Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lost, "Dr. Linus": Follow another leader

A review of tonight's terrific "Lost" coming up just as soon as I make another trip to Marshall's...
"Maybe you should be the principal." -Locke
Whatever issues I've had with this season of "Lost," there is no problem with the series so great that a little Michael Emerson can't fix it.

Here, Emerson (and a huge group of other creative types, including writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and special guest director Mario Van Peebles) helped give us easily the most compelling episode of this final season so far, one where all the tumblers clicked into place and I was reminded in so many different ways of why I love "Lost," past, present, future and alternate timeline.

Hell, it was even an episode where I enjoyed all the Jack scenes, and given that I'm told I have a pathological hatred of the character, that's saying something.

For now, I'm sticking with my theory that the flash-sideways are an epilogue in advance - that this is where and when the characters all wound up in the aftermath of the war between Smokey and Jacob's forces. (I have no idea if I'm right, nor will I be upset either way when the reveal comes, but right now it's important for me to have some idea of what the alt-timeline scenes mean, even if it turns out I'm completely wrong. Otherwise, there's no weight to them this late in the "real world" timeline.)

During last week's discussion of "Sundown," some of you speculated that if I'm right, we're seeing key differences in the endings of the characters who sided with Jacob and those who went with Smokey. Sayid goes with Smokey, and in the alt-timeline has a kind of monkey's paw fantasy where he's near Nadia but not with her, and still placed in situations where he has to be the killer he doesn't want to be. Hurley, meanwhile, goes with Jacob and ends up far happier and luckier than he was in the original timeline.

And Ben, who ultimately and movingly turns his back on Smokey at the end of this one, winds up in an alternate life that turns out to be more good than bad. Yes, he's only a European History teacher to a mostly-disinterested group of students, but he has a much healthier relationship with his dad than he did in the timeline we know, has the respect and admiration of Alex (even if Alt-Alex was never stolen from her mom), and turns out to be more capable of choosing love over power than the Ben we know ever could...

...until, that is, we see that our Ben deeply regrets the decision he made with Alex. And faced with the choice of regaining his crown under Smokey or being just another soldier in the army being formed by Jacob's chosen, Ben rejects power in favor of penance, of doing the right thing as a pawn rather than the wrong as a king.

Ben Linus, really, is a character who shouldn't work at all. Because he lies and manipulates at every turn, he could so easily exist solely as crutch of the writers, there to nudge the plot in whatever direction they deem necessary, and to mix lies and truths so deftly that the viewers can never be sure what to believe. But the genius of Michael Emerson's performance is the conviction with which he delivers every one of Ben's lies and shifts in allegiance. I know I should never believe any words that come out of Ben's mouth (at least, not in this timeline), but time and again, I fall for it.

And I sure fell hard for that climactic scene with Ilana, as did Ilana herself. I have every reason to distrust Ben, and she has every reason to put a bullet in him, and by the end of his monologue about the reason he killed Jacob(*), I felt for the little weasel, and I believed that he's finally abandoned his quest for power and is maybe capable of doing the right thing for its own sake, and not because he might benefit from it. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out Ben played me (and Ilana) once again, but Emerson sold me, just like he always does.

(*) One of the unavoidable design flaws of "Lost" is that characters drift in and out of the narrative so often that it becomes hard sometimes to keep all the relevant details in mind. By the time Ben got all stabby with Jacob, it had been so long in real time since Alex was killed - and even a month since Smokey-as-Alex laid a guilt trip on Ben in "Dead is Dead" - that I left her death out of the equation of vengeance Ben calculated before he put the knife in. At the time, I was just thinking of how frustrated Ben was to have spent all those years as the island's leader without ever actually hearing from Jacob, but of course he'd be consumed with rage that he let his "daughter" be killed in service to this man who had so systematically ignored him. So when Ben said it to Ilana, it gave that climactic moment from "The Incident" even more resonance.

