Saturday, April 11, 2009

LOST - Episode 5.12 - "Dead Is Dead"

"It is one thing to believe it, John; it's another thing to see it!"

This line may be one of most truthful things to ever come out of the mouth of one Mr. Benjamin Linus. He's staring up at the resurrected John Locke, and like the Doubting Thomas he referenced back in the episode "316," he can't believe what he is seeing.

And neither could I.

What I saw in episode 5.12 of LOST was the greatest episode in the history of the show. I've spent a lot of time going over my favorite episodes since last Wednesday, and I can't think of one I enjoyed more, was more entranced by, and more challenged by. "Dead Is Dead" may well become the most important episode in the series.

Before I discuss why I believe this, let me recap.

This episode followed three storylines:

A) Ben's quest to get judged.

B) Ben's history and off-island activities.

C) The formation of a new leadership and mission on the Hydra Island.

Ben wakes up to the face of John Locke, is absolutely stunned, and then proceeds to deal with his feelings about Locke's resurrection throughout the remainder of the episode. He convinces Caesar (a name I should have immediately recognized spelled certain doom for the character) that Locke is crazy and needs to be dealt with. He tries to convince both Locke -- and himself -- of why he murdered Mr. Clean. Then we discover -- through the mouth of a spectral Alex -- that he still wants Locke dead.

But that's not all. In addition to his feelings about Locke, Ben is also wrapped up in his guilt over the death of Alex, his daughter. He allowed her to die. He gambled with her life, and lost it all. So, he breaks the rules and returns to the Island to be judged for his actions.

I don't know if I can completely believe he wanted to be judged. All of Ben's actions have been a means to an end to this point in the story. He would have to know on some level that to be judged by the Island might mean his death. Is that something he was comfortable with, or was he expecting to be forgiven?

Why did Ben return to the Island? He wants to reclaim his rightful place as the leader of the Island's inhabitants.

Which leads me to my original idea: how this episode will become one of the most important in the series.

"Dead is Dead" was a chapter about leadership as well as judgment. From the get-go we see an image of a young Charles Widmore arriving to camp on horseback to scold Richard Alpert for saving Young Ben's life. Later, an older Ben publicly embarrasses Widmore in front of the Others by offering him the opportunity to kill Alex as a baby. This echoes the scene in Season 3 when Ben tells Locke to murder his own father in front of the Others. Both events were designed to humble a leader -- Widmore as his predecessor, Locke as his successor.

While walking through the Other's camp, Locke questions Ben's original decision to re-locate the Others into the Dharma barracks. Locke says, "It just doesn't seem like something the Island would want." Ben quickly retorts, "You don't have the first idea what this Island wants." With that, the tug-o-war for leadership begins. From there, Locke seems to have more knowledge of the Island than we thought he had. Locke has "ideas" of how to get Sun back to Jin.

This cannot make Ben happy. He already knows the Locke heard Jacob's voice, and that John was supposed to turn the Frozen Donkey Wheel to move the Island. Every time the Island has called on Locke to protect it, Ben has undermined it, first by shooting Locke at the Dharma gravesite, and then by turning the wheel himself. These two have been in conflict over leadership virtually since the beginning.

But now Locke is alive again. He has done the unthinkable -- pulled a Jesus, and right near Easter Sunday for crying out loud! Could his timing be any more impeccable! The Island has been needing a savior, and Locke is back to do it. And this time the Island doesn't want anything getting in his way.

So, why then, does the Island allow Ben to live? He serves as the one obstacle keeping Locke from fulfilling his destiny, and now he has been allowed to hang around, Gollum-like, to be Locke's disciple. This is one of the most important questions to come out of this episode. Ben's purpose is obviously not finished -- his destiny not yet fulfilled.

I think there is a biblical comparison here. In the gospel, Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Judas sold him out, yet it was Judas' actions that helped Christ fulfill his destiny by dying on the cross for the sins of mankind. This was why Jesus allowed Judas to stay in his group of disciples. Why else would he, right? In the gospel, Jesus is God incarnate. He knows the mind of everyone -- he knew Judas would betray him from the start, yet he still accepted him in his inner circle.

Ben is the Judas in this comparison; Locke is Jesus. After all, in this episode, like Jesus, Locke disappears into the wilderness on some mysterious mission (restroom break?), and comes back ready to continue on their journey to the temple. Locke somehow communed with the Island, and knows where Ben needs to go for his judgment.

Along the way, their leadership battle continues as Locke seems to take joy in putting Ben in his place. "You don't like this do you -- having to ask questions you don't know the answers to -- blindly following someone with the hopes that they will lead you to whatever you're looking for?" Ben is humbled. Locke has taken charge.

And at the end, after Ben's judgment, the ghost of his dead daughter appears, making it clear that Locke is to be the leader now, and Ben better not get in the way. The Island knows the Ben still has murder in his heart towards Locke.

So, now that the pecking order has been established. Now that we have learned that Ben is no longer in the Island's good graces, we have set in motion the beginning of end. Like Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings," Ben is still going to wait for his moment to accomplish whatever goal he is after -- a goal most likely an attempt to reconcile with and redeem himself in the eyes of the Island.

That's what this episode was about, after all -- Ben's need to redeem himself in eyes of the Island. He wasn't supposed to turn the wheel, but he did to make the Island happy. It didn't work. He brought the Oceanic Six back to make the Island happy, and so far it's undecided if that has worked. And now he offered himself to be judged for his sins, and has been given a second chance. He has repented, but like most sinners, repentance does not put an end to temptation or future sin. We cannot believe he is going to follow lock-step behind his new leader.

Next week: We finally learn why the hell Miles is on the Island in "Some Like It Hoth."

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