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A Man Must Have a Code

By Daniel Carlson | Lost Recaps | April 13, 2009 |

By Daniel Carlson | Lost Recaps | April 13, 2009 |

“Dead Is Dead” was a solid episode of “Lost” as well as a pretty entertaining origin story of sorts detailing parts of Ben’s past as yet unseen, including his initial contact with Alex and what exactly he was up to in L.A. between leaving Jack at the Lighthouse station and reappearing at the airport to board Ajira 316. Plus it turns out the smoke monster gets summoned by flushing an underground toilet before squirting itself out of an ancient rune-covered Play-Doh machine. So, bonus.

Written by Brian K. Vaughan and Elizabeth Sarnoff and directed by Stephen Williams, the episode opens with a Hostile galloping into camp on horseback — these guys have everything — before dismounting and furiously storming up to Richard Alpert. The man, who speaks in a British accent, is incredulous that Richard actually brought “one of theme” to the Temple, but Richard said it was a just a dying boy, and that Jacob wanted it done. “The island chooses who the island chooses,” Richard says. “You know that.” The British guy, not very pleased with the tautology, shrugs it off and asks to see the boy. Moments later, he walks into a tent where Baby Ben is shirtless and bandaged, still healing from the gunshot wound but looking a little better than he did before. The boy doesn’t remember where he is or how he got there, but when he asks about his dad, the Brit says he can return to his father soon enough. Ben protests and tries to move, succumbing to a coughing fit as he says he doesn’t want to go back to the DHARMA Initiative. But the older man replies, “Just because you’re living with them doesn’t mean you can’t be one of us.” He says that Ben should be dead but the island saved his life, then introduces himself in the inevitable but still entertaining reveal: He’s Charles Widmore. This is the beginning of the lifelong rivalry.

Back in 2008, Ben regains consciousness in the cot on Hydra Island to see John Locke, alive and well, sitting next to his bed. Ben registers what’s happened and begins to understandably lose his shit a little, but there’s something approaching actual emotion in his voice when he says, “I knew that this would happen.” But Locke is beyond suffering Ben’s statements any more, and he answers each one with an incisive question — Why are you surprised to see me? Why were you escaping to the main island? — that emphasize just how much the power has shifted from Ben to Locke. After all, if Locke can’t even be stopped by death, why would he sweat Ben? Ben eventually admits to Locke that he was heading to the main island because he “broke the rules” and was “going back to be judged.” Locke looks somehow pleased, interested, and completely disbelieving when he hears this, and he asks Ben just who will be doing this judging. Ben drops the other shoe: “Well, John, we don’t even have a word for it, but I believe you call it ‘the monster.’”

Out on the beach, Ilana and Bram (the beefy dude) are overseeing some of the other survivors as they attach bamboo handles to a giant metal crate. Ben ambles up and asks what’s in the box, but Ilana says it’s “just some stuff we need to get moved.” Ben asks if he can help, but she says they’ve got it under control, so he creepily bids them all a good afternoon before moving on. He eventually makes his way to Caesar, who strikes up a conversation about Locke, who’s currently standing at the shoreline and staring out across the water like an unstable person. Caesar says that Locke claims Ben killed him, and Ben decides to use this moment to forget everything he ever learned about conning anyone and instead “lie” in that broad TV way that’s meant to remind the viewer that the liar is being extra sneaky and manipulative even though his tone and body language wouldn’t even fool Roland Pryzbylewski. Ben says he doesn’t really remember Locke from the plane, which is something Caesar and the rest already figured out. Ben suggests that maybe Locke was already on the island before the crash, meaning they could be “dealing with a man who’s dangerously deranged.” Caesar shows Ben the gun he took from the Hydra office and tells him not to worry.

