“Dead is Dead”
April 8th, 2009
Forgiveness is a really interesting emotion, primarily because of how subjective it is. There is a great moment in “Dead is Dead” where Locke suggests that he and Ben discuss the elephant in the room, being the fact that Ben, you know, murdered him, and Ben immediately heads into a long and rambling explanation of how he had to do it, how it was the only way, how he knew he couldn’t leave it to him, etc. Locke, meanwhile, just shrugs: “I was just looking for an apology.”
Locke, of course, has a very different value of forgiveness, having been through so much, and in his new resurrected form Locke is more sure of himself than ever; he forgives Ben because he’s now alive, and he now has purpose, so who is he to really complain?
The problem with the episode is really not a problem at all: Benjamin Linus’ flashbacks are designed specifically to show us those moments where his empathetic nature emerges, some sign of the young boy who went into that Temple returning as part of this new individual. However, in the present day, we see that Ben is still just as much a monster as before, and I think there’s something inherently problematic in the way he treats these situations with such moral dichotomy.
But it’s supposed to be problematic, and Michael Emerson delivers another knockout performance, and “Dead is Dead” succeeds based on the show’s emphasis on his duality.
My brother (currently sitting across from me as we wait to board our flight for Los Angeles) noted regarding the episode that it didn’t contain many of the moments we most wanted to see: it didn’t show that moment where Ben took power from Widmore (showing instead the moment where Widmore left the island for good on the submarine), nor did it revisit the genocide we saw in “The Man Behind the Curtain.” However, I’d tend to argue that the reason for this is simple: we already saw enough of the last event to situate it, and the first event feels like it is more Widmore’s story. The episode insinuated that Widmore had been ousted from power due to his off-island activities, but one feels there is more to Widmore’s story, and I anxiously await for when Alan Dale and his awful, awful wig (I mean that in a good way, really) get a chance to shine for an hour.
Really, Ben’s flashbacks here were really carefully engineered to show Ben at his most generous, where his manipulative ways are put to better use: whether it is saving Alex from the virus (and a rather psychotic Rousseau) against Widmore’s orders, or the way he says goodbye to Widmore, the sheer evil we often try to associate with Ben is missing. The reason, of course, is that Ben senses he has control. He knows that he has Richard on his side when he faces off with Widmore by the fire, and he knows when Widmore is leaving that he has finally won that control.
But what we see later is Ben when he isn’t in control, or when that control is threatened: he manipulates Cesar into not trusting Locke primarily so that he can then shoot Cesar, showing far less regard for human life than we saw before, and thus gaining some of Locke’s own trust. The discussion between Locke and Ben overall was great this week, but the exchange where Locke points out how Ben now knows how he feels to have always been in the dark was particularly poignant because Ben doesn’t know how to deal with it.
Of course, when we finally flash back to the event that we knew was coming, Ben’s trip to fulfill his promise to Widmore and kill Penny, we realize that it is the ultimate convergence of these two modes: Ben, now having been exiled from his home due to Widmore’s return, tries to regain that control by striking out, but he’s stopped in his tracks (albeit not until after he shot Desmond in the stomach) when he sees young Charlie come out of the cabin. It’s not the most subtle of parallels, connecting to why twenty-something Ben allowed Rousseau to live, but it was a huge sigh of relief for those of us who likely spent half of this episode in anxiety mode knowing we would eventually get to that moment.
What’s interesting, of course, is that the show placed a lot of focus on Alex in the episode, which was highly necessary but oddly never seemed to play a role in his activity off-island. Ben seemed so caught up in the role of manipulator off-island that we never got to see that human side, but here as he “faces judgment” it is Alex’s death, preventable with just a little bit of selflessness from Linus, which haunts him. And yet, externally he still craves power, still desires to regain power and control. However, as he learns, his punishment for Alex’s death is that his search for power is at an end: from this point forward, Benjamin Linus is a follower.
That entire sequence underneath the Temple (which implies that the Temple itself is something different altogether) was quite well done, whether it was the really neat effect of the smoke or that final moment when the monster appears as Alex and threatens Ben against trying to play usurper. I think it also works really well that Ben experienced it individually: if he truly listens to his daughter’s image, it’s going to be really interesting to see how people other than Locke (who, as noted, is in a trusting mood now that he’s all-knowing and all that jazz) react to his position.
We don’t get too much of anyone else in the episode, which is going to make this a strong Emmy submission for Michael Emerson, but we did get a couple of tidbits. First off, we learn that Locke is officially the key to the time travel question, as Christian told Sun and Lapidus to wait for our favourite resurrectee; this isn’t a huge surprise, but it’s good to have the information.
The other major piece of information, of course, was that the group of new castaways have discovered weapons, and Ilana (Sayid’s bounty hunter) is using them to question Frank on “what sits in the shadow of the statue?” This is the biggest piece of mythology we’ve had in a while, unrelated to character anyways, and it will be really interesting to see to what degree the show returns to the statue as an image. We know, of course, that only the foot remains, but the more answers we receive the better we might understand its existence.
We did see it in this episode, just to be clear: right above the smoke monster’s little holed portal there, there was a hieroglyph of what looked like the statue (an egyptian God of some sort) fighting against what looked like a hieroglyphic image of the smoke monster. This implies that there was some sort of face-off between them in ancient times, and that the smoke was clearly victorious: how it all works with those crazy images I still don’t understand, but I’m definitely certain that with knowledge of the statue should also come greater knowledge of the smoke monster’s origin.
As for Ilana suddenly knowing about the statue, there’s two options: either someone has been overly talkative about the subject (although I can’t think of anyone there who would be in that position), or else Ilana was sent to the island by someone. My presumption had always been that Ben had told her of Sayid’s location and told her to take him to Guam, but it seems now that she had her own reasons for going on this journey considering the speed with which (once the guns are received) she switches into that mode. We can also presume that it is this group who fire on the time-traveling castaways back when they were out on the ocean, considering their new acquisition of semi-automatic weapons.
So overall, this is a good episode, but like “The Man Behind the Curtain” it just feels like there’s still even MORE to learn about Ben – which implies the writers are doing their job, and that we’ll have another episode to look forward to in the future.
- I may not be gushing over the episode, but I like many other got chills when Alex’s death was flashing in front of Ben’s eyes. Cool stuff.
- I’ve got nothing else: it’s been too long since I saw the episode…just know I probably had some. Most are in the above.