Thursday, March 11, 2010

LOST - 6x07 "Dr. Linus" Review/Reaction

I find it fascinating to read the day after reviews of recent LOST episodes, mainly because it seems like everyone agrees. It's a strange thing that Lost, a show that attracts hardcore SciFi fans, causal TV viewers, and pyscho Alternate Reality game-playing Lostpedia-addicted rampaging uber-fans (*cough* guess which category I fit into?), can all agree that this week's "Dr. Linus" was one of the best episodes of the season, if not the series itself.

I wouldn't go quite so far as to say this ranks up there with "The Other 48 Days," "Flashes Before Your Eyes," or "Through The Looking Glass," but as a pure character study on Ben, the most conflicted and complex character on the show, this episode shines with a brightness that eclipses even the spectacular "The Substitute" from earlier this season.

Let's start with the flashsideways: Ben is a perfectly believable history teacher. One of his strengths is that he doesn't look like a villain. He looks like a braniac (especially with those tiny tiny glasses) who can use his wit and cunning to outsmart opponents. Now, the Ben we know as Leader of the Others was also murderous, ruthless, and a pathological liar. As we learn throughout this episode, him and his father somehow left the Island and created a new life in Los Angeles. Though Ben is unhappy in his life, he is fairly content, until a certain wheelchair bound John Locke implants the idea of becoming a principal into his head.

Soon after, Ben gets a visit from Alex Rosseau, his adopted daughter in the original timeline. The first scene with them together was very strange, almost creepy. But the respect that Alex has for Ben is so apparent and interesting, considering the girl we knew resented and hated her father for all he had done. I didn't think the writers would use her so much and despite these flashsideways being full of Guest Stars, the appearance of Alex surprised me. My first reaction was, "Wow. They went there."

Later, Alex confides in Ben that she overheard the principal getting it on with the school nurse. This opens a door in Ben's mind for some clever machinations and with the help of Leslie Arzt (who is EVERYWHERE apparently), he sucessfully initates a blackmail plot on the principal, played with typical Asshole Facial Expressions by That Asshole Reporter from the Die Hard movies. But there's a catch! If Ben completes his blackmail, the principal will not write a recommendation letter for Alex to Yale.

This poses an interesting choice for Ben. In the original timeline, he sacrificed his daughter on a whim. He believed he could trick Martin Keamy into thinking she didn't matter to him and thus spare her life. He failed and Alex was murdered in front of him. Here, he has a similar (but not quite as dramatic) choice to make and he chooses not to blackmail the Principal. He sacrificed his own ambition for Alex. Unlike Sayid in last week's flashsideways who realized redemption was beyond his capabilities, here Ben chose the right thing to do.

Although this is a different Ben in a different reality, the essence of the character remains, not a villain as we've come to know, but an honest man who was led on the wrong path by Jacob and the Others.
On the Island, Jack and Hurley come across Richard (thanks Lost for answering my question from last week) who leads them to the Black Rock. He says he's there to die and he needs Jack's help. Much like Michael, the Island will not allow Richard to kill himself so he asks Jack to light a fuse on one of the sticks of dynamite (man, there was a lot of dynamite on that boat!). Jack agrees, lights the fuse, and sits down next to Richard and says, "Now let's talk."

Awesome moment! Jack believes (whoa!) that Jacob or the Island has a purpose for him and would not allow him to die meaninglessly here in the Black Rock. It's an extremely tense scene and succeeds in every level, including Hurley freaking out everytime Richard touched the dynamite. He even references Dr. Arzt! Well, Jack's gamble worked and the dynamite doesn't go off. Amazingly, it seems like he just recruited Richard to his team.

Finally, the bulk of the episode was taken up with Ben's conflict with Ilana. Early in the episode, Miles reveals that it was in fact Linus who killed Jacob which pisses off Ilana. Lacking anywhere to go, they decide to head to the Survivor's Beach and wait there until they can figure out what next to do. This is interesting because during last season's time travelling adventures, the survivors, led by Sawyer, were always heading back to the beach but never quite made it because they kept getting sidetracked in the jungle. This season, there's very little action taking place between destinations and after the first commercial break, they're on the beach.

It's always a sad/interesting/cool thing to go back to "where it all started" and see the state of the camp. Where once it was full of life and people, all of that is gone and only wreckage remains. It's a poignant reminder of how far this story has come, from the quests for fresh water and food early in the series to the attack by the Others that practically destroyed the beach camp and all the insanity since then.

Others have commented that it's a shame Ilana is not more fully developed. She's actually been on the show since mid last season yet we know very little about her except that she's been touched by Jacob, which is not very much. So while she created an interesting situation by forcing Ben to dig his own grave, it lacked the intensity it would have had if he had been forced to do that by Jack or even Richard.

I loved the scene with Miles coming to visit Ben. Would have liked to see a similar scene with Sun and Lapidus, final goodbyes so to speak.

Alas, Ben's comeuppance was not meant to be (yet). Fake Locke showed up and freed Ben with some magic Q-like hand movements. He told Ben there was a rifle waiting for him in the jungle. So Ben ran and Ilana followed in a classic Race Through the Jungle sequence which ended in Ben holding the upper hand against Ilana with a drawn rifle.

Now, here's the scene that to me, precludes this episode from becoming part of Lost's "Best Of." Although Ben's speech is well written and brilliantly acted, I did not buy Ilana's change of heart. She went from ready to murder Ben to accepting him into her posse in a matter of minutes. It felt...forced. As if it was, much like Sayid's joining of Fake Locke, masterminded to pit some of the best rivalries on the show on opposite sides in the coming battle. The Ben I know would not accept Ilana's change of heart so readily. In response to her "I'll have you" comment, he should have said something like: "Thank you. But I don't know you won't try to kill me tomorrow." And shot her in the head.

So that scene rang false for me and undermined what was otherwise a great episode. Michael Emerson won an Emmy last year for his portrayal of Ben Linus. This episode made him a easy favorite to win again.

The final scene, with Charles Widmore on a submarine heading to the Island, is perfectly timed with the endgame of the series shaping up. Now, where the hell is a kickass Desmond/Charlie episode??


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