Apr 9 2009 12:11am

Lost Round Table: “Dead is Dead”

We continue with our round-table discussions of Lost. This week, we’re joined by Bridget McGovern and Melissa Frain. As always, spoilers abound, so stay away from this post if you haven’t watched the latest episode of Lost, “Dead is Dead.”

Bridget: This week’s episode definitely followed through on the creepy, supernatural vibe established toward the end of last week’s show, with a healthy dose of Indiana Jones-style, Temple of Doom shenanigans thrown in for good measure. Benjamin Linus has always been one of the more divisive characters on Lost—people intensely hate him, love him, or love to hate him—and while this episode filled in more of his backstory than ever before, he still remains one of the more fascinating and enigmatic characters on the Island. As the roots of his longstanding feud with Charles Widmore were revealed, I was somewhat surprised at how sympathetic Ben was shown to be, especially compared to the tyrannical, bloodthirsty Widmore. 

The fact that Ben has a profound aversion against killing mothers and children wasn’t nearly as surprising to me (especially given his own tragic childhood) as the sincerity and earnestness which characterized his youthful devotion to the Island. It was such a far cry from the smug, twisted, Machiavellian Ben I’ve been so invested in for the last few seasons—and yet the plotting, sarcastic Ben Linus was still very much in evidence up until the end of the episode, when things just got straight-up weird. Hieroglyphics? Was that Anubis canoodling with the Smoke Monster beneath the temple? Was Alex a manifestation of the Smoke Monster, a ghost, or what? 

Of course, the more flawed, guilt-ridden, confused and generally human Ben seemed throughout the episode, the creepier and more self-assured Locke seemed to become. Their exchange in the jungle about how the tables have turned, now that Locke has all the answers and seems in tune with the will of the Island was satisfying, if a little obvious. If “dead is dead,” even on the Island, than what is Locke? A ghost? A god? Next week’s episode takes us back to the Seventies’ survivors, but looks like it will revolve around similar themes, centering on Miles’ ability to speak with the dead. So, just in case we were all starting to get too comfortable with the mind-bending concepts of time travel, we have to factor in the undead now. Thanks, Lost! I’m not really complaining—I just feel like I need to start making crazy-person charts on my wall to keep track of everything.

Also, I have no idea what’s going on with Ilana and the hostile, armed takeover of the smaller Island, but quite frankly, with all the narrative balls already in the air, I’m kind of irritated by the distraction of another plotline, with a group of new characters. My initial reaction was basically, “Shut up, stop hitting Lapidus, and get back to the people we already care about,” though I’m sure that will probably change as the plot unfurls...

Melissa: I felt the same way about the events with that horrible woman who kept hitting Lapidus. I was mildly intrigued—what lies in the shadow of the statue? Uh, excuse me?—but I almost wish they hadn’t even gone there this episode, since there really wasn’t enough time or information to get me invested. It just felt like a little less time we got to spend with, I don’t know…Desmond. Or someone.

But the top thing I’m wondering about this episode (every episode, really): WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH RICHARD ALPERT? At this point, we’ve seen him in the 50s, the 70s, and the present. In all of those times, he looks exactly the same. But remember that scene from a few seasons ago when he met Child Ben in the jungle? And he had that long hair and looked sort of grubby? Yeah, when was THAT? My first thought was that perhaps he was wearing some kind of disguise (remember the beard Mr. Friendly wore?), but then I thought about it a little more…and remembered that we’ve seen Richard have a conversation with Horace looking his regular clean-cut self. So…what purpose would a disguise serve if it’s not to deceive the Dharma Initiative? Anybody have any theories?

