Dead Is Dead (S5, ep. 12)

Ben: “I broke the rules, John. I came back to the Island. I was going to answer for what I’d done – I was going back to be judged.”
Anti-Locke: “Judged? By whom?”

Typically, Lost features one Ben-centric episode per season, and that episode ends up being a favorite of mine. “Dead Is Dead” is no exception. Ben Linus has always been an enigma, and I suspect that to some extent he will remain one when the show ends. But “Dead Is Dead” offers us character-based, psychological insight into Linus’ head and a deep dip into the mythology pool. It’s Manna. 


• As if Lost wasn’t already a repository for many of my favorite things, the show adds horse-riding Others to the mix. As I’d suggested back in the rewatch column for “What Kate Did,” this detail may explain why Kate saw a random horse on the Island back in Season 2. Sure, it’s possible that the Smoke Monster turned itself into a horse, that the ‘ghosts’ on the Island can take animal forms as well as human forms (it’s especially possible if the castaways are creating these ‘apparitions’ with their minds). But the simple “Occam’s Razor” answer is that Kate sees a horse because there are actual horses on the Island. This episode makes a point of showing us that yes, there are/were.

• Back in Hawking and Widmore’s time as leader(s) of the Others, their little Island clan is still a tent-dwelling bunch.

Widmore: “So it’s true – you actually brought one of them to our Temple.”
Richard: “He was just a boy. And he was dying.”
Widmore: “Then you should have let him die.”
Richard: “Jacob wanted it done. The Island chooses who the Island chooses – you know that.”

• Again I ask: what is Richard’s purpose? He appears to “serve” Jacob, but he and the Others have access to the Temple – the apparent home of the Monster, who may be linked to the MiB.

• If Jacob wanted Ben to be healed, it may be because he knows that Ben will one day act as the Man In Black’s assassin and that Ben must live to carry this out. The “change” in the Temple may have been ordered by Jacob as part of his master plan, perhaps ensuring that he’ll know who will betray him. We haven’t been given enough information to know.

• We’ve seen Richard’s willingness to hurry things along before, when he encouraged Locke to have Sawyer murder Anthony Cooper so that Locke could depose Ben. Are we seeing that again here? Is Richard quietly arranging for Ben to take on leadership?

• Richard’s “impatience” may be linked to his “immortality.” Either Richard is a normal man who was somehow given long life by Jacob, or he’s been called into existence by Jacob to act as his emissary (making Richard a ‘ghost’ like Christian). Either way, Richard may be trying to fulfill his duties as ruthlessly/efficiently as possible, changing the ‘leadership’ of the Others whenever he feels they’re deviating from his mission. 

• In healing Ben and sending him back to live among the Dharma folk again, the Others have created a sleeper cell.

Young Ben: “I don’t want to go back.”

• Ben’s words here are a mirror of Jack’s off-Island claim that “we have to go back.”

Ben: “My God! You’re alive…”

• Anti-Locke, who is also somehow the mysterious Man in Black, is one of two apparent “demi-gods” on the Island. He may be related to the force that healed Ben Linus, as is heavily implied during this episode. Anti-Locke/the MiB may be the spirit/intelligence of the Island itself. If that’s the case, then in a very real sense, Anti-Locke IS Ben’s god.

Ben: “I knew it. I knew that this would happen.”
Anti-Locke: “Then why are you so surprised to see me?”
Ben: “Because its one thing to believe it, John. It’s another thing to see it.”

• Ben’s words here mirror his words to Jack about Doubting Thomas, who needed to see Jesus’ wounds in order to believe. The story he told about Thomas involved a genuine conversion of belief, while his words to Anti-Locke here are still largely lies. Ben is frightened by Locke’s reappearance, not converted, and until he visits the Temple he’ll continue to plot “Locke’s” demise.

• What’s up with the “Shadow of the Statue” people? If they’ve discovered that Locke is an imposter then why haven’t they exposed him? Is Anti-Locke’s power great enough that they need to keep their knowledge a secret?

• Hmmmm…..Notice that Anti-Locke remains on Hydra Island while we’ve heard the Smoke Monster and seen Christian on the main Island. Can the MiB be in multiple places at once? If not, this separation might disprove the connection between the MiB, Christian and Smokey, and suggests that Christian is not a manifestation of the MiB

But recall that Smokey is given the nickname “Cerberus” on the blast door map. What’s the significance of that name? Well, for one, Cerberus was the mythical guardian to the Underworld. Smokey’s status as a “security system” on an Island with similarities to the mythical concept of Underworld certainly earns him that nickname. What else about Cerberus is potentially significant? The mythical beast was supposed to have three heads, each capable of independent movement and thought. Christian, Anti-Locke and Smokey all appearing around the same time? That’s three appearances.

