Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Thoughts on Dr. Linus...

BIGMOUTH: Well, well, well.  I was beginning to think the Redemption Song would never play for Benjamin Linus.  And truth be told, I'm still not completely sold on his change of heart.  As moving as it was to see him sacrifice his coup to save Alex from Principal Dickless in the Mirror reality, Ben has claimed to be one of the good guys too many times to take anything he says at face value.  Just last season, it looked like he was finally working for Team Jacob to bring the Oceanic 6 back to the Island.  The murders of Jeremy Bentham and Jacob, both at Ben's hands, shattered that illusion.

Don't believe his lies...?

And yet, this episode offered some intriguing new context for Ben's troubled relationship with Jacob.  I was struck by the revelation that the latter hoped right up until his death that he was wrong about the former.  Similarly striking was the literary reference to The Chosen by Chaim Potok, which cast fresh light on Jacob's silent treatment of Ben.  The Chosen also provided an interesting parallel to Jack's conversion to a committed man of faith.  Ultimately, Dr. Linus registered an 8/10 on my Sickness Scale (4 for mythology, 4 for character).  Some minor inconsistencies kept it from reaching the level of The Substitute, but I'm a sucker for a solid Ben-centric, which this definitely was.

No, he cared.  Let's start with Miles's comment that Jacob cared very much about being stabbed to death.  I've previously suggested that Jacob wanted to be killed as part of his long con of the Man in Black.  But it's now clear that the former would have preferred not to die, even if he was prepared for the prospect.  (Note that this doesn't invalidate the Obi-Wan Kenobi analogy -- the elder Jedi didn't go to the Death Star planning to sacrifice himself.)  In that regard, Jacob's "pushes" during the Season 5 Finale may not have been about bringing people to the Island, as the Man in Black claimed.  I suspect these specific pushes were actually Jacob's contingency plan for dying.

What about you?

Indeed, everyone Jacob touched seems well positioned to advance his goals posthumously.  Hurley is already serving as his mouthpiece.  Sawyer and Sayid will betray the Man in Black at some pivotal point.  Kate will convince Claire to reconsider her allegiance to her "friend."  Jin and Sun may have done their part by conceiving Ji-Yeon, whose marriage with Aaron will end the conflict between light and dark for good.  Jack will  serve as Jacob's proxy in the final showdown with the Man in Black.  Even Locke has role to play in death.  As we've discussed, there's still a spark of the original left in his copy.  I think Jacob wanted to trap the Man in Black in Locke's form precisely for that reason.

Before moving on, I'd like to highlight one of the minor inconsistencies that I alluded to above.  I was troubled that Miles was able to read Jacob's ashes without any difficulty.  Last season, in Some Like It Hoth, Miles expressed strong reservation when asked to read the mind of someone whose body had been cremated and his ashes scattered.  As Miles put it: "For what I do, it's much better if there's a body."  And while he reluctantly agreed to perform the reading, it seemed clear he was lying for the money, which he ultimately returned.  Maybe Miles can read ashes that haven't been scattered, but it would make more sense if Hurley were the one who revealed that Ben murdered Jacob. 

The Chosen.  There's always a risk of reading too deeply into the show's literary references.  Still, it's not hard to spot the LOST connections in Potok's fictional account of two Jewish teens growing up in the 1940s.  For example, one of the boys is being groomed by his father, a rabbi, to some day lead their Hasidic sect.  The father refuses to speak with his son except when they study Judaism together, an obvious parallel to Jacob's silent treatment of Ben.  In The Chosen (SPOILERS) the son eventually learns that his father raised him in silence to balance the boy's intellect with compassion.  One wonders if Jacob kept mute all those years in hopes of tempering Ben's ambition with humility.

Hurley, I'll be fine.  The Chosen also offers an interesting parallel to Jack.  The Hasidic teen is friends with a boy from a comparatively secular Modern Orthodox Jewish background.  Over the course of the novel (SPOILERS) the former embraces the secular, majoring in psychology at Columbia University, while the latter follows a religious path, studying at a yeshiva to become a rabbi.  That second trajectory clearly resembles Jack's metamorphosis from a man of science to one of faith.  In my recap of What Kate Does, I faulted him for not asking Dogen more questions about the sickness.  After Dr. Linus, however, I realize that such questions would be out of character for the transformed Jack.

Wanna try another stick?

Jacob gave me a gift.  That scene with the dynamite was riveting, but Richard's explanation for his longevity raised some troubling questions.  For one thing, Jacob's touch doesn't make everyone ageless because Sawyer and Kate both aged normally after he visited them as children.  Additionally, Richard claimed that recipients of Jacob's "gift" could only die at the hand of another.  Like many of you, my first thought was that Michael must have been touched by Jacob, too.  But Michael's imperviousness wasn't limited to suicide attempts.  When Keamy tried to execute him, the gun jammed repeatedly.  Besides, wasn't it the Man in Black who finally released Michael, allowing him to die?


See you soon, Ben.  The Man in Black told Ben he was gathering a group on Hydra Isle.  It reminded me yet again of The Stand, where Randall Flagg gathers an army of darkness in Las Vegas.  Ilana will presumably rally the forces of light on the Island.  On that note, I completely bought Ilana and Richard's despondence at their abandonment by Jacob -- further proof perhaps that the latter would have preferred not to die.  At some point, however, Team Jacob will row over to the Hydra.  When they do, Ilana will spot the canoe containing the '77ers from when they flashed through time.  She will fire at Locke, thinking he's the Man in Black, thus solving the mystery of the outrigger shootings.

