OK, now this is what I am talking about, people.
For the past two weeks I’ve been happy to see anything new in terms of Lost content, but the content itself has felt a little…lacking. I chalked this up to a slow build to the "Missing Pieces" endeavor, as well as my inability to see the larger picture for these thirteen mobisodes. Well, this week’s edition, entitled "King of the Castle," proves that brevity is the soul of awesome, with a tense, information-rich two-and-a-half minutes that tingled my Spidey-esque mythology sense the entire time.
Jack and Ben are playing chess. So, it’s safe to say this mobisode happens before Jack beats the snot out of Ben while leading the Lostaways to higher ground. The timeline’s a bit iffy here, but we’re dealing with some time between Jack returns with the Others to the barracks and John, Kate, and Sayid infiltrating the camp (to varying degrees of success).
The two are quietly playing chess, with Ben happy to finally have someone with skill on the opposite side of the board. (Tom may have been a master of disguise, but a horrible chess player.) Ben asks Jack to reconsider leaving the Island, and then tells Jack to relax, and that he fully intends to let Jack off the Island. The word "intends" piques Jack’s curiosity. Ben states that while he will not actively prevent Jack from leaving, the Island may not permit him to do so.
Jack takes a literal translation of this ("What, the Island’s going to sink the sub?"), to which Ben laughs, but then says, "But if you do leave this place, the day may come when you want to return." Jack naturally says never in reply. Ben asks him to remember this conversation should that day ever come. At this point, Ben checkmates Jack and, possibly referring to more than the game itself, says, "Was a nice try though."
I mean, Jiminy Cricket, where to start? First off, we’ve got ourselves a chess match, which calls to mind one of the very first iconic images of the show: Locke’s backgammon game. It’s hard to not look at the black and white chess pieces and not think of the "light" and "dark" sides that have waged war on this Island every since Oceanic 815 crash-landed.
Secondly, we have the "Jack’s always one step behind" motif brought into greater relief. However, this point’s a touch not quite that simple, as according to several sites, such as this one, the move Ben uses to win is in fact an illegal move. In case you don’t want to jump away, here’s the pertinent piece:
"Ben’s move is illegal, since castling is only permitted if both the king and rook have not yet moved from their starting locations on the board. Ben’s king is on the dark square where the queen starts the game, so castling is no longer a valid move."
OK, so, two ways to look at this in greater thematic context:
- The "illegal move" is just an oversight that overzealous Lost fans noted, meaning we should take at face value that Jack got outsmarted once again by Ben. Ben may lose pieces to Jack, but will not lose the overall game. This parallels Jack’s ability to free Kate and Sawyer, but remained trapped to both Ben and the Island itself.
- A more convoluted theory, but one that intrigues me more. Suppose it’s NOT a mistake. Suppose that not only we know it’s an illegal move, but Ben and Jack both know it too. What does THAT say about their relationship, Ben’s control over the Others, and his ability to see what’s to come? It says that Ben is scared of Jack’s role in the events to come, and sees not only his time as head of the Others drawing to a close, but his time on a heretofore unseen Island drawing to a close as well.
Overall Importance to Missing Pieces
Look at this conversation as a way of Ben giving information for Jack’s use later. Look at this conversation as Ben’s way of steering Jack towards a path that ends with the results than Ben wants. Look at this conversation as a way Ben starts to try, in earnest, to prevent the impending apocalypse.
Now, "apocalypse" may be too strong a word by half, but in Ben’s mind, it’s not too far off. Think about the way Ben works: he works by manipulation. He’s not a hands-on type of leader, but instead rules through intimidation, insinuation, and psychological exploitation. But key to everything about him is his desire to enact a sense of moral compassion from those with whom he comes into contact. Remember what Ben says about Jack removing the tumor from his spine: "I want you to want to help me." It’s not enough for Ben to make people do something; he has to make them believe in whatever it is he wants them to do. And that’s an important distinction.
The question is, naturally, why desire has any impact upon the action. It theoretically shouldn’t matter if Jack performs the surgery with the best of intentions or a gun to his head. But in Ben’s mind, it’s paramount. Such desire is literally the demarcation between life and death. If intentions matter as much as action, then a predetermined course has to exist for Ben in order to affect those emotions that he deems necessary. A path can potentially be seen by someone not enslaved by space and time, unlike those fools schooled in Room 23.
And finally we come to it, something that fellow Lost obsessor Jeff Jensen posited first a little while back: Ben, like Desmond, can see the future.
Essentially, you can reduce everything Ben has ever done to the fact that he’s seen the end of his idyllic existence on the Island torn asunder by factors he increasingly can’t control. With each deviation from the life he envisions on the Island, in communion with it, as leader of a group of individuals who treat him with God-like reverence, he grows more desperate, more cruel, more out-of-control, which leads him down a spiral which ends, for our viewing purposes, bloodied, beaten, and scared to death of the people offshore.
The moment this all started? The discovery of his tumor. That was the first sign he had that his communion with the Island had been ruptured. Remember: people like Locke and
Bernard Rose were healed by the Island, and clearly there’s that whole Fountain of Youth thing going for people such as Richard Alpert as well. But these effects are not given to everyone: so near as Ben can ascertain, such gifts must be earned after initially bestowed. In short, one has to prove oneself to the Island in order to continue receiving such gifts. (I knew it was Rose. Sigh. Good catch, Kristin!)
The rupture between Ben and the Island more than likely occurred due to a hint offered up by Richard to Locke near the end of Season 3: namely, Ben’s obsession with fertility had led the Others astray from the magic, for lack of a better word, of the Island. (Ben’s obsession with fertility will be addressed later in the week.) The very need for surgery weakened Ben’s position within the Others, a position he sought to regain through the manipulation of John Locke, the logical heir to his throne in the eyes of many of the Others. (Ironically, by the end, both Ben and Locke were essentially on the same page about protecting the Island from outside sources.)
As to how Ben gets flashes similar to Desmond’s…let’s call it an assimilation of the unique electromagnetic properties of the Island. Desmond got good and smacked with a high-level dose of it when he turned the failsafe key, but suppose Ben is either 1) naturally attuned to it, or 2) grew more accustomed as his years on the Island progressed. The "how" doesn’t really bother me so much, anymore than "how" Locke can walk once on the Island or Sayid can hear voices or Nikki can put me to sleep in under two lines of dialogue. These are all great and wondrous mysteries and looking for the root cause is ultimately not where we should be spending our energies.
The problem for Ben, and one he seems to grasp even in this mobisode, is the fact that while he can see a terrible future in which Jack contacts the freighter, he can essentially do nothing to prevent it. It’s the same future Locke sees after Walt revives him in the mass grave, telling Jack, "You’re not supposed to do this." Both Ben and Locke act on behalf of the Island, but just as the Island cannot literally blow up a sub, the Island, even working through its two biggest disciples, cannot stop Jack from contacting Minkowski on the freighter, which, in Ben’s words, is the beginning of the end.
"Beginning of the end." Not a bad way to sum up this week’s mobisode, either.
Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude.