The Man Behind The Curtain (S3, ep. 20)

Voice: “Help me.”

After a much-needed break for Thanksgiving festivities we’re back up and running and just about through the tail-end of Season 3. The Man Behind The curtain remains one of Lost’s finest hour’s – an installment that’s as packed with revelations as it is with questions.

Thoughts:

• Another great fake-out opening – making it seem as though Ben’s mother Emily is giving birth in a clearing on the Island, only to reveal that they’re actually just outside of Portland – the same generalized location that Mittelos Bioscience gives as their place of business.

• Horace Goodspeed enters the picture here for the first time. Horace is played by Doug Hutchison, a character actor known for playing utter jackasses (see: The Green Mile) and homicidal mutants (see: The X Files). Hutchison is also in the underrated horror film “The Burrowers,” alongside fellow Lost cast members Clancy Brown (Kelvin) and William Mapother (Ethan).

• Also entering the picture here: Horace’s sister, Olivia. Olivia is played by Samantha Mathis who helped usher this particular writer into puberty with her appearance in the Christian Slater vehicle “Pump Up The Volume” (great soundtrack – highly recommended).

Ben: “You do remember birthdays, don’t you, Richard?”

• Our first hint that Richard is far older than he appears. This sort of oblique foreshadowing is like catnip to me.

• Locke appears in the Others’ camp, carrying the body of his dead father just as Ben instructed. The look on Richard’s face is, I think, much clearer now in hindsight – he looks, for lack of a better word, satisfied. A commenter on Chud’s message boards has pointed out that when Jack and Co. are stuck back in the 70’s, Richard expresses his doubts about Locke to Jack, who tells Richard not to give up on Locke. Prior to that conversation, it seems as though that’s what Richard was considering doing – neither the Pachen Llama test he gives young Locke nor to offer to join an Others-sponsored summer camp in High School have given Richard any indication that Locke is the person he’s looking for. But Jack’s words to him, combined with the word that Locke has been healed on the Island, and now Locke’s completion of the test that was set before him, seem to have convinced Richard of Locke’s worthiness. This, I think, is when he starts to believe.

• I like the choice to frame Ben and Locke’s tent conversation with a folded wheelchair placed behind Locke.

Ben: “His name is Jacob.”

• Ben tells John that he can’t take him to see Jacob, and when Locke suggests that he’ll get Richard to take him, Ben seems genuinely threatened. “He doesn’t know where Jacob is,” Ben protests, “He doesn’t talk to Jacob.” We’re seeing Ben’s jealousy and protectiveness on full display here – he’s sensing the end of his time as Leader, and he’s sincerely unsettled by that prospect.

Ben: “I was born on this Island. I’m one of the last who was. So Jacob talks to me, John.”

• This is either a complete lie, or it’s a half-truth. We’ve seen Ben born off-Island with our own eyes, but we’ve also seen a young, wounded Ben taken to the Temple to be healed. When he does this, Richard implies that Ben will, on some level, not be the same as he was before – which could be considered a rebirth of sorts. But the real answer to this enigma appears to come at the end of the episode – we’ll talk about it at the end of this column.

• Holy hell do I love the fashion sense of the 70’s Dharma Initiative.

• And speaking of which, this episode gives us our first real glimpse of the Initiative in its prime. We see how employees are processed (something we’ll get another look at when Jack and Co. arrive) and we see yet another instructional video from Marvin Candle/Edgar Halliwax/Pierre Chang, in which we learn that the sonic fence was constructed by Dharma (an incredible innovation for the 1970s) in order to keep the Island’s “abundant and diverse wildlife” out of their compound. Cute.

• We see a Dharma employee giving an injection/inoculation to a little girl, again raising the question of the purpose behind them.

• Do we ever learn what it is that Ben’s dad did off-Island, before Emily died? He’s all stink-faced when he’s assigned the position of ‘Work Man’ – was he a particle physicist or something? I’d be kinda rankled too, were that the case. If not, I don’t really get the anger he displays. From the perspective of the Eastern religion/philosophy that Dharma appears to admire and/or co-opt, to work in the service of others (Others?) is to serve a holy purpose.

• Sawyer’s reappearance after the events of the Brig highlight how shaken he is by what he’s done. It’s a good bit of acting on Josh Holloway’s part.

• Mikhail runs into the Others’ camp, shouting for Ben and warning about the arrival of a helicopter pilot on the Island. Ben seems as surprised by this as he does by Locke’s arrival, and on Rewatch I’m struck by the sense of just how little control Ben actually has over his situation. On first watching these episodes I marveled at how Ben always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone and, while that’s still certainly the case, that feeling now comes with an added layer of understanding on my part – one that makes me think about just how tenuous Ben’s grasp on the reins of power are, and appear to have been for some time.

