"Lost" in Translation: Have you heard about the Midnight Rambler?

The shoot-em-dead, brain-bell jangler/The one you never seen before. . .

There’s this badass in your neighborhood named Stagger Lee. He does all manner of wicked shit. Rolls dice. Talks trash. Steals your woman. Slits your throat. But on the other hand he has a really cool hat and slick clothes and does whatever the hell he wants to, virtually all of the time, and so you can’t help digging him. Dude plays by his own rules, yo, and no cop or uptight civic hero is going to mess with his party.

It’s a black thing — an African-American thing, I mean — the by-product of centuries of slavery, institutionalized racism, and more. Centuries of scary badasses, from Stagger Lee to Mick Jagger to NWA to Jack Abramoff to Ticketmaster and on and on. They are the living animation of our own worst instincts and straight-up evil actions. Bombs bursting in air, stolen civilizations, burning villages, crazy-eyed parents, the foreclosing of any pure-hearted person’s free will.

The story of civilization, and now the undergirding of “Lost.”

Which is why Jacob created the Smoke Monster, whose (not entirely ill-placed) anger begat centuries of evil, which begat Jacob’s need for Richard, who created Ben, whose flaws begat Jacob’s need for Jack, whose righteousness infuriated Ben so much he has been pushed to the threshold of becomingm yes, that’s right, the new Man in Black.

follow the jump and go easy on your cloak and dagger

By now you’re either thrilled by, or infuriated with, this increasingly dizzying ride to the bottom of the proverbial glowing cave. Even I, the conscientious objector to all “Lost”-bashing, no matter the occasional cracks in its foundation, felt a little underwhelmed by Jacob’s fireside exposition party. Wasn’t there something just a bit existential about his revelation that our particular group of heroes might as well have been any random selection of screw-ups? (which, btw, doesn’t quite explain all those surprise/coincidencidental connections they didn’t realize they had ’til they got to the island) But on the other hand you could also argue that there’s something reassuring in it, too: We’re all capable of greatness, assuming you can nut up and follow your better instincts. For once.

Until you realize that all your better instincts and best efforts still don’t put you over the top. You get so close to the golden light – maybe even get tossed bodily into it, if only to be shown exactly how much you lack. At which point ambition can curdle and turn wicked. A surfeit of goodness somehow leads to evil. Weird, huh? And yet, somehow, an essential, inescapable truth. The white side must have its dark other side. Yin and yang. Up and down. The Beatles and the Stones.

The Man in Black is, at heart, kind of a cool dude. Jacob can be a bit of a manipulative dick. Jack, as we’ve seen so vividly over the course of six years, is simultaneously heroic and foolish. Ben is capable of kindness and murder, and a stickler for keeping his word. And did you notice when Smokey convinced Widmore to spill his secrets, telling the wicked/good industrialist that he could count on saving his daughter’s life because “I’ll give you my word”?

This is all a very long way of explaining what I realized last night: Jacob will live on in Jack. And when Smokey gets dispatched, as he certainly will come Sunday, he will live on, too. Only now he’ll be Ben.

Which takes us back to Mick and the Stones, and particularly to their great reiteration of the Stagger Lee myth, “Midnight Rambler.” You know, the one you never seen before. It’s an old-fashioned blues riff, played with wicked intent by a smack-addicted Keith Richards, while Jagger (paint it black, you devil!) struts and moans, both warning of and celebrating the awful wonders of the Midnight Rambler, who may also be the Boston Strangler, or Jack the Ripper, slipping down your street in his cap and cloak, climbing your garden wall, leaving his footprints up and down your hall. You never see him, you never hear him, you never feel him. Not until you feel the sudden slice of his blade on your throat (see also: Smokey and Zoe). He’s a monster. But also awesome. And charming enough to steal your missus from under your nose.

It’s a nightmare. Only “Midnight Rambler” also rocks. And when Jagger was at his height he stalked the stage, snarling and sneering and ripping off his sash to whip the spotlight, with a nastiness that was both terrifying and spellbinding. Dude took what he wanted and stomped on the rest. He looked frustration in the face and slit its throat.

Not the sort of thing I tend to do. But a nice, middle-classed boy can dream. Especially in a traffic jam. When stuff doesn’t go his way. And all he wants, for once in his life, is his own damn way.

So go easy with your cloak-and-dagger, he’ll stick his knife right down your throat, baby. And it hurts.

