After the slaughter that ended the previous episode, itâs no big surprise that this story was a bit more personal in nature. It continued the ongoing theme of choice, consequence, and redemption, both in the âLost Primeâ and âLost Xâ versions of the story. And as it has been all season, the central character is more at peace in one than the other.
Benjamin Linus remains one of the most complicated characters in modern televised fiction. His particular brand of villainy is a wonder to behold. In many ways, Ben is not evil in his motivations. He is not trying to pull off some dastardly scheme or destroy the world. Instead, he has always been concerned with control over his world. To that end, Ben has done everything possible to maintain power over those around him.
Protecting the island was a reflection of that desire. Being the leader of the Others was the pinnacle of power on the island, at least as he had come to understand it. With Richard believing that Ben was chosen by Jacob, there was no one in a position to question his authority. Itâs little wonder that he did so many terrible things when his control was threatened.
But that is why redemption for Ben Linus was never going to be a true possibility until now. He had to be placed in a position with no control over his fate at all, and presented with a choice. That moment in front of Jacob couldnât be that choice, because it was an uninformed moment. Thatâs not the case in this episode. Ben may not have all the answers, but he knows enough to realize the nature of the choice in front of him.
There is a fitting irony in the notion that Benâs path, so long defined by the manipulations of Jacobâs rival, might actually be in the service of Jacob. Whatever anger and resentment that might have come out of Alexâs death has washed away. Itâs unlikely that he will ever be trusted, of course, and that suggests a grand sacrifice on Benâs part before the story is complete.
In âLost Xâ, of course, the balance is opposite. Instead of sacrificing Alex in the name of preserving his source of power, however unintentional, Ben X sacrifices his power for Alexâs sake. And this is despite a life which might have pushed him to take that chance and take control. He gained enough leverage to get just as much as he wanted, and for him, that was enough.
All of that is in keeping with the trend with all the âLost Xâ segments this season. Regardless of how bad the situation might be, the characters have managed to find peace with who they are and their lot in life. Michael Emerson managed to capture both versions of Ben Linus perfectly. This is, without a doubt, one of his best performances.
The episode was filled with small but significant hints as to the nature of various mysteries still unexplained. As usual, there is more than enough information for a bit of speculation.
What was missing from Benâs life in âLost Xâ was the pathological resentment that came from dealing with his fatherâs emotional abuse for years. The implication is that something changed in terms of Benâs father. He still took Ben to the island to work for the Dharma Initiative, but he was willing to admit that he made a mistake and left before the island sank.
Based on Ethanâs presence at the hospital as Dr. Goodspeed, there was a point in the timeline where at least some of the Dharma Initiative left the island, if not all of them. Without Sawyer and the rest of the time-travelers to warn them to evacuate, some other factor had to be in play. If the Incident was still something that happened, perhaps the nature of it was such that it slowly sank the island, leaving the Dharma personnel with enough time to leave.
The presence of Danielle Rousseau and Alex in Los Angeles, in the same general community as Ben Linus, Arzt, and John Locke, further supports the theory that the island sank due to that timelineâs version of the Incident in 1977. There was no island to lure the scientific expedition towards, after all!
Yet the changes to Benâs father would seem to suggest that the branching point was before 1977. The timing is still unclear. One possibility is that itâs more than just the absence of Jacobâs intervention in the lives of these familiar characters; Jacob may not have intervened in anyoneâs life. There may never have been a search for Candidates, or the right person was found much earlier in the timeline. Another possibility is that the branching point is closer to the 1950s, since the intervention of the Oceanic survivors during the time traveling in the fifth season began in that era. If the Oceanic crash never happened, the time travel wouldnât have happened.
The Incident was related to the electromagnetic anomaly at the site of the Swan Station. It was said in the fifth season that the temporal anomaly on the island, at the site of the Orchid Station, was linked to the electromagnetic anomaly in some manner. This was seen in the unusual time/space effect around the island, the same one that made it so hard to find and that caused madness and death in those âunstuckâ by leaving the island improperly.
The electromagnetic properties of the island were also mentioned as a possible explanation for the miraculous healing experienced by Rose, Locke, and several others. Yet there were instances, such as Benâs cancer, in which the island was unable to cure a disease. It all seems to fit together with Richardâs claim, in this episode, that Jacobâs touch brought on a kind of immortality. Jacobâs chosen would seem to live forever and wouldnât be allowed to kill themselves; they could, of course, die through accident or murder.