Flashback: It’s the late 1980s, as will soon be revealed by character interactions but is immediately identifiable by Ben’s amazing hair, which looks like something out of Rad. Ben and a young boy are hiding in the bushes and spying on a small camp on the beach, and the boy loudly volunteers, “I can do it if you want me to.” Ben addresses the boy as Ethan — this kid was everywhere — telling him to shut up and stay put. Ben draws a pistol and approaches the hut, which turns out to be the current home of the young Danielle Rousseau and her infant, Alex, both asleep. Ben is about to shoot Rousseau when he’s startled by the baby’s cry, and he knocks over the music box and inadvertently wakes Rousseau. She reaches for her rifle, but Ben stops her by raising his own weapon, telling her to freeze. “You’re the one who infected us, aren’t you?” Rousseau says, but she slips into frantic French as Ben picks up the baby and steps toward the door. Ben fires a shot into the sand and retrains his gun on Rousseau, telling her to be thankful she and the baby are still alive. Ben says that if Rousseau pursues him or ever comes looking for him, he’ll kill her. “And if you want your child to live, every time you hear whispers, you run the other way.” With that, he takes off.

Back in 2008, Ben is rifling through the desk drawers in the main office, eventually finding what he’s looking for: A framed photo of himself with Alex in happier days, before he sacrificed her to Keamy and the commandos out of fear for his own life. Locke enters like a stealthy ninja and asks what Ben’s looking at, but he says it’s just “something sentimental” before folding the photo and putting it in his pocket. Locke strolls over and comments on Ben’s old work space, saying it seems “a little corporate” to lead his people from behind a desk. Locke even sits down and props his feet up, all but rubbing Ben’s nose in the fact that Locke is now the one in control. He says he wants to talk about “the elephant in the room,” and Ben delivers a killer deadpan when he replies, “I assume you’re referring to the fact that I killed you.” Ben says that Locke’s death was the only way to unite those who left and get them back to the island, and that Locke himself should remember that. When Locke reasonably asks why Ben didn’t just let him commit suicide, Ben says coldly, “You had critical information that would’ve died with you. And once you’d given it to me, well, I just didn’t have time to talk you back into hanging yourself. So I took a shortcut.” Admissions like this one are precisely why Ben is so masterful at manipulating those around him: Every now and then, he actually tells the truth, making it harder and harder to figure out when he’s lying, or why. Ben says he was acting in the best interests of the island, and that it worked because everyone is back now, even though he can’t place them all. Locke twists the knife and says he just wanted an apology, but then stands and says he’s decided to help Ben on his journey to judgment. Ben protests, saying it’s not something Locke will want to see, but Locke says that if Ben really has been serving the island’s greater good, then “the monster will understand.”

A few minutes later, Locke and Ben are removing the covering on one of the outriggers and preparing to leave when Caesar and a couple others come up and want to know what’s happening. Locke says they’re just taking a boat and heading to the main island, but they’re happy to leave the other one if Caesar wants to follow them. Caesar asks if Ben is going with Locke, and Ben replies that “he didn’t really give me a choice,” playing Caesar before the man knows it. Caesar says he’s “calling the shots” and that he won’t let them take a boat before Locke explains how he knows so much about the island. Caesar and Locke begin to argue as Caesar reaches for his gun, but right as he sees his bag is empty, Ben raises the weapon and blasts Caesar in the chest. Ben turns the weapon on the nonspeaking day-players and says he and Locke will be leaving, and they scatter. Ben tosses the gun to Locke and says, “Consider that my apology.”

Ben and Locke travel over to the main island, and as they dock, Locke points out the other outrigger already secured there, which Ben says was the one Sun and Frank came in after Sun attacked Ben. Locke asks if she’s also the one that hurt the arm Ben has been favoring, but Ben responds with appropriate portent, “No. Someone else hurt my arm.” Locke keeps needling Ben about his way of dealing with people, and when Ben protests that he only shot Caesar to keep Locke from harm, Locke just grins and says, “No point in me dying twice, right?” Man, Locke is totally on in this episode. All he needed to do to get funny was be murdered! Ben says they have to go to his old house because it’s the only place he can summon the monster, after which he’ll be judged, but Locke calls shenanigans on his motivation and says Ben isn’t worried about breaking the island’s rules but rather is worried about being punished for what he allowed to happen to Alex.

