Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”

The structure of “Life and Death” is pretty predictable once you get into the swing of it.

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham
Photo: ABC

Being in the neighborhood the other day, with nothing particular to do, I decided to call round to the New Yorker office to see if anything was up,” Terry Southern wrote in the 1950’s. He described the forced casual ambiance of that office that set him “all a-pique and impulsive,” so that he asked to have the writer White fetched. When E.B. White appeared, Southern said simply, “J’accuse!” and then turned around to leave the building.

My meeting with New Yorker film editor and film listings writer Richard Brody involved no finger pointing. But Brody is the anomaly of current New Yorker film writing, which is, for the most part, more about the words used to describe the films than about the films themselves. Richard Brody writes, on the other hand, in service to cinema; his exciting writing style is a transcription of surrendering to the movie-going experience. In his succinct film summaries, he uses language emotionally to describe the experience of the film, not just how it looks when who does what where. “Rarely have love and madness seemed so fruitfully allied,” he wrote of Preminger’s Daisy Kenyon (setting off a domino-effect of reconsideration for that film in New York). I told him that I don’t even know what that phrase means, exactly, but somehow it’s exactly descriptive of that film’s intensity. (I’m not sure I know either!” said Brody.)

But while personal flourishes shape his film listings, Brody’s first book, a biography of Jean-Luc Godard called Everything Is Cinema, is remarkable for its rhythmic and organized structure. (The book also differs notably from his listings in size: an epic 700 pages versus 200 word perfect summaries.) The biography seamlessly weaves a description of each of Godard’s films into a description of the technical and collaborative process of making it, and then also reveals the personal and artistic inspirations behind its development. It reads like a novel, a tragic love story. And, while the tone of Brody’s book is more anonymous than his listings, more objective, it is distinctly personal, the kind of book that only someone with a deep and complicated relationship with cinema could write.

As the last few days of the encore screenings of Made in the U.S.A and Two or Three Things I Know About Her at Film Forum mark the end of that theater’s celebration of Sixties Godard, in what was The Year of Godard in New York, I looked back at my conversation with Richard Brody to look at what we can still learn from Godard’s work of the 1960’s.

Since the book is so much about Godard’s personal relationship with film, could you tell me a little bit about your personal relationship with Godard’s films? How you came to do this project?

Godard’s films were how I became interested in film in the first place. I grew up without much interest in the cinema, although I certainly liked going to the to the movies on Saturday night to see whatever was new by Mel Brooks, or to see Rollerball or whatever was out there. And, in college, someone suggested that I see Breathless. Seeing it was like a religious conversion experience. I discovered, through Breathless, that movies could be simultaneously like jazz and like philosophy, and that could bring me the same intensity of intellectual and emotional experience that music, philosophy, and literature had given me up until that point.

For me, personally, I got into his films as a teenager, and they ended up helping to form a worldview in some ways, not just a view of cinema. But the more that I return back to the same Godard films, having discovered new films and also the films that influenced his films, the more that relationship to that worldview changes. I’m interested in how your relationship to that initial discovery might have changed.

Because I didn’t know much about the movies altogether, when I saw Breathless I pretty much didn’t know the American film noir on which it borrowed its conventions. By pure coincidence of me being a newly minted fanatic of Godard’s films, I had the good fortune to find the book Godard on Godard, assuming that I would be reading his discussions of his own films, but what I, in fact, discovered was something even more useful, namely, the criticism from the 1950s, when he was writing for Cahiers du Cinéma and other publications, where he discussed the films that were his formative experiences before he ever became a filmmaker. So I simply used his book as a guide for movie-watching, and went to see the classic cinema that inspired him. And then, having gotten something of a background in the cinema, then suddenly his films became an even richer experience.

At this point, with your extensive film knowledge, is it almost an act of translating another language? Decoding all the film references? Do you find that distracting from the films themselves in any way?

Well, watching a film by Godard is more or less like any other aesthetic experience, in that you’re able to go back and forth, inside and outside, at the same time—watching/ thinking, thinking/watching. No, I don’t really find it a distraction.