As an aside, this also connects into the many comments in the first season regarding the miraculous survival of so many passengers on Oceanic 815. Sayid in particular questioned how they could have survived with a relative lack of major injuries. A lot of people have survived under questionable circumstances, throughout the course of the series.
The nature of the electromagnetic and temporal anomalies seems to create a âbubbleâ around the island. This, in turn, appears to create something of a containment field; itâs safe to enter, but not so safe to exit. That sounds like something that could have been used to keep Jacobâs rival from leaving the island. More to the point, it also suggests that the unusual properties of the island are linked directly to Jacob himself. Jacob and the anomalies may, in fact, be one and the same.
The point is that this could explain why the Incident led to the two timelines, and why one seems to be a timeline in which Jacob never intervened in the lives of the familiar characters. In âLost Primeâ, the Incident never fully dispersed the enormous source of electromagnetic energy. Instead, it was still strong enough that the Swan Station was built, along with the âbuttonâ, to keep it from a massive discharge.
In other words, Jacob was still viable in the âLost Primeâ timeline, and this is evident from the subsequent events. Jacob and his rival continued their long debate over the true nature of humanity, leading to the final few Candidates and the final conflict to come.
In the âLost Xâ timeline, however, it appears that Jacob is not active and the island is underwater. Perhaps in the âLost Xâ timeline, the Incident weakened Jacob enough that he did eventually disperse. The island, no longer within its protective âbubbleâ that allowed movement through time/space, could have slowly sank beneath the surface.
The implication is that âLost Xâ is a timeline in which Jacobâs rival could very well be free. If thatâs the case, then it further supports the existing notion that Jacobâs interference in the lives of his Candidates is not a good thing, and that Jacob may be doing more harm than good. In fact, while this is being framed as a battle between good and evil, itâs really beginning to feel more like two sides of a debate over the value of free will that doesnât necessarily have a ârightâ or âwrongâ side.
Of course, there is the small matter of why Jacob and his rival came to the island in the first place. Jacob could have sacrificed himself to contain his rival, knowing that his rival would have to rely on the darker impulses of human nature to escape, based on the ârulesâ. In that case, the debate is incidental: it merely informs the methods used by each side. Jacob needs to rely on the better angels of human nature, and Jacobâs rival needs the opposite.
It seems logical to assume that the effect of the Incident in both these speculative scenarios would pertain to Jughead: was there a nuclear component to the Incident or not? One might be tempted to assume that if âLost Xâ is a timeline in which Jacob was âdestroyedâ by the Incident, then that must be the one in which Jughead detonated.
But there is one piece of evidence that suggests the exact opposite. After the Incident, in âLost Primeâ, women on the island were unable to conceive and deliver children safely. If the child was conceived off the island, it was a different story, but something about the state of the island after 1977 forced Ben to seek outside help (and thus, Juliet was brought to the island). One popular theory during the fifth season was that Jugheadâs part in the Incident produced enough of a background radiation problem to affect conception just enough to lead to the problems with reproduction on the island.
On the other hand, thereâs nothing to suggest that radiation was the source of the reproduction problem. Instead, it could have been due to something far more sinister. It all depends on whether or not Juliet was brought to the island for some purpose beyond Benâs original need for a fertility specialist. Benâs manipulation of Juliet mirrors Jacobâs offer to Dogan. Jacob or his rival could very well have caused the reproduction problems for the sole purpose of bringing Juliet to the island. (Hopefully the whole reproductive issue will be one of the questions addressed in some fashion before the end.)
This episode also seemed to confirm that Richard was once a prisoner on the Black Rock, and Jacobâs offer to Richard would also seem to connect to the implication in âThe Incidentâ that Jacob and his rival were awaiting the Black Rock on the beach. (How it got into the middle of the island is still a damn good question.) There is also the implication that Richard was a Candidate. (For that matter, there is the implication that Michael was also once a Candidate, since he was unable to kill himself in âMeet Kevin Johnsonâ.) Presumably, the oft-promised episode centering on Richard will confirm or correct some of these assumptions.
Overall, this episode was a good follow-up to the previous strong character study, delivering a near-perfect chapter in the saga of Benjamin Linus. Michael Emerson made the most of his time to shine, and the writers made it clear that this moment will be significant before the end. The final season continues to deliver.