• Locke beats Mikhail ferociously in front of all the Others –  a display of pure Alpha-male dominance. Ben tries to get Richard to intervene, but Richard chooses not to do so, and even flashes a smile at the sight of Locke feeding Mikhail fist after fist. This seems to signify the extremity of Richard’s desire to see Ben replaced, a larger indifference to and/or approval of violence as a claim to leadership (see: daddy killin’), or both.

• Alex arms Locke against Ben, and the recognition of this is clearly hurtful to Ben. It seems to me that Ben has ruled from a similar Alpha-male dominant position, and that the result of this has been distrust and fear.

Annie: “Don’t worry. It’s just the Hostiles.”

• We learn that there’s a volcano on the Island – a detail I’d pretty much forgotten about. Chance that the volcano will play a significant role in the final season: 100%. And speaking of the volcano – is it the source of the rumbling that occurs just before the ‘Hostiles’ attack the compound? If not, what is?

• And speaking of Annie – what happened to her? We can assume that she died in the Purge with everyone else, but this hasn’t been confirmed. Are we ever going to revisit this plot point? Or is there nothing more to it?

Horace: “We’re having some…skirmishes with the natives.”
Roger: “What do you mean, natives?”
Horace: “Well, we’re not exactly sure who they are.”

• They’re the Others, of course. Richard’s (and presumably Widmore’s) band of Merry Men. This is the first confirmation we’ve gotten that Richard and Co. are the Island’s inhabitants, and not simply remnants of the Dharma program.

• That shot of Ben’s mother appearing at his bedroom window is creepy, yo.

• Let’s discuss the ‘ghost’ of Ben’s dead mother. She and Dave, Hurley’s eerie imaginary friend, are as of now the only apparitions that don’t fit my larger ‘Island ghost theory.’ What is the ‘Island ghost theory’? That all of the various apparitions we have seen on the Island (except Emily and Dave) are people whose dead bodies reside ON the Island, implying that a person’s body must be physically present on the Island in order for their ‘ghost’ to appear. We’ve never seen an apparition of a still-living person, and (except for Emily and Dave), we’ve never seen an apparition whose body wasn’t verifiably ON the Island. This is seemingly underlined by the fact that Christian’s body lands on-Island, and that Christian subsequently begins appearing as a ‘ghost’; that Locke’s body is returned to the Island and that the MiB appears to assume his form after this event.

We see and/or hear about the ‘ghosts’ of Eko, Horace, Ana Lucia, Charlie, and Boone, all of whom have died on-Island, and we see the ‘ghosts’ of Yemi and of Nigerian smugglers, whose bodies were transported to the Island aboard the beechcraft plane. Tangentially, but interestingly, we’ve also seen that the ‘burial’ ritual of the Others involves sending burning bodies out to sea – away from the Island.

All of the above would seem to suggest that there’s a link between the presence of a dead body on the Island and the manifestation of that person’s ‘ghost.’ Or it would, if not for Emily and Dave. We see Emily die off-Island with our own eyes and, barring some secret grave-digging-and-transportation team among the Others, we can be pretty sure that her body did not end up on the Island. And while it’s possible that the man we know as Dave died at some point in the Island’s past, we don’t know that for a fact and should probably assume that, if he ever existed at all, Dave’s body isn’t on the Island.

Which kind of blows a GIANT, GAPING HOLE in my theory. ….Maybe.

I say maybe because there’s a possible explanation for Emily’s presence on the Island – one that may stretch your credulity past its breaking point. Nonetheless, I’d like to suggest that both Emily and Dave can be explained, while still keeping my larger “Island ghost theory’ intact. Want to hear it?

When Richard runs into Ben in the woods and hears that Ben has been seeing things, he is noticeably surprised and intrigued by that fact. In that interaction it’s suggested that Ben is somehow ‘special’ because of his ability to see Emily. That ‘specialness’ may be the reason why he’s able to see the ‘ghost’ of someone whose body is not on the Island. The ‘typical’ rules of the Island (whatever they are) may not apply to him. After all, a number of other people have seen the ‘ghost’ of Christian (Jack, Claire, Michael), and it hasn’t been suggested that those people are ‘special’ (though they could be). And notice what Richard asks Ben after Ben informs him that he’s seen Emily:

Richard: “Did she die here, on the Island?”

If Ben is special (perhaps the same kind of ‘specialness’ that Walt also displayed – giving the show a perfect opportunity to explain what ‘special’ means through the character of Ben, without having to bring back a much-aged Malcolm David Kelley to reprise the Walt role) that might explain his ability to see a ‘ghost’ that wasn’t created from the form of a dead body on the Island.

