I don’t know why, but “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” is the first episode I haven’t been all that jazzed about this season. (I’m not a fan of “The Lie,” either, but that one’s more like a coda to the season premiere, so it functions.) John Locke is one of my favorite characters, actually, and I was initially excited for this episode to flesh out the hows and whys of his collection of the Oceanic Six, but the actual execution of this conceit left a little something to be desired. Maybe it was a lack of a real on-island story, necessary to balance this off-island stuff out. I’m also starting to feel like Lost, in general, is answering a few too many questions or, at the very least, saying things too plainly. Like the scene where Widmore christens John Locke as Jeremy Bentham by explaining who Bentham is and how it’s funny that Locke is reborn as a different philosopher. Most of us knew this already. It didn’t need to be said.
There is, however, one very valuable thing that I take away from this episode. My allegiance before as to whose side of the impending war would be the right side was in favor of Ben and those of the island, but after seeing Ben’s machinations in this episode and hearing certain pieces of information from Widmore, I no longer know who to trust. As pointed out by EW‘s Doc Jensen, Lost is constantly exploring problems of epistemics: how do w know what we know, and how can we trust that knowledge? I, and possibly some of you, have been willing to believe up to this point Ben’s claims that Widmore is evil and has ill designs for the island and its people should he ever find it. This claim started to be problematized when Locke met Widmore back in 1954, leading us to questions Widmore’s alleged intentions if his association with the island goes back further than Ben’s. It’s even further problematized when Widmore tells Locke in his Tunisian hospital bed (because the Frozen Donkey Wheel always dumps its turners in a Tunisian desert) that wily Ben Linus tricked Widmore into leaving the island, which we know means exile. Until that time, Widmore was the leader of his people. He instructs John that he must go back to the island because “there’s a war coming, John, and if you’re not back on the island when it happens, the wrong side is going to win.”
From there, Widmore rechristens Locke and gives him Matthew Abbadon as a chauffer/assistant. The travel to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where Locke pays a visit to the new-and-improved Habitat for Humanity Sayid, which is drastically different than the assassin-for-hire Sayid. Locke tries to convince Sayid to return to the island, but he refuses, informing Locke that leaving the island allowed him to be with Nadya, until her death, and that he likes building things and doing good for the world. (Did anyone else notice that the school Sayid was building was called “Escuela de Isla,” or “School of the Island?”) From then, Locke and Abbadon head to New York to see WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALT! Walt informs Locke that he’s had some prescient dreams about the island’s impending war and seeing Locke return to the island in a suit, but despite this information, Locke does not ask Walt to join him on the return trip to that mysterious island. Abbadon chides him for this and, in the distance, Ben Linus spies on the conversation. (Man, Ben sure gets around, doesn’t he?)
Next, the Locke and Abbadon road trip heads to Santa Rosa, California, which I always thought was just the name of Hurley’s medical center, but it turns out that it’s so named because it’s actually in Santa Rosa. There’s a bit of levity where Hurley assumes he’s seeing John because he’s crazy, until a nurse confirms that he is, in fact, talking to a bald dude in a wheelchair. Hurley seems alright with the prospect of going back to the island, until he sees Matthew Abbadon watching over their conversation and freaks out, screaming about how he once saw Abbadon at Santa Rosa, claiming to be a representative of Oceanic Airlines. The orderlies take Hurley inside. Locke has struck out on yet another attempt to bring the O6ers back together. With some doubt planted in his mind about Abbadon, he asks the man exactly what he does for Mr. Widmore, to which Abbadon replies:
“I help people get where they need to get to, John. That’s what I do for Mr. Widmore.”
From Santa Rosa, the odd pair of bald men head down to Los Angeles, where Locke fails at getting Kate to come along. Frustrated, Locke demands to be taken to see Helen, his lost love. Abbadon refuses to take him, but eventually caves and shows Locke to her grave. There, Abbadon tells Locke about how he’s helped Locke get where he was supposed to be (suggesting Walkabout, for instance), and asks him if his death, his instruction from Richard Alpert, will be inevitable or a choice. Suddenly, Abbadon is shot and Locke speeds away on his broken leg, landing himself in a massive traffic accident that he miraculously survives under the care of Jack Shepard. Indeed, Abbadon gets people where they need to go.
Locke tells Jack about his mission, their mission, but Jack is less than receptive. He thinks Locke is delusional and wholly un-special, until Locke tells Jack that he has a message from Christian Shepard. Even then, Jack refuses to believe, and Locke, once discharged from the hospital, returns to his hotel to write that fateful suicide note. He prepares to hang himself with some electrical cords, and I was more than surprised to see that for all the things John Locke knows, he doesn’t know how to tie a noose. That knot he tied wouldn’t hold a human body long enough for it to hang by the neck until dead. Surely, this is something Locke would have learned in Boy Scouts, no?