My fear about this final season was that it would devolve into a contest between two supernatural arch-rivals I don't care a whit about, but an episode like this one nicely reframed the story as being about the human cost of Jacob and Smokey's war. Richard has spent centuries blindly following Jacob's orders, and the knowledge that Jacob apparently died with his plan unfinished has made the immortal man a suicidal one. Ben is similarly crushed by sins he committed (or allowed to happen) in Jacob's name. And Jack, our man of science, who wants a rational explanation for everything (even though he's singularly incapable of asking the sorts of questions that might elicit them), was so transformed by his visit to Jacob's lighthouse - finally unable to deny the grand plans of the island any longer - that he was willing to risk his own death because he had faith, deep down, that the dynamite wouldn't go off.

The scene in the belly of the Black Rock was a great one for Matthew Fox, so well-played that I was mostly able to set aside my usual frustration at how none of the Lostaways are ever able to get a straight answer out of one of The Others. Richard shows up and says "you wouldn't believe me if I told you" where he was, and when Jack offers to try, Richard says, "Not yet."(**) And when I thought for sure Jack was going to use Richard's desperate need for Jack to play Dynamite Dr. Kevorkian to force some answers out of him, he instead lit the fuse, and left their relationship in a place where Richard now considers Jack to be the one with the answers. But because Fox and Nestor Carbonell were so good, I was able to suppress most of my eye-roll reflexes and just go with a very cool moment.

(**) Immediately after Richard says his maddening "Not yet," Kitsis and Horowitz provide a very meta exchange between Jack and Hurley, where Hurley asks why Jack would trust Richard, and Jack replies, "At least he's not stalling." For that matter, I wonder if Alt-Arzt's ability to get Alt-Ben to so quickly explain his plan was also a kind of meta-commentary - that of course Arzt, who in his brief tenure on the show served as a guy who voiced many of the complaints and questions the audience had in season one, would be much better at getting people like Ben to talk than Jack ever was. Suddenly, the idea of an alternate version of the show built around what Arzt, Nikki and Paolo were up to - "Expose" as a series - sounds almost intriguing, and not just because Miles finally dug up the diamonds that got buried with those twits.

Smokey only has a brief cameo, and we don't see any of the people who willingly or reluctantly joined his army, but at least the two sides of the conflict are starting to take shape. Ben has cast his lot with Ilana, and Jack, Hurley and Richard have now joined them (in the kind of dialogue-free, Giacchino-heavy sequence the show so effectively ended many episodes on in seasons past). And in the episode's final, mostly chilling(***) moments, we see a wild-card enter the mix, as Charles Widmore arrives in a submarine, intentions unknown.

(***) Would have been more chilling, of course, if I hadn't spotted Alan Dale's name in the guest credits. Lindelof and Cuse have said there's no way around that, because of SAG rules - even though "Battlestar Galactica" famously managed to circumvent those rules once in an episode where listing the actor in question's name would have ruined everything - and it's a shame. I'm sure the Guild has much larger problems to worry about than credit placement, but it would be nice if they could be more flexible on waivers for shows like this that often depend so heavily on surprising you with the return of a familiar face.

Clearly, this is the "someone" Jacob said was coming to the island, and he has the resources to tip the balance of power one way or the other, or to make things even worse if his agenda runs counter to both parties.

Hell of an episode. Can't wait for the next one.

Some other thoughts on "Dr. Linus":

• One name I was very happy to see in the guest credits: William Atherton, who hit the D-bag trifecta with roles in three of my favorite '80s movies ("Ghostbusters," "Die Hard" and "Real Genius"), and who was perfectly cast as Principal Reynolds, a man sleazy enough to deserve Alt-Ben's hate, but also slick enough to out-maneuver Ben. When Atherton had a recurring role on the second and final season of "Life," I made it my mission to feature an Atherton '80s movie quote in each post about an episode he appeared in. I exhausted most of the good ones then, so instead, go watch this scene from "Real Genius."

• Okay, I recognized Chaim Potok's "The Chosen" (a nice riff on the idea of "candidates") among the books Miles found in Sawyer's tent, but could someone tell what the Benjamin Disraeli book was?

• And speaking of candidates, Ilana confirms that they're candidates to replace Jacob, not Smokey.

