The Shape Of Things To Come (S4, ep. 9)

There are changes
Lyin’ ahead in every road
And there are new thoughts
Ready and waiting to explode
When tomorrow is today
The bells may toll for some
But nothing can change the shape of things to come.

- “Shape of Things To Come,” Max Frost and the Troopers

It’s a shame that Season 4 was cut short by the writers’ strike – it may be my second-favorite season overall so far. “The Shape of Things to Come” is a stellar installment of television, and a fantastic showcase for Michael Emerson as Ben Linus.


• The title of this episode has two potential origin points: (1) the song “Shape of Things To Come,” by Max Frost and the Troopers. The lyrics for the song (reproduced above, in part) are certainly fitting. That song was inspired by (2) H.G. Wells’ fictional history “The Shape of Things To Come,” a speculative look into the future. The novel’s narrator has had dreams of the world as it is in the year 2106, and Wells’ book purports to be his notes about what he can recall from that dream. Notably, Wells predicted World War II in the book (which was published in 1933), but from that point onward the book develops into an “alternate history.” The potential relevance to Lost here seems obvious: a future history that is written down to be remembered? That concept recalls Daniel’s journal and my theory on “Castaway reincarnation” (see the column for the Constant). An alternate history branching off from “real” history? That echoes the possible result of the Jughead explosion in the Season 5 finale or, alternatively, it may echo the lives that we’ve seen the castaways living since the start of the show – if the destiny of the castaways involves somehow “Setting things right” and correcting a looping/alternate timeline.

• Jack’s begun taking pills for what we’ll soon learn is appendicitis. Watching Jack surreptitiously raiding the castaways’ medicine chest echoes how we’ve already seen him stealing pills from the hospital’s supplies off-Island, and it shows us where Jack’s newest dependency may have originated from.

• Dr. Ray washes ashore, dead as the proverbial doornail. We’ve now been shown that time is distorted in two ways between the freighter and the Island: some objects, like Dan’s rocket and Frank’[s helicopter, take longer to travel between two points than should be the case. Other objects, like the Doctor’s corpse, can arrive on the Island before they leave the freighter.

Hurley: “I can’t believe you’re just giving him Australia. Australia’s the key to the whole game.”

• Hurley, Locke and Sawyer enjoy a relaxing game of RISK before everything goes to hell in a hand basket. Hurley’s comment here that Australia’s “the key” to the game is actually true of RISK. Apparently, “one of the most basic and widely-used strategies in the game…involves establishing the continent of Australia as a defensive base.” What’s interesting about this? Well, for one, there’s only one entry point to Australia in RISK – through Indonesia – which echoes the seeming existence of only one (shifting) entry point to the Island. For another, Australia sits to the side of one of the “vile vortices” – 12 geographic areas that are supposed to have qualities similar to that of the Bermuda Triangle, and which are located at key points around the globe which relate directly to Lost’s mythology (see also: Tunisia and Africa). Lastly, Australia is where Isaac of Uluru and Richard Malkin are both based, and Australia’s Uluru mountain is rumored to rest upon a pocket of powerful energy in a manner similar to how the Island rests atop electromagnetic energy.

• A faceless Keamy and his men force Alex to deactivate the sonic fence – presumably they learned about the fence from Widmore, who was still on the Island after it had been built. Alex’s code activates a call to Ben’s Barracks phone, repeating the words “Code 14-J” over and over.

Ben: “They’re here.”

• Watching Ben pull a shotgun out of a piano bench makes for stimulating television. I love the implication that Ben could have left at any time he wanted, but has chosen to stay. It lends further credence to the idea that Ben has some idea of what “the shapes of things to come” are, and is using that knowledge to his advantage.

• Without explanation, future-Ben appears in Tunisia as though he’d just been teleported there (which, in a manner of speaking, he was). Tunisia was also the location of the polar bear skull and Dharma collar examined by Charlotte (though a different part of Tunisia). Both portions of the country featured on Lost are within one of the supposed “vile vortices.” Note that the cameras which we’ll see when Locke turns the wheel and ends up here aren’t yet in place.

