Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Death and Life of John Locke

John Locke is alive! Shall we shout it from the rooftops? Of course, as long as we've known John Locke was in that coffin, we've known that Ben intended for him to return to the Island, which suggested to me that he might not be staying in that coffin. Still, I didn't expect it to happen so quickly. Plane lands, John's good as new. Boy, that was easy. New John seems a bit dazed, like the first time he landed on the Island. So far, he appears completely serene, and I loved the crinkly smile on his face when he bit into that juicy mango, reminding me of his orange peel smile way back in the first season. The smile that earned such a disgusted look from Kate; their relationship hasn't improved much. Anyway, I saw John talking to Ilana on the preview, but I figured that was an off-Island moment and that he was recalling what happened when he turned the donkey wheel as a death-like experience. I didn't think we'd just suddenly see him walking and talking back on the Island.

These writers are making it really tough to figure out who, if anyone, is trustworthy. The first time we saw Abaddon, he was freaking Hurley out, and the ominous air and diabolical name weren't marks in his favor. And it is because of him that John wound up on the Island. But landing on the Island was the best thing that ever happened to John. And seeing Abaddon again, carting John here, there and everywhere before finally falling victim to Ben, he really seemed more helpful than harmful. And also more of a lackey than a mastermind. Widmore's Tom Friendly. So was he as evil as Hurley thought? Much as I love Hurley, he seems to have spent most of his time off the Island having nervous breakdowns, so I wonder just how useful he is as a judge of character at this particular point in his life.

I suspected for a long time that Charles Widmore was much more important than his role as a flashback character might lead us to believe. Generally, I've been leaning toward him being sinisterly significant, but could it be that he's really a pretty decent guy? Even if he murdered his fellow teenage Other and sent a boatload of C4 to the Island? He sure doesn't strike me as a nice guy. But who's worse, Ben or Charles? And where does Ms Hawking fit into all this? I do think that Charles had a huge hand in orchestrating Desmond's path to the Island and that his derisive treatment was less about Desmond being unworthy of Penny and more about driving him to enter that race. I also wonder if he had anything to do with Libby showing up at just the right time to give Desmond her boat, and if we're ever going to get a little more back story on her.

Both Charles and Ben really played on John's longing to be special in The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham. The odd thing is that while apparently those two are epic rivals, they both seem to see John as crucial to succeeding in their plans. They also both denied to John that he was supposed to die. But Ben evidently didn't mean it; did Charles? Would a completely different scenario unfold if John had returned to the Island as passenger instead of cargo? I have to say that while I don't trust Charles, at least not yet, he did seem to come off better here than Ben, who I keep half-forgetting is nearly as skilled an actor as Michael Emerson. I loved his giddiness in wrapping his mind around the concept of John’s meeting him only four days ago, when he remembered it as 50 years ago. (Speaking of which, if he ruled the Island for 30 years, mustn’t Penny have been conceived there? Because he sure didn’t seem in charge yet at 17, and Penny is well over 20.)

Ben's big scene with John was one of the most gripping in LOST history. Generally speaking, I'm not sure any two actors on the show have more intense chemistry than Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn. What a confrontation! It reminded me of the climactic scene in Scent of a Woman, and though I knew that Ben's determination to save John must be motivated primarily by self-interest rather than actual human concern, it sure did seem for a minute there that he genuinely cared about John. His emotional pleas touched me, and as I looked at the clock I thought, "Gee, maybe he sincerely tried to stop John from killing himself but John didn't listen." When he succeeded in talking him down, it was a thrilling moment, but there was so little time left in the episode, I did entertain the thought that now that he had control of the cord, Ben might turn all murderous. But why go to the trouble of stopping the suicide just to brutally strangle him moments later? (Side note: Sort of interesting that John and his father died the same way...) Did he always intend the evening to end with John's death, or was that sudden improvisation? He was surprised, and apparently pleased, to learn that Jin was alive. Then he heard about Ms Hawking, and he snapped. Had he just been waiting for enough information for him to continue his mission without John, or did the specific mention of her send him into a panic? It almost seemed to be the latter. I'm wondering if it was Ms Hawking who informed Ben that the coffin containing John Locke would have to return to the Island. His parting shot - "I'll miss you, John, I really will" - didn't carry much of an indication that he expected to see John again.

