Thursday, April 9, 2009

"You Just Make Friends Everywhere You Go, Don't Ya?"

Dead Is Dead was another fantastic Ben episode, and probably his least depressing one yet. Oh, some of it was a downer, but most of the really unpleasant stuff harkened back to The Shape of Things to Come. I find it very interesting that Ben willingly sought out the Smoke Monster. Of course, I suppose he figured he'd have to contend with Smokey at some point, and it would be better to do it as much on his own terms as possible. Still, it seems a bit unlike Ben to walk into such a life-threatening situation. Which just goes to show what a big load he needed to get off his chest. Ben was genuinely sorry.

I never really blamed Ben for Alex's death because I thought, and I figured he also thought, that once Keamy had him, he'd just go ahead and kill Alex anyway, along with John and everybody else huddled in the house. Maybe I'm being too hard on Keamy, but he just seemed like a killing machine. Ben certainly didn't want Keamy to kill Alex; he was trying to use psychology on him like he does on everybody else, and he made a fatal error in judgment. Yes, he could have tried delivering himself to the mercenaries. I would've liked to see some sort of heroic daughter-saving gesture from him, and maybe it would have worked. But I'm not convinced. If the castaways hadn't delayed in passing on the cryptic warning that Keamy was coming, might Ben have had time to summon Smokey before he got there? Or would he have feared that the wild, unpredictable Monster would prove just as dangerous to Alex as to the mercenaries?

Anyway, while I don't hold Ben truly responsible for his daughter's death, I don't hold Charles responsible either. Is it possible that he gave Keamy direct orders to abduct Alex? Maybe. But the fact that Alex was Ben's daughter was the only thing that kept her alive when Karl and Danielle got shot. Keamy's blood lust was such that all he wanted to do was eradicate anyone who came in his path, but he saw her as his bargaining chip. His mission was to extract Ben; Charles wasn't forcing him, from thousands of miles away, to leave a trail of destruction in his wake. By sending Keamy there, Charles bears a bit of the blame. By failing to surrender himself, Ben bears a bit of the blame. But Keamy was the main culprit, and Ben already had his revenge on him, getting Michael and who-knows-who-else killed in the process.

Ben felt guilty about Alex's death from the beginning. He told Locke he had his daughter's blood all over his hands. But he also blamed Charles. And he blamed Charles more than he blamed himself. I think that maybe it wasn't until he came face to face with Penny and almost pulled the trigger that he truly realized how useless it was to go on blaming his old nemesis. I thought that scene was beautifully done. I knew it was coming from the moment Charles sent Desmond to L.A. And I was worried. I knew the confrontation had to occur; they wouldn't just let something like that drop. But I hoped Ben would be thwarted in his efforts, and even more than that, I hoped he would change his mind. Well, he was certainly thwarted. But even if Desmond hadn't come rushing at him and beaten him to a pulp, I don't think he was going to shoot. He had lowered his gun. Seeing Charlie had awakened his humanity.

I love the fact that the name of the boat was Our Mutual Friend. At first, I thought Ben was referring to Penny by that name, and I chuckled at the appropriateness, but then I realized he was referring to the boat. If Jughead revealed the name already, I'd forgotten... I am a little surprised that Charles didn't go to L.A. himself; if Ms Hawking had a way back to the Island, wouldn't he think that Ben would track her down? Or why didn't he at least say to Desmond, "Hey! Watch out for Ben!"? If there was even a chance Ben would be in the city at the same time as his daughter, I would think he would want to stop anything from happening. In that respect, if Penny had died, he probably should have felt as guilty about it as Ben did about Alex. I still don't know what was gained by Desmond going to L.A. Doesn't seem to have served any purpose at all, except to nearly get his wife killed. And if Charles and Eloise are on the same team, then what are their plans for the castaways, and how do they differ from Ben's plans? Whose are worse?