• With a bunch of characters now hanging at the beach, armed with rifles, should I get my hopes up about completing the circuit of the outrigger shoot-out? Or am I better off, again, assuming that's one of those things Team Darlton decided to drop for season six?

• A nice touch in the scene with Alt-Ben and Alt-Roger: Ben gives his father gas, only here it's something to keep him alive (oxygen), rather than to kill him (the nerve gas from the purge).

• I also liked that, in the final scene between Alt-Ben and Principal Reynolds, it's implied that even though Ben dropped his demand to take Reynolds' job, he's still finding ways to exploit the power of those e-mails, here getting him to re-open the History Club. (And five'll get ya ten that Arzt winds up having to supervise detention, albeit with a better parking space.)

• Hurley drops his usual "Star Wars" references to ask if Richard is a cyborg like from "Terminator."

• The scene on the beach at the end is the first time Sun has seen Hurley or Jack since the Ajira crash, right? Again, characters flit in and out that I'm worried I might have forgotten something. In character time, it's only been a few days (or weeks at most) since she's seen them, but it's been a while for us.

After reminding you about the No Spoilers rule - which extends to discussing the content of the previews for next week's episode - let me ask... what did everybody else think?

223 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Greg S., the problem with your theory is that Ben and Roger were still on the island in 1977, so if the LA X timeline is simply showing what would have happened if the bomb went off, sank the island and prevented The Incident, the Linus men would both be dead at the bottom of the ocean.

Alan, I think he clearly precludes your assumption by saying:

Another part of this theory is that both the bomb energy and the "time/electromagnetic" energy under the Swan were used up in creating the Sideways timestream, so there was no immediate devastation on the island. This allows for Ethan, Ben, plus both Others and Dahrma people to leave the Island and become doctors, teachers, etc. (I don't think the bomb sunk the island. I think that something else caused it at least a little bit later, otherwise Ben would not have had time to leave the island).

If Greg is right, then maybe the bomb "disarmed" the island's magnetic anomalies and made it inert without causing any outward damage. Then Ben and Dad could have stayed long enough for Dad to decide to leave.

It seems a little too obstinate to insist that, in a world in which an island can be moved by a donkey wheel, an atomic bomb would most certainly level the whole island. I think it just turned off the mojo like a light switch. Perhaps losing the mojo caused it to slowly sink over the many years that followed.

Anonymous said...

I went to a public high school in CA in the 80s, and we had a nurse...

As for the rest, I'm content to let it unfold.

To the commenter who thought the Skipper was guesting, you really made me chuckle. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Jughead is not the reason that the island is underwater.

Anonymous said...

Certainly were when I was in high school, which was well after Leave it to Beaver times.

In a Lost thread, how could you not go with "Fonzie times" there?

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued with Greg S's theory. The idea that we are seeing the epilog, as Alan posits, makes sense but is not as satisfying.

Ben is infinitely watchable so I loved the episode. Also liked the return to ending an episode with no words - just the camera rolling as characters move about.

I think the existence of smoke monsters and donkey wheels and generally being in the dark about the plot, only amplifies the ordinary everyday bits that contradict our knowledge of such circumstances or situations. Living in LA, I was baffled and distracted by the absence of helicopters following Kate a few episodes back! Totally irrelevant, I knew, but it diverted my attention. My takeaway was that in Ben's alt timeline he selflessly puts Alex's happiness ahead of his own at an important juncture in her life unlike the choice he made on the island and unlike so many of the fathers on this show have done for their own children.

Dano said...

Chrissy,

I think Rose is in the same boat as Charlie. On the island, healed and living happily with Vincent and Bernard, not bothering anyone. Then in the parallel world, she's got terminal cancer again. I can't see how it's an epilogue.

Rogan said...

Just a few quick notes :

- I think we already established that the island is mobile/floating : didn't someone tell us a few seasons back that the reason Losties couldn't be found was due to the Island changing its position?

Which reminds me - remember when the island "vanished" back in season 4 finale - where did it go? We assumed it went back in time with Sawyer, Juliet, etc. but in reality, it was tham who were skipping through the past of the island. Any thoughts on that?