Hello, Dr. Nick!: Deep "Lost" Analysis – Redemption better late than never

I am a sucker for a good redemption story. Of all the journeys protagonists routinely take, the redemption railroad is almost always emotionally satisfying. Even when the tale is a little forced or half-baked (as this episode was at times), I invest in the outcome because gosh darn it, I want to believe that we’re all capable of redemption.
Who would’ve thought that Benjamin Linus could pull it off? Who would’ve thought that he could deliver such a powerful, overwhelming speech about sacrifice, anger and shame?
What happened to Ben’s better half:

We start with Ben teaching his class about an exiled, island-bound Napoleon. Powerless and miserable. Obviously in reference to himself AND Smokey. Forced to monitor detention hall by the calloused jerk principal (wonderfully played by William Atherton, who has made a career playing calloused jerks. I’m going to bet he’s a nice guy in real life), Ben is frustrated, over-educated and lacking in backbone.
FUN FACT: William Atherton AND Jon Gries, who plays Ben’s father and also appears in this episode, co-starred in one of the best teen comedies from the 80’s, “Real Genius.”
Venting to Doc Arzt in the teacher’s lounge, Locke, who really seems more like Smokey in this scene (I believe this is intentional) butts in and encourages rebellion, appealing to Ben’s sense of justice, and his destructive ego. A great scene – we know that Ben has a soft spot for kids, and does want what’s right, but we also know that Ben desperately wants to be important, and it clouds his judgment. With Locke seeming so Smokey-like, I am even more convinced than before that we’re watching a single, split-soul with the characters who appear in both timelines. Smokey inside of Locke on the island is indirectly influencing kinder wheelchair-bound Locke.
Another character gazing at his reflection, this time with Ben and the reflective surface of a microwave. He’s making dinner for his ill father. Hey, this Papa Linus doesn’t seem to be half-as-messed up as the old one. It was an amusing reference when Ben switched his father’s oxygen tank – he’s still gassing his dad, only not to death this time.
This week’s Stupid Award goes to the writers for taking a good scene and forcing too much “State Out Loud What We’re Thinking Dialogue!” Papa Linus telling Ben that they never should’ve left the island, their lives would’ve been so different, who knows what we would be like, etc. Writers, we know this already. Isn’t worth mentioning at all, really. The old writer’s adage, “Show, don’t Tell” applies here.

For way, way more insight, plus also a bunch of really funny one-liners by our man Nick, hit the jump…
Guess what? Ben’s favorite student to tutor is Alex, his adopted/kidnapped daughter on the island! And guess what? They have a very tender father-daughter type of bond, which is nice. Hopefully, this Ben doesn’t try to kidnap Alex again. He’s tutoring Alex on the history of the East India Trading Company, or as we can all call it, a reference to Alpert and his ship.
Alex spills a little gossip about our nasty principal, getting extra-nasty with a school nurse during school hours – that’s nasty! What will dear Ben do with this information? Well, he may not be island Ben, but he can still hatch a dirty plan! Enlisting Doc Arzt’s computer skills to blackmail the principal?! That is also nasty business, but Ben (pac butts in – with a shove from Locke) has momentum, and he wants to be principal of this island! I mean, he wants to be principal of this school. He’s not above bribing Doc Arzt to help out, either. It’s may be a thin line between love and hate, but it can also be a thin line between right and wrong. For a moment, we see this Ben flash the wicked smile we’ve seen on island Ben’s face countless times.
His big blackmail moment arrives, but is trumped by the principal’s counter threat of not writing a nice recommendation letter for Alex to get into Yale. Much like Jacob, Ben is offered a choice: Power to be Principal, or the power of his principles. Which is it?
The unexpected happens. This Ben, not as clouded in murky moral waters, passes on the power to help someone he cares deeply about. And yes, he does manage to get out of monitoring detention, which as a metaphor may be what he’s been having to on the island for the past five years. He’s had to keep an eye on all those unruly kids like Jack, Kate, Sayid, etc. And he’s done. No more detention, Ben!
What happened to Ben’s less-than-savory half:

When we last left Ben, he saw Sayid excelling at his chosen profession poolside. He quickly catches up with Ilana, Lapidus, Sun and Miles outside of the temple as they all head to the beach.
Ilana, who is finally starting to get somewhat interesting as a character, has Miles do his voodoo dead guy talking thing with Jacob’s ashes. At one point in the show, Miles told us he couldn’t converse with someone’s ashes, which we now know was a lie. Makes you wonder what else Miles might be lying about…
Anyhow, cat’s out of the bag, and everybody knows Ben killed Jacob (whom Ilana referred to as “the closest thing I ever had to a father.”). Given the fact Ben told everyone that he killed Locke, he should consider just keeping his mouth shut from now on.
Briefly, Sun learns that either she or Jin are candidates for Jacob’s old job. Six are left. Let’s see: Jack, Hurley, Sayid, Sawyer, Locke must still be the others, right?
As they rummage through the abandoned beach camp, Ben enters Sawyer’s old digs and finds a porno mag and and two books: The Chosen (heh, heh) by Chaim Potok and something with former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli on the cover. What does it mean? Folks, I don’t know. We also get some lame dialogue between Ben and Lapidus about imagine how different things would be if hadn’t slept in and piloted the oceanic plane that crashed and blah, blah, blah…
Thankfully, Ilana saves the writers further embarrassment and drags Ben to the cemetery to dig his own grave! I don’t know about you, but movies and television always have people digging their own graves. Reallly? Would you really be willing to dig your own grave? Why? If you know if someone’s going to kill you, wouldn’t your final act of rebellion be to NOT dig your own grave? Wouldn’t you WANT to piss your murderer off? Hey villains, if you are going to kill me, I’m not going to help with any pre-cleaning of the crime scene. You will have to work for villainy, okay?
While digging, Miles refuses Ben’s 3.2 million dollar bribe to help him get away. You gotta love Miles, because he refused not on moral grounds, but because he knows 2 bodies buried at this beach have 8 million dollars worth of diamonds on hand (which Miles ends up later retrieving). Miles also tells Ben that Jacob wanted to believe in the good inside of Ben, didn’t want to die, and refused to believe in Ben’s bad side, you know, right up until Ben plunged a knife into his heart. Ouch!
Next thing we know, Smokey shows up to pay Ben a visit. He offers Ben reclamation of his Island management duties. All Ben has to do is grab a rifle Smokey set down near a tree, shoot Ilana and meet Smokey and his crew on the other island. Piece of cake, right?
Ben goes for it, sprinting into the woods with Ilana hot on his heels. He gets the drop on her, and instead of doing the usual Ben thing he…. Explains. Explains? Yes, explains. In a wonderful scene (I’ll admit to choking up a bit), Ben explains to Ilana that he’s SO FRICKING
ANGRY at Jacob – he gave up his life and watched his daughter die when he could’ve prevented it, and Jacob didn’t even care. Ben acknowledged his guilt, shame and sorrow, but begged to go meet Smokey, because “He is the only one who will have me.” Ilana says she’ll have Ben, and we depart this scene with Ben’s jaw nearly dropping to the ground.
Ben wanders back to beach camp and asks Sun if he can help with anything. We also see Ilana fight back tears – forgiveness certainly isn’t easy, but it is right. We also get yet another slo-mo shot of hugging on the beach (I think I’ve seen this on Lost at least 80 times) when Jack, Alpert and Hurley show up. Hey man, about half of the old band is back together, man.
But before we can close out, we see a periscope pop up from (dah Dah DAH!!!!!) Widmore’s submarine.
Meanwhile, Jack, Hurley and Alpert do some cool stuff, too:

We now know that Hurley dreams of cheese curds (he should try them fried. So delicious, so wrong). Hurley tries to keep Jack from heading back to the slaughterhouse, er, Temple. Before they can argue too much, Richard Alpert pops up (man, sometimes this island seems way too small), and off we go to the Black Rock (I believe the last time we visited, we watched Sawyer engaged in some serious strangling… With slave chains. Now that’s nice symbolism, huh.).
Once again, Hurley asks OUR questions to solve some mysteries (Alpert was touched by Jacob, he doesn’t time travel, and yes, he hasn’t aged in a few hundred years. No word on what brand of mascara he uses, but maybe it’s Maybelline).
Alpert’s mission? To die! The “curse” of Jacob’s touch is that he can’t kill himself, something he’s wanted to do for awhile. This explains why drunk Jack couldn’t jump off the bridge a few years back. Alpert wants Jack to light some dynamite and turn a willing Alpert into an M-80, because he’s lost his faith! Guess who ironically restores it? Our previously faithless Jack, that’s who!
Jack’s power-play of sitting with a lit dynamite stick, hoping/believing that it wouldn’t go off because Jacob needs him? Awesome. I’m happy to have the awesome Jack moments back.
To be fair to Alpert, however, I understand his temptation to become little itty-bitty Alpert bits. I wonder if he hears Ben bitching about thirty years of his life down the drain working for Jacob, Alpert can counter with “Thirty!? Try THREE HUNDRED! AWWW, SNAP!”
“Want to try another stick?” Great line, Jack.
So, what can I tell you about the next few weeks?