And now that I’ve brought that up…I’m really intrigued by the question of what Ben remembers (or doesn’t remember). When Richard took little Ben away last week to cure him, he said that Ben would have no memory of…something. But what something would that be? Tonight we heard Ben tell Sun that he didn’t know/remember that Sawyer et al were in the Dharma Initiative (there is, of course, the possibility that he was not being truthful). We also know that, at least as a child, he still remembers his father and the rest of the Dharma Initiative—he talks pretty coherently about it when he’s recovering from “being cured” and talking to Widmore. So…is he going to forget after he leaves their camp? (Worth noting, in any case, that in the present, Ben tells Locke that he was cured at the temple—so he does remember that part years after the fact.)

Anybody have a quicker brain than me and have this figured out already? Also: Do we really believe that Ben didn’t know Locke would come back to life? 

1. kmac
I'm not sure i can offer theories after tonight, but i'm interested in what was said about the undead. (i'm hoping lost has more tact than to go ancient-egypt-mutant-zombie on us after all the psych-thrills. cop out.)
would jack's dad be considered the first 'undead' character? recall when he was on the boat just before it exploded. how the hell did he get there?! but at another time he was holding claire's baby. so he IS physically present.
i think.
then richard- is he the Only character we have seen in multiple time periods that hasn't aged? we have seen some during different periods but they have aged (ben, widmore). everything ben says, i take with a salt shaker. for some reason, richard feels more dependable.

looking very forward to what looks to be a miles-centered episode next week! love that guy!
Bridget McGovern
2. BMcGovern
As a sidenote, I'd love to hear what people think about the special effects (in tonight's episode and on Lost in general)...everybody I've talked to tonight seems to have an opinion, but it's not a topic I've seen a lot of comments what do you think? Personally, I think it's a little ridiculous to criticize Ben's encounter with the Smoke Monster as cheesy special effects, because, well...the Smoke Monster itself *is* a cheesy special effect. That's like criticizing the sinister Rover from The Prisoner for looking too much like a weather balloon.

On the other hand, the fact that Ben unlocks a series of secret doors and crawls down a mysterious hidden passage only to summon the Smoke Monster by, uh, unclogging some kind of...sinister primal drain? That was a little silly. Good to know the Smoke Monster can be controlled by a call to Roto-Rooter.

Somehow, there's something endearing about a show that's as exquisitely-plotted as Lost settling for merely *adequate* special effects, though. It goes against the Hollywood grain, and I'd rather have the substance than the style in this case...
Rajan Khanna
3. rajanyk
I enjoyed this episode a lot, both for the insight into Ben (who is one of the most complex characters on the show) and for Locke once more being bad-ass and confident.

I continue to be blown away by how much they're giving us about the Others, how the island works, the backstory, etc. I agree that the introduction of new people and a new plot came off as irritating, but I think that will be the avenue that leads us to the climax for this season.

Some really interesting parts - Ethan is with Ben in the Others, even as a boy, so I suppose he is either recruited early on by Ben or spared in the purge.

I think that was Anubis in the hieroglyphics. There's been a lot of talk about Egyptian elements on the island and I think this cinches it. Plus the nickname for the monster is Cerberus and he guarded the entrance to the realm of the dead (which fits in with Anubis). I think Alex was most definitely an expression of the monster the way that other dead people have been (Yemi). But it's increasingly clear that Locke is being chosen by the island, that he does have a role to play and that Ben, while once in charge, now has to be the follower.

As to Locke - I'm not convinced that he isn't dead. As mentioned, we've seen Christian, dead also, manifest physically. Claire may or may not be dead. And as Ben said, dead is dead.

Interesting that Richard lied to Widmore, claiming that Jacob told him to heal Ben (at least that's how I read it). So Widmore doesn't necessarily have a line into Jacob. And Richard isn't that worried about using his name to suit his purposes.

I liked the idea that in the beginning, Widmore and Ben had a more tender relationship that later got subverted.

I love that Ben didn't shoot Penny (seriously that would have made me shed some tears) and that Desmond beat the crap out of him.

I find it interesting that Locke, while still aware of morality (killing an unarmed man) doesn't seem too put off by it. He's already thinking in terms of the island's interests and that's a little scary.

