Lost, “The Life & Death of Jeremy Bentham” Review

Was the real Jeremy Bentham a time-travelling Terry OQuinn? Obviously, he was.

Was the real Jeremy Bentham a time-traveling Terry O'Quinn? Yes. Yes he was.

This review is pretty late because I wasn’t sure how much I had to say about this great episode, aside from heaping more praise on the always praise-worthy Terry O’Quinn. Then I got over it, so here’s some stone-cold theorizing about Ben, Locke, Widmore, and the nature of Island leadership. GO!

Like last week’s Jack-centric outing, “Jeremy Bentham” was a character study book-ended by on-Island scenes and injected with a fresh dose of confusing and incomplete information about what’s to come and what just happened. “316” and “Jeremy Bentham,” refocusing the series on the Jack/Locke, science/faith, reason/intuition duality, are reorientation episodes where the plot is stationary and ancillary to the emotional grounding of the show.   You could almost construct a complete plot outline of this episode from information we already had about Locke’s time off the Island, but as somebody pointed out in a review I can’t retrace right now, this worked for the ritualistic, ‘passion play’ mode of the storytelling.

At the end of “316,” I more or less assumed that Locke would spend this episode striking out with each of the Oceanic Six as the real world sapped his faith in the Island and his mission, eventually leading him to despair and (apparent) suicide.  In last week’s review, I compared Locke, Jack, and Kate to the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. On Locke’s part, I said,

Locke has always felt such a yearning for meaning in his life that he has allowed himself to be conned over and over again whenever someone provides him with a sense of purpose; he must embrace his rationality if he isn’t to “mistake coincidence for fate,” as Eko once warned him.

Because this is the personal challenge Locke has repeatedly failed to overcome throughout the series, an episode like this that serves as a fulcrum and reorientation was inevitably going to put Locke through a spiritual trial focusing on this karmic lesson. He was immediately forced to face rational doubts about his purpose when Charles Widmore rescued him and bankrolled his mission. The fact that Abaddon, an agent of Widmore, secretly planted the walkabout idea in John’s head years before must raise even more doubts for Locke about whether he is fulfilling destiny or just getting played for a dupe by Ben, Widmore, or both.

I wondered during the episode if Widmore and Abaddon were actually trying to drive Locke to suicide by showing him the futility of his mission.  Suicide is considered a grave spiritual sin in many religions and it occured to me that if John were to actually kill himself it might poison his relationship to the Island, preventing or perverting his resurrection.  For the passion play to conclude properly, Ben must play Judas, but much like Harvey Keitel’s Judas in The Last Temptation of Christ, Ben doesn’t actually want to betray the savior (“I’m going to miss you John, I really will.”) yet is compelled to do so by his fated role in the drama.

The possible flaw in that analogy is this other theory of mine, backed up by Widmore’s story in “Jeremy Bentham,” that Ben basically has no ‘fated’ role in any of this. Basically the theory goes that Ben was the accidental beneficiary of Locke’s absence from the Island when the Others’ were looking for their destined leader, that he usurped Widmore’s ascension to power, and then gained the secrets of the Island from Jacob. Ben genuinely sought spiritual purpose from and communion with the Island, but Jacob did not accept him as legitimate, so Ben imprisoned Jacob and ever since, Ben has used his superior knowledge of Island secrets to rebel against the timeline & the “you can’t change anything” rule, writing himself a grander role in the Island’s destiny. The Island expresses its displeasure with Ben by giving him a tumor on his spine and killing any pregnant women and newborns who fall under his leadership.  This also explains Jacob/Christian’s comments about Ben in the ancient cave where Locke turned the donkey wheel two weeks ago (“When has listening to him ever got you anything but trouble?”).  In this theory Ben is sort of like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, with Widmore as Sauron, Locke as Frodo, and Island leadership as the Ring.  Ben is a random recipient of a great and terrible amount of power that used to belong to a malevolent ruler who seeks its return. Corrupted by his desire to possess his ‘precious,’ Ben ends up guiding the true Ringbearer (Locke) along his path to destiny while constantly scheming to make a last minute grab for the Ring himself, the fate of the world be damned.  One final note– even though Locke is a religious zealot, he is not self-interested or power-hungry like Ben or Widmore; he seeks Island leadership because he worships the Island and desires to be a vessel of its divine will.

Whatever the case, this was a fantastic episode, and with future plot developments now more open-ended since they have been since the third season finale, the fifth season of Lost has achieved lift-off.  They just might pull this show off, dammit.

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