Doc Jensen is back ‘On’ this week after his wildly erratic gobbledy-gook from the week prior. He has an intriguing theory about Jack. He doesn’t see Jack as a believer – he thinks Jack is maniacally playing Jacob’s game with the intent of messing it all up at a key moment, one giant act of revenge. Like I said, intriguing, but I’m not buying it, especially with so few episodes left. I’m convinced the Jack we’re seeing is the real deal. Now Sawyer, on the hand…

Where is Sawyer, anyway? We got some good stuff from him earlier this season. Is he still boozing it up with Iggy Pop? How did he get out of that damn cave? I am still convinced he’s pulling a long con on Smokey. Especially when he sees Kate again. In any event, Sawyer will get plenty of screen time next week, in an episode titled ‘Recon’. Get it? Re-Con? Man, they really ought to put a little more thought into some of these things…

Charlie will be back (again) and he’ll be doing something more meaningful than choking on a bag of heroin. Even Charlie’s brother Liam is putting in an appearance. I guess the question now is, is there anybody NOT coming back for an episode?

Penny and Desmond will be back real soon, as will Rousseau! Walt, too. And Charlotte will be back this upcoming episode.
So Widmore is (almost) back. Is he on a “side”, or is he going to meddle with the confrontation the island seems determined to have?
Sorry for the delay on getting this out, guys. Thanks for reading and watching

"Lost" in Translation: The lust for power, principles, principals and a better parking spot

academic politics are always the most brutal…

The contrasting lives and travails of our two Bens – alt-Ben in L.A. and original recipe Island Ben – takes us back to the headlines in the morning newspaper right here at home. In a land where partisan battle takes precedent over policy; where each side is so convinced of its own moral authority that they can focus only on destroying the other side; where it’s not just expected, but perfectly acceptable for ordinary folks to shed blood and even die while their leaders feud among themselves…suddenly the struggle for the “Lost” island seems far more familiar than its population of monsters, polar bears and walking, talking dead folks would lead you to expect.

The common thread, of course, is the seductive, often destructive, quest for power.

Island Ben, the leader of the Others and the acknowledged conduit to the God-like Jacob, never actually met his leader, and thus could only interpret His wishes and demands to protect the island. Most often, this led to carnage – the slaughter of the Dharma gang (including his own abusive-but-still father); bloody fights against other Others, perpetual war against Widmore & co (who may in fact deserve it) and the insta-persecution of the Oceanic survivors.

But to what end? the feud between Jacob and the Man in Black, in all their forms, continued unabated. Sacrifices were made – including Ben’s own beloved daughter. Lots of blood, lots of suffering. And nothing ever changed. For al the talk of power and glory, for all the brutality meted out in pursuit of being proven right — how many factions were led to proclaim, at one point or another, “We’re the good guys”? –  each character’s internal struggle continued unresolved.

Until we got to the alternative life in L.A. Unsurprisingly, the alt-life of Ben Linus — a high school history teacher, rather than a leader of men – takes a particularly sharp turn. Away from the grand stage of Island leadership he can focus on his own humanity. Now he’s a caring son for his elderly, sickly, but no longer abusive, dad (Roger, who he personally gassed to death back in the Dharma initiative slaughter). He flirts with a grand power play – using a sex scandal to oust his truly odious high school principal – but backs away when the boss threatens to take vengeance on favorite student (if no longer his adoptive daughter) Alex.

Away from the allure of glory, Ben opts for the smaller, yet arguably more fulfilling, victories of tending to the specific needs of the people he values the most.

I’m still not certain if all of “Lost”‘s many philosophical/political/subtextural themes will ultimately add up to a tidy moral package. It could be that these threads serve only as dramatic enhancement: the conceptual fuel that pushes the action to a higher emotional pitch. But what seemed particularly evident to me last night was the deepening shadows surrounding all of the show’s leaders. Jack’s heroics often seem triggered by a combination of impulsiveness and stone-cold suicidal tendencies. Locke was/is driven by fear. Jacob, for all his fair-haired sweetness, comes off as manipulative and, possibly, wicked. The man in black, now best seen as NotLocke, simply destroys everything in his path. And God (or Jacob) only knows what Widmore and his submarine crew have in store for the Island and it’s paranormal powers.

Whatever’s going on between the Island reality and the Los Angeles reality, the quest for enlightenment seems far less complicated, and more fulfilling, the further you get from attempting to define, and control, the terms of right, wrong, truth and justice. Where the debate over health care policy matters less than rolling up your own sleeves and comforting the person nearest you.