Episode 7 - The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham
20 December 2009
Present: We learn that flight 316 landed safely on the smaller island where the Hydra station is. Caesar and Ilana seem to have taken charge of the survivors. They discover John Locke, alive and well but they are suspicious because no one saw him on the plane. He tells them that he was dead. Then he sees an injured Ben has survived the crash.
Flashback: Locke arrives in Tunisia and lies prostrate on the ground yelling at security cameras nearby. Some men come and take him to a hospital where his leg is set. He wakes up to find Charles Widmore sitting with him. Widmore provides him with the resources to find the Oceanic Six (including Matthew Abaddon as his driver) and tells him he needs to get back to the island if the coming war is to be won by the right side. Locke can’t convince Sayid, Hurley or Kate and refuses to “recruit” Walt. He also learns that Helen died of a brain aneurism. Abaddon is shot and Locke flees, he is in a car accident and winds up at Jack’s hospital. Jack also refuses to listen to Locke until he hears that it was Christian who sent Locke. Locke tries to kill himself, convinced that he is a failure. Ben intervenes and convinces him not to do it. Locke tells him that Jin is alive and that Eloise Hawking knows the way back to the island. Ben then chokes him to death.
The Good: Locke has been such an engaging character because his confidence always hangs by a thread. Abandoned as a child he has real trouble believing in himself and despite all the evidence of the islands gives him, he still loses heart. The writers have always made sure we can understand why he would lose his faith despite the whole leg-healing, smoke monster, magic box, electromagnetic miracles which you might imagine would be enough to convince anyone that they were right.
Here he returns to the real world, the one he was so happy to leave and once more faces the demons from his past. He is back in the wheelchair which he thought he had escaped forever, adding to his vulnerability. Then his friends begin to pick apart his self confidence by looking at him the way the rest of the world used to (see 104). Sayid suggests he has nowhere else to go, reminding us of the sex worker (we assume) who he had to go to to find a confidant (104). Kate thinks he clings to the island because he has never found love. It’s a logical motivation for her to base her life around (after all she has sacrificed for her mother and then for Aaron) and brings Locke face to face with the idea that he is still the obsessive man who drove Helen away (217). Hurley is frightened of him, seeing him as dangerous and working with evil. Finally Jack sums him up as what he appeared to be before the crash “Have you ever stopped to think that these delusions that you’re special aren’t real. That maybe there’s nothing important about you at all?” He then voices what Locke is starting to believe “Maybe you are just a lonely old man who crashed on an island?”
Haunting Locke has to be the most painful memory of all. That his mother came to him saying he was special and that his father stepped in, made him feel good about himself and then crushed him and took what he needed (his kidney in 119). Here, even though Richard and Christian (both clearly supernatural beings) invest him with a task he finds himself manipulated once more by powerful father figures. Charles Widmore insists that the “island needs you.” He says John is the key to a coming war and insists that he is special. And of course once Locke reaches his lowest ebb Ben steps in to offer him more manipulated hope - “John you have no idea how important you are.” Like Locke’s father, Ben takes what he needs and then gets rid of John, this time literally.
Why is this story of failure still interesting to watch? Ultimately because we know John is special but more relevant to us as viewers, he is a good person. His vulnerability and honesty are endearing. He keeps his word to Jin and won’t try and recruit Sun. He won’t try and bring Walt back recognising that he deserves the chance to grow up and be free from the island. He doesn’t try and lie or manipulate Sayid into joining him like Ben did. He looks upset that Hurley is afraid of him. When he turns to Helen for comfort he finds she is dead. The island won’t let him return to his old life, it won’t give him a reason not to return to where he is meant to be. Trapped, miserable and unsuccessful he decides to kill himself. Though earning our pity it is also a courageous decision. He is following the island’s instructions and sacrificing himself in the hopes that it will lead Jack and the others to return to the island that he still believes is where they are meant to be.
His tears and heartache as he gives in to Ben’s seductive words (that he needn’t die) are acted really well and will draw most viewer’s sympathies. There is such a Christ-like symbolism to his submission. As the story goes Jesus was on the cross and the crowd jeered at him, saying if he was the Son of God he should come down from the cross and then they would believe in him. But Jesus died on the cross knowing his resurrection would be what really convinced them of the truth. John is of course not God. He is all too human and accepts Ben’s offer of hope. And then Ben kills him.
It’s brutal and ruthless and surely confirms for anyone doubting it that Ben is a bad guy. Up to this point his blatantly selfish decisions have always come with the caveat that maybe he could be forgiven because he ultimately he wanted to save the island. But here he could have let Locke end his own life if he really believed that was what was needed. But instead he murdered him. It looks like he only wanted to know how to get back to the island and once he had that he got rid of his competition and usurped his role. Just as he chose to turn the donkey wheel (414) even though Locke was told to.