And this concept of being ‘special’ doesn’t only apply to Ben and Walt – it also applies to Hurley, who was the only one able to see the ‘ghost’ of Dave. We learn in the Season 5 finale that Hurley is also ‘special’ in some way – he’s the only one that Jacob confronts directly and speaks to in any real way (and remember that Hurley is also somehow able to locate ‘Jacob’s’ cabin – a talent that’s apparently hard to come by). Most notably, Jacob suggests that Hurley’s ability to see ‘ghosts’ off of the Island is a ‘gift.’

So, rather than see the ‘ghosts’ of Emily and Dave as the exceptions that destroy my theory, I’d like to suggest that they are the exceptions that prove the rule. In both cases, the people who have seen these apparitions have been declared ‘special’ within the context of the show.

What do you think? Am I grasping at straws here? Do you have a better suggestion? I’d love to hear it. Weigh in on the Chud Message Boards or in the comments section on Back To The Island.

Roger Linus (paraphrased): “Well, you killed yer momma. Happy freakin’ birthday, jackass!”

• Roger Linus is a total dillweed, continuing Lost’s theme of terrible fathers. The Bible has something to say about terrible dads, especially as they relate to their kids. Numbers 14:18 speaks of visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation, and Exodus 20:5 speaks of punishing children for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation.

This is something that I’d like to delve into more deeply, but to do so would mean that this column will bloat beyond my capacity to make it cohere, so I’m reserving my thoughts on Lost’s fixation with bad dads for the next Too Much Information column on Back to the Island. All I’ll say now is that the bad dad pattern may have significant bearing on the show’s overarching story, and that it suggests something radical, even revolutionary, about what Lost may end up suggesting about faith and religion. Stay tuned for more on this. I’ll have those thoughts up this week.

• The ring of ash/powder around Jacob’s cabin remains unexplained. It’s been suggested that the ring may serve as a kind of ‘binding magic,’ keeping whatever is inside of it contained. But there’s been very little ‘magic’ in this show so far, and that explanation, intriguing as it is, doesn’t have anything to support it (though the Sixth season may change that). So, I’d like to suggest that the ring of ash suggests the Smoke Monster’s presence around the cabin, and that it reinforces the idea that the MiB/Smokey is the one inhabiting the cabin at this point in time. We know that there’s a volcano on the Island, and we know that Smokey appears to rise up from the bowels of the Island – is it possible that Smokey is composed of volcanic ash, animated by the electromagnetic force and/or intelligence at the heart of the Island?

Ben: “Juliet, its Ben. I’m sending three teams to extract Kwon the night after tomorrow. We won’t have time to run Austen’s sample, so if you determine that she or anyone else is pregnant, mark their tents, and we’ll take them too. Good luck.”

• The end-game for the season (on-Island, at least) has been set. The Others are coming for Sun, and for any other pregnant women. The castaways are now aware of this fact, and will be preparing themselves accordingly.

• Ben follows a white rabbit across the deactivated fence-line, again echoing Alice In Wonderland – a touchstone that’s been fairly constant (no pun intended) throughout this season. He encounters Richard here for the first time, and we see that Richard looks like Robinson Crusoe – a far cry from the perfectly-pressed, Banana Republic-style outfits that Alpert typically favors. Either the show made the decision to change his look during this time period in Season 5, or his appearance here is a charade, like the fake beards and the ragged clothing that the Others used in their initial encounters with the castaways.

• Richard tells Ben that he might be able to join the ‘hostiles’ if it’s what Ben really wants, and if Ben is very patient. The reasons for this are unclear. It’s possible that Richard is preparing Ben to act as their sleeper-agent in the Dharma camp, but I’m not sure what other significance his words have here.

• We get our first look at ‘Jacob’s’ cabin at last, and on rewatch it seems much more obvious that something isn’t right about the place or its mysterious, disembodied inhabitant. The whole scene is wonderfully creepy, approaching the same sense of David Lynch-ian unease that Lost occasionally manages to pull off so well. But before we talk about the scene, let’s talk about the cabin itself, and why it’s pretty much the saddest place in the world – as well as why it’s a nifty metaphor.

If you stop to think about it, either Ben takes Locke to the cabin because (1) Ben knows that Jacob hasn’t lived there in a long time, and the whole exercise is a total fake-out for Locke’s benefit or (2) Ben thinks that it is Jacob’s cabin – that Jacob does reside inside it.

We don’t know which of these options is true but what we do know is that Ben’s faith, prior to Locke’s hostile takeover bid for leadership of the Others, was apparently very real. When he rages at Jacob during the Season 5 finale, Ben is revealed to be a man furious at his ‘God figure’ for abandoning him, for making him feel alone and confused in a harsh world without the benefit of real knowledge regarding his purpose in Jacob’s plan. In this sense, Ben stands in for any person who has lost their faith as a result of the seeming-absence of God. He’s bitterly, murderously resentful of Jacob – a man he has never met, never seen, never spoken to, despite his faithfulness in carrying out that man’s apparent wishes.

