Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Elizabeth Sarnoff
Directed by Stephen Williams
By now it's become clear that the episodes that center around Ben are probably the best of the series. Part of it is because of the incredible talent of Michael Emerson, part of it is because we always seem to come away from them knowing more about the mythology, but most of it is because of the interaction between Ben and Locke. And considering that the last time the two were in the same room, Ben wrapped a laundry cord around Locke's neck, you know that there's going to be tension.
What's surprising it's that it's all coming from Ben. For the first time in the series, Locke seems relaxed, even amused, by the events that are taking place. He used to be full of questions, now he seems to know everything. (In retrospect, this would appear to have been a big tell by the writers, but we've been down so many blind alleys on this show that we could overlook it.) Ben's attitude towards Locke's resurrection differs depended on who he's talking to. He tells Locke that he killed him knowing that he would come back to life, but he tells Sun that he has absolutely no idea how this has happened. He tells a variation to Caesar, but that's clearly just to gain control of the situation. What's especially telling in all three scenes is how unsettled Ben seems to be. He can spin a web better than 'LaFleur' ever could, but now that he and Locke have very clearly switched roles. He might think that this means Locke really is the Chosen One, but it might me for the first time, he's in a situation he can't control, and that's clearly got him on the defensive.
As we see in the flashbacks, Ben's always been going at attacking. After he was healed in the Temple, he had his first meeting with Charles Widmore, who appears to have been the leader of the Others. What's never been made clear is how much about the island Widmore has ever understood. When Richard tells him that Jacob wanted Ben to be healed (though it's never been clear whether he even had anything to do with it), Widmore nods and shuts up, as if he knows what the man is talking about. Eleven years later, he sends Ben on a mission --- kill Rousseau. We've seen Ben cold-bloodedly kill a lot of people (hell, he does it in this episodes) but at this point, he still has nerves. Instead of killing Danielle, he takes Alex, and warns her never to try and find him or any of the Others. (Suddenly, her actions in Season 3 make a lot more sense) When he brings Alex back, Widmore demands he kill the baby, but he refused, asking if that's what Jacob wants. Again Widmore retreats. Somehow, Ben manages to parlay this maneuver into taking the leadership of the island away from Widmore, eventually exiling him from the island. It's never clear what rules he broke (or, for that matter, whose rules they were) but Widmore clearly has no intention of going quietly.
Ben clearly loves Alex like she was his own daughter, even though he seems to have no qualms about having kidnapped her. Despite everything that he does--- for the island or not--- he does have compassion in his heart, and it was clear that when Alex was killed, a vital part of him has broken. His first instinct was to swear vengeance, and the minute he got off the island, he told Widmore he would seek blood for blood. Now, we see how Ben spent those last hours before boarding the Ajira flight---- he was tracking down Penelope. What's never been clear is why, when he finally saw Penny, he blinked. We'd already seen him murder six people, was responsible for the slaughter of the Dharma Initiative and everyone Sayid had killed, so there was already enough blood on his hands. But as soon as he saw young Charlie, again he couldn't kill a mother in front of her child.
What is more key to this scene is that it reveals the blind spot Ben had the entire time he was on the island --- Desmond. As 'Henry Gale' he told Locke that the timer in the Swan station didn't mean anything. He was clearly lying because he wanted to try and take out Locke. But Desmond returned to the island, and ended up (indirectly) saving the day. When he gave the order to Mikhail to destroy the Looking Glass, he clearly thought it would block the transmission for the outside--- Desmond again managed to save the day, though he couldn't save Charlie. When he killed Keamy, he clearly thought he no longer had to worry about the people on the freighter. Penelope had been tracking the signal, and ended up saving Desmond and the Oceanic 6. Now he shoots Desmond and leaves him, clearly thinking the threat was negated. And once again, Des gathers his strength and opens up a can of whoop-ass on Ben before he can kill Penny. When he goes under the temple to be judged, he talks to Sun as if he's never going to see Desmond again. Is it possible that Desmond will be the flaw that destroys him?
Right now, he has more immediate worries. He tells Locke that because he came back to the island, he has to be judged--- by the monster. That happens in more ways than one, but we don't know it yet. He clearly has no desire to see it happen--- he keeps stalling throughout the episode--- and eventually Locke is the one who has to take him to his judgment. We see how the monster is summoned--- kind of disappointing, after the build up. He goes to the room in his house he went to in 'The Shape of Things to Come', opens up a secret staircase, climbs to the bottom--- and appears to unclog a sink. When it doesn't show up immediately, he seems concerned--- especially when Locke tells him that he knows where he has to go. Again, it's possible to misjudge this because Ben is such a good liar--- he knows the secrets of the island, after all. But we're in a familiar place --- back to the Temple, or to be accurate, under it. By now, Ben has realized what he has come back to be judged for --- killing Alex. Up until now, he's blamed Widmore for this, but in the last scenes he finally seems to take responsibility for this particular action. That is what he has to deal with, and which he comes face to face with.
We finally enter what appears to be the smoke monster's lair. We encounter more of the hieroglyphics and symbols we've be seeing around the island. They would seem to post date the monster as far back as Ancient Egypt (and it may have been there for even longer) and it emerges from a miniature grate and surrounds him, a lot like it did when it confronted Eko the first time. Again he sees flashes of his life, mostly with Alex, and painful memories He doesn't look away, and it seems to spare him. Then Alex steps out into the room (more evidence that Smoky can assume the form of the dead) and slams into him demanding that he not try and kill Locke again, and that he will follow him loyally. For the first time on the series, Ben looks truly frightened. It's not clear whether it's seeing the monster or coming face to face with his daughter in the flesh (so to speak) has unnerved him, but after this, something fundamental changes in him. For the rest of the season, and almost until the end of the series, Ben behaves like he is broken, as if all the power he once wielded has been taken from. He's been judged and spared, but just like Locke, he's not the same.
And it's easy to see why. Locke has come back from the dead a very different man. He smiles a lot more than he did, he doesn't seem afraid or surprised by things (when Ben shoots Caesar, he doesn't even blink), and every time that he talks Ben now seems to flustered. From the discussion in 'Ben's office' to the time that he starts leading him to the Temple, Locke seems far more at ease and content than he's ever been on the island --- hell, in his whole life. His assurances to Sun to the contrary--- you don't tell people that your the same person when you are--- something fundamental has shifted in Locke as well. Terry O'Quinn has always been a dynamite actor, but from this point on, his performance takes on a completely different level. (Again, it makes perfect sense when you consider what's going to come, but that would be giving away the store a little early.)
If that wasn't bad enough, it would seem like there is now a different contingent on the island. Ilana seems to have been more than some hot chick who arrested Sayid. It's not clear "what lies in the shadow of the statue", but whatever it is, she seems to know a lot more about the island than she let on-- as Lapidus discovers before taking a blow to the head. Unfortunately, this particular avenue would seem to have been another blind alley, or at least one they never filled out in a satisfying matter
'Dead in Dead' is arguably the high point of the seasons so far (and it's small wonder Michael Emerson won his first Emmy for it) Bad wigs and inconsistencies as to when the Purge took place, the flashbacks reveals levels to Ben that we just haven't seen before. We learn a lot more about the monster (more than we think, actually) see more fine work by O'Quinn and Alan Dale (no bad hair days for him), and hear the seasons best line so far After Ben explains very patiently to him why he killed Locke in the first place, Locke smiles and says: "I was just hoping for an apology." Turns out the new Locke has a sense of humor. Maybe that should've been a clue too