• Also worth pointing out: the parka that Ben wears belonged to Miles’ father, the enigmatic Pierre Chang/Marvin Candle/Edgar Halliwax.

• Ben tells John that it’s very important for him to survive the attack on the Barracks. Why? Well, it’s possible that it’s because Ben knows Locke must be alive long enough to go time-hopping, inspire Richard, and interact with the past before turning the wheel. It’s also possible that Ben is keeping Locke around as bargaining chip/unassuming patsy. But his stated reason for wanting John alive is that they need to go speak with “Jacob” (Ben, it seems, is still convinced that Jacob resides in the cabin, further underlining how cut off Ben is from his adopted father-figure). Ben wants Hurley to come along as well, since good old Hugo can apparently “find” the cabin somehow (is this ability connected to his penchant for ghost-spotting?).

• Check out the painting that Hurley’s standing beside. It could be Ben’s mother, but I’m guessing that its Annie, Ben’s childhood friend (now missing/potentially-deceased). I theorized in the last column that Ben’s kidnapping of Alex and his obsession with the fertility issues on the Island may have resulted from Annie’s pregnancy and subsequent death. I’m really hoping that this is the case, and that we finally meet an adult Annie in Season 6.

• In the same spirit as the blowing-up-of-a-tree we saw at the end of Season 3, the massacre of the unnamed castaway extras at the Barracks is gloriously over-the-top in the best way. Now, I realize this is highly subjective, and some of you may roll your eyes at the way a bunch of the background-castaways are taken out en masse. But for me it’s a moment of surprising humor in an otherwise tense and serious scene.

• Sawyer admirably risks his life in a major way to try and rescue Claire, but the arrival of a ROCKET cuts that rescue short. It goes boom real good. Note that the rocket hits the side of the house, making it possible for Claire to have been in the back opposite side of the structure and to have only been hit by the explosive force and/or debris. Note also, however, that the explosion appears to shatter the entirety of the house’s structure. Does Claire survive this attack?

Hotel Clerk: “Is this your first time in Tunisia?”
Ben: “No. But it’s been awhile.”

• We shift over again to future-Ben’s exploits in Tunisia. Ben’s got “preferred guest” status in his Dean Moriarty persona and the clerk seems either troubled or impressed by what she sees in her records. Note that Ben makes sure of both the day-date and the year, which seems to confirm that Ben’s aware of the Island’s time-bending abilities.

• Sawyer finds Claire passed out and bloodied but seemingly alive among the wreckage of her exploded house. She mistakes him for Charlie. Did Claire survive the explosion? If so, why does she appear to vanish in the night and then subsequently reappear as a smirky, creepy figure in “Jacob’s” cabin? If not, why is Sawyer able to pick her up and haul her around?

• We watch Nadia’s funeral procession in a still-occupied Tikrit, as Ben reappears in order to take surveillance photos of an ominous-looking, bald-headed man (Ishmael Bakir) and of Sayid. This is the man, or so Ben claims, who we will see hit Nadia with a car during the Season 5 finale. Of course, when Ben snaps Sayid’s photo, Sayid turns his head up and sees Ben taking the shot . Because Sayid is a g**damn badass. Sayid thinks Ben is paparazzi at first, again implying that the Oceanic 6 have endured a substantial amount of publicity/celebrity.

• Ben flips Sayid to his side without seeming to break a sweat, making it oh-so-ironic that Sayid chose to betray Michael for this very sin in the previous episode, “Meet Kevin Johnson.”

• Ben lies to Sayid about how he got off the Island. He claims that he used Desmond’s boat.

Keamy: “Am I speaking to Benjamin Linus?”

• Ben implies terrible things about Keamy’s past. Specifically, he mentions Uganda – a country where the hiring of mercenaries like Martin Keamy has resulted in much strife and bloodshed.

• To my eyes, the look on Ben’s face when Keamy pushes Alex to her knees isn’t frightened or worried – it’s almost…satisfied; almost as if he’s secure in some hidden knowledge that Alex can’t die. Watching Ben disown his daughter just before she dies is awful – one of the most emotionally-wrenching moments of the show for me as a viewer.