I don't think that Ben was supposed to be on that plane to the Island. While Jack, Kate and Hurley vanished and materialized in the jungle in perfect condition, Ben wound up grievously injured and stuck with the rest of the passengers. Of course, he wasn't in such good shape to begin with. But I wonder if all of Ben's orchestrations were mostly for the purpose of hitching onto the Oceanic Six on their return to the Island, since he couldn't get back on his own. I have to laugh at John's calm identification of Ben as "the man who killed me." He's being surprisingly forthright with everybody back on the Island, and Ilana and Caesar must think he's a bit loony. Given the way their relationship progressed the last time Ben tried to kill John, I don't see John trying to avenge himself. Mostly, I think he's going to want a really good explanation, and Ben will probably give him one, and it will probably be mostly bogus, and John will probably be only slightly skeptical. I do think the idea of Ben having ousted Charles seems pretty plausible, though I don't know if I buy the three decades of peaceful protection. Seems like the Hostiles were causing a lot of trouble in those years. So maybe getting rid of Charles was the best thing Ben could have done for the Island.

When John decided to kill himself, what were his motivations? Did he do it because Richard said he had to die or because he was just so darn miserable? Or both? It didn’t seem to me that he wanted to end his life; maybe he thought that was the only way to get through to the Oceanic Six, but I don’t really see the reasoning behind that. It seemed to me that he didn’t try hard enough to sway the people he went to visit. He gave up more easily than I expected. Then again, he certainly was poorly received. But Charles didn’t put a timeline on John’s mission, and neither did Christian or Richard. What was to keep John from trying again? Did he feel too helpless, stuck in a wheelchair and minus his chauffeur? I wonder if Charles knows at this point that John is dead, and that the castaways are headed to the Island. How does that fit into his master plan? Is he upset, or is he satisfied?

Walt was the only one who really seemed pleased to see John. That brief conversation was the happiest we saw John in his entire time as Jeremy Bentham. He seemed to be radiating paternal affection for the teen who, for John, had so recently been just a boy. Walt always had a special bond with John, and he was one of the few castaways who actually wanted to stay on the Island and took deliberate steps to keep himself there. So of all the castaways, I think Walt would have been most receptive to John’s invitation, had he issued it. But he didn’t. Why? Because he couldn’t face the idea of Walt finding out what really happened to his father? Maybe Walt’s dreams spooked him too. He brushed them off so Walt wouldn’t worry, but if he was foretelling future Island turmoil, perhaps John didn’t think the Island was a safe place for him. Not that it’s really so much safer for anybody else... I hope that wasn’t the writers’ way of saying goodbye to Walt once and for all.

Hurley was friendly enough to begin with. When he thought John was dead. I thought that snippet of conversation was probably the funniest bit of dialogue in the episode. John’s gently confused reaction to Hurley’s queries was priceless. But his demeanor changed quickly when he realized it was John in the flesh. Even at that point he was somewhat collected, able to carry on a rational conversation, but as soon as Abaddon entered the equation, Hurley went buggy. On a side note, I didn’t know Hurley was so artistic. Any significance to his choice of subject?

Hurley was a frustrating interview, but John could have brushed that off as mental instability on Hurley’s part. The rest? Not so much. Interesting that he didn’t go to see Sun; he seemed to think staying away from her was better than trying to lie about Jin. Maybe he didn’t think he’d be able to convince her. When Ben said, “A promise is a promise,” I thought he was going to suggest that he talk to Sun instead of John, a neat little loophole. The ring fell into Ben’s lap as an unexpected bargaining chip. If John hadn’t been determined to honor Jin’s request not to bring Sun back, he probably would have found her more receptive than the rest. But it didn’t work that way. Sayid was calm, rational and pleasant throughout their conversation, but he was also condescending, and I can’t argue with his notion that John is being yanked around. Abaddon, Ben, Richard, Charles, Christian... who isn’t manipulating him? Good for Sayid for deciding to devote his time to charitable organizations. It’s hard to fault him for channeling the angst from two horrific years into physical labor for the good of others, and for finding that preferable to what John was proposing.

I can’t decide which meeting was worse, Jack or Kate. Jack was exhibiting clear signs of substance abuse. He was almost as surly and fuzzy-headed as he was in our first glimpse into his future. He was cruel and cutting, insisting that there was nothing special about John, or about any of them, for that matter. Also, John isn’t that much older than Jack. Two decades at most. I feel like the “sad old man” comment was partly a reflection of Jack’s still-unresolved father issues, which inevitably came up again. John’s mention of Christian really unsettled Jack and maybe was what ultimately drove him to start looking for the Island. Kate wasn’t looking so hot either. Lethargic and world-weary. Her quiet assessment of John, as a pathetic man who’d never loved anyone seemed unfair to me, but her “Look how far you’ve come,” while vicious, didn’t seem that out of line, particularly the “obsessed” part. John is obsessive by nature. That hasn’t changed. And it could still get him into trouble.

