Thursday, 5 March 2009

Lost - The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham

::Disclaimer - I almost made it this time! Stuff got in the way, as ever, and I'm currently as tired as I've ever been, but I nearly made it. I might beat the US West Coast screening of LaFleur, but even so, after my recent run of failures, I'm just glad to be this close to the screening hour. Next week will be another matter as we're on holiday, so forgive me if I treat this like some kind of success::

Throughout its run, Lost has alienated viewers by leaping from one event to another whenever that event looks to be leading to something revealing or exciting, though there are probably many more who enjoy that mischievous gameplaying from the showrunners. Even so, audience sympathy is usually tested depending on which character next comes under the microscope. If it's Jack or Kate, the complaints rise. If it's Desmond or Sawyer, no one seems to mind. These episodes always fill in important details that we need to decode the show, but it's arguable whether any of them is the true focus of the show. As we approach the end, it's tempting to assume that no matter who the show skips to next, the core of the show that all the other characters revolve around is the battle of wills between Locke and Ben.

The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham managed the neat trick of going over a time period we already know a lot about via flashbacks, while still giving up lots of new info, big surprises, and resonant thematic imagery to add to the wealth of detail from previous episodes. That's the stuff we expect. However, I don't think we expected performances of the calibre on display in this episode, with Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson again giving award-worthy performances. Their final scene together, with Ben begging Locke not to kill himself in such a convincing manner that even I was momentarily fooled, was an acting masterclass, and instantly one of the most incredible and iconic scenes in the history of the show, and possibly ever. That's right! I'm gonna go hyperbolic on your ass, reader! If you don't believe me, here it is. Warning: contains grisly sound effects of a trachea being crushed.

Even if you were prone to bitching about how the episode gave us little new information (I'm looking at you, Noel Murray), or you've been partially spoiled by accidentally looking at a Lost Alert email from EW that contains the line "And more on that shocking murder!" (not naming any names), surely this moment would nevertheless chill the blood in your veins and organs and other body parts. To us this is a big deal, but is it to Ben? How evil is he really? Can we ever again think that there is ambiguity here? Somehow Michael Emerson's performance, and the relentlessly ambiguous nature of the show, cons us over and over into thinking he is somehow going to become the hero of the show, but we're reallly only fooling ourselves. As broken as he is on a psychological level, as entertaining as he is as a weaselly trickster, and as awesome as his hair is in this picture, he's a total fucking douche.

Or is he? Oh God, it never ends. Often we can only gauge his alignment by contrasting him with other figures, most notably his nemesis Charles Widmore. This week we see Widmore as a caring soul, no doubt with his own motives but nevertheless committed to helping Locke get the gang back together. Locke points out that Widmore has, in the past, sent a gang of murderous assholes to the island to kill everyone, but even so he's helping Locke out and being very friendly. He was even recognisably human a few weeks ago when asking Desmond for information about Penny. How can we not compare that behaviour to Ben, who apparently kills Matthew Abaddon and then throttles Locke once he has the information he needs?

Ben truly is a colossal asshole of the highest magnitude. This, of course, is the kind of bait and switch Lost does all the time, giving us a ton of information that turns out to be nothing more than a huge, and satisfying, fakeout. There's a possibility that he already knows that Locke will come back to life when he returns to the island. If so, this act of dastardly murder is actually part of a scheme to fulfill Alpert's instructions, taking Locke's inevitable death and making the "prophecy" come true, but on his terms. Even though that's the kind of labyrinthine thinking we can usually to Ben, I doubt that's the case. We're probably going to get a Ben flashback at some point that shows him visiting Eloise Hawking and finding out he can indeed return to the island, but only by recreating the conditions of Oceanic 815's final flight. This would be a perfect moment for some schadenfreude until he realises Locke's death is advantageous.

Or does he already know how to get back to the island, and has planned Locke's death knowing his corpse would replicate Christian's? Do you see why I'm having difficulty attaching expectations and judgement on Ben? Even now, having seen him kill one of the most important people in his life, and in an incredibly personal and brutal manner, I still can't be sure that he really is as bad as he seems to be. Time for more hyperbole; I'm beginning to think that Ben Linus is the most complex character in contemporary fiction, in any medium. Every second he is onscreen I'm unable to take my eyes off him for fear of missing some gesture or expression that opens up some new avenue of conjecture. His murder of Locke is brutal but also seemingly traumatic. Is he crying in this shot?

