Benjamin Linus is the most complex character in the Lost lexicon. He's scared hostage Henry Gale. No wait, he's the shifty leader of the Others who wants no part of Juliet's fun book club. Actually, no, he's just blindly following Jacob and safeguarding the island. Then he let Keamy shoot his daughter Alex (via Charles Widmore's orders). This killed him on the inside.
But ever since Ben stabbed Jacob in a moment of pure revenge rage in last season's finale, Ben seemed to reach a, well, dead end. Just a few fleeting (albeit riveting) scenes all season. Heck, nobody even wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp anymore.
That sentiment changed in the March 9 episode. Actually, change is underselling it. Assume I mean the most epic definition of change and there you have it. (And while I'm on a tangent, can we agree that Michael Emerson should just start typing his Emmy speech now? Sorry John Lithgow).
Ben begins the episode as a marked-for-death villain for said Jacob murder. Ilana ("Jacob was like a father to me") takes him at gunpoint and makes him dig his own grave. One final attempt to make a deal -- in this case, offer $3.2 million to Miles -- goes nowhere. (Cheers to Miles for that cool reference to the diamonds covering the buried bodies of Nikki and Paolo. RIP, morons.) Then fake Locke magically appears with a deal of his own; make an escape, kill Ilana in the woods and join the anti-Jacob movement. Mystery loves company!
Ben nearly executes it -- but just before he pulls the trigger, he unloads in a different way. His pent-up feelings of regret and remorse are all exposed in a heart wrenching monologue. And guess what? Ben is an outsider no more. One step further: For the first time in life, he has finally become accepted in a community as an equal.
In his flash-sideways, Ben -- oops, make that Dr. Ben, frustrated high school European history teacher -- isn't satisfied with equality. He wants to be principal, and he's not above blackmail (hmmm: sounds familiar!) and betrayal (hmmm: see previous parenthetical sentence) to get there. Here's the set-up: His prized student Alex -- looking so much comelier without that frizzy island hair -- confides to him that the married principal is having an affair with the school nurse. But when Ben makes his power play move, the principal threatens to kill Alex's shot at going to Yale. Will Ben sacrifice his pupil over his career ambition? Keeping in mind that this is a flash-sideways, in which redemption seems to be the motive de rigeur, guess what Dr. Ben decides to do.
Ben's alternative world also featured a pivotal scene: During a woe-is-me dinner with his ailing dad, it's revealed that the father and son joined the Dharma Initiative and indeed went to the island. They obviously got off, but, the elder Linus laments "Imagine how different our lives would have been if we'd stayed." Is that code for "Imagine how different our lives would have been if Sayid never shot you and Jughead never detonated?" Or, as Ben implies to pilot Lapidus on the island, maybe destiny can't be avoided.
Argh, this is getting long and haven't even gotten to Jack's explosive (get it?) pow-wow with Richard in the Black Rock ship. To make a dramatic story arc short, an embittered Richard wants to die via dynamite but the island won't let him! According to the eye-lined one, his immortality is a "gift" from Jacob that originated when Jacob touched him (presumably as a slave on the Black Rock). But what gives? Jacob touched Locke and Locke died. Jacob touched Sayid, and Sayid died. Then he became infected, which is kinda worse.
Of course, these questions may get pushed to the backburner now that an old friend is on his way back to the island. Welcome back Charles Widmore! Ben will be so happy to see you.
--By Mara Reinstein for UsMagazine.com