I’ve been meaning to talk about this topic for a few weeks now, but let’s just say it got “Lost” in the shuffle. Incidentally, I’ve been writing this blog for more than two years and somehow avoided that pun until now. I know. Impressive. I find cash to be an acceptable gift, if you’re so inclined. Tickets to this will also work nicely.
Everyone’s looking forward to some real, honest-to-Jacob answers come Season 6. Some of these answers will undoubtedly be fulfilled, to varying degrees of audience satisfaction. For instance, I’m pretty sure the show won’t close without “Lost” giving us an idea of the smoke monster’s true purpose, identity, function, and/or derivation. But there are a host of B- and C-level mysteries that may or may not actually be answered in the show’s final 18 hours. One man’s mystery is another writer’s red herring.
I want to look at what I feel is a B-level mystery. Until the latter half of Season 5, I wouldn’t have placed it above Level C. But given the events that transpired once Ajira 316 landed on the Hydra Island airstrip, I feel it deserves a bump up. It’s probably not a central mystery on the minds of many people, but in many ways it might help contextualize a lot of the interactions between some of the show’s major players. Here’s the mystery I want solved in Season 6:
How and why did Ben Linus end up in Rousseau’s net in Season 2?
It’s a tricky question, because at the heart of it lies the show’s trickiest character. Trying to diagram all the possible scenarios in which he landed in that particular position would take up a good chunk of a classroom chalkboard, with permutation after permutation filling up the blank spaces. All we do know is that, according to the super handy (and insanely exhaustive) Lostpedia’s timeline, there are eight days between Ben visiting The Pearl with Juliet and him ending up in Danielle’s net. (Gotta love that number of days, eh?)
In those eight days, some set of events transpired that sent Ben Linus from merely watching the survivors from afar and using Others lower in the hierarchy (such as Tom) to deal with them to somehow ending up in their midst. It’s a complicated series of events, the true impact of which could not have been truly understood by anyone but maybe one or two entities, depending on your particular perspective.
But let’s try and break things down without making this analysis the length of a novel Desmond Hume might read as the last piece of literature he absorbs before he dies, shall we?
Did Ben get caught on purpose or by accident?
If it’s the former, then he had either marching orders or was marching to the beat of his own drum. If it’s the latter, then either he’s not as crafty as we thought or Danielle’s way craftier than we believed. If you take Door #1, then the Henry Gale backstory was in his mental back pocket before setting out. If you take Door #2, then it was all a brilliant improvisation. Given Ben’s meticulous planning, we can’t rule out #1. Given how well Ben played John in “The Man from Tallahassee,” we certainly can’t rule out #2.
Did Ben truly come for John, as claimed by him in “Two for the Road“?
It’s worth quoting the scene at length:
Ben: None of this matters. I’m dead anyway. The doctor’s gone to make a trade and we both know he’ll come back empty-handed and then I’ve lost my value. So either Jack comes back here and kills me or my people find out where I’m being held and they do it.
Locke: Why would your own people want to kill you?
Ben: Because the man in charge — he’s a great man, John, a brilliant man — but he’s not a forgiving man. He’ll kill me because I failed, John. I failed my mission.
Locke: What mission?
Ben: When that woman caught me in her trap I was on my way here, John. I was coming for you.
We have to recontextualize this exchange in the wake of everything we’ve learned, especially in Season 5. We know that Ben never actually saw Jacob until “The Incident,” so Ben’s opinions are his own. Through either his own imagination or Richard’s machinations, Ben is freakin’ terrified of Jacob. It’s a fear he keeps to himself in order to maintain control of The Others, but he’s got little to lose at this point of the show. Honesty is sometimes Ben’s greatest asset.
Even if we assume Ben’s marching orders are legit, they are only legit from his perspective. Richard Alpert could theoretically tell Ben anything, and as long as Ben believed it was coming from Jacob’s lips, he would be compelled to obey. Richard could have ordered Ben to bring Jacob a $5 footlong from Subway and Ben would have hopped into his magical walk-in closet, grabbed a passport, and headed off-Island.
On the other hand, assuming Ben’s orders are as he says they were, we don’t know why it took Richard or Jacob so long to have a chat with the man who bobbed and weaved throughout the Island’s timeline for so long. We know that from mere minutes after the crash, Mikhail was compiling files on the survivors. The name “John Locke” would have meant something to Richard Alpert, but Richard was off-Island keeping tabs on Juliet’s sister. Beyond that, Jacob’s lists seem irrespective of passenger manifests. I’m pretty sure he knew Locke would be on that plane before Locke fell eight stories thanks to Anthony Cooper. I’m honestly perplexed, and have to chalk it up to “the writers came up with cool stuff later in the show that unfortunately makes Ben’s arrival in Season 2 seem far too late.” Onto the final question…
Did Ben understand Locke’s importance upon meeting him?
“Lost” has long dealt with the power struggle over the Island’s heir. I’ve dealt with this topic at length before, but I want to look at it now from the perspective of Ben and Locke. What we have in Season 2 are two people struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy: Locke’s time in the Swan had dulled his previous purpose, and Ben’s tumor had dulled his faith in the Island itself.
What’s unclear to me is just how much of a threat Ben perceived Locke to be at this juncture. Was he a man on a list? The single biggest threat to Ben’s leadership position? Or a complete nobody that Ben learned to play like a fiddle deep within the Swan? It’s hard for me to believe that Ben would willingly bring back his replacement to New Otherton with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. But he clearly wouldn’t openly defy Jacob. Was he laying the groundwork for the morality play involving Anthony Cooper in Season 3, or just enjoying his own intellectual and psychological superiority while waiting for the cavalry (or, you know, Michael) to spring him loose?
The fact that Ben invites John along before gassing Jack, Kate, and Sayid in Season 3 implies to me that there was a long-term plan to involve Locke in Ot
hers’ life, whether than directive came from Richard or Jacob. Many other survivors, such as Cindy, were co-opted with nary a power struggle. That makes Ben’s tests of John in Season 3, along with his horror at learning Locke heard “Jacob” speak, that much more primal: he’s a man sent on a mission to get one of the “good” guys, only to learn he was essentially training his replacement. No wonder Ben and Richard’s relationship is so darn frosty.
This analysis hasn’t even touched upon every possible scenario under which Ben ended up in Rousseau’s trap. Somewhere between “dude just went for a power walk in the wrong Island ‘hood” and “a series of carefully laid-out plans that make this plot seem simple by comparison” lies the answer. (Link may be NSFW. Also? Kyle’s “Really?” responses always slay me.) Maybe this mystery won’t truly be answered in the final season. But 1) given the show’s penchant for revisiting key moments in its history from a new perspective, 2) the power dynamics of Ben/Locke reaching their boiling point at the end of Season 5, and 3) the promise of the long-awaited Richard Alpert flashback next series, I hope to get a definitive version of this story before the curtain closes.
Why do you think Ben ended up in the net? Leave your thoughts and theories below!
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