Tuned In

Lostwatch: A Game of Risk

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Australia’s the key to the whole game. / ABC

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, take the keyed-access elevator to the penthouse and watch Lost.

There’s a lot to talk about in this week’s Lost, and I’m not going to cover nearly all of it, still being off the clock and all. But I’ll kick off the discussion with the back-and-forth Mrs. Tuned In and I had after the episode. Mrs. Tuned In didn’t care for the episode. I liked it, but I have to admit that her objections to the episode crystallized some nagging worries I have about where Lost is going. So let me get those out of the way before I get into what I loved about this Ben-centric episode.

The episode was called “The Shape of Things to Come.” And what worries me about this episode is, if the shape of things to come is a series abour Ben trotting the globe, with his loyal henchman Sayid, to exact revenge from Charles Widmore, I don’t know if that’s the series I signed up for. I’m always glad to get a lot of Michael Emerson in an episode, but his flash-forwards seemed like a different series, once that looks a little too much like Alias. And given how (rightly) suspicious Sayid generally is, isn’t it a little too easy and convenient for Ben to be able to show up, flash a photo of a man he claims killed Nadia (RIP, by the way) and suddenly gain Sayid’s trust enough to become his revenge buddy?

The whole introduction of Widmore, and his sudden centrality, is a little worrisome. Having spent three seasons building up an elaborate, still unexplained mythology involving Dharma, to suddenly have the focus be a standard-issue greedy evil businessman seems like a way of rendering the whole business of Dharma and The Others moot. Because they’re not the real enemy, Widmore is! Only he’s not the real enemy, either—the aliens are!

But enough with the quibbling. For now, I can take on faith that Ben-vs.-Widmore will not overtake the series once the action leaves the island. I can take a lot on faith for now, because of how much I loved this episode was while it was on the island. For instance, how after the freighter mercenaries attacked the camp—you know, with those special bullets that only kill extras—the show raised the stakes by killing Alex, at the climax of one of those hostage-standoff situations that never ends with the hostage being executed. (And killing her, for once, unambiguously, with a bullet to the head, Bal’more style.) Lost does it, just like that—but more, it leaves Ben with the horror not only of seeing his daughter killed, but of knowing that the words from his last desperate gambit—”She’s not my daughter. I stole her as a baby from an insane woman. She’s a pawn, nothing more. She means nothing to me”—were the last words she ever heard.

This show is clearly ready to go to some dark places before this season is over.

Which leads us back to Michael Emerson, who further tightening his deathgrip on an Emmy. His expresssion in that long closing-in shoot after Alex’s death, in which his face shades from shock to grief to rage, was masterly. (Later, he tells Sayid, “Once you let your grief become anger, it will never go away,” and we know he knows it, because we literally saw it happen to him.) As was the way he let us see the gears turning behind Ben’s visage as he schemed desperately to save himself and Alex and, for once, did not have the perfect con. And whatever worries I have about where the show is heading in the future, I do enjoy badass-assassin Ben.

Widmore may or may not own the island legally, but when it comes to acting, Emerson owns everyone on this show. He got me to cry over the death of Alex, a character I never liked—and I cried not so much for Alex as for Ben, even though I know full well that he’s a monster who has killed dozens of innocents remorselessly (all those poor Dharma hippies, etc.). The beauty of Ben, and Emerson’s portrayal of him, is that I don’t have to like him to empathize with him.

So as I said: plenty to talk about here–Faraday’s Morse-code lie (and what the hell is Charlotte biting her tongue about?); the fate of Nadia; Widmore’s motive and endgame. But in this vacation post, I’ll just focus on the episode’s implications for Ben, past, present and future. He may not be one of “the good guys,” but damn, is he good.

On to the hail of bullets:

* So: Ben in a parka on the desert floor—looking startled, as if he had just come to, fallen to Earth… or materialized? Is he time-and-space traveling here? And judging by his parka, where has he just been? Also: we don’t believe he actually sailed off the island on Desmond’s boat, do we?

* What are the “rules” Ben refers to, and for that matter, what is the game?

* So in 2005, neither Ben nor Charles know where the island is? Does anyone? And if Ben can get to the desert in a parka, why can’t he get to it?

* Nice little interchange between Locke and Ben after Ben says goodbye to Alex; as much as they’re destined to be rivals, there is an undeniable bond and parallel between them, and Terry O’Quinn does a great job conveying that.

* Evidently Ben has Smokey on speed-dial (perhaps the best monster scene yet, by the way). Does this get anyone any closer to a theory of who/what the smoke monster is?

Time for me to go back through my secret panel. I’ll see you all Monday.