That’s why Jacob’s cabin is such a sad place to my eyes – regardless of whether Ben thinks the cabin is truly Jacob’s, it’s the only place he knows to go – a place that as always been empty, silent, unresponsive and uncaring – a place that stands as a possible metaphor for the houses of worship you or I have entered into in search of comfort, only to find that once inside we can’t feel the presence we’re longing for.

Ben: “You’ll wanna turn off your flashlight, John.”
Locke: “Why?”
Ben: “Jacob feels the same way about technology as you do.”

• Now that we know Jacob wasn’t the resident of the cabin during this visit, it seems reasonable to assume that the MiB may be the animating presence inside. We know that the MiB thinks progress is for chumps, and we know that in some ways, technology is an outward manifestation of progress.

• I have no idea what the jars in the cabin are for, or what the painting of the dog refers to (although I can make a guess regarding the dog: Cerberus, the three-headed hound of mythology, is also the name given to Smokey on the blast door map seen in Season 2. Is the picture of a dog here a subtle hint that Smokey, aka Cerberus, is the true inhabitant of the cabin at this point?)

• This whole scene between Ben, Locke and ‘Jacob’ is phenomenal. I love the mounting sense that Ben is crazy, that he’s talking to the thin air, and the puncturing of that mounting certainty as something/someone begins to fling things around the cabin like an addled poltergeist. We catch a fleeting glimpse of ‘Jacob’ in his rocker, and to my eyes the figure looks much like Locke himself. If the entity that inhabits the cabin is the MiB, then his call to Locke to ‘help him’ remains enigmatic, but also sinister in the wake of all that’s happened since. The fact that Ben can’t hear the MiB? I’ve got no idea what to make of that.

• Roger and Ben’s final scene together is tragic stuff, and it directly foreshadows the final confrontation between Ben and Jacob. In both instances, a father-figure to Ben has disappointed him in profound ways, and in both instances Ben’s response is to destroy that father figure.

• Note that after Ben and the Others set off the gas which kills Dharma, Richard checks his watch before removing his gas mask. I’d like to suggest, as I’ve suggested before, that the ‘quarantine’ signs and hazmat suits were a direct response to this Island-wide gassing.

Ben: “You know, John, you’re not wrong. Some of the things I’ve told you—some of the things I’ve told everybody—are simply not true.”
Locke: “Like what?”
Ben: “Well, for starters, I wasn’t born on this island.”
Locke: “Then where did you come from?”
Ben: “That’s what I want to show you.”

• The implication here is that Ben thinks of himself as having been reborn through the Purge – that the death of the Dharma Initiative simultaneously signaled the birth of the Ben Linus we all know. Thanks to the episode’s final flashback we know that the Purge occurred 12 years before the events of Season 3.

The sight of that mass grave – of all those Dharma employees stacked like so much cordwood – is a horrifying one. Ben may not have the knowledge we’ve assumed him to have, but he has ice water in his veins to make up for that fact. He’ll do anything to maintain control of ‘his’ Island, anything to ensure that Locke doesn’t achieve his perceived ‘special destiny.’ And the irony of it all is this: had Ben succeeded, he would have kept the MiB from achieving his loophole.

*****

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Missed a column? Catch up here:

Season 3

• The Brig (S3 ep. 19)
• D.O.C. (S3 ep. 18)
• Catch 22 (S3 ep. 17)
• One of Us (S3 ep. 16)
• Left Behind (S3 ep. 15)
• Exposé (S3 ep. 14)
• The Man from Tallahasse (S3 ep. 13)
• Par Avion (S3 ep. 12)
• Enter 77 (S3 ep. 11)
• Tricia Tanaka is Dead (S3 ep. 10)
• Stranger in a Strange Land (S3 ep. 09)
• Flashes before your Eyes (S3 ep. 08)
• Not In Portland (S3 ep. 07)
• I Do (S3 ep. 06)
• The Cost of Living (S3 ep. 05)
• Every Man for himself (S3 ep. 04)
• Further Instructions (S3 ep. 03)
• The Glass Ballerina (S3 ep. 02)
• Season 3 Premiere

Season 2

• 
Season 2 finale
• Three Minutes (S2 ep. 22)
• ? (S2 ep. 21)
• Two for The Road (S2 ep. 20)
• S.O.S. (S2 ep. 19)
• Dave (S2 ep. 18)
• Lockdown (S2 ep. 17)
• The Whole Truth (S2 ep. 16)
• Maternity Leave (S2 ep. 15)
One of Them (S2 ep. 14)
The Long Con (S2 ep. 13)
Fire + Water (S2 ep. 12)
The Hunting Party (S2 ep 11)
The 23rd Psalm (S2, ep. 10)
What Kate Did (S2, ep. 9)
Collision (S2, ep. 8)
The Other 48 Days (S2, ep. 7)