed if I can), it's time to apply the Dayenu Rule to "Dead Is Dead":
• If we had only found out that Penny survived Ben's attempt on her life... dayenu.
• If we had only found out that Penny survived Ben's attempt on her life and gotten to watch Terry O'Quinn be so serenely and supremely confident as the resurrected Locke... dayenu.
• If we had only seen Penny's survival, O'Quinn being so awesome and Michael Emerson being just as awesome at playing Ben's frustration with being Locke's puppet... dayenu.
• If we had only gotten all of those things and the look on Emerson's face when Ben realized Penny had a child... dayenu.
• If we had only gotten all of those things, the look on Emerson's face when Ben realized Penny had a child, and our trip inside the Temple basement... dayenu.
• If we had only gotten all of those things, the look on Emerson's face when Ben realized Penny had a child, our trip inside the Temple basement and then the look on Emerson's face when Ben saw what he thought was the resurrected Alex... dayenu.
I could also add to the list Ben (apparently) killing Caesar as his "apology" for killing Locke, Lapidus noting that "As long as the dead guy says there's a reason, I guess everything's going to be just peachy," and Ilana and Ungalow(**) turning out to be people (agents of Widmore, maybe?) who know about the Temple. But outside of my enormous relief at realizing that Penny, Desmond and Charlie had all survived Ben's attack at the marina, what made "Dead Is Dead" so great was the acting clinic put on by the two most senior -- and, with all due respect to everybody else, most talented -- members of the "Lost" ensemble.
(**) I'm sure the Brand Henke character has an actual name, but until it's used a bunch of times in a row, I'm gonna call him after his character from "Going to California."
Despite being a Ben flashback episode, and despite taking us inside the Temple, "Dead Is Dead" was surprisingly light on new bits of mythology. We found out the circumstances under which Widmore got banished, which sound different from what I remember Widmore telling Locke (didn't he claim to have also turned the donkey wheel?), and finally got the explanation for how he could have been banished after the Dharma purge and still had a daughter as old as Penny (answer: he was slipping off to the mainland to have a relationship with a non-Other). We saw the circumstances under which Ben took Alex from Rousseau (which, if I'm reading my Lostpedia right, means she was taken before the purge and while Ben was still pretending to live with Dharma much of the time). We found out -- assuming (and this is never a safe assumption) Ben is telling the truth -- that Locke is the first person the island has ever resurrected before. And, in our glimpse of the hieroglyphics on both the wall of behind Ben's closet and in the Temple basement, we got confirmation that whatever is happening on this island in some way ties back to Egyptian mythology. (Those of you who assumed the four-toed statue was Anubis have to be feeling pretty pleased right now by the picture of Anubis on the Temple wall.)
But we still don't know what happened to Ben after Richard took him into the Temple -- specifically, how much of his evil-ness we're supposed to ascribe to the Temple and how much to his father. We don't know the details of how or when Ben returned to Dharma, how he recruited Ethan from Dharma into the Others, how and why he talked the Others into moving into the Dharma village, his relationship with Jacob and a whole lot of other things that I expect the show to get around to before we're done here.
And I'm okay with that. The Locke/Ben role-reversal, Ben's guilt over Alex's death (and the realization that he has a soft spot about killing children, or their parents, no doubt because of how he thinks his life would have been different had his mom lived), and "Alex" -- whether she was supposed to be Smokey (probably not), or Jacob, or the island itself -- telling Ben to quit plotting against Locke and start following orders was enough to keep me riveted throughout.
It's that last part that made the show especially satisfying. Ben's a fun and memorable character because you can never believe what he's saying, but that also turns him into an easy writers' crutch. Ben's mendacity gives the writers license to pull the rug out from under the audience at will, all in the name of "why should you have believed Ben this time?" And brilliant as Emerson is, that can get tiring after a while. Now, having been warned by a higher power to shut up and listen for once, Ben can't keep plotting his own game, which takes away that crutch and makes things (slightly) more straightforward from here on out. Ben is still Ben, but he's now Ben working in the service of someone else, and having to more or less be loyal to Locke, and that's going to create a really fascinating dynamic, I think.
Some other thoughts:
• We went a bunch of episodes without any Locke, and now we went this episode without any of LaFleur or the other '70s people. I assume they're all going to meet up again eventually, but until that happens, would you rather the scripts try to showcase both timelines at once, or see more character-driven stories spotlighting the characters in one era or the other?
• Were Hurley and Sawyer playing Risk when Keamy's forces turned up at New Otherton last season? I'm assuming it was their abandoned game that Ben walked past when heading for Alex's old room.
• Ben tells Rousseau, "Every time you hear whispers, you run the other way" -- suggesting, once again, that the whispers mean the Others are heading your way.
• Ben seems surprised to learn that anyone from the present day was somehow in the Dharma Initiative in the '70s. I can understand his memory being wiped about Kate and Sayid and the Ajira 316 late-comers, but does that mean he's also forgotten the presence of LaFleur, Miles, Juliet and Jin? Or is this yet another case of it not being safe to trust anything he tells anyone?
• Brian K. Vaughan and Elizabeth Sarnoff, who wrote this episode, are sadistic bastards, aren't they? They had to know that as soon as they showed Ben at the marina, that's all any of us would want to see, and so they immediately cut back from that to Ben, Locke and Sun in the jungle.
• So, should we now assume that either Ilana or Ungalow was shooting at Sawyer during the outrigger chase?
What did everybody else think?