Flachback: It’s still 1989, and Ben tosses a lock of his wig realistic hair aside as he makes his way back to the Hostile camp, with Alex in his arms and Ethan in tow. Richard, Widmore, and a few other Others are eating around a fire when Ben walks up, and Widmore is pissed that Ben not only blew his mission to kill Rousseau but brought back a baby. Ben defends his choice, saying Rousseau doesn’t pose a threat because she’s insane — which is totally self-contradictory, and false to boot, but oh well — and that he couldn’t very well kill an infant. Widmore, looking pretty hair-pluggy himself, stands and begins to lecture Ben about how everything he’s done has been to protect the island, but Ben counters and asks if killing the baby something that Jacob wants or just an order from Widmore. Ben holds out the infant and dares Widmore to kill her, and Widmore looks like he just might do it after all, but he just smirks and walks away. Richard gives Ben a look that withholds judgment but says things might work out badly in the long run, which of course they do.

Back in 2008, the Barracks are still deserted, and the sign on the Processing Center is still somehow dangling ominously. The place is still a wreck, having fallen into disrepair since the events of fall 2004, after which the Others evacuated and headed to the Temple ahead of the invasion by Widmore’s commandos. Locke asks whose idea it was to move into the Barracks after the Purge, adding that it “just doesn’t seem like something the island would want.” Ben says Locke doesn’t have the first idea what the island wants, but Locke says, “Are you sure about that?” Just then, a light comes on in the house behind Ben and a female figure passes by the window, which is a wonderfully creepy moment. Ben’s face drops as he sees what happens and confirms that yes, that is his old house, and the woman’s shadow was in Alex’s room. Locke tells him to go check it out with all the calm reserve of a camp counselor who knows he’s playing an amazing prank on a kid. Ben enters his former home to see the living room in disarray and what looks like an unfinished game of Risk laid out on the table. He makes his way back to Alex’s room and, gathering his wits, throws open the door to see Sun, who gasps in terror at the intrusion. Ben tries to figure out what she’s doing there as Frank runs in to see what’s happening. As Ben tells them they’re in his old house, Frank hands him the framed photo from the Processing Center of Jack, Kate, and Hurley among the DHARMA class of 1977. Ben says he had no idea they had been in DHARMA, but given his track record of deception and the fact that the Temple erased some of his memories, it’s impossible to know if he’s telling the truth. Frank and Sun say they met some “crazy old man” named Christian — that name slaps Ben awake — and that if Sun wanted to see Jin again, she had to wait in that house for John Locke. Ben directs them to the window, and they look outside to see Locke standing in the yard, and in a wonderful little character moment, he gives them a small wave.

A few minutes later, everyone is gathered inside, where Sun is telling Locke it’s not possible for him to be there talking to her. Locke says he doesn’t know how or why he’s there, but there must be “a very good reason for it.” Frank doesn’t want anything to do with a solution that involves “a murderer and a guy who can’t seem to remember how the hell he got out of a coffin,” and he begs Sun to return to Hydra Island with him to see if they can fix the plane’s radio and call for help. Locke tells Sun that if she leaves with Frank, she’ll never find Jin again, adding, “I’m all the help you need.” But he stops short of telling her knows exactly how to find her husband, saying merely that he has “some ideas.” This is not at all what Frank wants to hear, and he tells Sun he’s gonna bail whether she comes with him or not, but of course she decides to stick with Locke, so Frank takes off. Sun wants to begin the search right away, but Locke says Ben has something to do first, and he says it with that tone a parent uses when they won’t let you leave the table until you eat your damn green beans. Ben grits his teeth and drags the bookcase away from the wall, revealing the secret room, and he heads inside to the rear wall and pops open a second secret door to reveal the rune-covered stone last seen when he summoned the smoke monster to attack Keamy. But this time, we get to see just where he goes and what he does. Ben lights a lantern and descends a short flight of steps that leads to a low tunnel. He gets on his knees and crawls through, stopping in a small cave with room enough to stand. Ben looks down at what appears to be a rancid puddle of water that looks vaguely sewage-ish, then plunges a hand in and begins to feel around. He finds and turns a handle that drains the puddle, and soon there’s nothing there but a wet concavity with a small hole in the bottom. “I’ll be outside,” Ben says, presumably to the hole in the ground, and honestly it’s a weird moment. He just crawled in a hole in the ground and flushed something, and that’s apparently how the monster arrives. I half expected him to look at the puddle hole and say, “Bye-bye, doody. Bye-bye.”

