Tuned In

Lostwatch: Subterranean Ben's Sick Blues

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SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this post before watching last night’s Lost, or you’ll learn that… that… sniff… excuse me…

Almost since Lost began, fans have whined and complained that the deaths on the series have been convenient and wussified–targeting less-popular, peripheral characters (Boone, Shannon, Ana Lucia, Libby) or threatening, then stepping away from, first-tier castaways (the teasing almost-death of Charlie). If the producers had guts, fans said, Sopranos-style, they’d whack somebody really cool.

Well, are you happy, people? I said, ARE YOU HAPPY? Last night, your wish cost Mr. Eko–the badass, soulful, conflicted, stick-wielding druglord-cum-priest–his life. You got your pound of flesh, or, by the looks of him, about 250 lbs., actually. It was probably the best, most moving episode yet of season 3, although Eko’s termination will be clouded by the fact that–like earlier casualties Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Watros–Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was recently arrested for a traffic violation. I doubt the producers care about that, though; more likely, Mr. Eko had run out of backstory and outlived his usefulness as Locke 2.0, and thus the smoke monster swept him up like the mailed fists of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof.

Speaking of which, grief aside, how cool was that death scene? Not because Eko died, but because of how the episode teased us about the nature of the smoke monster. As in Eko’s first sighting of it, he was alone every time it appeared; then we learned that, when Locke had seen the monster, he saw not a column of smoke but a bright light. All this seemed to indicate that the smoke monster was not a physical presence at all, but some kind of figment–until said figment picked Eko 50 feet in the air and smashed him on the ground. Who’s the external manifestation of the character’s inner struggle now, sucka?

The tradeoff? It looks like in exchange for one rough-hewn, fascinating Eko, we get a pair of new, blandly pretty castaways, Nikki and Paulo, who tagged along on this week’s island adventure. Their appearance has been a subject of controversy in the Tuned In household. Mrs. Tuned In, representing what seems to be a growing consensus among Lost fans, thinks their introduction has been distractingly hamhanded and phony. I–probably desperate to make excuses for the show–think their introduction has been so hamhanded and phony that it’s funny; the producers seem to be having fun with acknowledging the TV-ness of having 40-some survivors on the island, 30 or so of whom we know nothing about, even though the main characters must. It reminds me of the season Buffy the Vampire Slayer suddenly introduced Buffy’s sister Dawn and had the characters act as though she’d been there all along. Of course, Buffy had a supernatural explanation for the twist: the new Lost characters are not, like Dawn, the magically created Key for anything, except for the need for new blood in the cast. (As if anyone has ever said, "You know what the problem with Lost is? Too few characters!")

OK, fine: Mrs. Tuned In is right, I’m wrong. Spare me the e-mails.

After all this, though, I suspect the most important thing about the episode was what we learned about the Others. I had to love the scene in which Juliet snuck Jack the video in which, with the mute button on and, using title cards a la Bob Dylan in the Subterranean Homesick Blues video, begged him to off Benry on behalf of a rebellious group of Others. More intriguing in the larger scheme, though, is another issue that, at first, looks like a plot misstep but probably holds a key to the Others and their beliefs.

Haven’t you wondered why, if Benry is so desperate to have Jack operate on his deadly tumor, he doesn’t just coerce his prisoner? It’d be easy enough, after all, to point a gun at Jack’s head, or better yet, to Kate’s, to get him to co-operate. Instead, however, Benry tells Jack that there was an elaborate plan to brainwash him into sympathy. "I want you to want to save my life," Benry says–if we can believe him, and in this case I think we have to, since if the Others had wanted to threaten Jack, they’d have done so long ago.

Why is volition so important to the Others? It seems Benry doesn’t just want Jack to want to help: he needs him to want to. Whatever The Others’ core beliefs are, free will must be a cornerstone of them: Juliet referred to free will in the season opener, and again in her cover speech to Jack last night. Of course, there are good TV reasons for the Others to believe they need Jack and company to convert of their own free will–that provides the excuse for their baroque and entertaining psych games. But it also, after five episodes, may provide the essential chink in the Others’ armor that the castaways can exploit: something in their self-conceptualization as "the good guys" means that they must achieve their goals by persuasion, not force, even, it appears, at risk to Benry’s life.

"I want you to want me / I need you to need me." Could this be the key to the Cheap Trick (sorry) that will buy Jack and company their freedom?