His behaviour after killing Locke, feverishly cleaning every surface to remove fingerprints and then offering an affectless and unconvincing confession of some kind of weird affection for the man he has used, toyed with, and assaulted, was electrifying. I am in awe of Emerson, as well as Cuse and Lindelof for creating this incredible character.

What is especially weird is that this is, of course, not the first time Ben has tried to kill Locke. At the end of season three, Ben shot Locke in the hole where his kidney should be. Are Ben and Locke doomed to keep repeating this pattern of murderous abuse forever, like Horace Goodspeed is trapped in an endless cycle of treechopping? Perhaps not that exact fate, but I do suspect Ben's ultimate fate will be along the lines of being trapped in some kind of timeloop. Call it a hunch.

This one scene affected me so profoundly that afterwards I forgot nearly everything else that had happened before, which is a shame as there is some gold there. The most interesting stuff revolves around Locke's miserable quest to convert his former castaways to his cause, which he does in the most half-hearted way possible. Maybe that's not fair, but he certainly doesn't seem to be trying too hard (as has been said elsewhere, that's probably due to an understandable reluctance to die). Even Abaddon calls him out on it, which is odd as the rest of the time he's really deferential to his cranky passenger.

Speaking of Abaddon's pointed comments, his line about how someone must want to see Locke stuck in my head. My own theory for why he doesn't try hard with the Oceanic Six is down to their pretty unpleasant behaviour toward him. No one is happy to see him at all. Poor bastard. If I was trying to get back to a magic island I'd really hate to have to drag along a bunch of snarky ingrates like these. Sayid is reasonably polite to him, but then he always did have an air of civility, even though he has a habit of killing people with his legs or kitchen appliances.

Also polite to him is Walt, who seems to have no recollection of visiting Locke in the Dharma mass grave at the end of season three, which gives credence to the possibility that it was the island manifesting as someone else. Or Smokey, doing his new trick of mimicking people.

Not bringing Walt back to the island is a very nice gesture, but it's deeply frustrating for those of us who want to find out what the deal with his psychic powers was. Is this a plot thread that has been dropped for good? If so, I shall write a strongly-worded letter of complaint to Lindelof and Cuse.

It gets much worse for Locke after that pleasant diversion. Hurley has yet another meltdown upon seeing him, refusing to return to the island. At this point I was wondering why Locke was going through the Oceanic Six in this order, as there was no way Hurley was ever going to agree to go back to the island. Was Locke trying to fail? Hurley's reaction was almost uncharacteristically mean, but in the middle of storming away, he offers a folrorn, "Bye!" even though he's just been yelling. I love Hurley.

In contrast, Kate is flat out horrible to him. She basically goads him into talking about his lost love, Helen, by making bitchy comments about how he has never loved anyone. Maybe it's just because we've been following his life story for so long, but to me the desperate unrequited love pours out of him. O'Quinn's heartbreaking performance during this scene is a sight to behold.

And anyway, it's a bit rich for Kate to be coming out with this kind of snarkiness. She's got two guys chasing her around like love-sick puppies, at least one former boyfriend who died helping her rob a bank to get a fucking toy plane back, and her husband, poor Nathan Fillion, is probably crying somewhere because she drugged him and left him behind, like someone out of a warped C&W song. She's the last person to be making comments about loving people. Shut up, Kate.

If she's rude, Jack is psychotic with rage. Foxy's unhinged performance was another highlight, and the last straw in Locke's terrible journey towards his suicide attempt. Some have thought he tries to kill himself because he now really does have no one (Jack's comment about him being a lonely old man was way way harsh and, apparently, pretty accurate), but it's probably more that his dream of being a leader of men is dead and so there is nothing else for him.

It's not just that these people don't like him. They won't follow him. His requests are ignored, but he understands that they would never go back to the island unless he did something exceptional to show how important it is that they do so. All along he wants to be a leader, but even when he gets a chance to flex that muscle, the only thing fate allows him to do is convince a bunch of desperately hostile and miserable people to do something they would never do. With his options narrowed to nothing, it's no surprise he does it. It would also be a leap of faith to mirror Jack's in the next episode, though of course this is not the way it turns out.