Ben: “If you want your child to live, every time you hear whispers you run the other way.”

• Many people have rightfully asked why Rousseau wouldn’t remember Ben’s face, since  he’s the one who stole Alex from her. On rewatch, the answer is that Rousseau never sees his face. WE see it, in close-ups, but Ben’s features are obviously and intentionally shadowed over from Rousseau’s perspective while he’s in the tent. She won’t see him again for over a decade(!).

• Ben’s decision to spare the lives of Rousseau and Alec clearly has significance to the storyline, even if we don’t understand that significance just yet. Why does Rousseau need to run whenever she hears Whispers? Is it because, as we’ve seen it implied, the Whispers herald the presence/arrival of Others?

• Ben taking the photo of he and Alex says everything about this character. He may be a monster, but his actions always seem to come from twisted love: love of the Island, love for his stolen ‘daughter,’ love of Jacob. Could Ben have been the “great man” the Island seems to demand if he hadn’t been shot and taken to the Temple? Is that act what twists this man’s psyche into such a darkly-contorted shape? Would Ben have become the man he is if Sayid had never drawn that gun?

Questions like this make clear that while Season 5 has focused on the theoretical science of time travel, it’s heart still lies just as firmly in the philosophical and moral questions that haunt all of humanity, and that reside at the center of this show: what makes a person the way that they are? Self-determination? Fate? Can people change?

Locke: “I never pictured you leading your people from behind a desk. Seems a little corporate.”

• The real Locke was a desk-jockey prior to coming to the Island, after all. Anti-Locke’s comment here and his comments later in the episode further underlines what we’ve already seen of the Others – prior to Ben’s time, the Others were a tent-dwelling, nomadic people, and this living arrangement seems to be what “the Island” wants from them – a return to nature, and a true reliance on what “it” is able to provide them. Symbiosis  between their people and the land itself.

• Ben claims that everything he’s done has been in the best interest of the Island – something he’s claimed before. Whether this is true or not depends on what those best interests actually are. If the Island is speaking to Ben/the audience through Anti-Locke, then its arguable that Ben HAS been working in the best interests of the Island, since he’s primarily responsible for bringing Locke back, and for killing him.

Great Locke Line Delivery: “You’re in the habit of calling people ‘friend.’ But I don’t think you mean it.”

• Ben shooting Caesar is a smart, shocking moment. The performer is solid character actor, and when he appeared I’d assumed (as I’m sure most of you did) that he’d become a new supporting character. His death comes out of nowhere, and it reinforces something we’ve known about Lost for awhile now: no character is safe.

• The shots of Locke and Ben at the dock are beautiful. Ben’s arm is healing, but it isn’t healed – Anti-Locke points out that he was favoring it on the boat ride over.

• Speaking of the boat ride – did you notice that Anti-Locke takes Christian’s shoes off before he gets into the boat, and replaces them on the dock as soon as he gets out again? Can the MiB’s feet not touch the main Island? Does he need those shoes? Or is he just fashion-conscious?

Ben: “Is killing this baby what Jacob wants?”

• If the Island can stop the aging process, it’s not helping Widmore. He’s much older when we see him next, and he’s much gruffer with Ben than he was in the first scene. This is the second child that Widmore has been shown willing to let a child die.

• We’re back again in a decrepit Dharmaville, present-day. Again I ask: was that “processing center” sign up during the Others’ tenure here? Because I don’t remember it.

• Christian has told Sun that if she ever wants to see Jin again, she needs to wait for John Locke. If Christian is an emissary of the MiB, then he’s directing Sun straight to his boss, for his own purposes. If Christian is an emissary of Jacob/the Island/something else, then he’s directing Sun toward the Man in Black, Jacob’s nemesis. To what end?

• Anti-Locke’s little wave to Sun provides yet another good example of why Terry O’Quinn won an Emmy for his work on this show.

Great Frank Line: “As long as the dead guy says there’s a reason then I guess everything’s gonna be just peachy.”

• So it would appear that Anti-Locke wants to keep Sun around. Is this because he’s learned that “Christian” told Sun to find him, and wants to keep her around because he suspects Jacob’s involvement? Or is it because Christian works for/is the MiB/Anti-Locke, and thinks Sun will be useful? Is he setting her up to be “back-up” the way we just saw Ben setting Caesar up?

There’s an olde-timey lamp hanging in Ben’s chamber, suggesting that originally this was built by the same people who created the Wheel room (and judging by the age of the lamps and the shape of the Wheel, I’m guessing that it was the Black Rock crew, lead by Hanso).

There’s light coming from above when Ben comes to the pool, and the area above the pool seems to stretch upward. Is this place accessible from above by a well the way that the Wheel room is/was?

• How does draining the water summon the Monster? Can it ‘hear’ Ben speak?