• I’ve been assuming that when Ben says “He changed the rules,” that he’s speaking of Widmore. But what if he’s not? What if he’s speaking of Jacob? If Jacob has been feeding Ben information about the future, giving him enough info to keep him a few steps ahead of the game, it would explain a lot. It would, in particular, explain just why Ben goes from looking satisfied (because he’s initially sure of the outcome of this exchange) to looking truly, deeply, profoundly shattered, as he does in the aftermath of Alex’s death. Jacob didn’t warn him about this development. Jacob, from Ben’s perspective, let Alex die.

• …I think it’s a fairly plausible theory, especially when we see what Ben does immediately after uttering those words. He gets up, yanks the bookcase away from the wall, disappears into his secret safehouse room, and then reveals ANOTHER hidden room inside the already-hidden room (rooms within rooms, like Russian dolls, echoing the doll we saw in “Expose”) in order to summon the Smoke Monster.

We don’t see him do this yet, but on rewatch we know that’s what he’s doing, and it brings to mind this question: Why didn’t Ben summon the Monster immediately? I assume it’s because he couldn’t, or because the summoning was either a ‘last resort only’ option, or, even more likely to my eyes, a FORBIDDEN option which Ben has decided to use because “he changed the rules.” If Jacob is the one who changed the rules, then Ben’s decision to go to Jacob’s opposite number for help makes thematic sense – especially since we suspect that the Monster may have aided young Ben when he was wounded by Sayid’s gunshot.

• The hieroglyphics on the door that Ben enters here appear to spell out “To Summon Protection,” or a variant on that phrase.  Other potential translations include “To Summon Time Protection,” “To Summon Time Power,” and “Time Summons The Power of Life.”  All of these have potential relevance to Lost.

• Claire claims to be “a bit wobbly,” but that “she’ll live.” Hmmmmmmm.

• The sight of the Monster barreling past the camera like a freight train is awesome stuff. I typically dislike Lost’s effects (the Season 5 ones are particularly bad), but this one’s a keeper.

• Daniel admits that the freighter never planned to take the castaways off the Island, and Jack doubles over in pain. Time for that appendicitis!

• I love that Sawyer is willing to die for Hurley now. Locke and Ben need him to find the cabin, but Sawyer’s more than willing to put a bullet in Locke and take Hurley back to (perceived) safety. Sawyer’s character continues to evolve into someone who cares for those around him, no matter how much he protests otherwise.

• Finally, Ben and Widmore meet face-to-face, in what’s one of my favorite teases. Why is Widmore beginning to have nightmares that he dulls with Scotch? Why can’t Ben kill Widmore? Because “whatever happened, happened”? Because of some gentleman’s agreement? Because Jacob has forbidden it?

Widmore: “Don’t stand there, looking at me with those horrible eyes of yours and lay the blame for the death of that poor girl on me, when we both know very well I didn’t murder her at all, Benjamin. You did.”

• Widmore makes the same point to Ben that Ben made to Michael in the last installment, setting up another echo between episodes – it was Ben’s choice that killed Alex, not anything else.

Widmore: “That island’s mine, Benjamin. It always was. It will be again.”

• Widmore’s words here echo those of Caliban in The Tempest almost exactly. This may be meant to be ironic, as Ben’s been established as a kind of Caliban figure on the Island.

• Ahhh….and it WAS Widmore who changed the rules, apparently. There goes my theory about Jacob. What rules? If I’m right in my “castaway reincarnation” theory, those rules are in place for a specific reason.


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Missed a column? Catch up here:

Season 4

• Meet Kevin Johnson (S4 ep. 8)
• The Other Woman/Je Yeong (S4 ep. 6 &7)
• The Constant (S4 ep. 5)
• Eggtown (S4 ep. 4)
• The Economist (S4 ep. 3)
• Confirmed Dead (S4 ep. 2)
• The Beginning of The End (S4 ep. 1)

Season 3

• Through The Looking Glass (S3 ep. 22 & 23)
• Greatest Hits (S3 ep. 21)
• The Man behind The Curtain (S3 ep. 20)
• 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)