If you look at the history of the reception of Godard’s films here, it wasn’t until the mid-1960’s, when American audiences began to appreciate classic American movies, in other words when the politique des auteurs began to take root among American intellectuals—through Andrew Sarris and Peter Bogdanovich as well as a few other people—that Godard’s films were really fully appreciated. I don’t think you need to watch them with footnotes in mind. I know that when an edition of Histoire(s) du Cinema, his video series from the eighties and nineties, was being put out along with a collection of references that he had taken clips from, he didn’t think it was really necessary. He thought you should be able to sit down and watch it from beginning to end, without worrying about scurrying for the references you didn’t know. And I think that, with these films, there are things you don’t necessarily get unless you’ve got the lenses he provides for you through his web of references.

How does he provide them? With the films themselves or with the outside materials, as well?

I think with the outside materials as well. I think he’s used some interviews over the years as a parallel screen of creation. From the very beginning of his career, he’s always been a brilliant talker. He’s made the reading of, or the watching of, or the listening to his interviews a noteworthy artistic experience. He makes them so rich that you can’t help but take notice of what he’s saying. And much of what he’s saying is giving hints and clues and suggestions as to what he’s trying to get at in his films. Not so much what he’s trying to get at, but what his range of references is—almost mathematically—what’s being projected in these films.

So his interviews are very entertaining as well. He’s very aware of a “putting on a show” in these interviews?

It’s an interesting question because I think he’s simultaneously being quite natural, and he’s being quite ingenuous and quite disingenuous. On the one hand, he was always well aware of the role of celebrity in the development of the persona of an artist, the role of the personal of the artist in the development of the art. I think you have plenty of examples of this; maybe one of the most prominent is Jean-Paul Sartre, who in post-war Paris managed to put his philosophy over through his personal celebrity, and who became, at the same time, a philosopher and a public speaker. And I think that Godard conceived of his own role as a filmmaker in the same way; I think he understood the need to generate a persona as well as a body of work.

But at the same time I don’t think he was a mere publicity hound, anything like it. He is a brilliant verbal creator. He’s a superb writer. He’s a very eloquent, playful, poetic speaker and writer. So I think when he provided the interviews that people found absolutely irresistible, it’s not a show; he’s being absolutely himself. But I do think he was quite aware that essentially he needed to create a critical viewpoint in his viewers; he needed to create a critical viewpoint with which they would then watch his films. So that when people would say that his films were simultaneously films and criticism of film, I think that’s true, but I think that his films are first and foremost criticism of his own films. In other words, his own films provide the lens with which to watch them.

I’d like to bring up three myths of Godard, that I neither quite agree nor disagree with (or that I don’t think are necessarily quite positive or negative: 1) His adolescent obsession, 2) His sexism. And the third, which I don’t agree with at all, is that he’s pretentious. But that’s complicated. So let’s focus on the first two.

By adolescent obsession you mean his relationships with young women? In his later film he’s, of course, very open about it. The relationship between older men and younger women is the subject of most of his later films. Back in the 1960’s it was a different story.

His relationship with Anna Karina is a personal relationship as well as an artistic relationship. He explained subsequently that he thought of the director/actor relationship as a primal trope in the classic cinema: Josef Von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, Jean Renoir and Catherine Hessling…. And he thought maybe he would reproduce a similar personal and artistic collaboration in his relationship with Anna Karina. There was an age difference: Godard is ten years older than Anna Karina. But there was also a significant difference in interests. Godard was and is an intellectual. Anna Karina was not and is not an intellectual. He always said in interviews that one of the difficulties he had in their relationship is that he couldn’t necessarily talk to her about movies the way he wished she could and would do. He also said that for her he felt the problem was that she wanted to go to Hollywood, and these kind of films weren’t going to get her to Hollywood. That she had a more traditional view of what it is to be a movie star and an actress, but mainly a movie star.

Hmmmm, actually by adolescent obsession I meant not so much being attracted to younger women, but that his own perspective seems to be one of constant renewal of an adolescent point-of-view. You get into that in your book as a sort of obsession with reliving his early days in Paris [much of which was spent at the Cinematheque with Truffaut and others who would become part of the New Wave.] Which is kind of fascinating because his films give you those adolescent eyes, that sense of discovering and understanding the world that happens in that transition from adolescence to adulthood.