I thought Locke's question about living in the Dharma HQ interesting, too. Up until then they lived in the woods, wearing ratty clothes, with tents and things like some hippy commune. Then it's all buildings and electricity and laundry machines. It makes sense, but I wonder at that shift, too - I guess it had a lot to do with the power play between Widmore and Ben.

As to the special effects, they didnt' bother me at all. Maybe that has to do with the fact that I've been reading sites like Lostpedia and apparently Radzinsky's map inside the hatch had locations or exits where Cerebus/the monster came out of. So I figured Ben was unsealing one of those to let the creature out.

Oh, and what Ben said to Rousseau - when you hear whispers, run away, or whatever that was. I want to know what the whispers are.

I'm looking forward to learning more about Mile and his ability next week. And more Marvin Candle.
Dave Thompson
4. DKT
Great episode.

Desmond putting the smack down on Ben was wonderful. But what was in the grocery bag? (I'm guessing that the island isn't done with him.)

Locke being a badass again was nice. And Geez, how many lies/contradictory stories did Ben tell in that episode? It was kind of brilliant to hear all the false and half truths spewing from his mouth.

The F/X didn't bother me, but my wife thought they looked incredibly cheesy. The lightning flashes in the smoke definitely gave me a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel.

Regarding the noobs - I guess they didn't really bother me, too much, because they had some kind of purpose. Just as long as they don't do the Nikki and Paolo thing again. Ugh.

And finally: Yay for an episode about Miles next week! With Hurley! Woo-hoo :)
Mitchell Downs
5. Beamish
I loved the bit of story-telling craft they engaged in with Cesar and Penny. We had all assumed that Ben went to kill Penny and got pummeled by Desmond but we did not know if he had actually killed Penny. If they had simply shown Ben going to the docks as another "fill-in flashback" such as his scenes with Widmore we would have likely been waiting for him to fail - even when he shot Desmond we would have been expecting exactly what happened.

Instead, they set-up that scene by earlier in the episode casually dispatching a character (Cesar) they had invested some time in developing over the last handful of episodes - sure, Cesar was far from vital, but when writers invest any time in a character the viewer expects him to be important and so we were all a bit shocked by his sudden execution by Ben.

Now, as viewers, we are much more nervous when Ben goes to the dock - we had just seen him casually dispatch a man he hardly knew and now he was seeking revenge; of course he was going to kill someone. Suddenly, for the viewer, it was very possible that Penelope was going to die - and after he shot Desmond seemingly taking him out of the equation that possibility was reinforced. So when Desmond saves Penny (as we had always expected and most of us wanted) it was as compelling as it could have been. Even more so, it was clear that Ben was rethinking his cold-blooded vengeance upon seeing Charlie, but that was irrelevant given the beating Desmond laid on him.

That scene and the way it was set up made me love this episode.
6. MrWesley
RE: The Smoke Monster

On hand, the effects are a little cheesy. But on the other, what can you really expect? I think this is true for any long-term "mystery character" in a TV show, like someone who's face has been shadows for years. After all this buildup, getting a good, hard look at someone is going to be a little bit of a letdown. I think that's true of the smoke monster as well. Once we learn as much as we did last night about it, some of the mystery and magic is gone.

In regards to how Ben controlled him, they said that he wasn't controlling it, but that he just knew how to release it. And I like the fact that, in order to release it, Ben had to crawl through a couple yards of mud in a tunnel, just to have to pull a lever at the bottom of a mud puddle. Something ancient and primordial about it. If he had it caged somewhere on the island, that would have been disappointing.
geoffrey h goodwin
7. ghg
I always like seeing the domestic become exotic, so unplugging a drain to unleash Smokey is my kind of thing, but I also wondered if it tied the accused or penitent to be judged (Ben) by having them immerse their hand in the water. By placing one's hand in dirty water, the true meaning of their actions was ascertained, or something like that.