Flashback: It’s the mid-1990s, going by Alex’s appearance and the fact that Ben is pushing her on a swingset in the Barracks, which the Others took after the Purge. Richard comes up and tells Ben the sub’s about to leave, and Ben looks again like he’s about to do an unpleasant chore. “You don’t have to see him off,” Richard says, but Ben says yes, he does. Minutes later, Ben is down at the pier where Widmore, hands bound at the wrists, is being escorted by a pair of guards toward the submarine. Ben stops them and says he came to say good-bye, but Widmore says the younger man just wants to gloat. Ben scolds Widmore and reminds him that he shouldn’t be surprised that he’s being exiled because he broke the rules by leaving the island regularly — not sure if this means frequently or normally — and had a daughter with an “outsider.” Widmore is pissed that Ben is taking what Widmore believes to be his, but Ben says he’s worthy of the role because he’ll stop at nothing to protect the island. Widmore reminds Ben he wouldn’t kill Alex, and when Ben protests that it was Widmore, not the island, that wanted the baby dead, Widmore tells Ben that she’ll die eventually if it’s what the island wants. Widmore then says that if and when that happens, Ben will be the one being exiled for breaking the rules. It’s a moderately interesting scene if only because it shows just how recently Widmore was on the island, and how much Ben already knew about Penny when Widmore was exiled. It’s also a reminder of the series’ bigger picture, namely, that a lot of what will eventually be a six-season story boils down to these two men battling for what they believe to be their respective conflicting destinies.

Back in 2008, Ben emerges from the house to find Sun sitting on the porch, and he looks around as if the monster is about to appear right then. Sun says Locke had something to do but that he didn’t say what. She starts talking to Ben about Locke and whether he’s alive or dead, but Ben assures her that Locke was dead, so forcefully that she probably figures he was complicit in the death. She asks if Ben knew Locke would return like he did when he was brought back to the island, but Ben says he didn’t. He says the island has done “miraculous things,” but that “dead is dead. You don’t get to come back from that, not even here. So the fact that John Locke is walking around this island scares the living hell out of me.” He seems to believe what he’s saying, too. Ben hears a noise in the bushes and tells Sun she might want to go inside, adding that he can’t control whatever’s about to show up, but this is a textbook set-up for a technical fakeout that will turn out to be emotionally true in an ironic way. Sure enough, instead of the smoke monster, Locke comes breaking through the trees, deflating Ben’s fear that his judgment was approaching, but also driving home the underlying point that Ben’s ability to manipulate Locke is negligible at this point. Locke asks where the monster is, saying, “Last time we didn’t have to wait this long.” This guy is beyond cool in this episode. Ben hedges and says the monster comes on its own time, but Locke says, “Well, if it’s not gonna come to us, I suppose we’ll have to go to it.” Ben says it “doesn’t work that way” and that he only knows how to summon it, not where it lives. Locke, who’s now the man with the answers, just answers quietly, “I do.” A short while later, Locke is making torches while Sun stands nearby, and he breaks the awkward tension by saying he’s having a weird time figuring out what’s going on, just like Sun is. “But I assure you,” he says, “I’m the same man I’ve always been.” She’s not completely satisfied with his statement, but they don’t get any further before Ben re-emerges from the house with his pack, and they set off for the monster.

Flashback: It’s a few days earlier, and Ben is strolling down the Long Beach marina. He’s already left Jack at the Lighthouse the night before, but he isn’t yet beat to hell, which means that’s just about to happen. He takes out his cell phone and calls Widmore, saying he’s about to go back to the island. Widmore says the island won’t let Ben return, and that Widmore himself has spent almost 20 years trying to get back there. Ben says he’ll succeed where Widmore failed right after doing one final thing: killing Widmore’s daughter. Ben stops walking as the camera shifts to his perspective to see Penny aboard her boat, straightening things on deck. Ben says he’s looking at “Our Mutual Friend” right now, which is the name of Penny’s boat — I guess it’s better than The Seaward — and hangs up the phone as he begins walking again.

