'Lost': Thinking back on 'Bentham'
When you discuss a genre-based pop culture item, you have to be ready for criticism. Fans of said item would rather you insult their dear old grandmother before insulting [insert all-important passion here]. So in gearing up for my recap last week of "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham," I knew I'd get some hate from some Lost fans. And honestly, that's fine: and really, what followed so much wasn't hate as intense disagreement. That I can handle, and not only handle, but expect. Nobody threatened to shove anything into me nor pull anything out of me, so, on that front: score!
Here's the behind-the-curtain skinny on how recaps happen: we here at Zap2It don't have the luxury of sitting around, mulling episodes over to craft the finest prose over multiple drafts. Nope: The Powers That Be strive to get the discussion going as quickly as possible. While this poses a problem for any recapper of any show, it's particularly difficult to do so with Lost. So in getting my thoughts out to you in a way that balances speed versus time, I don't always get to express myself as best as I'd like.
I stand by my recap, don't get me wrong. After a few days, I stand by the fact that this episode as a whole didn't meet the high standard we come to expect from this show. And I'm not here looking for sympathy; I'm just offering some insight and context. But want to try and further explain my thoughts with the benefit of a few days' thought on the matter. I'm not doing this to sway anyone who loved the episode; Lord knows I wish I were in your camp on the matter. But since many of you read this site on a regular basis, it affords me the chance to better explain three things that bothered this particular Lost fan during the hour.
1) It made Locke thiiiiiiis close to irredeemably pathetic.
I'm praying we've seen the last of Lost treating John Locke the way Smallville treats Chloe Sullivan. If this is his true low point, then tonight's episode will have served its purpose. But we keep thinking Locke has hit the bottom of the barrel, only to find another barrel below that once the bottom falls out. And there's only so much I can take before thinking, "THIS is the savior of the Island?"
Now, I'm on record as saying he and Jack have to eventually mind-meld/combine forces/turn into a less cool version of Voltron to become the 1-2 punch that eventually ends the coming War of the Island. And I understand that for a hero to rise, he must fall. But watching Locke get led around for five seasons of television due to his overwhelming need to be needed reached its nadir with him almost instantaneously becoming Charles Widmore's lapdog upon returning to the mainland.
The more I think about it, the more angered I get by Widmore dubbing Locke "Jeremy Bentham." It's essentially a cruel, academic, inside joke played by Widmore upon the hapless Locke, who doesn't understand that his new namesake repudiated the philosophical teachings of Locke in real life. A fitting joke for a man who used to speak fluent Latin, and perfectly apt for a man who once prized a bottle of booze above the worth of his potential son-in-law. And yet, Locke doesn't question this alias, barely interrogates him about the Kahana, and then not-so-merrily tries to get the band back together despite knowing in his gut that his driver once prophesied their future encounter.
Speaking of prophecies...
2) While plausible psychologically, the Walt/Locke scene failed dramatically.
People who enjoyed this scene offer a compelling reason why: surprised by the man before him, not the child he remembered, Locke decided to spare Walt from further disruption, lying about Michael and intentionally blowing off Walt's dream. This all makes sense when laid out thusly, and might be exactly what Darlton intended to achieve. On another show, this might have been perfect. But this is Lost, and it's not enough.
Psychologically speaking, everything in that paragraph rings true. While he parted with his father on bad terms upon returning to the Island, time clearly softened that a bit. Problem was, Walt never had a chance to make peace with Michael, and his only connection to him is through the people that were there on the Island. And so when he meets both Locke and Hurley, he slips in questions about his father in a quiet but curious manner. And neither man has the heart to crush Walt.
But Locke knows Walt isn't a normal boy. Walt is someone that scared the living bejesus out of Benjamin Freakin' Linus and can make birds commit suicide with his mind. Their conversation didn't have to touch on that fact, but it didn't touch on ANYTHING relevant to their rich and intriguing history. Go back and watch Season 1: their pairing is possibly the most interesting one in the show, aside from the combative relationship between Leslie Arzt and sweating dynamite. If Locke should want any one person to come back with him, one could argue persuasively that it should be Walt.
Everything I just said is rendered null and void if this wasn't Walt's last appearance on the show. But as it stands right now, neither Michael nor Walt will get anything close to closure at this stage of the game. Michael's actions on the Kahana exist in a vacuum if Walt never learns what he did, and we as viewers will be cheated if Walt's "special" nature doesn't play into the show's endgame. I waited four seasons to see these two meet again, and it simply fell flat in the execution. It very well may be prologue for things to come, but all I can do is judge it on its own merits at this time.
Speaking of things to come...
3) The show's coming close to sinking under its own narrative weight.
I didn't have the problems with "316" that many people had, because I figured the Kate, Sayid, Hurley, and Ben backstories would get plugged into future episodes this season. Of those, I sensed the first and last would be episode-long flashbacks tied into Island action, with the middle two placed inside other episodes. But after "Bentham," we now have an almost unbearable amount of backtracking to do at a point where all I wanna do it push this narrative train along faster and faster.
My biggest gripe with "Bentham" is that it pulled a classic Season 2/3 move of "answering two questions while raising eight." And that's fine and dandy when you have multiple seasons to spread things out. But it's not fine when you only have 26 episodes to go. I don't need more mysteries thrown into the pot, I don't need rehashes of existing conundrums, and I don't need doubt thrown on previously sure things. It's one thing to be mysterious; it's another to be impenetrable.
It frustrates me more as a blogger/recapper, but it has to upset the casual fan as well: there are just certain elements that defy any realistic analysis. I don't mind being wrong as long as the show gives me an outside shot at being right. But if you can make compelling arguments for an almost limitless set of narrative variables, well, all you're doing is debating, not analyzing. You're trying to do some sort of Choose Your Own Adventure, only in this case it's like the book in question is 8,000 pages long and you're trying to figure out exactly which way Darlton wants to go.
A lot of readers like that after "Bentham," we don't know if we can trust Widmore or Linus. But, we already knew that! Aside from Ben killing Locke, we didn't learn anything new about the central conflict of the show that we already gleaned from "The Shape of Things to Come" and the debate surrounding, "Who staged the fake crash?" "Bentham" didn't add any insight; it just strengthened the ambiguity.
As an example: you can't have Widmore answer Locke's question of why he's so special with, "Because you are," at this point in the game. That's up there with Cindy's, "We're here to watch," from "Stranger in a Strange Land" in terms of sheer awfulness. In fact, it's worse, because Cindy's line was written before the show had an end date. Giving such a horrifically vague line to a central character concerning a central mystery at this stage of the game is bordering on audience antagonism.
Then again, direct answers delivered by Widmore and Linus are so loaded with misdirection, legal-esque loopholes, or straight-up lies that maybe vague is best now. And that's too bad, because these two men have some stories to tell that we'd find plenty interesting. Many people take Widmore at face value concerning his exile by Ben, pointing to that as an "answer" supplied by the show. Sadly, he and Ben are the men-child that cried Lost at this point.
Flashbacks and/or Island activity seen through the eyes of Lostaways now caught up in the Island's history (literally) will be the only way to truly parse any statement either of these men make from now on. With the information that could allow us to know when either of these men is ever telling the truth, I will automatically default to assuming they are liars.
And if they ever asked me why, I'd just reply, "Because you are."
Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude. He invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It's Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to subscribe to the Zap2It's Guide to Lost Twitter feed.