"Maybe I am!" Harry bellowed, and he flung his arms over his head, hardly knowing whether he was trying to hold in his anger or protect himself from the weight of his own disillusionment. "Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don't expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I'm doing, trust me even though I don't trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!...I don't know who he loved, Hermione, but it was never me. This isn't love, the mess he's left me in..."
~"The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore," Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Raise your hand if this passage flashed through your mind while you were watching "Dr. Linus" episode 6 of the final season of LOST. "Dr Linus," which wins my vote for the most gut-wrenching, tear-inducing episode of the entire series thus far, gave us three people, three followers/disciples of Jacob, who might have said words quite similar to Harry's in the nadir of their despair. Ilana was in tears much of the night; Richard was headed for the nearest bridge (or stick of dynamite) actually heading back to the place where we think he was once a slave (shades of John Newton's Amazing Grace anyone, in the slave ship references?). Jack didn't have that kind of Harry moment this week, but he had a big one in "The Lighthouse" when his angry mirror-smashing reminded me forcefully of young Harry smashing things all over Dumbledore's office.
And then of course, there was Ben.
Jacob is dead, killed at Ben Linus' hand, and no one who has followed Jacob -- or been touched by him -- seems to know what to do next. But in this episode a number of our castaways (now significantly a blend of castaways and others) seemed to take small fumbling steps out of the pit and toward the light -- or in the case of Ben Linus, a giant leap out of his own grave and into the arms of amazing grace.
Besides the brilliant writing that wove together the sideways plot with the island plot, I was just overjoyed to see the LOST writers take this leap, to offer such a damaged and broken character a real chance at forgiveness, love and acceptance. Ben has been one of the strangest, most convoluted characters on the show -- easy to pity, easy to fear, easy to hate, hard to love (well, at least for some of us!) and never, ever easy to trust.
So much I could write about here, but lots of folks have recapped the episode brilliantly already (check out Doc Jensen, Erin's Lost Reflections, or Arabella at the Hog's Head) so let me just pen a couple of quick reflections.
~First, how powerful was this picture of forgiveness? Ben was shackled, digging his own grave, literally on the brink of death. Ilana was about to kill him in vindication for the murder of Jacob, a man they both loved (but neither understands). Suddenly Smokey/Flocke appears from out of nowhere, offering Ben a chance at supposed freedom. He has enough power to literally unloose Ben from those shackles, but we quickly realize that a physical unchaining is not what Ben needs. If he takes Smocke's offer, he will only be exchanging physical bondage for far worse, ongoing (deepening) spiritual bondage. It's only when he hears Ilana's words of forgiveness and acceptance, later in the jungle (as he holds her at gunpoint and confesses his worst sins, and as she weeps) that Ben is truly freed. That's when the shackles fall, not from his ankles, but from his soul.
~Second, how long has Ben been on this path to redemption? I'm going to venture to say that some of the most important milestones on that path happened when he came face to face with evil. The unknitting of Ben's damaged and ravaged self got worse when he had a hand in Alex's death (a death for which he sought judgment) and the sweater of his soul really started unravelling after he killed Jacob, the supernatural mentor/father figure he has believed himself to be following and listening to for all these years. But when we *really* began to see Ben unhinge was when he faced Flocke in the temple, seeing Smokey for what he was (no matter the disguise he was wearing) and realizing, perhaps for the first time, that there was an evil force opposed to the good, opposed to Jacob and Jacob's side, and that such a terrible evil had manipulated Ben (himself the master manipulator) into doing something horrifying.
In other words, Ben was undone when he was truly faced by evil -- saw it for what it was -- and realized it was also within him.
Think about it. Twice now, before his second encounter last night with Flocke, we have seen Ben Linus face to face with evil: first when he recognized Smokey in the guise of Locke in the temple, and then when he saw Sayid turned murderer in the temple (how interesting that both encounters were in the temple). The look on his face when he saw Sayid was truly unnerving -- he looked like he might be physically sick. Why?
After all, Ben Linus has seen Sayid kill before. He's asked him to. Ben knows all about evil, doesn't he? Ben Linus has done awful things. He has murdered, he has manipulated, he has treated people terribly. In fact, one could argue that the two people he has treated the worst, of all the original castaways, are Locke and Sayid. More than once he attempted to murder John, and finally succeeded in that hotel room in LA. And he manipulated Sayid's grief for his own ends, playing on the worst characteristics of Sayid's nature and prompting Sayid to return to a life of violence that Sayid had been trying to escape.
But although Ben has done these terrible things, he hasn't seemed to realize how terrible they are. He has justified them in the name of good, or in the name of what he thought was good (I'm banking on the fact that much of what Ben has done in the name of Jacob were not things Jacob wanted him to do at all, and that Ben has been deceived and played by Smokey for years). It's only now, when looking into the face of evil, evil shown to him in the faces of two men he has manipulated and terribly wronged, that Ben comes face to face -- not only with the reality of evil, but with the reality of how far it has pervaded his own soul.
Small wonder he looked sick, abandoned, unhinged, and well...dare I say it?...lost.
But that's precisely where grace has a chance to reach us, isn't it? When we get to the end of who we are and realize that what's inside us is all twisted and wrong, when we're not even sure where to turn to for help (and convinced, perhaps, that no one good will ever "have us" -- for "who could ever love a beast?") then forgiveness or love has the chance to speak its word and pierces through the darkness. When Ben heard Ilana's words "I'll have you" he looked stunned, like a man caught in the headlights. And so he was, really, because the same light that showed him his worse self also showed him the only way out of the grave. Ilana spoke a word of grace, the kind of grace that God speaks into our lives. Charles Wesley understood that radical kind of grace when he wrote "And Can It Be" -- "My chains fell off, my heart set free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee."
~And could it be...that Ben's not through with his journey yet? Could it be possible that Ben might have love and grace to offer others ("he who has been forgiven much, loves much" says Jesus) perhaps even those whose lives he most seriously wounded? It may be too late for him to make any sort of restitution toward John (since the real Locke is dead) but could he have a part in liberating Sayid from his bondage to Smokey, if the real Sayid is still in there somewhere?