Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Review: Lost 3.20: The Man Behind The Curtain

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Ickle Ben meets Horace Goodspeed in 1972.
From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Twenty - The Man Behind The Curtain
Written 21/3/14

Benjamin Linus has, until this point in the series, been more or less portrayed as an all-knowing entity whose power of manipulation over the Islanders reaches near superhuman levels. Every time it's appeared that he was ignorant of something, it turns out that he's factored it into his plan. He lies, he bluffs - everything he does is part of his grand plan to maintain power and control over those around him; a common theme this season. This, Ben's first centric episode, shatters that illusion almost entirely. Not only do we see the origins of this disturbed little man as a young member of the DHARMA initiative (lots of Season Five cameos here :D), but we see John Locke so thoroughly tear him apart that he loses all sense of calm. It is a tour-de-force for Michael Emerson and one of this season's most powerful episodes.
      Locke returns to The Others' camp with his dad's body and demands to see Jacob, the man whom the Others revere as a leader. A returning Mikhail gives Ben time to make excuses, but Locke is not having any of his bullshit - he beats Mikhail to a pulp to make that very point. Ben takes Locke out into the jungle, and along the way Locke questions his knowledge about the Island - he thinks that he's a fraud. A visit to a mysterious cabin in the jungle sees Ben initially appear as a complete actor - but then there's a voice in the cabin that only Locke can hear. Ben briefly explains his DHARMA initiative origins as he takes Locke to the mass-grave of victims from The Others' purge of the DHARMA society and shoots him in the side, explaining that "Jacob" has never spoken to him. In the Survivors' camp, Jack reveals that he knows about Juliet's secret mission and that together they have orchestrated a plan to prevent them from taking the pregnant women.
       Through flashbacks, we see Ben's history, as well as the fact that Richard Alpert doesn't age. His mother died in childbirth in a small forest outside Portland, Oregon, and his father has blamed him for his mother's death ever since. A chance encounter with DHARMA high-up Horace Goodspeed on that fateful day brings Ben and his father Roger (whose body Hurley found in Tricia Tanaka Is Dead) to the Island. As a child, Ben is friends with a young girl named Annie, and after a particularly depressing birthday he runs out into the jungle and, following an apparition of his dead mother, he runs into Richard Alpert and asks to join The Others. Twenty years later in 1992, and an adult Ben orchestrates The Purge, poisoning the DHARMA initiative using toxic gas, with only those in The Swan left alive.
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Richard looks exactly the same in 1972 as in 2004.
From Wikia
     The deconstruction of Ben as a character begins in the flashbacks, certainly. Sterling Beaumon, who would come back to play Ben again in Season Five, presents a timid yet curious little boy driven to frustration by his father's abuse. His mother's death in childbirth provides a root for his drive to prevent the Island's pregnant women from dying. But the fact that they are dying exposes something crucial about Ben's character - he thinks he's the chosen one, and The Others did for a while, but he's wrong on all counts. The visions he sees are probably manipulations by The Monster, especially as once he becomes leader of The Others, nothing but misfortune befalls him. He's shot in the stomach, Annie has to leave, pregnant women start dying (his exact phobia), and despite the fact that the Island heals everyone of all its illnesses, Ben develops cancer.
      This development of Ben as an even more tragic dark counterpart to Locke and his journey is exposed a lot more given information in the fifth and sixth seasons. We find out that the being who occupies Jacob's Cabin is not the very real Jacob, but is in fact his nemesis, The Monster. (Aka The Man In Black.) In Season Five, Ben reveals something that confirms all of my suspicions during this episode - Ben's actions in the Cabin (talking to an empty chair and claiming it to be Jacob) are a complete act. The brilliance of Michael Emerson's performance in this episode is the way that he manages the performance in such a way that it can be interpreted in either way - in hindsight it's obvious that he's really desperate during that scene, but without that hindsight there is a fantastic level of ambiguity and that provides the scene's crucial tension.
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This'd be funny if it didn't remind me of this.
From Wikia
     Ben-centric episodes are typically fantastic, and this first outing is the most successful. Even though I wouldn't say that his character is the most developed of our characters, or even my particular favourite, Emerson's performance is one of such subtlety and grace that it's hard to ignore the presence he holds onscreen. And this episode plays into his hands in a number of ways, taking the Ben we know and more explicitly outlining the fact that contrary to previous appearances, he is vulnerable. He's not quite yet on the path to being the show's Dark Horse character, but he is a fantastic villain and more than worthy of this tremendous episode.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Charlie must decide whether to follow one of Desmond's prophecies as he contemplates his Greatest Hits.

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