Quick Hits: LOST S6, E7 — “Dr. Linus”
OK, there are elements of this episode that were just amazing on a high level. It was, in some respects, a brilliant final season episode, tying up certain elements of hanging story arcs; however, it also proved to have several glaring weaknesses.
We’ll start with the weaknesses. Even to the most diehard of LOST fans, the coincidences have got to be growing tiresome. In this case, we’ve got the previously disclosed connection of Locke ending up in Ben’s school; however, we’ve also been presented with Doc Artz as Ben’s sidekick coworker and Alex Rousseau as his star pupil. My problem with this is that we don’t, at least on its face, have some form of driving force causing course corrections or causing the players to gravitate together. With the Island sinking that impetus has been vanquished. So the players coming together again is truly just coincidence… unless we see some driving force at the terminus of the off-Island timeline.
It’s actually well stated by Richard Alpert when he expresses to Jack that his dedication of his life to Jacob was for naught and all without meaning. We’ll ignore, for a moment, that Jack convinces Richard that his life still has meaning and that Jacob’s missions have a purpose by lighting a stick of dynamite that doesn’t go off. Richard has become an Island atheist and yet he still acknowledges the powers of the Island — Richard believes and perhaps knows that he cannot kill himself. We previously saw this from Michael, who the MIB (presumably) similarly kept alive until releasing him on the Telmarine freighter with a visit from Christian Shephard. That Michael was permitted to die via explosion in the hold of the freighter and that Richard was not permitted to do so in the hold of the slaver “Black Rock” was a very nice bit.
The questioning of meaning also is important for the purposes of the show in general. LOST fans have been conditioned (often times without evidence) that every little element of the show has a purpose, in Joycean fashion. If that weren’t the case, Doc Jensen couldn’t pen long essays and fans wouldn’t tune in and replay episodes with such fervor.
With that in mind I turn to our introduction to Dr. Linus the European history PhD. His lecture to his class is on Napoleon’s exile and that the isle of Elba was truly the Emperor’s end. Although granted free reign on the island, he had been stripped of his power, his meaning and his focus. On the Island in the original timeline, Ben is Napoleon… but an emperor still in name only. He’s completely impotent, hiding from his act of betrayal and anger at Jacob. He is also a leader without a people.
More discussion and some quick hits from the episode, after the jump.
Toward the end of the episode, Not-Lock / FLocke offers Ben the chance to assume a leadership role as the ruler of the Island on his departure. Ben tells Ilana he has to accept the offer because no one else will have him. The Napoleonic power grab when his country is lost is met with the interesting olive branch from Ilana, stating that she would, in fact, accept Ben and forgive him his murder of Jacob. The effect of this offer (which Ben accepts) is profound, but it doesn’t really empower the show’s Machiavelli. Quite to the contrary, he seems to have accepted a secondary and more servile role, standing back and whimpering as Jack and Hugo reunite with the rest of Team Jacob at the beach.
That image of Jack staring over at the shoulder slumping Ben brought me back to the blackboard image of Elba that we opened the off-Island world with this episode. A simple anagram of Elba is Abel, the fallen son of Adam and Eve. LOST has consistently played up the duality of the Ying and Yang, good and evil and black and white. The bible did this too with Cain and Abel, the good son and the prodigal son. If one supposes that Ben, as the Napoleonic figure exiled to a new Island where he has no power, is our tempted son Abel, that leaves the question as to who is Cain. Well, any biblical scholar will tell you that Cain was a shepherd, and the obvious parallel stays in the camera frame with Jack as Cain staring over at his brother Ben.