That brings up a very interesting question, mainly his relationship to his own past, to memory. The autobiographical impulse is one that most artists tend to yield to in one way or another. Artists tend to think about their lives and put the material of their lives into their work. But Godard has always taken a special and fascinating point of view on how to approach the past in cinema. When François Truffaut made The 400 Blows he was telling stories about his own childhood, by and large. He was telling stories that took place in the 1940’s, but he set them in the day that he filmed them, late 1958 and early 1959. He updated the events, and transmuted the events, and turned them into a fiction being lived by characters other than himself; the character does not bear his name. When Godard works on history—and this is as true of his own personal history as it is of political history—when Godard works on the past in film, he does it from the point of view of the present day. So, when he makes a film that’s autobiographical, when he wants to talk about his childhood, he doesn’t film a character who looks like himself as a kid, doing the kinds of things that he did as a kid but doing it in contemporary Paris or Switzerland. And he doesn’t set it in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Instead he films his own situation in a certain way, from his present day standpoint and his present day place, and he archaeologically excavates—by means of cinema—the elements of the past. In other words, he’s always filming the ambiance of the past, the presence of the past, the latency of the past, the persistence of the past in the present.

Explicitly a memory and not a flashback.

Exactly right. And in the sixties it’s a little less explicit and in his later films that’s quite explicit.

I think in the 1960’s he was making films about his own relationships … with women, with Anna Karina, with Anne-Marie Miéville, with other women with whom he had interest with, with Marina Vlady of Two or Three Things I Know About Her, whom he had asked to marry him. And he airs out his problems, his difficulties and his complaints in these films. I think he’s pretty up-front about the films being made from his point-of-view. I think that there’s a certain element of self-pity, but the man doesn’t always come out as the good guy. For as many flaws as Godard’s female characters have, the male characters have plenty of their own. I don’t think that they’re in any way feminist. Although his later films, though, certainly do suggest that he was interested in feminism, but I think he never escaped his own point-of-view. He never escaped his point-of-view as a heterosexual male who is passionate about women but who is open about his needs, his demands, his desires, who expressed his frustration when these were not being satisfied.

What are your favorites, if that question is possible, at this point, for you?

Well, there are a few later films that are among my favorites, King Lear, Éloge de l’amour. Of the sixties films, well, I think for sentimental reasons, Masculine Feminine. I think that Vivre sa vie is a real high point in his work. A Married Woman is a favorite, partly because of its rarity but also partly because of its place in his work. Pierrot le Fou, because it’s a film of rare agony. And then I keep going back to Breathless, which at first is a shock, and which then seems familiar, and then the more you go back to it begins to seem strange all over again.

A Married Woman is interesting emotionally, specifically because of the placement of the eroticism in the film? There’s something very anguished about that. So many of Godard’s films feel like they’re about his relationship with the world rather than with other people, but the relationship in that film feels very fated and sad, with the placement of the eroticism, in relationship to the signs and the laughtrack…. Do you think so?

Mmmmm, but since you asked about sexism, here at the very least, you see that he’s trying to situate his complaint sociologically. Which is to say that, whatever he complains about, about women, in A Married Woman what he’s attempting to do is to show how Women, as he knows them, are in fact the brainwashed victims of advertising, of the mass media. He’s absolving them; he’s essentially saying it’s the fault of men who are programming women to be what they want them to be.

(deep inhale) But I find that more problematic, to say that women are the “brainwashed victims”? There’s no sense of personality, or self, in the women; there’s no sense of choice. There is in some of his movies, but that particular attitude that you’re referring to I think comes out most in Masculin Féminin. As a woman viewer, there’s no place for me—and I think this comes from the fact that it’s so extremely from his point-of-view—that there’s no room for identifying with the women in his films.

I see exactly what you mean. For instance, this woman from Masculin Féminin is a very interesting character, Catherine; she’s the one female intellectual in Godard’s early films. She’s a university student who is full of her books, and can’t connect with the young worker, Robert, who is in love with her. She’s in love with Paul, the young intellectual who is not in love with her but who is rather in love with the young pop singer. Look, Godard’s telling us his difficult situation: Paul and Catherine are a natural pair, just as in real life Anne-Marie Miéville is an intellectual and they’ve been together for many, many years for good reason. They certainly have a lot to talk about. [But in Masculin Féminin] in effect, what he’s telling is that for some reason he’s not, in fact, attracted to the women who interest him.

I also think that’s a problem, of making women into these roles, these stereotypes on opposite poles, instead of having any shades of overlapping identities.

