Exciting times here tonight, peeps, with the triumphant return of "Letters from The Flame" to the blog here. For newbies, I’ll explain the drill: it’s where I directly answer YOUR burning Lost questions. Sure, the whole "reader ask, blogger answer" trope is hardly an original one, but I’ve never claimed to be original in the least. The most original I ever got was in buying the Smashing Pumpkins debut album when nobody knew who the heck the Smashing Pumpkins were. It’s been a slow, downhill slide into conformity from there.
But hey, enough about my lack of originality: you have questions that need answering! But a quick programming note: we’ll be rebooting "We Have to Go Back" next week, coupled with a special something I have cooked up mid-week that should hopefully entertain. So all you Desmond fans rejoice! You’ll see him in another life when we go back to Season 2. But for now, onto the questions!
Why would Ben (as a "good guy") still want to work for the island’s greater good? The island or Jacob or whoever cast him out! The long con has been pulled on both Ben and on Locke by something greater. So, why the loyalty to the island on Ben’s part? What can the island give back to Ben for all his efforts? Annie? His mother? What is it that Ben wants?
I love that this is in fact approximately forty-two questions, which is appropriate, in that it’s one of the Numbers. But I want to extract the "long con" part out of this question, because I think you’re right: the forces behind Cabin Christian utterly and totally pulled a con on Ben, because Ben is a major threat to their ascendance on the Island.
A lot of this theory is based on the flimsy evidence of Jacob, and Jacob’s working relationship, so rather than give you some pseudo-definitive answer, let me at least tease out a scenario in which the forces of evil (which I’ll call Black Stone for reasons that will be apparent by entry’s end) con Ben into banishing himself from the Island.
The plight of Ben mirrors that of Angel in Season 5 of the show that bore his name: both are at the center of a prophecy in which the chosen one is unclear. In Angel, the creation of two vampires with souls muddled up the Shanshu Prophecy. In Lost, both Ben and Locke are possible candidates for Island leadership. But "Island leadership" is derived, ostensibly, through divine birthright. They are, much like MacDuff, from their respective mother’s womb untimely ripped. Both birthed to women named Emily. And both having a prescient, innate connection with the Island.
This posed a riddle to Richard Alpert, seemingly head of the "Get Our Leader Here Now" Committee on the Island. His instincts seemed to go towards Locke, but in the end, Locke’s hesitancy to embrace the intellectual/spiritual side of his essence forced Alpert’s hand, leading Ben towards the place of power among the Hostiles, forming what’s now known as the Others through a combination of existing Island citizens and those recruited to follow their cause.
Now, this cause is what gets us to interesting places: at some point after Ben took over, an emphasis on childbirth entered the fray, eventually superceding everything else of import on the Island. This worried Richard, who had always maintained some skepticism about Ben’s role. Ben, not stupid, sensed the dissension among the Others, but maintained power through cunning psychology and his unique relationship with the entity known as Jacob.
Ben’s cancer was the first sign that his relationship both to Jacob and to the Island was tarnished, in some capacity. One can look back at the totality of Ben’s actions after the crash of Oceanic 815 as one of increasingly desperate improvisation, with each move pushing him further out of Jacob’s favor and splintering the already tense factions within the Others. Throw John Locke into that mix, and you have all the workings of a coup, one that fully formed with the Others largely decimated, Ben held captive, and Jack having contacted the Freighter.
Ben thought all this to be the work of a spiteful Jacob, but what if Jacob’s cry, "Help me!" in "The Man Behind the Curtain" meant that Jacob really no longer had any meaningful power over the Island, and that some other element was holding him captive? One can look at the tense cabin scene in "The Beginning of the End," with Hurley gazing upon Jacob’s frantic eye, as a way of looking into the metaphysical power dynamic playing out on the Island. Think "The Black Lodge" from Twin Peaks, with less dancing midgets and more creepy Christian Shephards.
This element, which I’ll call Black Stone, presents itself to Hurley, and Locke, but not Ben, having made Ben feel rejected by Jacob. Thus, when the three encounter the cabin in "Cabin Fever," the Black Stone has convinced Ben he’s no longer welcome, and allowed a naive man such as Locke to take orders unquestioningly once inside it. I honestly think if Locke had told Ben precisely what had gone on inside the cabin, the game would have been up. Instead, Ben glumly leads a path to the Orchid, banishes himself, all the while cursing an entity who needs his help more than ever: Jacob.
At some point between waking up in Tunisia and visiting Jack at the funeral home, Ben realizes the extent to which he has been fooled. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Black Stone sent its general to the Island at some point after Ben turned the donkey wheel in order to purge (word used intentionally) those unworthy in its eyes. That general? Matthew Abaddon.