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say here. Just that this episode was every bit as intense as I expected and that I’m glad John’s still going to be around. And I want to know what in the world was going through Ben’s head in that suicide/homicide scene. I’m guessing I’ll have to wait a while on that. Looks like we’re back to Jack’s gang and Sawyer’s group next week - and maybe, given the French title, Danielle will factor in there somewhere, too. I assume that moment the previews say we’ve all been waiting for is Sawyer’s reunion with Kate, though I’m getting a little tired of Kate’s petulance and am not sure how much I’m looking forward to that reunion after all. If Jack is there when it happens, which he probably will be, that could be really awkward. Frankly, I’m more interested in Sawyer’s reunion with Hurley...


Beth said...

Hoo-boy. You hit all the issues and questions and then some! D. and I just watched it last night (thanks again!) and wow, it was indeed intense.

I wasn't as surprised about Ben murdering John as I probably should have been. Dana and I both thought like he seemed to know more than he was telling people about John's death. When John was about to hang himself the knock sounded on the door, D. said "that's Ben." And then I had a definite sense of what was about to happen for just a few seconds before it actually did...I tried to rewind and pinpoint when I figured it out, but couldn't. The real question does seem to be whether or not it was premeditated or if Ben just snapped. If premeditated, he picked an odd way to do it (why bother talking John down unless a) he wanted to get whatever information he could out of him before he died...i.e. the kind of information he got about Jin or b) unless Ben is harboring some weird thought that John's death had to be a murder not a suicide. Other than that, all we can figure is that Eloise's name just sent him into a frenzy. Ben's so emotionally wound, I suppose that's possible.

I still don't get why John had to die (or why Richard would have told him he had to). If the only point was that Jack needed a coffin with a body in it on the plane, to somehow recreate the circumstances surrounding the original flight, John's death seems like an extreme way to accomplish that. I'm also not convinced that it was John's death that really got the survivors together. Heck, we still have no clue how or why Hurley or Sayid ended up on flight 316, or where Sayid or Sun are now, for that matter.

Ben tends to tick me off more than Widmore, simply because we've seen more of him, I think, and because he's so overtly and creepily manipulative of people. It drives me batty how he will use anything or anyone to his seeming advantage -- and the fact that we don't really know what he's up to or trying to do just complicates things further. He KNOWS that John made a promise to Jin not to bring Sun back, and yet what does he do with that ring? He uses it to get Sun to go back. I know HE didn't make the promise, but now that he knows Jin's wishes it seems sort of sick that he'd do it.

I felt deeply sorry for Jack in this episode. Clearly the scene with John came at a very low point in Jack's post-island years. The writers love to play those two off, don't they -- the old "man of science/man of faith" thing again, with John saying "It's FATE that I wound up in your hospital, Jack!" and with Jack crying out "It's PROBABILITY!" and sticking to statistics. The ironic thing for me is that I've always related more to Jack and his need for certainty. John's "faith" always seems like a blind, groping faith... he wants to believe in something larger than himself, but he just doesn't know who or what that larger thing might be. So he's open to all sorts of people pulling him in various directions. I think deep down Jack wants more too, and wants to believe more, but he's too wounded to believe even as much as John does. They all just seem so...lost.

Hmm. The title is beginning to reverberate deeply, isn't it?!

Erin said...

I just can't figure Ben out at all. I do feel like as much as he's manipulating everybody else, he's still not powerful enough to be the ultimate antagonist of the series. I tend to think of him more like Gollum, with the Island the Ring he so desperately desires. But I'm very curious as to the thought process that went into murdering John - especially after that eloquent don't-you-dare-die-on-me-John performance. I'm constantly befuddled by how hard it is to tell where people on this show are coming from! That glimpse of Widmore's past didn't endear him to me any either; Ben and Charles may be opposing forces, but it sure doesn't seem like either of them is an ultimate force for good.

The whole recreate-the-conditions-of-that-flight thing makes minimal sense to me. So six of the same people (counting John) are on the plane, plus there's a guitar, a comic book, someone in handcuffs, a late arrival and a guy in a coffin. Similarities, sure, but only a very few in the grand scheme of things. It seems that Christian, like Charles, is much more central to the mythology of the show than it seemed at first.

I was reading something the other day talking about how up until this point, John Locke and Jack Shepherd are at odds with their names - that John should be the man of science and Jack the man of faith, and that maybe before the show is over they will have switched places. I've always found myself drawn to John, but he's such a basketcase in so many ways. Now that he's back on the Island, I'd really love to see the writers bring him together with Rose at least once. I feel like she could be such a good influence on him. But sometimes I worry they've all but forgotten she even exists...