Back on the island, Locke is leading Ben and Sun through the jungle when Ben asks how it is Locke knows where he’s going. Locke, rather than go ten rounds about justified true belief, says only, “I just know.” Ben presses him and asks sarcastically, “Did it come upon you gradually, or did you wake up one morning suddenly understanding the mysteries of the universe?” Locke ignores the question and addresses Ben’s real issue, which is that he doesn’t know what will happen and doesn’t like not being able to call all the shots. Ben admits that he hates being the one to blindly follow, and Locke says, “Now you know what it was like to be me.” A few moments later, Ben says he now has an idea of where they’re going, and that it’s the same place he was brought as a child and received the island’s healing. They round in the path and find themselves at the Temple, or rather, one of the large walls around it, since the Temple itself is actually about half a mile away. Ben says the wall was built “to keep people like the two of you from ever seeing it.” As they approach, Ben heads for the door, but Locke stops him by saying they’re not going into the Temple, but under it. Ben looks a little scared as Locke gestures at a fissure in the ground near the wall — which looks to be the same hole Rousseau’s teammates were dragged into years before — but he moves closer to the opening. Ben swallows nervously, then asks Sun for a favor, telling her that if she ever gets off the island to find Desmond and tell him Ben said he was sorry. This moment is the closest Ben has come since Alex’s death to emotional honesty. “Sorry for what?” Sun asks. Ben nods and says, “He’ll know,” then begins to climb down into the hole.

Flashback: Ben, still at the marina, walks quietly down the pier toward Penny’s boat. He doesn’t pay attention to the man conspicuously getting groceries out of his car as he walks by, which is a mistake, since the guy pulls back and reveals himself to be Desmond. He shouts at Ben, asking what he’s doing there, but Ben pulls a pistol from his jacket and fires a shot into Desmond’s chest, sending him to the ground. He strides back down the pier toward the boat as he raises the gun at Penny, telling her to freeze. He explains that he’s there because of Charles Widmore, and Penny tries to protest that she and her father have no relationship any more, but Ben ignores her and says he’s there because Widmore was responsible for the death of Ben’s own daughter. Just then, little Charlie emerges from below deck, and Penny tells him to run back inside. She begs Ben to spare her child’s life just as Danielle Rousseau did 20 years earlier, and it’s enough to make Ben lower the gun. As he does, he’s attacked from behind and knocked down by Desmond, which is a beautiful irony: Ben should have remembered from personal experience that a single shot to the chest isn’t always enough to kill someone. Desmond climbs on top of Ben and proceeds to whale on him mercilessly before dumping his semi-conscious body into the water.

Back on Hydra Island, Frank arrives in the outrigger as some dude runs up shouting his name. “They found guns,” the man says, and right away there’s another amazing bit of tension in the story. He tells Frank that Ilana and three of the others have declared themselves in charge. Frank heads up the beach to find Ilana and Bram getting ready to lift the giant metal crate, and she draws her rifle on him as he approaches and asks what’s going on. “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” she asks him, but it sounds more like a shibboleth than actual search for information. Frank has no idea what she’s talking about, so she repeats herself, but he’s still clueless. He doesn’t even try to come up with a vaguely conspiratorial reply — “I’m interested in all kinds of astronomy,” or something — so Ilana cracks him over the jaw with the butt of her weapon. Frank goes down like a sack of drunk potatoes as Ilana tells Bram to gather the Others and tie Frank up. “He’s coming with us,” she says as Frank passes out.

Meanwhile, over on the main island, Locke lights torches for himself and Ben now that they’re under the Temple, having left Sun topside. As they move down the stone passageway, dodging vines and rocks, Ben finally admits that Locke is right about why Ben needs to be judged. He confesses that it was his own selfishness that got Alex killed, and he takes responsibility for what happened to her and knows he has to answer for it. “I appreciate you showing me the way,” Ben says, “but I think I can take it from here.” Locke stops where he is and lets Ben walk on, but Ben doesn’t get more than 10 feet away before the floor gives out beneath him and he falls to a room below, revealing a whole other sublevel of the Temple area. Locke rushes to the broken area and shouts down to see if Ben is okay, but Ben’s got better luck than Locke does when it comes to falling in caves, and he’s fine. Locke scampers off to find something to lower down and help Ben escape, and Ben stands and surveys what’s around him. The ruins look even older than the ones one level up, and he sees that the walls and nearby columns are adorned with hieroglyphs. He approaches the end of the room, where one of the wall’s hieroglyphs depicts some kind of giant deity interacting with something designed to represent the smoke monster. The figure in the image looks a lot like Anubis, or at least it’s got a jackal’s head; it seems likely, or at least probable, that it’s the same figure honored by the giant four-toed statue.