Ben doesn’t seem particularly fearful when he summons Smokey. We learn in this episode that he can summon it, but can’t control it. So why did the Monster attack the mercs? And why did it only rough them up for the most part?

• Has Ben moved the Others into Dharma-ville for Alex’s sake? Does he want to give her the childhood he wished he’d had? That motivation makes more sense than Ben wanting hot showers in the morning.

Ben: “You left the Island regularly. You had a daughter with an outsider – you broke the rules, Charles.”
Widmore: “And what makes you think you deserve to take what’s mine?”
Ben: “Because I won’t be selfish. Because I’ll sacrifice anything to protect this Island.”
Widmore: “You wouldn’t sacrifice Alex.”
Ben: “You’re the one who wanted her dead, Charles. Not the Island”
Widmore: “I hope you’re right, Benjamin – because if you aren’t, and it is the Island that wants her dead, she’ll be dead. And one day you’ll be standing where I’m standing now. You’ll be the one being banished. And then you’ll finally realize that you cannot fight the inevitable.”

• Widmore had a daughter with an outsider, who we can presume is Penelope, Desmond’s lady. Who is Penelope’s mother? I’d suspected Hawking, but she isn’t an outsider – she’s an Other. Perhaps Hawking has already left, making her an outsider? If so, then Desmond and Daniel are half-siblings, just like Claire and Jack, and this might explain their special connection to one another.

• Widmore points out that Ben wouldn’t sacrifice Alex, but we saw him do just this, and in service (or so he claims) of protecting the Island.

• Alex does indeed end up dead. Does this confirm that its what “the Island” wanted?

• Widmore’s escorts seem to be wearing bulletproof vests, emblazoned with a logo that we haven’t seen yet on the show. The fact that Widmore is being escorted physically by two men, and that he’s in handcuffs, suggests that either Widmore is one heck of a fighter, or that he still has sympathetic allies among the Others when he’s banished.

Are these two men Others? If so, what’s the significance of the symbol (apparently in the I Ching, it’s the symbol for water which is appropriate, since they’re loading Widmore onto the sub, but not especially illuminating)? If they aren’t Others, are they hired mercenaries? If so, then Ben and Widmore’s story comes full circle between this point and the arrival of the freighter, mirroring one another. Both men use mercenaries to remove each other from power.

Widmore: “I’ll be seeing you, boy.”

I’ve written before about Lost’s references to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and the parallels between Ben/Widmore and Pan/Hook. Lines like this one remind me again of those parallels.

From the column for “…And Found”:

“…they drew near the Neverland; for after many moons they did reach it, and, what is more, they had been going pretty straight all the time, not perhaps so much owing to the guidance of Peter or Tink as because the Island was looking for them.” – Peter Pan

Both the Others and the Lost Boys live on a magical Island in a state of nature. The Neverland is somehow “conscious,” and can locate them and bring them to it. The Lost Boys, like the Others, are winnowed out and/or sent away, either dying to protect the Island or banished for ‘growing up’ and letting ‘adult’ concerns, like Widmore’s desire for a child, take over. They, like the Others, have a temperamental, unpredictable leader (see: Ben/Peter) that is hated and pursued by a vicious man who resents what ‘the boy’ has taken from him (Hook,/Widmore):

“In dress he somewhat aped the attire associated with the name of Charles II…” – Peter Pan

Widmore’s crew in Season 4 resides off of the Island on a threatening ship, just as Hook does. The Lost Boys have no mothers, and the subject of them is forbidden (see: the fertility issue). Pan never grows up, never grows old or sick (see: Richard Alpert, Jacob), and is continually welcoming new arrivals to the Island, either in the form of more Lost Boys (who are taken to Neverland when they’ve been abandoned), or in the form of Wendy, Michael and John, who are lured to the Island (see: Flight 815).

Neverland, like the Island, is near-impossible to find. It changes based upon the desires of its denizens. It is patrolled by a monstrous beast that makes a mechanical ticking sound when it appears (see: the Monster/the Croc). In other words, there are quite a few parallels to be made.

I’m not suggesting that Barrie’s book has any special significance to Lost’s narrative, but I am suggesting that some of these echoes may be intentional. We know that Lost has openly referenced Narnia and Alice in Wonderland. Why not throw a little Pan into the mix?

Anti-Locke: “I realize how strange this all is: me, here. But I assure you Sun, I’m the same man I’ve always been.”

• Fibber.

• We learn that before Ben returned to the Island he attempted to kill Penny Widmore. Penny’s boat is named “our mutual friend,” the title of the Dickens novel that Desmond was saving to read in the Swan.