And that brings me to one last whackadoo speculation for your pleasure.  The Man in Black claimed that, when his group departs for good, he wants to leave Ben in charge of the Island.  I strongly suspect this was a lie designed to manipulate Ben's desperate thirst for power.  Still, it go me thinking.  Stephen King references aside, why did the Man in Black designate the Hydra as his rally point?  Wouldn't it make more sense for him to establish a base on the main Island -- e.g., in the Temple or the Barracks?  Then it hit me.  Maybe the Man in Black plans to sink the Island, bringing Crash and Mirror realities into sync.  Over to you, Wayne...

* * *

WAYNE: I rate Dr. Linus a 9 on the Sickness Scale: 4 for characterization, 5 for mythology. As in the last several episodes, we continued to receive an information dump of mythology. Really, the only thing that kept Ben's flash sideways from receiving a perfect 5 was Leslie Arzt. Each of his scenes had meaning overall, but they came at the cost of more of Mirror Roger Linus, which was too bad.

The episode opens with Ben running through the jungle, away from the Temple, when he encounters Ilana's group, who are headed there for safe haven. Ilana immediately asks him where Sayid is, which is a nice reminder that she had him in handcuffs on Ajira 316. Once she learns Dogen has been killed by Sayid, and that the Temple has been breached, she puts Miles to work. Ilana knows his last name is Straume, and that he communicates with the dead. By reading the bag of ashes that Ilana so dutifully filled from the pit in the statue, Miles tells her that Ben killed Jacob. In a neat twist, Miles's description of Ben with the bloody dagger mirrors Ben's description of Sayid in the Temple. And we now get why Ilana knows so much about the Island and its current inhabitants. She tells Lapidus, Sun, and Miles that Jacob was the closest thing she had to a father.

In the Mirror reality, Alex Rousseau is being tutored by Ben. In the Crash reality, she was a substitute daughter for Ben. Note the difference: Mirror Ben, whom Alex alone called "Dr." despite his pleas for others to acknowledge his title, is about serving others, while the Ben we've come to know in the Crash reality is an unapologetic user. Both versions, however, know the meaning of sacrifice. In the Crash reality, Ben lost his leadership of the Others and his daughter. Mirror Ben sacrifices his professional dreams for Alex, and his domestic life revolves around his father, who suffers from respiratory disease. On that note, the sound from the oxygen tank sure reminded me of when Ben killed his father during the Purge.

In class, Ben mentions Napoleon, who was exiled first to Elba, and after a brief return to power, was sent to a smaller island, St. Helena, one of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic. His resumption of power lasted one hundred days, mirroring the amount of time the Oceanic Six spent on the Island. It's also worth mentioning that another of Napolean's failed invasions was of Egypt, a campaign that lasted three years. His health failed quickly and the cause of death was listed as stomach cancer, though another possibility was arsenic poisoning due to minute levels of the pesticide woven into the drapes in the rooms of his home.  Aside from being a great metaphor for the sickness, I wonder if there was arsenic in the pill and on the dagger that Dogen gave Sayid.

During their tutoring session, Alex confesses to Ben her dream of attending Yale.  The first topic Ben raises is the British East India Company, whose governor, Elihu Yale, was a benefactor to the Collegiate School of Connecticut, which was renamed Yale in his honor in 1718. Ben asks Alex what territory was excluded from the Charter Act of 1813, but we never get an answer because that's when Alex dishes on the principal's affair with the school nurse. The answer would have been Ceylon, an isle off the southeastern coast of the Indian subcontinent, mirroring Hydra's location in relation to the Island in the crash reality. The Trading Company dissolved in 1874, per the Stock Dividend Redemption(!) Act.

After Dr. Linus, I'm beginning to think the Mirror reality is a Panopticon.  That term was originally coined in 1785 by social theorist Jeremy Bentham, whose name Charles Widmore gave Locke as an alias. Essentially, Bentham conceived of a prison that was round, not square as were all prisons of that time, thus allowing every single movement to be witnessed by someone. One might say that the Hydra is a Panopticon, with its many screens offering views of various locations around the isle. There are quite a few television screens on the Island -- those at the Pearl and the Barracks might still be up and running. Maybe on Hydra, the Man in Black will show the Mirror reality to his recruits like a kind of mental Panopticon, allowing Sayid to see Nadia and Sawyer to see either Juliet or, more likely, Clementine. .

There was a short-lived television show during the summer of 2001, The Beast, which was about a huge mega-news station, the World News Service. The fascinating part of the show, which lasted only six episodes, was that the WNS building itself was a Panopticon. The station's owner had cameras in every room and hallway. Incidentally, the show starred Elizabeth Mitchell as lead reporter and Naveen Andrews as her cameraman. Just to add to the apophenia, the largest Panopticon-based jail are the Twin Towers...in downtown Los Angeles, where so much of the action on LOST generally, and the Mirror reality specifically, is set.

The producers have stated that we should watch events in the Mirror reality closely. I'll take this one step further and say that we, the viewers, are the true Mirror reality. Jacob said that it only ends once, and when LOST has ended, we will continue living our lives, for the most part as seen by those in the Mirror reality. The Bens who help further a child's education, the Arzts who ask for modern lab equipment, yet greedily crave better parking spaces, the Jacks who want to repair lost time with their families, and the Lockes who finally start to listen instead of react with anger.

It only ends once.

But not for us.
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