I feel that Lost has introduced batches of new characters too many times. Locke and Nikki and Paolo as zombies would be great.

I like how Smokey judged Ben and decided to let him live but with penances that fit his personal burdens.

I haven't liked the new roles and the years stuck in the past as much as some of the other arcs, but last night was interesting and I look forward to the Miles episode.
Eugene Myers
8. ecmyers
I thought this was a terrific episode, mostly since it provided so many answers about the things we care about--though as others have pointed out, it's also creating some new questions about some new characters I can't really be bothered with. The newcomers to the island are falling apart so quickly I wonder if the island is affecting them the way it did Rousseau's group back in the day.

The effects didn't bother me. I've always liked the slightly cheesy nature of the Smoke Monster, which is frequently more terrifying when it isn't seen, but can still do a lot of physical and psychological damage for a bunch of CGI. The only special effect thay bugs me in every freaking episode is the bad rendering of the title as it slowly zooms and rotates toward the screen, like a bad animation project in high school.

I really enjoyed seeing the tables turn on Ben, and I'm supremely relieved that Desmond, Penny, and little Charlie are safe and sound. As long as someone has a happy ending, things will be all right.

The drain was weird, but I don't think that was to release the creature, just to summon it. I figure it was a way of communicating with it, because the pipes must lead to its space under the temple. I'm pretty sure that creature has the run of the island and doesn't need anyone to let it out. I thought it was pretty nuts that there were three separate secret doors just to get down to the pool though--paranoid, much?

Aren't the whispers just the way the Others psyche people out in the jungle? I'm pretty sure that in the early episodes, we heard voices in the trees whenever the Others were nearby.

I am really looking forward to the moment that Jack realizes his dead father is walking around on the island. That has to happen sometime, right? Christian even gave his name to Sun!
Marti Lawrence
9. Marti_L
I thought the "cheesy" special effects were a shout-out to The Wizard of Oz, so I really got a kick out of them.

I'm not crazy about yet more characters, but I suspect that Ileana and her team (that she assembles by asking them the code question "What lies in the shadow of the statue?") are hired by Widmore to re-take the island, which I believe is the "war" that's coming.

I loved this episode. I can suspend belief of Ben being younger just by slapping a bad wig on him and having him interact with young Ethan. I thought it really humanized Ben to have him refuse to murder Danielle because she was a new mother who was losing her infant.

I was thrilled we didn't see Penny get killed. Hoping she is still alive.

I think Charles Widmore did more than just have a child with an outsider on his "many trips off the island". I think he was in on the formation of Dharma. He seems more interested in exploiting than protecting the island, and it is my theory that he had a hand in bringing Dharma to the island, which is why there was a "truce" with them. Why would he kill other outsiders but not the DI?

I don't think he told the Hostiles that he was involved with Dharma, but made up some story about how they weren't so bad, and having a truce with them would be sufficient.

I think someone (maybe Ben, since there seems to be a lot of animosity between them) discovered Charles' secret, exposed him to Richard and the Hostiles, and THAT is why he was banished.

I also think Charles was willing to exterminate all of his own kind (possibly to keep from getting banished) and that is why Dharma had the Tempest manufacturing a poisonous gas. I think Charles was planning on gassing the Hostiles so no one could oppose his exploitation of the island. When Ben or whoever discovered that he was planning to murder all of the Hostiles, that led to his banishment too. So I think the Hostiles banished Charles, then took revenge on Dharma for being complicit in the planned extermination of the Hostiles.
Dave Thompson
10. DKT
I'm thinking Ilana and company might be in cahoots with Ben. The whole "Have a great day" line seemed like an awkward familiarity to me.

Or they could be a part of the DI, That would be cool. Someone, after all, was still making food drops to the island a few seasons back...And I get the impression that although Dharma was purged on the island, they're still very much around in the rest of the world.
11. rogerothornhill
Actually I'm sort of intrigued by the Ilana etc. plotline, since I'm wondering if they've caught "the sickness," if they're the beginning of Widmore's war, or if they're dropping Velocity 9, or . . . Besides, more charts are always good.

