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.