Ben has always been a unique character, lying at every turn, backstabbing people left and right. Michael Emerson has played his character with the tenacity and creepiness that makes Benjamin Linus such an amazing character. Since Season 5, Ben has been an outcast of sorts, crushed by the death of his daughter and not being in control anymore. His power, directly related to the appearance of great power and knowledge, has dissipated along with the mysteries of the island he understands. There are many aspects of the island he has no clue about, and without the ability to harness that knowledge, he appears incapable and useless which is his true self. His transition a character has been slow, but in the final season, his road to redemption has been started.
Along with Ben's decrease in mystique and stature is a decrease in the action he can produce. There's no longer those spectacular twists where Ben does something unexpected or sets the Others upon the islanders. From Ben's story, there was hardly any action or any real tension until the end. That's not to say the episode was bad in any regard; Ben used to reliably be the foremost character for twists and head-spinning.
Ben meets up with Ilana and the others running through the jungle. Ilana has Miles do his magic on Jacob's ashes, and somehow, he is able to divine that Ben killed Jacob. We've never had a clear indication of what Miles's power was, but his ability to recover memories from ashes puts a new spin on things. His ability is completely metaphysical and doesn't come from latent electrical impulses from the body. It also calls into question where Jacob is. Is Jacob in the ashes? How else could Miles know from essentially dust? Is Jacob's presence on the island confined only to his physical remains?
Ilana, angered, chains Ben to a tree once they get to the beach. She explains that Jacob was like a father to her. We know so little about her, so a bone here and there is welcome. She has Ben dig a grave for himself. One of the big problems I had with the sequence was a lack of reason for Ilana to wait for Ben to dig a grave. It seemed the writers were more intent on providing the visual of Ben digging his grave than anything beyond that. Flocke shows up, and unshackles Ben, giving Ben an opportunity.. Flocke offers Ben leadership of the island after he and his groupies leave. All he has to do is run away and take the gun. Ben chooses to run, and Ilana gives pursuit. Ben ends up with Ilana at gunpoint.
I don't have enough praise for Michael Emerson for what happens next. Ben gives a convincing and moving speech of Jacob's betrayal, the death of Alex, and diffuses the situation. Ilana understands and offers to have Ben. Ben goes back to the camp, and they accept him for who he is. Ben has rejected FLocke, and adds to the ranks of those opposing Flocke. Is anyone expecting a tragic end to this reformed man?
The flash-sideways is perhaps the most problematic thread this season, because there is no clear definition of what it is.The flashbacks and flashforwards were known and directly related to the present. These flash-sideways, however, seem to be in completely different universe. There's a group of characters we've been following for 5 seasons, and this season, a new group, similar but not the same, appears. Which group do we care more about? The ones most familiar of course. The writers are fine using the flash-sideways to comment on the island and the characters. The events in the flash-sideways often end as they do on the island, but in very different circumstances. This allows us to see the characters both on the island and in another setting where their personalities and traits win out. There are separate narratives, but clearly one more prominent. It seems unnecessary, and until we know what's going on, the weight of the flash-sideways is diminished.
Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have said that the flash-sideways is related to the island. The biggest indication of the relationship to date was Ben talking with his father about what might have happened if they hadn't left the island. It still doesn't shed that much light on the situation, and the incremental build-up each week does little to clarify what's going on. Again, there's those differences between the characters. Ben has a good relationship with his father, and isn't off killing anyone. Looking back on the season, everything will probably make more sense. I'm still looking for the gamechanger that will reveal everything.
In the flash-sideways, Ben has a PhD in European History, but settles for teaching high school for no stated reason. Alex is his prized student, and she is eager to learn more from him. The principle is a douche, so the Ben we knew slowly comes out. Interestingly, it is Locke who sets Ben down the path by suggesting he become the principle. Arzt gets some sordid emails of the principal, and Ben is prepared to take him down. Unfortunately, the principal also has to write Alex's letter of recommendation, and leverages this against Ben. Like on the island, Ben has a difficult choice. He can attain the power he's always wanted, or he can settle for friends and acceptance. And like on the island, Ben chooses to keep his humanity over power.
The huge twist in the end--Charles Widmore on a submarine--brings up many questions. Where exactly does Widmore fit in to Jacob vs. Smokey? We know Ben wrested power from Charles which is why he's been trying to find the island, but that was before we knew about Jacob or Smokey. I have difficulty believing Lost will end up being as simple as good vs. evil or choosing one side. When Jacob popped up two weeks ago to direct Hurley to guide someone in, he was mum in the end about if he really wanted someone to come. Would Jacob want Widmore to go to the island?
Richard all but confirms he was from the Black Rock. Jacob has kept Richard alive for all this time, but never told him anything. Now that Jacob is dead, Richard feels useless and betrayed, vowing to kill himself. Jack lights fuse to the dynamite, but it goes out, showing them that they can't die. Similarly to all those other times dynamite was carried around there was no way the dynamite would explode. Richard, who was once seen as all-knowing, is in the dark along with everyone else. His reliance on Jacob for the eternal answers to everything can only get him so far.
The episode wasn't as action-packed as hope, but it's a Ben episode. There's no way a Ben episode can't be good. Ben, changed as he is, is still as captivating as ever. We've nearing the halfway mark of the season, and the story still hasn't picked up much, but maybe the arrival of Widmore will change that.