His doubt in his ability to convince the Oceanic Six to come back is so strong that he openly admits that the only person who could actually do that is Jack. He pretty much cedes his responsibility to him, which is a total turn-around considering how often he fought with Jack for leadership of the castaways. He also self-pityingly refers to himself as a failure to Ben, but then I guess if you've decided to kill yourself, there's little reason to hold back on something like that. All of this self-loathing made me very sad, as I've been rooting for Locke for some time now, even though he's a bit of a dick. I hope that the series ends with Locke actually fulfilling his weird fantasy about being the main man.

Ah yes, Saïd Taghmaoui. As expected, there is way more going on with our new islander, and with Ilana, who are both interested in raiding the Hydra station for information about something. Ilana seems more interested in Locke, plying him with mangoes for details on how he got to the island. Saïd Taghmaoui, playing Caesar, is more interested in... well, something. Is it the map of the island, bearing an "Unknown" notation that is reminiscent of a Here Be Monsters warning?

Or is it this peculiar map of space/time, with the fascinating notation "Imaginary time"?

That reveal alone is enough to make my brain whir into overdrive. As of yet I have nothing concrete to wonk on about here, but I'm sure I will in time. (An aside: giving Saïd Taghmaoui's character the name Caesar is deeply confusing, as Ilana is played by Zuleikha Robinson, formerly playing Gaia in Rome. I'm sure she was cast for her talent as an actress, but surely playing a character with such an evocative name in a show that is already hinting at the idea of a sentient landmass was a side consideration as well.)

For now, pontificating about the show's meaning has taken a temporary back seat due to brainfog. Even so, I was thrilled to hear Matthew Abaddon (played by Lance "Intensity" Reddick with an air of wry detachment. And intensity) back up my Sirens of Titan theory. When finally confronting Locke about his weird sour behaviour, he says of his employment to Widmore that he "help[s] people get to where they need to get to." He is one of those who puts the gamepieces into place. Who else has been doing this in the past? Eloise Hawking for certain, but will we find there were others? How many seemingly unimportant characters from the past will turn out to have been agents of Widmore or the island?

A lot of people have made a big deal about the cover of the Life magazine that Caesar looks at, as it is now super-relevant to the show...

...but surely this means we're in for some top aquatic-monster action.

Maybe Mikhail Bakunin isn't dead, and will be making a return soon? Though without gills, surely.

This is easily the worst fake newspaper I've ever seen on a TV show. I know UK newspapers are traditionally ugly, but this is ridiculous.

Actually, now that I think about it, it's not that bad, I guess.

For a long time I had suspected that the second island was in fact the actual island, but sent back in time and space at the end of season four to exist next to itself in the past.

I guess now Locke and the Ajira survivors (who I now suspect are all minions of Widmore) are all hanging around on its beach with those crazy boats, that is not the case. It also makes me suspect that the Ajira survivors, who will undoubtedly be shooting at the Island Six in a forthcoming episode, will be made to do that by Locke, who will remember it happening the first time around.

Hey Sayid, our landlady still hasn't fixed our roof after a year of complaining. You wanna help us out?

It's even hotter and sunnier in England than it is in the Dominican Republic, you know. Seriously. I'm not lying.

I was, until a couple of hours ago, convinced that the site of Locke's impressive car crash...

...was the same crossroads that Kate was spying on in The Little Prince, but actually... turns out that was a different one. It's enough that the composition is the same, I guess. This means something, I'm sure. And not just that Hawaiian roads all look similar to each other.

If ever there was a case for wrapping someone in bubble wrap...

...this is it. The man should have been a shattered bag of bones long before now.

Jack's deeply upset reaction to the news of Locke's suicide now makes sense, as we now know that Jack was the last castaway to see Locke before his death was announced. The guilt is what Jack is fighting through during the previous episode, and why his reaction to Locke's note was so pronounced. I gather Lindelof and Cuse were unsure what order to show these two episodes in. I can see their point, but I reckon they got the order right. Rewatching 316 after seeing The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham was a fascinating experience, so that means I got to enjoy it as new twice in a row. It was like a little present from the Lost showrunners.

The visual references to Locke as Christ didn't crop up as much this week, though we did get this lovely shot of the dismal hotel room he dies in.

There is no way that the enormous cross on the ceiling is a coincidence. Also this...