• We learn that what we’ve seen of the Temple so far is a stone wall, built to hide the actual Temple from non-Others. Needing to hide the Temple suggests that the Temple itself is anachronistic. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the Temple (or more specifically, what lies beneath it) may be analogous to a grain of sand, and that the Island itself is the figurative “pearl” that has slowly grown around it. My suspicion is that the basis for the Temple is something quasi-technological, but insanely advanced – a kind of supercomputer or Vast Artificial Living Intelligence System (VALIS, the name of Philip K. Dick’s novel, featured in Season 4) – that may have arrived in the past from some distant point in the future.

If it has, then perhaps we can imagine that it more-or-less-literally falls backward through time, experiencing events in reverse, and giving it a kind of seeming all-seeing intelligence and/or memory.

Perhaps this “supercomputer” is guarded so as to keep it untampered with until some specified point/event, and that guardian is also hyper-advanced in terms of its construction, resembling a cloud of black smoke. To the ancient peoples who stumbled onto the Island and then wrote about it afterward in their myths and legends, that guardian must have appeared as magical and otherworldly, just as it does to us now – especially if it also “remembers” everything from moving back in time.

And maybe, just maybe, that guardian is tired of waiting for whatever this event might be – maybe he/it has decided that it’s just never going to happen, and that the whole thing needs to be shut down.

Just spitballin’.

• Desmond gets shot in the groceries, which is simultaneously shocking and somehow funny. Hey! No bullet hole!

Ilana: “What lies in the shadow of the statue?”

• Ilana and Brom are revealed to have a hidden agenda, complete with firearms and mysterious box, and it seems as though they aren’t the only ones on that Ajira flight with ulterior motives. With a word, Ilana activates her own “sleeper cell,” and we have a new group on the Island – the “shadow” people.

Ilana’s riddle, it should be noted, recalls the riddle of the Sphinx from Greek myth. The Sphinx would ask a question of a person (“What has four legs at morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs at evening, and the more legs it has the weaker it is?”). If the person answered correctly, they could pass on to Thebes. If the person answered incorrectly, the Sphinx devoured them.

That same basic dynamic is at play here, with Ilana smacking Frank down when he fails to answer. If he’d answered like Richard will in the season finale, he’d “pass on to Thebes,” and be recognized as one of them.

Remember that we just saw Hurley painting a Sphinx in the mental institution. Interestingly, the Sphinx was viewed as a temple guardian.

• Locke and Ben have entered the bowels of the Temple from the same place that Rousseau and crew did earlier in this season. Which means we’re seeing what they saw when they went down there. Except that, this time, Ben falls straight through the floor, down into another (presumably older) level of the Temple. This again echoes the notion of “Underworld” through the Jewish idea of Sheol – a place of the dead in which there are many levels.

• Anti-Locke vanishes just as Ben enters “the lair of the Monster.” It’s a room covered in hieroglyphics (see Lostpedia for an attempt at translating these – its dense stuff. I’ll just point out that there are symbols for “wounded man” , a place much like a shrine in aspect, complete with half-seen statues. It’s got a very cool “Indiana Jones” vibe going on, which is like catnip to me.

• At the “front”of this room is a giant stone grate, and above it, a mural depicting the Egyptian god Anubis seeming to call forth or summon a zig-zagging snake.

What does this mean? Anubis is the greek name for the Egyptian god Inpu, who was associated with the afterlife. Anubis was an Egyptian god of the dead, responsible for protecting people on their journey to the Underworld, weighing their hearts before allowing them to pass on (an echo of the Sphinx). The fact that he seems to be summoning Smokey associates Smokey with death, judgement and the Egyptian “Underworld,” seeming to confirm the idea of Smokey as a “judge,” perhaps perceived as being Anubis’ servant by the ancients.

This place then, is death, which suggests something terribly dark about it. Did the people who built this place bring their wounded here to be healed? What was the cost of that “favor”? Does Smokey impart something of itself to the people it helps? Some kind of “infection” that would make them loyal to this place and this Island? That would make them passionate in defense of it, at one with it?

• Ben gets judged, and he apparently passes the test. While I sort of wish that they hadn’t done the whole “Alex montage in smoke” thing, Emerson’s face sells this moment amazingly, and the sight of Smokey rising up around him is legitimately awe-full. Does this mean that Ben needs to be judged by this thing before Anti-Locke is allowed to goad him into killing Jacob? That he needs to get them “past Thebes”? Or does it mean that Smokey and Anti-Locke are one and the same?

• After all, when Alex appears to Ben, she uses his admitted guilt over “her” death to get Ben to obey her. She’s seen his guilt, and has not so much forgiven it as decided its useful. In his grief, Ben won’t disobey his daughter, and he’s much more vulnerable to manipulation. Through her, Smokey/the MiB has secured Ben’s loyalty to Anti-Locke who, “coincidentally” enough, reappears to Ben just as Alex disappears.


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