Saturday, March 13, 2010

Amazing Grace and Benjamin Linus

"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?


Erin said...

Wonderful reflections, Beth. I love the parallels between the faith crises here and in DH, and the self-loathing of the Beast seems so fitting for Ben.

Though Puzzle is a much more innocent character, I'm rather reminded of him here too, being manipulated into believing that he is doing Aslan's will, and then finally realizing just what he's been duped into doing. I think the fact that he took John to the cabin instead of the statue is one clue that he probably wasn't getting his orders from Jacob - though he seems to indicate he got his orders from Richard, who clearly did have some kind of direct communication with Jacob, at least now and then. So I'm not sure how that worked, but I do get the sense that Smokey's been manipulating him for a long time.

I would love to see Ben have a hand in bringing Sayid over to the right side of things. And Kate can bring Claire over if she can talk some sense into her, and if Jin is teetering, the minute he sees Sun I think he'll switch. Aside from the Temple Others, who seem to be there simply for self-preservation and could probably be easily swayed if they thought the other team had a chance, Smokey's gang seems a little outnumbered.

Beth said...

Erin, you're right...Smokey's gang does seem outnumbered. Though I keep wondering why Smokey thinks he needs gang at all? Does it think it has to come down to some sort of war in order for him to accomplish his goals? His number one goal seems to be to get off the island and "go home" --wherever that is!-- but what's stopping him from doing that now? I think we either don't understand something about those "rules" we keep hearing so much about, or that Smokey's not entirely on the level about what he's trying to accomplish (imagine that!) or perhaps both.

I hadn't thought of Puzzle, but that's a great parallel. I haven't read Last Battle in several years. S. and I have been slowly reading our way through the Chronicles together, and just recently finished Horse and His Boy, so we've still go a ways to go before we get to LB. Puzzle is a lot more sinned against than sinning, and Ben, of course, is a real complex mess of both victim/victimizer -- which has become of the one fascinating elements of his journey. I do keep thinking of John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, and how he could never, ever forget the awful things he did and saw as a slave ship captain -- he knew he had been complicit in so much human misery. And yet the tremendous freedom he found when he was forgiven and understood he was completely forgiven. Methinks Ben has a ways to go yet before he gets to the full realization of what it means to be forgiven, and how to live a forgiven life -- though I loved that tiny moment you so wonderfully pointed out, where he put down the gun and offered Sun help (to build a *shelter* no less!) What a good first step. And of course the other wonderful moment of that scene is the look on Sun's face. I thought I caught an almost imperceptible motion of her eyes as her glace flicked to the gun -- for just a tiny space, one wondered what might be running through her head, given all the times she professed she wanted to kill Ben.

I don't think Sun has it in her to kill though. When she embraces the best part of herself, she is a real nurturer -- (hence her gardening skills and her knowledge of healing herbs). That's an image of Sun I wish Chris Seay had considered talking about in Gospel According to LOST -- I feel like that book missed so many opportunities!

Beth said...

Ah, just went back and skim read my comment and realized, in an odd slip of the tongue, I referred to Smokey as "it." Yikes! He does sort of refer to himself as post-human though, doesn't it?

Erin said...

I don't know if we follow the same cycle of readings in our churches, but for us, today was the Prodigal Son, which, as Seay pointed out, is a story with all kinds of LOST resonance, and it felt particularly fitting after this week's episode. I see Ben fitting into the roles of both sons. Before this season, it's mostly been the one who stayed behind, bitter that he's done so much work and doesn't seem appreciated. Since then, it's been the one who left, on his return journey, realizing how badly he screwed up and finally, in this episode, returning home in a sense. And what was our opening hymn today? Why, Amazing Grace, of course!

Smokey protests to being called "It," but that label doesn't seem so far off the mark to me, especially when he actually is in that billowing, cloudy form! I don't really know what he's up to with his recruiting either. Maybe he figures he'll get all his recruits to kill the good guys, and then he'll kill his own recruits. Because it seems we've heard from several people, and certainly from Richard, that Smokey wants everyone dead. Perhaps only then can he leave the Island.

Sun coming to Shannon's rescue back in season one, and when she was still concealing her ability to speak and understand English, is still one of my favorite of her moments. My least favorite still has to be when she killed Colleen, though she was cornered and did so more out of self-defense than malice. Still, I would've liked to see her feel a little bit badly about it afterwards; even Charlie, much as he hated to admit it, had trouble coming to terms with having killed Ethan. That aside, I don't see Sun being murderous in season six, and I really do love the way she's been leaning toward forgiveness, first in her tender reaction to Charlie's ring in the finale, then her willingness to give Ben a chance to pitch in.

How much, I wonder, does Ben remember about his childhood? I know Richard said there would be memory loss, but to what extent? Perhaps he might have a memory or two of Jin to share with Sun, as they must have lived alongside each other for three years...

Beth said...

Sorry for all the typos in the earlier comment...I was really on the fly (and barely awake from a long afternoon nap...)

I forgot Sun had killed someone -- it seems like almost everybody on the show has, at one time or another!

Yes, today was the Prodigal Son reading at church. It happened to be the date of our bishop's annual visitation and he preached a very good sermon, focusing by turns on the younger son and older son.

I've definitely noticed more of the older son theme in what they've done with Ben ~ I think primarily because of his jealousy/fear that John might be the "preferred one" (this son of your's shows up & you talk to him when you won't even bother talking to me!) etc. :-)

That's an interesting question about what Ben might remember about his childhood. It does seem as though he might have memories of Jin (and Sawyer and Miles as well). And it's yet another reason I'm wondering if we're not yet through with Ben/Sayid interaction.

I've not seen season 1 in so long...I'm thinking that might be fun to revisit via Netflix this summer, looking for bits of the ending in the beginning, as it were!

Erin said...

Yes, definitely seems like a lot of older son in Ben, especially in relation to John. Dad was talking about the story with my grandma, and she was saying that the older brother was the one she identified with most. I guess most of us probably have at some point...

I'd kinda forgotten, too, that Juliet probably knew Ben pretty well, and perhaps she nurtured him just as she did Zack and Emma. She must've turned up not long after Ben's conversation with long-haired Richard. Maybe to him, that was the closest thing to being given back his real mother. And after she disappeared, he went to great lengths to find her again...