Ben looks down and sees, set against the wall, and angled slab of stone with small holes set regularly in rows. The flame on his torch goes out as the smoke monster begins to pour out of the holes, coalescing into a larger hissing and clicking cloud as it swirls around Ben. The black cloud envelops him, and unfortunately for the series, this is probably the weakest-looking appearance of the monster so far. It’s one thing to catch a few glimpses of Eko’s life story as the monster raises up and judges him; it’s another to too heavily rely on CGI that’s not quite up to the task of making Ben’s judgment a sufficiently imposing one. The cloud flashes erratically as Ben hears his own words thrown back at him, and then Widmore’s big goofy face goes sliding across the interior of the cloud like this whole part of the episode is a deleted scene from “Xena.” The monster takes Ben through the highlights, ending with his decision to let Alex be shot. Ben breaks into penitent tears as the monster recedes and returns to its resting place in the walls, and his torch blazes to life as soon as the monster’s gone.

Just then, Ben hears Alex’s voice say, “Daddy?” He wheels around to see his daughter standing before him, looking just like she did before he killed her. He says he’s sorry for what happened, and that it was all his fault. “I know,” she says, and it looks like she might forgive him, but she quickly grabs him by the collar and shoves him up against one of the columns. She tells him she knows he’s already planning to kill Locke again — and Ben’s eyes widen at that one — but that if Ben hurts Locke in any way, Alex will hunt him down and “destroy” him. She says that Ben is to listen to every word Locke says and follow his every order. She shakes him a few times until he confesses that he’ll follow Locke, and he closes his eyes and cries a little as it looks like she’s going to attack him. But she drops her hands from his body, and when he opens his eyes again, she’s gone. Ben grabs his torch and heads back toward the opening in the ceiling, where Locke appears and begins to lower down a vine. He gazes dumbly up at Locke, unable to speak at first. Locke asks him what happened, and Ben replies with a mix of relief and sorrow, “It let me live.”

And that’s the episode. It was fun to see some of the specifics shake out between Ben and Widmore, like the nature and time of Widmore’s departure from the island. But in “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham,” Widmore made it sound like he’d been banished via teleportation since he knew about the frozen wheel’s exit point in Tunisia; at the very least, he said to Locke that Ben had fooled him into leaving the island, whereas Widmore’s departure seemed very much like an official thing. Widmore’s timeline is also a trifle shaky, since he left the island sometime after 1992 and it’s just “now” 2008, meaning he’s been looking for the island for about 15 years instead of 20. But also: What the hell is up with Ilana? Have she and Bram been “infected” by some aspect of the monster the way Rousseau’s team was? It seems likely that she also could have ties to the island that pre-date Oceanic 815; she asked about the statue like she knew all about it and its history. She seemed originally to be just a bounty hunter trying to collect Sayid on behalf of the family of Peter Avellino, but why would that mean taking him to Guam? Did she know Ajira 316 would wind up on the island? And what exactly is in that crate? Also, in regards to Alex: Keamy blew her away, and she shows back up to talk to Ben. She’s a manifestation, a projection, of the smoke monster. The monster can make itself appear in various forms that are capable of physically interacting with the real world and its living inhabitants, just as this Alex did with Ben, but the projections also walk and talk and think like their old selves in addition to having additional knowledge about the island and its ways, thanks to their being a part of the monster or island itself. It’s how Alex can tell Ben to follow Locke; she/it knows. Because of that, it’s possible that Ben was right when he said dead is dead, and that you don’t come back, meaning Locke is really dead. The resurrections seen so far have been projections of real people, known to be deceased, whose bodies have disappeared; and they also know a lot about the island and are in tune with its desires and secrets. Alex knew Ben should follow Locke; Christian knew a lot, like how to save the island; Locke knew to go under the temple instead of through it. Locke’s line about being “the same man” he always was could be a hint that he’s anything but, and though he seems to be himself, he is in fact nothing but a living-dead projection manifested by the island. It’s just an idea for now, but still.

And seriously: What’s the deal with the whispers?

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.

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