The funny thing is that one of the things he said is that he knew nothing about life, that everything he knew about life as a young man, he said, he got from the movies. I think it’s slightly rhetorical. Of course he had to know something about life. But he did spend so many hours in the cinema in the late 40s and 1950s, that he did center his worldview around the films he saw, many of which were classic Hollywood films, that it seems to make sense that his view of women would be patterned on the dichotomies that were represented in the classic Hollywood cinema. That he would have a far more traditional view of women’s roles based on the viewing of Hollywood movies than could actually be found in real life in Paris in the 1960’s. And that his own personal relations with women were conditioned by the view of women that he could identify in classical film.

That’s absolutely true. And I think that on some level he seems to be agonizing and aware about that in all his films. And that seems like the sub-theme of your book: repenting for the sins of the cinephile. That is who he is he, but he’s also aware of his limitations because of that. The constant momentum of self-criticism in his work seems to come from that.

I think that’s absolutely right and I think in the later years that’s even more explicit. I think Histoire(s) du Cinema is almost depicting itself out of the crisis of the cinema, [and he is depicting himself] as the person who’s taken on the sins of the cinema, the sins of the cinephile.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door. 20002696
Maria Beatty’s Bandaged is the S&M filmmaker’s foray into the indie mainstream—if one could call a flick best described as Mädchen in Uniform meets The English Patient meets Eyes Without A Face “mainstream.” Fittingly, none other than Abel Ferrara is serving as executive producer, though it just as easily could have been David Cronenberg since Beatty’s stunningly visceral cocktail of sex and bodily terror would surely merit that auteur’s seal of approval.

The plot revolves around young Lucille (Janna Lisa Dombrowsky), a beautiful blonde but unhappy young romantic with a passion for poetry and Oscar Wilde. Imprisoned in a sprawling mansion by her cold, scientific-minded father after her mother’s death, Lucille decides to end it all right before her eighteenth birthday, but instead ends up with third degree burns on her face. Even more unlucky, her mad doctor daddy Arthur (Hans Piesbergen, who appropriately resembles David Bowie) happens to be a plastic surgeon, thus she can be healed at home with the help of his trusty assistant Ingrid (played by Martine Erhel in an Olympia Dukakis-type role). Into this family tragedy steps pretty brunette nurse Joan Genova (a stoic Susanne Sachsse) to insert some hot “mädchen” into Lucille’s lonely life.

Though Bandaged refers to the dressings wrapped mummy-like around Lucille’s head throughout most of the film, a more telling title would have been Skin, for the warm touch of a human being, a piece of another, is what Lucille most craves (a point eventually rendered literal when Joan makes the ultimate sacrifice of her own live flesh to her lover). With gorgeous imagery and lighting courtesy of DP Caro Krugmann, and tactile production design by Stefan Dickfeld, what could have been cheap melodrama becomes a meticulous study in detail, from shots of dead lab rats to close-ups of sexy heels. Trying to figure out what period the film is set in (“somewhere in the distant past” a title card teases at the beginning) becomes part of the tense ride. Wristwatches and alarm clocks look shiny and new but Lucille writes with a fountain pen and those medicine bottles Joan grasps in her smooth manicured hands reek of antiquity. Only at the end are we treated to a clue via the announcer on a B&W television set who chirps, “The Guiding Light, presented by Ivory soap.”

With minimal dialogue and an unobtrusive, classical, elegiac score by Mikael Karlsson, Beatty delivers an enigmatic film comprised of sultry pacing and slow pans that is wondrously all show and very little tell. The director takes her sweet time, unafraid to linger on simple pleasures, from an erotic foot massage to the ingénue’s expressive eyes that flash longing looks from beneath those sterile bandages—these wordless moments are worth a thousand screenplays. Lucille’s nosebleed that begins the film mirrors the red liquid that flows through her father’s ominous vials—the color of blood and lust.

This exquisite little movie would be near-perfect if filmmaking were merely the sum of its technical parts. Unfortunately, all of Beatty’s talent as a visual artist can’t make up for her miscast leading ladies whose line delivery is a bit off beat—not quirky “offbeat,” but literally arrhythmic. They would have done better to speak Claire Menichi’s sparse script in their own native (non-English) language. Add to this the more problematic aspect that, for all of the graphic shots of tongue kissing and nipple licking, there is absolutely no chemistry between the two. Lucille and Joan’s lovemaking feels more like a competition to see who can be the most uninhibited on camera, with each in her own separate sexy world. When Lucille’s face starts to decompose as she climaxes (Joan’s head buried between her legs!) it’s a triumphant moment in the annals of gory art films that would make Cronenberg stand up and cheer—but is it hot?