On the island we are left with the intriguing scenario that Locke is now standing over Ben’s injured body. It’s a nice cliff-hanger but somehow I think Locke will be kinder than Ben was. We also have a new plane full of survivors who will look to them for guidance on what to do next. The big intrigue is when are they and what has happened to the island in the meantime. We also pretty much confirm that the canoe battle (504) was initiated by the survivors of Flight 316.
The Bad: For me, there was something missing here. Although intellectually Locke’s story was well drawn, emotionally it didn’t grip me as it might have. Locke has always been the source of emotionally gripping moments but none of these did it for me. Perhaps it is a purely personal thing?
But seeing Locke at the start of the episode, resurrected, was an anti-climax. Lost keeps giving away revelations which rob the narrative of the tension of what is going to happen next. Then there were Locke’s confrontations in the real world which all seemed to lack a certain significance. The traditional Lost vagueness was in full flow with Charles Widmore saying simply “because you are” to the question of why Locke was special. Abbadon says “I help people get to where they need to get to” and dies before he can elaborate on his magical advice (411).
As I elaborated in my previous review, when given an instruction that is meant to be really important, shouldn’t characters follow through? It bothered me that Jack didn’t try harder to convince “everyone” to get on the plane as instructed. Locke was told by Richard and Christian that “everyone who left” must come back. Yet Locke feels confident enough in his own judgement to just leave Walt out of that. It would also be nice if Locke could have given at least one specific pitch about why the Oceanic Six had to come back to the island. Mentioning the nose bleeds (505) would have been nice. Or maybe, just maybe mentioning that he was once a cripple? If getting them back to the island is really that important, wouldn’t that be worth bringing up?
I at least expected something more out of his confrontation to Walt. Many suspected that Locke had told Walt about his crippled state (102). But even if he didn’t Walt still makes no comment about Locke being in a wheelchair. Also missing was any question about “Walt’s” instruction to Locke to kill Naomi (322).
Then there is Locke’s death. Again a very personal feeling but I didn’t think this compared favourably to the dramatic and brutal feel of Sawyer strangling Locke’s father to death (319). Perhaps it is the Hitchcock-esque music that blares, covering the brutal sounds of struggle, which bothers me. Or perhaps it’s just knowing that Locke was going to die which takes me slightly out of the moment.
The Unknown: This could take a while…whose office is that on the Hydra Station? Is there significance to the fact that the map of the island is reminiscent of the papers which Sayid took from Rousseau (109)? Caesar seems unusually focussed as he rummages through the office, what’s his story? How did the plane land safely on the smaller island? Is Frank really that damn good (as he claimed in 402) or was there really a runway for him to land on (as mentioned in 302)? Why did Frank and a woman leave for the main island? Which woman went with him?
Did Walt’s dream about people wanting to hurt Locke refer to these survivors or perhaps Widmore’s supposed war? What war would that be? Could it have something to do with Jack, Jin and company being in Dharma times and affecting the purge (320) in some way? We assume that Jack, Hurley and Kate all disappeared into the original survivors time stream when they returned to the island. Why didn’t Locke? Is he really alive or some kind of un-dead like Christian? Indeed what is Christian?
How do Widmore and Ben get all their information? Widmore guessed immediately that Locke had come to take his friends back to the island. If telling the truth he also knew about the war that’s coming. He claims he was the leader of the Others and Ben deceived him into leaving. Is that true and if so how? Why did news of Jin’s survival have such an effect on Ben? Who told him that he was dead? How does Ben know Eloise Hawking?
Why was Locke needed to go back to the island? Couldn’t any old dead body have acted as Christian’s proxy? Does Ben know more about Christian than he has let on? Do Ben and Widmore really believe that Locke is important? Was Penny born on the island (if Charles had been there all that time)?
Best Moment: Ben cleaning the room after killing Locke. So methodical, so cold. As he is about to leave he turns and looks up at John’s dead body. “I’ll miss you John” he says in an amazingly performed squeaky voice. “I really will” he adds. You can’t help but believe him. There’s no one around to lie to.
The Bottom Line: If this is the end of the flashforwards I will be happy. I believe Lost is more dramatic when you don’t know what’s about to happen. Despite knowing Locke had been resurrected the writing and acting still managed to draw out Locke’s self doubt in interesting and emotive ways. But the return to the island story has been full of holes and vagueness in a way which I don’t enjoy.
And that is not a blanket criticism of Lost at all. I have no problem waiting to learn about the whispers or the smoke monster because the writing makes it clear those mysteries will be addressed in due course. When characters use phrases like “God help us all” and “it must be all of them” and then those statements are ignored, that’s when I get frustrated.
This episode doesn’t reach the height of previous Locke-centric stories but it is still enjoyable and entertaining.
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