One of the reasons I enjoy “Lost” so much is because the story is so unpredictable. I find with most TV shows a reasonably intelligent viewer can usually figure out where things are going. This is why most of those shows don’t last. People want something different, something unexpected, something that will keep them guessing, and “Lost” has been delivering on that since the beginning.
There is no better example of this than the latest episode, “Dr. Linus,” in which we see two very different versions of Benjamin Linus. In one timeline he is the manipulative leader of the Others, recently ousted and sent into exile, only to come back to the island and become manipulated himself into killing Jacob. In the flash-sideways timeline, Ben is a teacher of European history at a high school where one of his students is none other than Alex Rousseau, the girl he stole as a baby and raised as his own daughter in the original timeline.
The dynamite standoff between Jack and Richard confirmed something long theorized by fans, namely that Richard was on the Black Rock, probably as a slave (the Man in Black mentioned Richard being in chains). It could be said that this scene showed Jack embracing his new “man of faith” role, but to me it seemed more like he simply didn’t care whether he lived or died.
Some viewers more observant than me have pointed out some of the subtler crossovers between the original timeline and the flash-sideways timeline. Such as Lesley Artz, the science teacher, complaining about a formaldehyde stain on his shirt, and Hurley mentioning the Artz stain on his own, a reference to that character’s death by unstable dynamite way back in Season 1. The crossover I especially liked was Ben opening a can of oxygen for his ailing father in the flash-sideways as a parallel to Ben’s flashback in Season 3 where he opened a canister of poisonous gas to kill his father.
I have to admit, I was fully expecting the “sideways” Ben to use his newly-found manipulative abilities and take the principal’s job, damning Alex in favour of his own ambitions, in much the same way he did in the original timeline, which resulted in her death. Likewise, I was expecting the Ben Linus we all know and love to shoot Ilana. At this late point in the game, I figured he’d come too far for any possibility of redemption, and that he’d still be willing to do anything he can to regain control of the island.
Surprisingly, neither of these things happened, and the result was, in my opinion, the best episode of the season so far. Sideways Ben doesn’t take the principal’s job, Alex gets her letter of recommendation, and the history club is back on! All is right with the world. The sideways world, anyway. In the original timeline, Ben doesn’t shoot Ilana, he pleads his case to her, and Ilana seems to forgive him, in her own way. Maybe she knows something about how Jacob works, and that his lessons aren’t always easy ones. Ben seems to be on the road to some sort of redemption, although I don’t know if the Man in Black is going to take kindly to his joining up with the Losties. Then again, in another episode or two, he could be swapping sides once more. After all, this is Ben we’re talking about.