- It was actually fantastic to see the dynamic of Roger and Ben Linus, evolved together. First, it was intriguing to note that Ben never escaped his father. Awesome was the resignation with which Ben said “I know” when Roger said that he always wanted more for his son than being a High School history teacher, taking care of his infirm father. Second, the grant of care and oxygen, in particular, from Ben to his father was such a turn of events. We once saw Ben evacuate Roger’s lungs in an act of chemical patricide, yet in alternate world, Ben provides the gas most associated with life to help assist his father. Finally, we’re also given some insight into the actual existence of the Island. We now know that the Island still existed at surface in the 1970s when the Linus men were recruited to Dharma. Roger picked up and left the Island in this storyline. Why does not need to be answered as it can be inferred from the “Workman” role. What is important is that it provides information and also a comparison of this world and the Island one. Just an awesome scene really, though somewhat ruined by Alex’ appearance.
- The parallel of the Linus family on the Island in each world was compelling. Less so was the comparison of Ben’s decision with respect to Alex on Island vs. his decision with respect to her application to Yale. Maybe it’s just because Alex was always a bit of an annoying character and the true relationship between her and Ben was not really developed to reflect the fatherly role of Ben. We understood the adoption/theft and Ben’s utter sense of guilt at her death; nevertheless, it’s a bit tough to make hay of their relationship. It was always one of resentment. Alex had an intense desire to rebel and Ben had an intense need for Alex to acknowledge his love for her and all he had done for her. In the alternate world of student / teacher, Alex looks to Ben for help, but not in any manner that can really impact her life actively — notably by getting her into college. Eventually, Ben is presented with that chance, in making the choice to forego a power grab to Alex’ benefit.
- What’s somewhat notable about Ben’s decision with respect to Alex and power is his betrayal of an earlier stated ideal that teachers can make a difference for their best students in the classroom. Ben’s decision to blackmail the Principal to Alex’ benefit instead of his own is an admission not only that he cannot assist his students as a teacher, but also that he cannot truly do so as Principal, either. Above all else, it’s interesting to note that this reflects a true abandonment of the Utilitarian ideals of Bentham and Mill that had previously always provided Ben with his moral compass.
- The episode tied up some loose ends. In addition to providing some backstory on characters we’re not likely to see again (like Artz, Alex and Roger), the producers confirmed Richard’s ageless status and his connection to the Black Rock.
- The Black Rock scene was far from perfect though, as the game of collective Russian Roulette that Jack and Richard play with the dynamite was just a bit over the top and unbelievable for the Shephard character. We’ve seen Jack vacillate between Man of Science, Man of Faith before; but his leap of faith and logic as to the inability of the Island to allow the dynamite to go off was so out of character. Additionally, that Richard loses faith because of Jacob’s death also seems out of place. After so many centuries of dutiful service, that Richard does not know the real meaning of the candidates is only slightly less explicable than the idea that Jacob’s death would lead Richard to an existential crisis over his meaning and purpose. The end result was the weakest moment of religious ideology in the show’s run.
- The line uttered by Ben that he remembered the day Oceanic 815 crashed like yesterday was, I imagine, spoken truly by the producers. It was somewhat oddly placed, and yet it was the most appropriate of poetic and subtle tributes to the run of the show as a whole. That the producers managed to weave it into the storyline was a nice touch.
- Jacob warned of a bad man coming to the Island. Is that bad man Widmore, who’s stealth arrival via submarine was somewhat interesting (even if the periscope act seemed a contrived storytelling tool)?
- Has Ben, in rejecting Not-Locke / FLocke’s offer to take over the Island in his stead — coupled with his sacrifice for Alex in the off-Island timeline — an indication that he has made the conscious decisions that Sayid could not in Episode Six? Notably, has Ben turned from his more deep and inner nature to be Machiavellian? I don’t know that I’m buying it.
- That Not-Locke / FLocke is looking for a replacement is quite intriguing. I think the assumption was sort of easy to make that Locke was going to assume one half of the Island pair at the end of the series run. It certainly seemed set up that way; however, he is seen offering up the role to Ben. Ben ultimately rejects that role, but it also appears that Locke is truly dead and will not replace the MIB. So who is the candidate of darkness, if you will. Is is Widmore?
- As a final aside, something to look further into is the reference to Linus Pauling, the Dr. Linus who won two Nobel Prizes (chemistry and peace) and is one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century. But that’s for another time.