“Your face should be in a Michelangelo or something,” Dombrowsky as Lucille improvises with a clunk while ravishing Joan after tying her to the bed in an inorganically arrived at S&M scene. For one moment Lucille is contemplating slashing her throat with a razor and the next she’s topping her nurse. It’s one thing to be a switch player, but to go from vulnerable to dominant in mere seconds? Soon after, a scene falls flat in which Lucille and Joan playfully chase one another in the woods surrounding the house because it, too, feels forced. And why even open up the film to daylight and the freeing outdoors when the claustrophobic atmosphere of the confining “haunted mansion” is the only thing keeping the tension (sexual and otherwise) high?

Like The Guiding Light program that plays on the old B&W set, the film’s ending is rushed and overly soap operatic, though its last image is breathtakingly lovely. And like the portrait of Lucille’s dead mom that hangs on the wall, watching over the dining room table as though she too were seated with the family, we’re left haunted by a painful reminder of what could have been and of that which is missing.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door. 20002699
I’m sure ten million Lost fans have made this joke already, but “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” was essentially The Passion of John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Not for nothing, apparently, did the last episode prominently focus on Jack’s (Matthew Fox) role as the doubting Thomas of our little band of players.

But then, Locke, especially as played by O’Quinn, has always been the self-appointed messiah of the Island. He believes there’s a destiny that everyone who crashed there is living up to. He’s willing to make the ultimate sacrifice when he’s told he has to and barely even questions it until the midpoint of this episode. And, really, all he wants to do is save everyone. Sure, everyone on Lost has a BIT of a savior complex, but Locke’s comes with the kind of manic fury that one would need to really get things done. He was a broken man off-Island, but on the Island, he’s been given everything he would ever want, so he becomes its chief witness and bearer of its testament. “Life and Death,” written by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof and directed by Jack Bender, is as much about removing that casual swagger and confidence from Locke and reducing him to a broken man again as it is playing out the beats that led to Locke attempting to kill himself. It’s very similar to last week’s “316,” right down to the structural level, but I liked it quite a bit better for a variety of reasons. It’s a fairly bold piece of television—and bold in a way Lost rarely has been in the past—for the way it focuses so singularly on one man’s despair and for the way it refuses to be especially plotty outside of its opening and closing segments. It’s a straight-up character piece, so it helps that the character being examined is possibly Lost’s most fascinating (and well-played).

The structure of “Life and Death” is pretty predictable once you get into the swing of it. It opens on the Island, where Locke meets our two new recurring players, Caesar (Saïd Taghmaoui) and Ilana (Zuleikha Robinson), and spills a little information on the Island and how he came to be there (including the ominous line, “I remember dying”). From there, the show pulls a straight-up flashback for the first time this season (complete with flashback whoosh-y noise and everything), sending us off-Island to see what happened after Locke pushed the giant wheel at the end of the season’s fifth episode. From there, the episode consists of a series of scenes designed to build Locke up and then tear him down. It seemed a bit plodding at first, until you got into its rhythm and remembered that all passion plays are driven as much by the great, underground tug of the power of ritual as by anything else. Locke’s crusade takes on something of that ritualistic fervor by the end of the episode, as he is stripped of all support, of all things he believes to be true about himself, of his very reason for being. Locke’s decision to commit suicide might have been a grand sacrifice the Island required, but it was also a choice made by a man filled with despair, as pointed out to him by Matthew Abbadon (the great Lance Reddick making what would seem to be his first AND last appearance this season). Something about the way Locke visited first Widmore (Alan Dale), then Sayid (Naveen Andrews), then Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), then Hurley (Jorge Garcia), then Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and then the grave of his former girlfriend Helen felt grandly pageant-like, vaguely reminiscent of something like the Stations of the Cross. It all ended with a visitation from Jack in the hospital, Locke’s Thomas, to be sure, but also his Peter, the person constantly in denial of what Locke knows to be true. Fittingly enough, the episode ended with Locke’s very own Judas, Ben (Michael Emerson), arriving at the seedy hotel Locke was staying in to interrupt Locke’s suicide attempt and then go ahead and strangle the guy anyway. All the episode needed was to have Locke’s arms outstretched, crucifix-style, at the end of the episode as his body hung from the ceiling to hammer the point home even more.

