For most episodes so far this season, I have been rather conflicted between my attempt to manage expectations and the reality of the show. Yet this episode required me to do none of that. Finally there seems to be some solid forward progression with real momentum beginning to build. Arguably the best episode of the season thus far, all of the pieces came together to not only make a solid episode, but a fantastic piece of the greater whole.
What needs to be mentioned first is the way in which Jack is finally beginning to come into his own as a leader. This is closer to season one Jack, the Jack who makes decisions and lives with them, as opposed to the Jack of the last few seasons who has just been floundering around hoping he's making the right decision. Now guided more by faith than any sort of rational deduction, his decisions border on crazy, but crazy with a purpose. The scene in which he sits with Richard trusting that the dynamite will not go off spoke volumes of his character, even though the audience knew there was no actual danger whatsoever. My fear was right after Jack sat Richard down that we would be treated to more non-answers via a commercial break. But instead while we didn't get detailed information, we received hints of what is to come and some very interesting facts.
But the focal point of the episode resulted in yet another excellent Ben episode. What's interesting is how big a role redemption is playing for not only the 815 cast, but for characters such as Ben. Ben has always been a man who lusts for power and control. Even when locked up posing as Henry Gale back in season two, his ability to maintain some order of control is what made his character so fascinating to watch. His manipulation knew no bounds and very little of what he said could be taken at face value. He knew he would get out of his situation alive, and be better for it.
Yet, on the island, his control is all but gone, and he is still attempting to manipulate and lie to people into doing what he wants. The problem is that no longer does he have any clout, since everyone now sees through his facade. Attempting to convince Miles to free him was not only futile, but slightly pathetic. Except when Miles told him that Jacob was hoping he was wrong about Ben, you could see this disappointment in Ben's eyes, as if Ben had disappointed the absent father who was never there for him. And again the show explores father issues through a different prism than they normally might.
So when Illana finally confronts Ben after his escape, he is believable when he expresses such regret over holding the island in higher esteem than his daughter and that he is now, truly, a broken man with nowhere to go. Illana's decision to let him stay may have more to do with the fact that one more person on Jacob's side is better than a new recruit to Locke's, but Ben's decision shows how he has now resigned himself to accepting his role on the island as a part of a team instead of their leader. Locke's empty promise of allowing Ben to control the island after he leaves no longer holds any weight for Ben.
This redemption is echoed through the sideways story, as Ben proves himself to be just as cunning and manipulative in that timeline as well. There was little more entertaining than watching him maneuver into a position where he could usurp power from Principal Donald "This Man Has No Dick" Reynolds. (Sorry, Ghostbusters reference.) And it's also a lot of fun to see Arzt hilariously continue to pop up in episodes. But in furthering the seemingly redemptive nature of these sideways stories, Ben chooses his prized student/island daughter Alex over the control he desperately wants and feels he deserves. The main thing that makes this Ben different than his counterpart is the fact that not only is his father alive, but he seems to have a loving relationship with him. Roger Linus feels that he is the one who disappointed Ben by leaving the island, an interesting revelation to be sure. The fact they were on the island at one point is a starting point to clue us in as to what happened to make this world so different.
Elevating this episode even more is the classic reunion scene set to nothing by Michael Giacchino's excellent score. Beach scenes like this one really stand out in that there is nothing better than watching characters who have been separated for so long come together after all this time. There was an early season vibe that I felt in this reunion and it reminded me of a time when occasionally fun and happy things happened to the characters. Only to have that reunion punctuated by the brilliant revelation of Widmore arriving via sub, bringing that dynamic back into the fold after such a long absence.
On a slightly unrelated note, I'm rather disappointed that Mira Furlan, who played Danielle Rousseau, isn't coming back this season, because while I'm making the assumption that she's still Alex's mother, I would have loved to see her as a stressed out mom trying to make ends meet after knowing her as this crazy jungle woman for so long. Of course, this also raises the question as to how this French woman ended up in Los Angeles, but I'm hoping it's one that will be addressed in time.
Between Jack's solid decision making, Ben's decision to stay with the beach team, Richard getting ready to explain himself, and Widmore's imminent arrival, there seems to be a lot to chew on over the next several days and the excitement seems to be ramping up. While we still don't know what's at stake, at least we know that Jack is ready to take some action and make the leaps of faith he was so incapable of making at the start of the series. Episodes like this one allow me to forget about all the questions that I have about the series and enjoy it outright. But I do feel like a lot of questions we've held for a long time are beginning to be primed for answers. Personally, I'm really starting to get excited about the rest of this season. How about you?