...somehow reminded me of Calgary. I don't know why. (And by Calgary, I do indeed mean the Canadian city, as pointed out in the comments by Masticator. This shot totally has a real Canada Olympic Park vibe, despite that being snowy and this picture being barren desert. I'm sure any Canadians reading this would agree that the Canada Olympic Park is synonymous with the place where Christ died.)

One of the best and most chilling moments came when Abaddon pulled a wheelchair from the back of his car.

None of the Oceanic Six managed to escape their terrible past, so why should Locke?

Worst road trip ever?

I know Abaddon is a bit creepy, but even so, he shouldn't have to put up with the snottiness he gets from Locke. Funnily enough, Abaddon is the one person taking orders from Locke and that lonely old man doesn't even appreciate it. He also runs away when Abaddon gets plugged by Ben. Coward! And Abaddon was trying so hard, too. He even smiled!

Or maybe that's just Lance Reddick expressing relief at not having to put up with Olivia Dunham on Fringe for a couple of weeks.

Nice visual metaphor for Locke's condition during his stay in hospital. While he might think he is in control of his destiny, he is actually at the mercy of others.

His manhandling by doctors was a perfect visualisation of that. They also got his loneliness down pretty good, as well as referring back to Ben's arrival in Tunisia.

Of course, Ben might also have no friends, but he's never alone. He's in the desert for a couple of minutes before he's thwacking people in the head with a collapsible baton. Locke has to wait hours for help, even with cameras looking at him. That's a pretty sad state of affairs.

Is Widmore's comment about the aptness of Locke's new name the first time anyone has made a reference to the naming of some of the characters on the show?

If Widmore thinks Locke's name is funny, let's hope he never meets Christian Shephard.

From my studies of the genearl opinion of internetters everywhere, I see I'm not alone in thinking Helen isn't really dead.

If Widmore can put a fake plane full of corpses at the bottom of the sea, he can swap a gravestone around. Now it would be nice for Locke to finally be reunited with his lost love, but I get the feeling that isn't going to happen. As much as he professes to love Helen, I think he was just hoping to get a bit of affection from anyone after being treated like a pariah by everyone who isn't Walt. I'm beginning to wonder if the only reason he wants the Oceanic Six to return to the island is as a form of punishment for not being nice to him. He does let Walt off, after all.

Am I the only person who thinks that Locke's weird wave is kinda creepy?

If I was Walt I would not approach him. Especially if I had been dreaming about him hanging out with a bunch of hostile folks. He did it to Sayid as well.

Urgh, dude, back off. You're freaking me out.

Can you see a runway here?

There is a lot of online conjecture suggesting Ajira 316 landed on the runway being built by Kate and Sawyer in the third season, but it looks to me like the plane crashed into some trees. I'd like to think that someone as awesome as Frank Lapidus qouldn't miss a runway. Because he is awesome, beard or no beard.

Someone has pointed out, elsewhere, that Ben keeps stealing Locke's destiny from him. Not only did he move the island even though Christian had said it was Locke's responsibility, but Ben also killed Locke even though Locke was supposed to do it himself.

I'm not sure about that, as Christian said he had to die, not that he had to kill himself. It did make me remember that Locke was also supposed to kill Anthony Cooper in order to join the Others, but he conned Sawyer into doing it instead. He just wants to be accepted without having to do the hard work to get there. This kind of self-delusion, thinking there is a path to greatness and happiness via an easy route, is utter anathema to me. ::hides recently purchased Euro Lottery ticket::

Okay, time to move on to other things. Those who have already seen the next episode, LaFleur (which, of course, was the first Dharma Initiative password in last summer's aborted ARG Lost Experience), I hope you had a good time. Those of us who have it to look forward to, fingers crossed it keeps this amazing run of excellence going.


Masticator said...

As great a Locke episode as this was, it was really a watershed moment for Ben. I don't know or care what his mysterious fucking motives are (I'm sure he'll attempt to explain it away somehow). He's gone beyond cruel manipulation now. Somehow killing Locke, after convincing him not to kill himself, seems worse even than the Purge.

(Also: Calvary is a place where some bloke only went and died for our sins 2000 years ago. Calgary is a city in Canada.)

Admiral Neck said...

Thanks for alerting me to the unclear point I was making about Canada, Mastipoo. I have added some clarification.

Masticator said...

Thank you, much clearer now.