Lost is rarely subtle in these sorts of things, but I was surprised at how in-character and graceful much of the writing in the individual scenes was. Freed from the need to serve character needs AND move the plot forward, the characters stopped being mere game pieces on a giant chessboard and became a group of people who had been changed, some for the better, some for the worse, by a life-altering tragedy, and the scenes took on some of the feel of ABC’s fascinatingly flawed The Nine from a few seasons back, which was a show dedicated almost ENTIRELY to understanding how post-traumatic stress disorder might bring a band of disparate survivors together by improbable means, but was also a very small-scale character drama. This being Lost, we were soon back on the Island (or, rather, the smaller Island off the coast of the main Island, if eagle-eyed viewers who saw that Caesar had stumbled across Hydra station were to be believed) and back into the intrigue of the series proper, but “Life and Death” was primarily a one-episode chance to focus on one person and how their life had or hadn’t been changed by the Island. It has the kind of subtle character writing that the show just couldn’t do, seemingly, in its first few seasons, and it really marks just how far Cuse and Lindelof have come AS WRITERS since the show began.

Locke, for his part, doesn’t seem all that INTERESTED in bringing everyone back to the Island. He’s going to make a go of it at the behest of Widmore, but he seems properly skeptical of the man’s motives for sending him back, as it’s hard to just write off a dude sending a freighter full of people looking to kill anything that moves. Locke seems to bond with Abbadon during their time together, and Abbadon’s talks with him seem to slowly suggest that it’s possible Locke needn’t go back to the Island, that he could build SOME sort of life off-Island that would approach the kind of confidence he found on the Island. Abbadon, who indirectly put Locke on the plane that brought him to the Island, says he gets people where they need to go, but he also seems to understand that Locke has a choice—not just a choice to die or live, but a choice to go back to the Island or to stay in the real world, to eke out a new living there. Of course, Abbadon is shot by Ben in a thrillingly edited sequence that punctuates the episode just when it might become too solemn. Locke, as he so often does, attempts to escape the assassin and only gets into more trouble, landing in a catastrophic car crash that sends him to the hospital where Jack met him.

But there was more going on in the attempts to get Locke to stay on the mainland—indeed, to get ALL of the characters to stay on the mainland. The writers of Lost seem to see the Island as something of a trap. It gives you what you THINK you want, but it also takes away so much. When you come to a kind of peace with your past, it inevitably kills you, for example, and its tendrils extend into the “real world,” to the point where those who leave are filled almost with a compulsion for it. The Island is one of those all-purpose metaphors authors of pulp love so much, and when its motives are mysterious, it makes the show more of a fun guessing game, but for Locke, the Island has always been his everything, just because it healed him in the first season, made him able to walk again. Indeed, as soon as he lands back on the mainland, he’s in a wheelchair again from the broken leg he suffered falling into a hole, though he’s slowly regaining his mobility throughout the episode. Locke, to his mind, is helpless, but the episode is filled with signifiers that he may not necessarily HAVE to be helpless.

Take, for example, Locke’s first visit, which is to Sayid. Sayid is working on building homes for the poor in the jungles of Central America. He’s extricated himself from the web of death Ben had trapped him in when he was working as an assassin, and while he seems mournful over the death of his wife, Nadia, he also says that he’s doing good work. He invites Locke to come help him when he gives up his quest to return, and Locke politely declines, but he also doesn’t insist too heavily to Sayid that he return, after he learns all that being trapped between Widmore and Ben has taken from Sayid. Locke’s meeting with Walt is frustratingly short (and given how important Walt was to the show’s first season, I hope this isn’t the last time we see him), but it also points to a potential life off the Island, as Walt inquires after his father and seems to be trying to live a relatively normal pre-pubescent life. Hurley, meanwhile, suggests that it IS possible to rebuild after returning; everyone else has after all. It’s Kate, finally, who raises the specter of Helen, the woman Locke loved and the one person he says he might give up his Island quest to be with. Both Kate and Jack rub in to Locke that he was just a lonely old man who found a new lease on life on the Island, but his speech to Kate, pointing out that he was bitter and obsessed and that’s why he lost Helen, shows that he didn’t HAVE to be a lonely old man. It was, instead, kind of a choice he made that was buoyed by the circumstances he was born into.