But Abaddon’s presence doesn’t answer your major question: what does Ben want? I won’t even pretend to try to understand what makes that man tick, and I’m resisting very much turning him into the ultimate hero of the show (as many have over the course of the last season), but I do think you’re right in thinking Annie has something to do with Ben’s end game. While I won’t assign him the role of hero, I won’t deny him a few scraps of humanity, either. I’ve long thought that the fertility experiments centered around Annie in some fashion, either solving the mystery that killed her post-Purge (if indeed she survived it) or as a way to somehow bring back her essence (i.e., childbirth gives physical form to one of the Whispers, who are the souls of those who have died but can’t "move on").
Now, for the reason I call the forces of darkness "Black Stone."
So, by series end, will one side truly gain victory over the other? Will we watch the final scene knowing that the Light side has won and balance has been restored to the Island/Universe? Or will we watch the Island drown in hellfire and sink into the sea, having somehow fulfilled its purpose?
Here’s why I love this question: it allows me to plug in a huge chunk of pop culture references I unwittingly omitted during my "Light and Dark" two-parter earlier in the week. And Lord knows I get sad when I can’t go all Best Week Ever on you.
I’m calling the forces of darkness "Black Stone" because I think the key to the balance you’re talking about lies in the two stones Jack found in "White Rabbit" on the persons of Adam and Eve. One black stone, one white stone. Thus, "Black Stone" and its now obvious counterpoint, "White Stone." Something about that pair, and those stones, stuck out even more upon rewatching Season 1.
I’m hesitant to say White Stone will "win," because that’s potentially misleading. There are dozens of popular genre tales that feature two sides that are inextricably linked, to the point that normal notions of "defeat" simply don’t come into play. The Matrix and the Harry Potter series stand out for the intricate, intertwined relationship of the main protagonist/antagonist. I won’t spoil the ending of either for those of you who haven’t seen or read those series all the way through, but both play off of the "For neither can live while the other survives" prophecy from Harry Potter and the Order of the Really Freakin’ Long Book With Lots of Capital Letters Emphasizing Just How Loudly Harry Screams All The Time.
As such, the notion of sacrifice comes heavily into play. Couple that with the crazy video from Comic Con (Daniel Faraday in 1978???), and you have the very real possibility that two people that we currently know have to go back, armed with these two stones, and stave off whatever apocalyptic scenario is due to play out. In doing so, these people will lose their lives in order to protect dozens, hundreds, possibly millions of others. And they can only do so through a combination of Black Stone/White Stone, not through the defeat of one over the other. I don’t think either can truly defeat the other, but getting them to once again exist in balance with each other will be the true end game of the show.
Knowing everything you know about season four and having just gone back through season one, which season ranks as all time best?
Oh boy, the shortest answer and one that will possibly spark the most discussion below. Up front disclaimer: I love me some Lost something fierce. All scores are from 1-10, with 1 being equivalent to "Stranger in a Strange Land" or "Eggtown" and 10 being equivalent to "The Constant" or "Walkabout." And all rankings are done knowing that a "5" in Lost terms would be like, the most mind-blowing episode of NCIS ever created. So it’s all relative. Know that before you start throwing things at the screen.
1) Season 4 (9.0): Breakneck pacing. Huge revelations. A major ramping up/embracing of the sci-fi elements of the show. But "Eggtown" was straight-up horrible, and looking back, I’m sure "The Other Woman" doesn’t make a lick of sense. I’m reserving judgment until I see more Faraday/Charlotte stuff.
2) Season 1 (8.7): Marvelously plotted. It’s easy to forget now how radical the flashback concept really was at the time. Some great character-centric eps with enough mythological mystery to keep one intrigued. But too many individual episodic misfires ("The Moth") and the seeming abandonment of plot threads only to smush them all together by season’s end into a box that was too small to fit everything in.
3) Season 3 (8.5): I didn’t mind the slow start, honestly. Everyone else seemed peeved. I would have been more peeved if they were back at camp by the end of the first episode, a trend most shows would have followed. But while the season eventually picked up, I got frustrated at times by important questions answered with a mere stare, or a snarky non-answer. The show seemed to be introducing more mysteries than answering existing ones. But it’s hard to hate a season that ends the way it did.
4) Season 2 (8.0): Look, it’s easy to hate on Season 2. But I don’t hate it! Honestly! I gave it an 8, and that’s a Number, and since the season was primarily about the way those Numbers dehumanized our Losties to the point of despair, it’s an apt score for the season. I think I’ll really enjoy working my way through this season starting next week, if only to see the season as the exercise in claustrophobia and distrust it was. But the Tailies were a failed exercise in injecting new life into the show, a lesson Heroes failed to learn, and ultimately, we were all as sick of the button as Locke was by season’s end.
So there you have it: my rankings. Leave yours (and any thoughts about Black Stone/White Stone) below!