It's episodes like these where sticking with Lost is more a matter of faith than curiosity.
Advertised content of "Dr. Linus": Ben faces his own demise.
Actual content of "Dr. Linus": Ben does not die. (And Richard does not answer questions. And the dynamite does not explode. And the guns do not go off. And the Smoke Monster does not win. And, actually, not a whole lot of anything occurs.)
...ok, maybe I'm being a tad unfair.
In truth, there were many things that made this a solid episode.
For one thing, it focused on Benjamin Linus. I could wax poetic forever on how much I love this character, but I'll contain myself to this episode. This is maybe the first episode where Ben is truly cast as nonvillainous. Previously, any "good" actions were ultimately shown to be driven by "bad" intentions. In "Dr. Linus," though, Ben shows himself to actually have a fragile emotional desire to do the right thing and be accepted by others...in BOTH universes.
History teacher Dr. Ben Linus gives up his quest for power (a pursuit that has been considered basically synonymous with the character since day one) to protect his student Alex Rousseau. (Sidenote on Alex in the parallel universe: wonderful to see Tania Raymonde again, her nerdy voice is hilarious, and the reminder of the Ben-Alex relationship was wonderful to re-experience...except for when it started getting a little less father-daughter and a little more awkwardly almost-pedophilian.)
And, though the "digging his own grave" bit was a little heavy-handed even by Lost's standards, the revelation of Island Ben's current state of mind was a class-A emotional journey. Because, ladies and gentlemen, when presented with a genuine choice between siding with the bad guys (who are happy to have him) and siding with the good guys (who are just barely willing to have him) he ends up going with the latter. Whaaat? Of course there is the possibility that Ben is going to turncoat and head off in the other direction in a few episodes. But I like to think this is a genuine transition point. Mostly because Michael Emerson plays me by my heartstrings like a marionette.
The best part of this cross-universe examination of Ben (besides the guest appearance by the excellent William Atherton as Principle Pervert) was that this is the first time I've felt like the parallel universe has been successfully parallel in terms of narrative. There was obvious similarity between the two storylines. And, my personal favorite part, each had just a few seconds of Locke/"Locke" egging Ben on in the wrong direction...which practically begs the question, is non-Island Locke really John Locke or is that also not really him? Just one of the many unsolved mysteries of this wacky parallel universe business.
The other major affair of "Dr. Linus" was the notable reappearance of Richard. And what made this interesting was, we actually got some answers. For one thing, now we know approximately how old Richard is (if you accept the strong implication that he was originally a prisoner on the Black Rock as factual, which I am choosing to). And for another, we're starting to get a clearer picture of Jacob. Guess what guys: now he's the bad guy. He's the one trying to get Widmore to The Island...except that Widmore was the one who insisted "the wrong side" would win the war on The Island if Locke didn't return to it...except Ilana was a Jacob dedicate and she's with the group which is right now considered "the good guys." WHAT?
...maybe that's not so much an answer as a compounded confusion.
STILL, there was some concrete information passed on.
1. Richard's communication that being touched by Jacob keeps you from dying. Whether this "touching" is literal or figurative is still unclear. But I would like to point out, Jacob did physically touch everyone whose flashbacks he appeared in (and there was physical contact between him and Ben during that whole murder thing, which is why I was expecting for awhile in this episode that Ben would be added to the list of People Who Get Shot But Don't Die From It On Lost).
2. According to Ilana, there are 6 remaining Candidates. So, Jack, Sawyer, Sayid, Hurley, and...are we counting both Kwons, or one of the Kwons and someone else? Not sure. But by the standards of Lost this is incredibly concrete information. So, yay!
There are still a whole lot of unanswered questions. Like for instance, "What is Lapidus' role in all this?" (thanks for the reminder, Ben), and "What exactly is Miles planning on doing with all those diamonds?" but I guess we'll just have to wait to find out.
"Dr. Linus" wrapped up with yet another of Lost's signature Beach Hug Montages, and also with the approach toward The Island of a submarine containing OH SNAP IT'S WIDMORE. HE IS AT THE ISLAND. WHAT IN THE WORLD WILL TRANSPIRE NOW?
(Connected question: WHEN IS DESMOND GOING TO SHOW UP?)
(This review also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com).