The only other thing Locke has to hang on to is that he’s special, but all of this seems fairly specious. This being Lost, I’m going to assume he IS as special as everyone says he is. Locke’s specialness, his purpose, though, is not terribly well spelled-out to him. Widmore’s answer when he asks why he’s special is that he just is, which seems a bit lacking, and Ben refuses, as always, to speak in specifics. So when Jack attacks the final thing holding up the pedestal Locke has placed himself upon it hurts Locke more than anything even Kate had said. He’s already, seemingly, decided that he’s too old and too lonely to try to make another go of it, and he’s struck out with everyone he’s tried to convince to return to the Island (though I wonder why he didn’t have Desmond on his list). And so, so chastened, he returns to his hotel room to hang himself in the middle of the night in a strikingly-shot sequence that concludes with Ben cleaning up the aftermath of his murder, the shadow of Locke’s corpse looming large on the wall behind him.

It’s, really, as fine a portrayal of a man pushed to the brink as a show with a marauding smoke monster might be able to pull off. Since this is Lost, Locke probably really IS important, and all of the people who got off the Island are going to end up forced to go back there for one reason or another, but I’m glad the show was so tenacious in showing us Locke reach his breaking point. The Lost writers seem dedicated to doing this at least once a season, and it helps that O’Quinn always delivers, but this episode featured standout work for the other cast members who appeared, even Lilly, who was probably the best she’s ever been on the show, gently needling Locke but still driving the knives in deep.

Lost is, at its core, a religious show. That’s what drives its engines, really. It may say it’s about men of science and men of faith, but it’s always come down so hard on the side of the men of faith that the argument always seemed too one-sided to really be focused on. That may be why its best characters are men like Locke and Ben, men driven by a small voice inside of them that’s just always telling them what the Island wants them to be doing. Lost pretends to be a science fiction show some of the time with stuff like time travel thrown in there, but it’s really a show about a group of religious pilgrims, in thrall to a force they don’t really understand and throwing their weight behind a series of imperfect leaders. It was this episode’s greatest conceit that it so deeply humanized one of those leaders.

Some other thoughts:

Geez, so much for my Left Behind theories from last week. I guess flight 316 made some sort of crash landing (on the runway on the smaller Island?), and then a few of the survivors, including Lapidus (hurrah!) took off to the larger Island in some of the boats. Seems we’re obviously going to see those in the boats shooting at those left behind in the episode “Jughead” in a few weeks.

Great, great shots on the beach tonight, which made me all the more depressed that my ABC HD continues to be out. That pan from Locke’s shoes sitting atop his neatly folded suit jacket to the man himself staring out into the blue, blue waves, a look of contentment on his face, was pretty exquisite.

On the other hand, Locke apparently playing a monk at the episode’s very beginning? Not so much.

So, anyway, is 24 just gonna START OVER? I know that the show’s kind of done that in the past by blowing up the nuclear bomb with several episodes left in season two and by shifting the threat after the first 13 episodes in season one, but this is just a blatant way for the show to remove itself from a plot conceived before the writers’ strike that didn’t make a ton of sense and embark on a new plot. Here’s hoping for better from what’s to come. At least, if I’m going to keep watching, that is.

So if Jack, Kate, Hurley and Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) are in the 1970s with the DHARMA Initiative (along with Dan (Jeremy Faraday), if the season premiere began with a flash-forward, of sorts), and Locke, Ilana, Caesar and Lapidus are in the present (with Sun (Yunjin Kim), presumably, since the show seems dedicated to keeping her and Jin apart), where are all of our other players going to land, exactly? I guess we’ll find out next week.

I’m assuming this coming war will be the driving narrative force for Season Six, but it really seems as though we’re being set up to not especially trust EITHER side in the war (both Ben and Widmore seem pretty evil at this point). Perhaps the Island needs Locke because it knows he will lead a small force of parties not loyal to either side that will finally bring peace to its shores. But who can tell? Widmore seemed intent on returning him to the Island, while Ben wanted to kill him.

And on that note, does Ben REALLY expect Locke to resurrect when he gets to the Island? He was very insistent that the corpse needed to be with the Oceanic Six when they went back, but when he leaves Locke’s hotel room after killing him, he sure seems to act as though he’ll never see Locke again.

Man, seedy-lookin’ hotels are just a great setting for TV shows. Every show should have at least one major set piece per season set in one.

For more recaps of Lost, click here.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

Emily St. James

Emily St. James is Senior Correspondent for Vox.

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