Last night’s episode, “Dr. Linus,” was the finest of the season. We have always thought Benjamin Linus a great character, and the big question facing him, post-killing Jacob, is if he’s beyond redemption. (The small question is if he would be found out as Jacob’s Judas. Miles answered that for us before the main titles last night.) Did Ben seal his fate when he plunged the dagger into Jacob’s heart? Or does he still have a shot at atonement?
“Dr. Linus” was also the most satisfying Sideways story yet, eclipsing Jack’s “Lighthouse” episode only in its unexpectedness. In his Sideways life as a high school teacher with a doctorate in European history, Ben is a beat down, dispirited public education servant, lecturing ironically about Napoleon at Elba and given to half-hearted teachers lounge manifestos that win him the admiration and support of one substitute teacher John Locke. He lives with his dad Roger, who tells us over an organic frozen dinner that he should never have taken Ben to the island. The doorbell rings and who shows up at Ben’s door but his not-Sideways-daughter Alex. She is apparently such a star History Club pupil that she visits her teacher’s house at night begging for extra tutoring. Everyone now: Nerrrrrrrrrd!
Ben agrees to do so, and the next morning they are in the school library when Alex starts to crack. She desperately wants to go to Yale, and Ben volunteers to write her a recommendation. She tells him that his recommendation won’t carry nearly as much weight as one from a real Yaley … like, say, the “pervert Principal Reynolds.” Ben perks up at this. Alex discloses, after Ben promises to keep it a secret, that the principal is getting it on with a school nurse. Everyone now: Grossssssssss!
Here’s where the Sideways story shifted into high gear. Michael Emerson immediately and seamlessly slipped into Machiavellian Ben mode, and the prospect that he could effectively kill young Alex all over again became palpable. Ben enlists the help of the supremely annoying Leslie Arzt, whom we hope has made his absolute final appearance in a “Lost” episode. Arzt, in addition to being a nimrod, has a knack for hacking into faculty e-mail, and he agrees to investigate the principal in exchange for a sweet parking spot when Ben becomes the new principal. Dream big, Arzt.
When Ben confronts Principal Reynolds in his office with the e-mails, he is now as crafty and sinister as his island likeness. His blackmail is foolproof. He tells Reynolds to step down and recommend Ben as his successor. Reynolds says he can only give one recommendation that matters: for Ben, or for Alex, who has e-mailed him asking for a letter of recommendation to Yale. Ben is given a second chance to choose himself or forsake his ambition. When we see him next, lifting Reynolds’ nameplate off his desk, our stomach sank for a moment. Did he really pull a Sayid? Has he always been a power-grabbing scumbag? Then Alex walks in, followed by Reynolds, and we discover that Ben chose wisely. Reynolds wrote a glowing recommendation for Alex. Ben’s parting shot is getting out of detention duty, a small but satisfying grace as he exits the office he’ll never hold.
All this relates in some fashion — as parallel, epilogue or both — to Ben’s island redemption. When Ilana learns he killed Jacob, she dispatches him to dig his own grave. After making a desperate plea for Miles to free him, Ben hears the twitching and clicking of Nemesis, who materializes as Locke and handily breaks the ankle chain holding Ben captive. Nemesis tells Ben he will let him rule the island once he’s gone and tells him to come to the Hydra station. Ben makes a run for the rifle Nemesis says is waiting in the jungle, and he gets there in time to hold Ilana at gunpoint. He breaks down and confesses that he knows what it means to lose a loved one, only he bears the guilt of being responsible for Alex’s death.
So here’s the money question: Did Ben atone for his sins? Miles delivers a damning verdict when he corrects Ben for saying that Jacob “never cared”: “Oh, he cared. Right up until the second the knife went in his heart, he was hoping he was wrong about you. I guess he wasn’t.” Now that we’ve seen Ben prove himself capable of selflessness, and seemingly choose Jacob of his own free will, is he out of the woods (or the jungle, as it were)? Last season Richard Alpert took young Ben to the temple where he took a dip in the same pool that Sayid did earlier this season. Sayid came out infected. Young Ben surely did was well. But has he cast out that infection once and for all? Ben told Ilana that he could never forgive himself, so he certainly didn’t expect her to. Yet she does, telling Ben she would have him. Ben, stunned (like Jack) by grace, follows her back to the beach, where Jack, Hurley and Richard turn up as well and — yes, I see it coming — we get a slow-mo beach reunion scene! Hallelujah! We knew the writers had at least one more of those up their sleeve.
Other revelations last night:
Richard Alpert WAS on the Black Rock. Knowing that the temple is no longer a tourist destination, Richard intercepted Jack and Hurley in the jungle and took them to the Black Rock so he could reminisce over being bound in chains. He says he wants to die, and surprisingly Jack seems willing to accommodate him. Jack lights a long fuse on a stick of old dynamite and then recaptures some Bona Fide Season One Jack Mojo: He sits down across from Richard and says, “Let’s talk.” Jack tells Richard what he saw in the Lighthouse and that he doesn’t believe Jacob brought him to the island just so he could blow himself up with a centuries old former slave who digs eyeliner. Turns out he’s right. BREAKING NEWS: Richard gets his own episode in two weeks, “Ab Aeterno”! At long last!
Ilana knows more than she’s letting on. Ilana claimed Jacob was like a father to her, and obviously Jacob shared exclusive knowledge about the island because Ilana knows who the remaining candidates are and that she must protect them. (She does not know which Kwon needs protecting, though.) She also graced Ben with forgiveness, further cementing Jacob’s rep as a force of good, not evil. (All Nemesis promised Ben was more power, an empty promise if there ever was one.)
IS Sideways Locke also Nemesis? He was the one who planted the idea of Ben becoming principal. We don’t buy that, but Doc Jensen (link below) makes an interesting suggestion that perhaps the voice Ben has claimed to hear all along is not Jacob but Nemesis. Why does this matter? It would mean he’s never willfully rejected Jacob, only that he’s confused God and the Devil.
Next week: Finally, after three episodes off the grid, Sawyer makes a comeback. ‘Bout time.