How devious of them to break up the big showdown with a scene from the present in which Ben says to Sun, "Tell Desmond Hume I'm sorry." There was such an ominous finality about that request. It fit in with Ben's remorseful tone, but more importantly, it implied that he had succeeded in his personal vendetta (though I did breathe a small sigh of relief, since it also implied that Desmond was all right). When they returned to the scene at the dock, Penny's fate seemed sealed. So what a relief to see how it actually played out! What it reminded me of more than anything else was Sawyer's very first flashback. Sawyer had been about to con that couple out of massive amounts of money, and the only thing that stopped him from doing it was seeing their young son and realizing that he didn't want to risk ruining this kid's life the way the original Sawyer had done to him.

Maybe Ben saw a little of himself in Charlie; having grown up without a mother, perhaps he didn't want to put Penny's son through that. But more likely, he was thinking about his encounter with Danielle, how Charles would have had him kill her, and kill the baby too had he known there was one. The sight of the child snapped him back to his senses. Killing Penny would not be a victory against Charles; it would just mean sinking further into depravity. Ben's done a lot of awful things, but he has a conscience. Thankfully, it showed itself in this episode. I was surprised to see that Ben was the one who kidnapped Alex, in part because Danielle didn't seem to recognize him in that capacity when she caught him in season two. But then, she didn't recognize Jin either. But kidnapping Alex seemed a lot less sinister when he was saving her life. Of course, one might argue that he could have simply left Alex with Danielle and walked away, but the fact remains that he had orders to kill and he didn't follow them. And if Charles wanted to try killing off Danielle again, she'd be a lot harder to track down without a baby in tow. (Ironically, Danielle did end up being a threat to the Others; she led Jack to the explosives and helped him pull off the plan that wiped out ten Others on the beach and ultimately brought the mercenaries to the Island. But I'd rather not think about that just now...)

At the time of Alex's kidnapping, Ethan must have been about 11 years old. This was before the Purge, but he was already hanging around with the Hostiles. Did he go back and forth like Ben did, or did he live in the jungle full-time? And what about Alex? It would seem like she would've had to stay in the jungle, but Ben couldn't have stayed away from Dharma for such long stretches of time, could he? For the first four years of her life, was she perhaps raised by Richard as well as Ben? He certainly seemed to be close to her in their brief scene together, a sort of favorite uncle figure. I'm glad we got that one blissful childhood moment showing that there was a time when Alex thought Ben was a very good dad indeed. Interesting that two of Ben's happiest moments occurred at that swing set. I was also surprised that Charles left the Island by submarine. I'd gotten the impression he left the same way Ben and John did. Alex looked about six to me, and the Others seemed comfortably settled in the Dharma buildings, which suggests that the Purge was Charles's idea, or perhaps Richard's, as I originally thought. I think I'm leaning towards Charles now. Richard seems to avoid violence unless he deems it absolutely necessary, whereas Charles doesn't appear too concerned about hurting people.

It would appear that Charles had a foothold in "the real world" for some time, though I don't know how he was able to come and go so freely without use of the submarine, which he only would have had for the last couple of years. Surely he couldn't have built up his empire that quickly? The scene between Flashes Before Your Eyes happened in 1996 at the latest, four years after the Purge; he seemed much too well-established as a business tycoon to have only gotten started in 1992. In any case, he must have had limited contact with Penny for many of those years. Did she ever live on the Island herself, or was she conceived in England when Charles was off gallavanting? And who was her mother? Also, if Charles was so desperate to get back to the Island, why didn't he just get on the Kahana himself and chopper down with the science team?

I was really looking forward to seeing Smokey in this episode, but I was equally excited at the prospect of more Ben-John scenes. John acted about the way I expected him to in this episode: calm, curious, amused. I liked his slightly put-out, "I was just hoping for an apology"; honestly, Ben, was that so much to ask? The explanation Ben gave for why he talked John down and then killed him makes a fair amount of sense, but according to Smokey, Ben's been planning to murder John yet again, and this time the reason can't be so noble. If noble's the right word for it; he was probably more concerned about getting back to the Island himself than getting the others back. In John's presence, Ben appeared to be happy that John was walking and talking again, but he told Sun he wasn't pleased at all. I love that when he uttered the big preview line - "What's about to come out of that jungle is something I can't control" - what came out of the jungle was John Locke. Ha! Maybe Ben won't have such an easy time manipulating him anymore. In any event, John's presence seems to have complicated things...

