Jack, Seth, please join me in a hearty cheer of "Vive Le Linus!" Although Ben may no longer be the emperor of the island, he proved last night that he's still the emperor of Lost. Since last season's finale, Michael Emerson has gradually turned Ben inside out, burying his machinations and exposing his vulnerabilities. It was most pronounced last week, when Ben stumbled across Sayid and his bloody dagger. Eyes wide and body erect, Ben scampered away like a squirrel hopped-up on Red Bull. This week he was less frenetic but just as wounded. It was an entire hour of Ben laid bare, so exhausted and weak that he allowed the other castaways—and the audience—to witness and prey upon his insecurities.
As with all things Ben, his metamorphosis has hinged upon the acquisition and loss of power. The most telling scene came right at the beginning. Ben is in front of his class, lecturing on the reign of Napoleon. But he's not talking about the Napoleonic Wars or the halcyon days of the French empire. Ben picks up after Napoleon abdicates his power, forced into exile on the island of Elba. (Elba, we should note, is an anagram for "Abel," biblical son of Adam and Eve.) At the time, Napoleon is a man defeated. Napoleon, like Ben, had lost "the only thing that ever mattered to me. My power."
But Napoleon sulked for only so long. He soon escaped Elba, landed back in France, collected some of his old loyalist troops, and stormed the capital, ruling again for 100 days. Lost TV Club Theory No. 7! Ben will lead the castaways in their fight against Smokey Locke. But I'm not brave enough to predict what will happen when he does. I worry that Ben will have his own Waterloo.
Widmore's arrival complicates things. But what a welcome complication! Seth, you wondered what will happen now that he's motoring toward the island. Three predictions: 1) We'll finally get a full sketch of Widmore's allegiances, and where they lie. 2) They'll lie with Jacob, who actually did want him to come to the island, as he told Hurley at the lighthouse. 3) Widmore will thus have to fight alongside Ben. The two of them, together, will have to bury their personal differences to defeat Smokey Locke. They'll do it all in the name of a higher power, the one they call "The Island."
Until that happens, we're left to ponder the off-island alterna-timeline. Last night, I think we learned that the alternate timeline is even weirder than we thought. While Ben is changing Roger's oxygen tank, his dad mentions that he wishes they had stayed on the island—that things would have been different if they had. (The oxygen, by the way, is a nice ironic touch. In one timeline, Ben killed his father by gassing him; now he's keeping him alive by doing the same.) "Who knows what you would have become?" Roger asks. Latent in that exchange is a pivotal issue: Why did Ben leave the island in the first place and when?
Thus far this season, most of us have been operating under the assumption that the bomb went off, sunk the island, and made it so that Oceanic 815 never crashes. But here's the catch: If, in the second timeline, Jack and Co. never crash on the island, and therefore never go back in time and never set off the bomb—what sinks the island? And is that what causes Ben and his dad to leave? Or is there some other cataclysmic event? I'm stumped—all theories welcome in the comments section.
Jack, you asked about the other Jack's inability to kill himself. The answer, I think lies with our old friend Michael Dawson. It's all explained in this week's Slate V video, embedded at the bottom of this page. Suffice to say that Michael's inability to kill himself vanishes once Jacob doesn't need him any longer. Relatedly, Jack and Richard shouldn't assume their auto-immortality will last forever. Do the writers of Lost have the morbid stones to make the final episode of the season star a hubristic Jack pointing a gun at himself, pulling the trigger without fear, and then … Doc Arzt redux.
While we're on the subject, I'm curious to know more about Jacob's "touch." He touches Richard, blessing him with ageless, eternal life. But he touched Sawyer and Kate very early in their lives, and they still managed to age. It appears Jacob customizes each "touch" to the recipient's needs.
Finally, did anybody else get nostalgic at that Season 1-esque ending? A montage of people moving sticks for no good reason, (Oscar winner!) Michael Giacchino's emotional but still sort of creepy score in the background, and a slow-motion, silent reunion scene.
Jack, this is how I expect your embrace of the show to look when you watch it on DVD 20 years from now. Right now, you don't realize how much you'll miss its cryptic vagaries. But you will. At the end of the season it will disappear from your TV in a quick white flash. Then, when you find the boxed set in some Wal-Costco-Mart bargain bin, you'll drop whatever you're doing, throw up your arms, and jog slowly toward its comfortable embrace. I'll be watching from my lighthouse when it happens.