It doesn’t matter how poorly Locke ties knots, though, because Ben knocks and lets himself in. He reveals that he killed Abbadon to protect Locke and the O6ers from Widmore. He proceeds to contradict the information given to us by Widmore earlier in the episode, claiming Widmore is indeed bad and that Ben moved the island to keep Locke and friends safe from that terrible man. He begs John to let him help collect the O6. Locke breaks down and tells Ben, the man he has trusted as one who groomed him to take his rightful place as leader of the Others, that he is a failure, unable to convince anyone to return with him, and probably because he turned on Jack back in season three. Ben assures him that whatever he’s said to these people is working, because whatever he said to Jack caused Jack to buy a round trip flight to Sydney. All Locke had to do, Ben suggests, is convince that one person. He suggests they go to Sun and start again with her, but Locke tells Ben that he promised Jin he wouldn’t bring Sun back, explaining that he planned to give her Jin’s ring as proof that he was gone. Ben goes to comfort the heartbroken Man of Faith, telling him:
“You can’t die. You’ve got too much work to do.”
But then Locke mentions that he needs to find Eloise Hawking, and the very mention of her name sends Ben into a rage, causing him to strangle John, only to hang his lifeless body from the rafters in an attempt to make it look like John did what he had set out to do. This was the best scene in this whole episode for me, especially the ghastly shadow of Locke’s body looming over the scene as Ben frantically runs about, cleaning his presence of off the hotel room. I like this image not only for its grotesqueness, but because it shows Locke for what he has been constructed as: a puppet, his strings pulled by his considerable faith into many directions by as many masters – Widmore, Richard Alpert, Jacob/Christian Shepard, Jack. He’s a tragic figure, lead into ruin by his faith and believe in what he’s told. The only thing that’s certain about the various problems of epistemics we’ve been presented in this episode is that, whichever side is correct, John Locke had to die. That was always an absolute truth.
But true to Walt’s dream, Locke does return to that island in a suit, brought back to life as he touches that holy ground, much to the confusion of new castaways Ilana and Cesar, who are very confused about this whole situation. It seems they’ve crashed near the Hydra station, and Cesar is looking for something. Ajira did in fact crash, but as Cesar tells Locke, Hurley and two other people (Kate and Jack, presumably) disappeared when the light flashed, and two others (Sayid and Sun, presumably), took off in a catamaran the first chance they could get. Cesar the leads John to inspect the bodies of those who were injured, and among them, is Ben Linus. I like that Locke, reincarnated on the island, has become sort of deity figure, appearing from nowhere and yet being implicitly trusted by those around him. His reaction upon seeing Ben Linus?
“That’s the man who killed me.”
In writing about this right now, I’ve grown to appreciate the episode more than when I started this post. Though I stand by the issues I mentioned at first, the more subtle aspects of this episode really shine through all that, especially the deity Locke on the island and the puppet Locke body hanging from that hotel room ceiling. As always, for every answered question and spelled-out piece of dialogue, the writers throw something new at us: why were only some of the 06 zapped from the plane into time travel land, while others were left behind? Are only some of them necessary for the upcoming war? And why the fuck is Cesar so curious about everything? What made Sayid turn from killer to habitat builder? And why was Locke not supposed to meet Eloise Hawking? I have no theories on any of this. I’m just going to think about the grim spectre of puppet Locke until the next episode.
I’m very big on the Lost episodes that people seem to dislike when it comes to the ones that simply exist as backstory and exposition and not much else. That’s why I like s4’s “Confirmed Dead” more than “The Constant,” not because it was more emotional (that would be the latter), but because I loved how economical the entire story was in our introduction to the Freighties. It was mysterious, it was confusing, and it was informative.
The issue with “The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham” is that it simply didn’t pose that many mysteries. I think I like the episode far more than my wife does, especially the implication, via out-of-the-ordinary-for-Lost place cards over black screens, that we’re in the midst of an epic journey, far greater than the episode may indicate. Yes, we followed Locke from his island jump all the way to his death in one single episode – a disappointment, to be sure, to those like myself who wanted that story to last a little longer – but there are little bits and pieces that are going to be filled in later, just like every other damn thing on Lost.
I find, the more I think and read about this episode, that most of my disappointments can be blamed more on my overactive imagination than the show itself, and so I give Lost the benefit out the doubt. For instance, once Locke’s minute-long talk with Walt was over, I thought that it was underwhelming and didn’t really fit with how we see Walt later, talking to Hurley in Santa Rosa. But this morning I popped in that episode from s4, and found that Walt really didn’t really say much to Hurley beyond that Locke saw him briefly, and that Walt’s big conversation piece with Hurley, asking why the O6 were lying, was based on his own objections and not Locke’s.
I give Lost credit for really giving us a slow burn this episode, because we all know that these past few episodes are really revving up to something huge, and that’s okay. The Wire, a show I refer to so much as the great recent example of top-notch quality that I’m surprised our readers still haven’t figured out that they should watch it and tell me how much they like it, was the master of the slow burn, even spending whole seasons building up to something bigger but, if viewing episodes on their own, they may be confusing or even boring.
Lost didn’t pull it off as well as The Wire, and the last two episodes haven’t been the best the show has ever seen, but goddamn if it isn’t leading up to the fucking mother lode.