Ben claims to have had no idea that the castaways were in the Dharma Initiative. If he's telling the truth, that suggests that his memory wipe in the Temple was fairly extensive and that Sawyer, Jack, Hurley, Jin, Kate, Juliet and Miles will have left before little Ben gets back from his holiday with the Hostiles. Of course, it's entirely possible that he's lying. Speaking of the Temple, how did John know how to get there? Did his Spidey senses just start tingling? Also, the Temple is where Ben told Alex, Danielle and Karl to go, and where he told Richard and the gang to go before that. As John and Ben are leaving, might they encounter some Others? Richard might really be a big help right now.

I was a little surprised that we didn't really get any insight into exactly what happened to Ben in the Temple when he was a kid. When he awoke and spoke to Charles, he didn't seem evil; he just didn't want to go back to his father. He wouldn't have felt badly about taking the keys anymore because he didn't remember taking them, and that's a shame because pre-Temple Ben and remorseful Roger might just have been inspired to resolve their issues. I suppose when Ben gets back Roger will take a stab at it but Ben won't be as responsive as he might previously have been. Anyway, I would've liked to know more about what Ben experienced there, but maybe we'll see some of that in an episode to come. I did love the adult Ben Temple scene, though. It was so spooky, the way Smokey slowly seeped out of the floor, surrounding Ben before facing him directly. It was terrifying but oddly beautiful, especially when it silently slipped away. Off course, Ben didn't get off scot-free. For a moment, I thought there might be an affectionate moment of reconciliation between Ben and Alex, but of course it wasn't really Alex, it was just the most fitting form for Smokey to take. A cruel apparition, but certainly appropriate. Ben's life was spared, but he's on thin ice. So is he going to follow John now like a good little boy, or is he going to throw caution to the wind? He'd be a fool to ignore that threat, and now that he's got a new lease on life, here's hoping he'll turn over a new leaf.

His behavior toward Caesar was baffling and frustrating. What exactly was he trying to accomplish there? Make the guy totally suspicious of John, compel him to confront John about leaving, then shoot him to stop him from getting in the way of their trip to Big Island. What was the point? And gosh, if that's what Ben does to guys who have his back... Well, we couldn't have him emerge from this episode entirely smelling like roses, could we? Was he hoping that Caesar would kill John, but changed tactics when John insisted on joining him on his excursion? I don't know, but I wish he'd quit sowing seeds of discord; he seems to have left the 316 survivors in quite a mess. Frank never should have gone with Sun; he should've taken Ben back to the crash site with him and resumed his role as leader. Because things would be a lot better with Frank in charge instead of Caesar and Ilana. She definitely seems to know more than she's telling. What was all that shadow of the statue business about? Is she working for Widmore? And did Caesar survive that surprise attack, or was his "friend" Ben the Brutus to his Julius Caesar?

Ben still has a deeply dangerous streak, but he and John make a formidable team, so I hope their alliance survives. I don't suppose the two of them and Sun will be in any hurry to go back to Alcatraz, so it looks like we've got further fragmenting. I don't have any idea how John's supposed to get Sun back to the 70s, or Jin to the present, and I suspect he doesn't either; now would be a good time for a helpful tip or two from Christian or Richard. I'm guessing that won't happen next week. The previews seem to indicate we'll be back in the thick of things in Dharmaville. I love the title Some Like It Hoth because it reminds me of The Empire Strikes Back; I somehow doubt, however, that we're going to be seeing frozen Tauntauns. It's probably a quote from Sawyer or Hurley; Sawyer seems to be the big Star Wars buff, but Hurley's pretty up on pop culture too. Next week could focus on him, perhaps, letting us know how he ended up on that plane, among other things. I think I might be leaning towards Miles, though; he's only had one flashback so far, and he had to share the episode with Daniel, Charlotte, Frank and Naomi. Miles is due. Maybe we'll find out whether he really was born on the Island and get to see his odd talents in action. Are we going to see Sayid again, and what will be the fallout from Kate and Sawyer taking Ben to the Hostile hospital? I'm looking forward to it, especially if we get a whole lot of witty banter between Miles and Hurley again, but I think Dead Is Dead will be a tough act to follow, and I think the Emmys might just come calling for Michael Emerson again this year.

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