Lost's Ben Linus' Secret Past, Revealed

Slate's Culture Blog
March 4 2010 4:00 PM

Lost's Ben Linus' Secret Past, Revealed

In their Lost TV Club discussions , Slate 's Jack Shafer, Seth Stevenson, and Chadwick Matlin have found plenty to take issue with in the show's final season. My biggest gripe with the series this year, though, might be the drastically reduced screen time for Ben Linus. How could this fascinatingly inscrutable mind-gamer—adored by fans, loathed by Jack Shephard—transform so rapidly into such a sniveling has-been? Among my hopes for the show is that Linus's raditude will be restored. In the meantime, however, I have this recently unearthed YouTube clip to help me along:

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Yes, that's a much younger Linus himself—or, in the alternate universe we call "real life," the actor Michael Emerson—portraying a prison counselor in a 1992 Department of Corrections training video. This video is, for the most part, a happy curiosity, but there's also something uncanny about it. At first, Emerson's Counselor Andrews isn't given much room to flex: A voice-over steps on his lines something nasty up top. But when he tries to calm down a tantrum-throwing prisoner, it's pure Linus: the disarmingly bugged eyeballs, the hyper-articulated speech, the eerily calm affect giving way to agitated twitching, the smug grin that telegraphs levels of menace, the weird hair.

When Andrews says, " How you doing, Higgins? Hear we got a little bit of a  misunderstanding  here,"  a little shiver runs down my spine. That's Ben Linus, Higgins! He will call down a smoke monster on your unruly ass! Or, you know, the prison psychologist.

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.