- Why didn't Illana shoot Ben as soon as she found out he killed Jacob? She just said "he was like a father to me" unconvincingly, and remembered to exact her vengeance only after they reached the beach. Was there some imperative that everyone who dies on the island must be buried? Made no sense.

- I burst out laughing when Richard casually appeared out of nowhere and intruded in Jack and Hurley's conversation on the whereabouts of the temple. The direction of the scene was very silly, he looked like he just came out of a scene from Suddenly Susan.

- How would the principal know that he could counter-blackmail Ben with the future of that one random student?

Henry said...

drbristol:

Notice that I immediately retracted my theory because there was already a precedent that shot it down. Which was why I said it was a brief thought during the broadcast. But I like that the show gets my mind going with various theories and whatnot. No, I agree with an earlier comment of Alan's where Jacob's touch would propel those touched into doing something that ultimately led to their being on the island. It's all speculation at this point. It could very well be that Jacob's touch is the catalyst for the end of the world!

thedemonhog said...

I don't know why ABC doesn't just put surprise guest appearances in the end credits like 24 does.

Julie said...

well, the down side of watching Lost, commercial-free, on iTunes is that no one here or other thoughtful communities will read this. However, maybe someone will and provide their thoughts.

I loved this episode, despite the plot-holes etc. Whoda thunk I'd be weeping for Benjamin Linus?

(re blackmailing the principal, alt-ben may have thought that if he got his way, the principal might, down the road, torpedo Alex's college education, if Ben's plan worked.)

Here is the big thing that doesn't sit right for me:

Ben slaughtered the Dharma Initiative, presumably at Jacob's request. He slaughtered people he knew, including Horace, who had cared for him.

So when Miles says that Jacob "was hoping he was wrong about you", it doesn't make sense. Why would Jacob think this? Of course Ben would be willing to kill Jacob! He slaughtered all of Dharma!

And as touching as Ben's speech to Ilana was, I am not sure he actually regrets killing the Dharma folks, or his father, or regrets inducing Sayid to kill those guys Sayid killed. I can't figure out if the writers are just trying to tie things up nicely, or if Ben is as capable of lying to himself as he is of lying to everyone else.

But, yes, like Sayid, Ben has had to give up his soul, and probably Alex represented that for him.

But Jacob shouldn't then expect that that soul would turn out to be intact.

Rodolpho said...

Ok Ok, i gotta say I'm fucking happy about the shape of things to come.

I can also tell you guys I've enjoyes this week-episode, and it means that i can see an ending in the path.
The only I can't really understand is that our characters are getting two kinda endings at the alt-timeline, and i haven't got why that.
Is that the answer for the decision they have done as in the choose of one of those sides (jacob or Smokey)they wann go through?
I got myself willing that our lost is gonna end up at those alt-timelines, well, the choices they make at the island on the main-timeline will lead them to that ending at 2004-timeline, which means that it's (in epilogue) the end of series.
As if in every stories, (including here every kinda kid-story as The Lion King and every one out there), everything can't be good at once, i mean, some of them, even they make he right choice, they are gonna wind up in a non-good ending, or, an ending non-totally good, as we see said, having his willed nadia married with his blood-brother.
but, though, we also see jack getting a son.
After all so far I can say that I've got an idea of how it's all gonna end up, and that makes me feel really fucking good.

=)

Peter D Bakija said...

Leipodoptera wrote:
>>I should not have painted with such a broad brush in asking about school nurses, as most of you clearly were able to have your tummy aches instantly administered to well into your late teens.>>

Well, not so much the having anyone's tummy aches be administered to, much more the "have someone who is legally mandated to control and dispense endless supplies of ritalin" and "be able to respond when someone gets stabbed" (as one might imagine, I work in a High School).

I can't really imagine that all schools aren't legally required to have a medical professional in them.

Anonymous said...

For everyone counting candidates:
Didn't Ilana say that Lapidus was a candidate? I may be forgetting him being discounted as one, but last I remember, he was.

Chrissy said...

I think Ilana brought up the possibility that he was a candidate (it's not clear why). I don't think anyone ever confirmed that, it was just a reason not to kill him or abandon him. Which makes it a little weird that Ilana is so certain of who the candidates are now (or at least their number).