With RA, we all know how much the right eyeliner can hide aging.

As for Ben, my biggest question right now is whether he remembers Juliet. Remember in the flashback when she arrived on the island? They said something like "She looks exactly like her." At the time, I had assumed they were talking about his mom, but now we know he has no memories of her, so . . .

And oh yeah Ol Smokey is wicked cheesy: great sound, iffy sight. But at least you can't see the zipper down its back.
Rammy Meyerowitz
12. m5rammy
It was Ben that said "Dead is dead" so it is meaningless. Believe nothing that he says. Not that it helps me to know what is going on.

What "lies" in the shadow ...? Ben would, if he happened to be there.

As for "Smokey", we know there is some time-travel, what if that is from way in the future? Some sort of computer perhaps? (though that word might be too outdated to apply). Just a thought I had

13. sscorp99
Does anyone remember the large statue that showed up in the distance when the Sawyer group were flipping through time? I saw something like the colossus of rhodes IMHO, even rewound and looked again to be sure it was truly there...
"In the shadow of the statue" means more than we think.
And how can Locke get the past survivor group Back to the future?
Great Monster! I love the effects, Ben finally gets his just deserts, follower instead of leader.
Asking Sun to "tell Desmond he was sorry" was kind of ominous to me. Cant wait for next week.
14. Cara the Cat
What a great episode! I liked Ilana and her people fine -- and am having fun speculating on whether they work for Ben, or Charles, or some third group.

Loved how Ben said to Sun (paraphrasing here) "something is going to come out of that jungle that I can't control" and then Locke stepped out. Yep, one major point of the ep is that Ben ain't in control anymore, and the island wants him to follow Locke. Eat that, Ben!

It was a great Ben ep -- it showed him being insanely quick to kill, and also merciful. It showed him lying up a storm, and also (probably) actually telling the truth sometimes. It had him vulnerable, but also supremely manipulating. The guy's a psycho, and one of the best characters on TV.
Bridget McGovern
15. BMcGovern
So many interesting points...

Marti_L@9 I love the conspiracy theories, and particularly your reading of "What lies in the shadow of the statue?" as a code question, which didn't even *occur* to me, for some reason...

rogerothornhill@11 I'd forgotten the "she looks exactly like her" strangeness surrounding Juliet's return to the Island, which brings up all sorts of fun complications...

ecmyers@8 I also wondered if maybe Ilana and the Noobs had somehow picked up a dose of the Rousseau-party craziness, but I also like the idea of her being in league with either Ben or Widmore...hopefully this is going somewhere interesting (unlike, as DKT@4 says, Paolo and Nikki...ugh. Never again).

Finally, what to make of the Egyptian iconography pervading this season, from Horace (Horus?) and Amy with her ankh to the Others and their temple, to the giant statue lost somewhere in time? The Anubis versus Tawaret debate is fascinating, given the issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth on the Island, and the statue could certainly represent either one, at this point. But what of all the Judeo-Christian overtones (Jacob? Christian Shephard?) and echoes of the Enlightenment layered into the names of most major characters? I wonder how much of this will factor actively into the plot, and how much will just stay at the level of allusion...
16. redhood
Just a quick note to those that have said Ilana, Bram and the "shadow" folks are working for Widmore:

In a flashback from "Some Like It Hoth" Miles is abruptly thrown into a van by Bram who then tells Miles that working for Widmore is a mistake and to not join the Kahana crew.

I think they have their own agenda. Or, perhaps, have some relationship with Ben.
17. DamonL
I am working on the idea that the island is a topological incursion of another time stream into the outer Lost worlds time stream.

In this other time stream Locke doesn't die on his way back to the island(neither did Christian). Miles and Hurley are talking to the time stream equivalents of the dead people because they "straddle" both time lines.

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