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'Lost': Ben Linus gets tough

April 25, 2008 |  8:08 am

Lostben After another agonizing month of waiting, we’re down to the final five post-writers'-strike episodes of “Lost’s” spectacular fourth season. What was originally supposed to be eight hours of storyline has been condensed to six hours. While we’ll forever wonder what subplots were sacrificed, if this episode is any indication of how things will go for the rest of the season, the missing hours won’t be missed for long.

The secondary cast continued to get pruned this week. They're starting to depart the show so rapidly now, it's like we're watching "American Idol." Following the brutal shootings of Rousseau and Carl in the previous episode, we witnessed the murder of Ben’s daughter Alex at the hands of Widmore’s military guys; the off-camera murder of Ray, the doctor from the freighter; and the 1-2-3-style killing of a whole lot of disposable Oceanic 815 survivors. (Just how many of these nameless survivors are left at this point?)

The murder of Alex was definitely the episode’s dramatic center and if Ben’s stunned reaction was as genuine as it seemed, then it was the act that connected the status quo of the present with the reality of the post-island flash forwards. But that’s not just idle speculation -– the episode was titled “The Shape of Things to Come.”

What was most shocking about Ben’s reaction to Alex’s death wasn’t his retaliation with the smoke monster -– revealing his previously denied connection to the mysterious creature -– but his sorrow. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time Ben has expressed any bit of remorse for anything. Of course his callous words just before Alex’s execution were cause for anyone to feel crummy. “She’s just a pawn,” he told the gunman, pretty much giving up on his own adopted daughter. We all knew Ben was intense about his protection of the island, but that was just ruthless. And his words just after her death, “He changed the rules,” were even more chilling. We knew the series was essentially about a battle between Ben and Widmore, but that comment made it seem as if the whole thing is more of a game. Ben and Widmore playing a kind of real-life Risk throughout time, like a couple of Highlanders?

Michael Emerson, the man who plays Ben, may not be a Sean Connery or even a Christopher Lambert, but his screen presence is so powerful that he can pull off even the most unlikely of character developments. He's gone from the conniving wimp we saw in Season Two to what can only be described as full-fledged globe-trotting super-spy as of now. The last time he was nominated for an Emmy, he lost out to fellow "Lostie" Terry O'Quinn. Don't expect a second loss.

Somehow Ben showed up in the middle of the Sahara Desert, disoriented and apparently cut on the arm. Though he claimed to have taken a boat off the island, his sudden appearance in another man’s Dharma-brand winter parka seemed like it was the result of some kind of teleportation. Notice how he wasn’t sure what year it was -– more evidence of island-time wonkiness. Ben has lied about everything else on the show, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he had powers he hasn’t revealed yet. The parka belonged to someone named Halliwax, but even more curious is the Dharma logo visible, a logo for a station we haven’t seen yet. It looks like this.

My guess is that it's the symbol for the as-yet-unseen temple. But answers will no doubt be coming soon. We've been promised that this season's finale will close the loop that opened with the flash forwards in last year's season finale.

Ben’s confrontation with Widmore at the end of the episode confirmed a lot of suspicions, like Widmore’s deeper connection to the island, but it also set up one of the trickiest conflicts we’re likely to see in the series. Ben, still mourning the loss of Alex, promised to kill Widmore’s daughter, Penelope. The only problem with that plan, as faithful “Lost” viewers will remember, is that Penelope is the committed love of island castaway Desmond. Not to mention that she’s also his constant Something tells me Desmond won’t take kindly to Ben’s murderous intent towards his lady-love. Knowing the writers’ love of complications, Ben will probably send his hit man Sayid to do the dirty deed.

In other island developments, we discovered that Bernard can understand Morse code and that Farraday isn't as altruistic as he initially seemed. Under pressure from Jack, he revealed that no, the plan was never to take them off the island. Since we know that Jack does indeed get off the island, we can only guess that he does so at Farraday's expense.

One of the great things about this series is its ability to make you believe in any given week that the character whose story we're following is actually the most important character arc of the whole thing. At various times I've believed that Locke, Jack, Claire and Desmond were the most important characters on the show. But this week intensified a long-lingering suspicion that when the final credits roll on this series, it will be Ben who was the central player in the entire drama.

Of course, that could all change next week.

--Patrick Kevin Day

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