JamesG said...

Good episode all around. I liked how the smaller island with the Hydra station was a nice metaphor for Elba, which Linus describes in class at the beginning. The set up may have been a bit heavy-handed, but I felt that it worked.

Anonymous said...

When Ilana said there were six candidates, I first thought they had to be the Oceanic Six. Thus Kate could be a "secret" candidate, and Sawyer could be the "con" candidate, as a way for Jacob to trick MIB. I keep thinking there is something meaningful about their numbers being reversed, 15 and 51.

But perhaps Kate is not a candidate, and instead she will be the replacement for Richard. Jacob touched her, and she did initially come to the island as a prisoner in chains, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Different strokes for different folks, but I just don't understand the people who don't appreciate the flash-sidewayses(es).

On a purely narrative level, these are like fun comic book "what if?" stories, the alternative universe in which Bruce Wayne's parents never died, or Harry Osborne was bitten by that radioactive spider. They're FUN.

But on a thematic level, I think they are a fantastic way of doing just what the LOST writers have always said they were doing: exploring characters in unique ways, not just spinning some elaborate Tolkeinesque fantasy world with a complex set of rules that would ultimately explain everything.

These are interesting stories about flawed people, and in earlier seasons the show seemed to be about whether they'd learned from their past, or could correct, or grow. Now we're just being treated to some version of them that did.

I'm sure ultimately the writers will find SOME way of fitting it together. For me the biggest implication of Roger's Dharma reference was that these CANNOT be alternative universe stories: it does not appear that these stories are "what would have happened had the Island blown up/sank." Roger and Ben left INDEPENDENTLY of that, because as far as we know, they were ON THE ISLAND WHEN IT HAPPENED. These stories are something else.

So people who want the all tied together before they can care -- you'll get it, eventually, I suppose. But I still think these have been a blast to watch, and I wouldn't lose a moment of enjoyment from them if they never tied them together and they simply remained "what if" stories.

And, yes, I'm one of those people who would watch 5 seasons of Ben and Locke as high school teachers.

Hatfield said...

Lapidus was never said to be a candidate, and Ilana never said anything on the subject. When she, Bram and the rest of Jacob's bodyguards landed the outrigger with Lapidus on the front of it, Bram asked why they bothered to bring him. Ilana said, "He might be important." Bram said, "Do you think he's a candidate?" Ilana looked at sneaky Frank, figured out he was paying attention while pretending to be knocked out still, and said, "He's awake." Bram asked him how long he'd been listening to them, and Frank said, "Long enough to wonder what a candidate is" or possibly "...what I'm a candidate for." And since then his status as a candidate or not hasn't been touched on. I'm going with no, though I imagine there's a reason he was brought back.

Kristen said...

Regarding Ben and Linus leaving the island....they definitely did not leave on the sub when Dharmaville was evacuated. Ben was in the Others' camp right before the evacuation. And Linus shot Sayid AFTER the sub had left. So clearly, there was no miraculous reunion/evacuation.

I really, really, really hope the Alt-universe isn't an "epilogue." Especially, if it means that everything that happened on the island, never happened.

Jolene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uncle Sayid said...

Hey Alan.. I was watching Dr Linus when I had a vision: what about BEN AT STERLING COOPER?? Wouldn't it be gorgeous? He has a perfect 60s look, while the mix between his educated manners and his total creepy glimpse makes him perfect for SC! How about a scene between Benry and Bert Cooper, discussing about japanese tapestry and postmodern painters meanwhile thinking how to kill someone off the agency?
Go tell Weiner to hire Emerson as soon as Lost is over!!

Uncle Sayid said...

Hey Alan.. I was watching Dr Linus when I had a vision: how about BEN AT STERLING COOPER?? Wouldn't it be gorgeous? He has a perfect 60s look, while the mix between his educated manners and his totally creepy glimpse makes him perfect for SC! How about a scene between Benry and Bert Cooper, discussing about japanese tapestry and postmodern painters meanwhile thinking how to kill someone off the agency?
Go tell Weiner to hire Emerson as soon as Lost is over!!

Oleg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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