Usually, for a dramatic work to succeed, we need the characters to have clear motivations.  Whether it’s a TV show, a movie, a novel, anything, the audience has to understand, at some point, why the characters are doing the things they are doing.  Now, sometimes these motivations remain a mystery until the end of the dramatic work in question.  However, these mysterious motivations are almost always reserved for the antagonist(s) of the story.  Protagonists, on the other hand, though they may have their flaws, typically know exactly what they want and why they want it.  In bad stories, bad movies, bad TV shows, we know what the bad guys want, but the why might be a tad bit unclear.  When it really comes down to it, in great drama, the what isn’t nearly important as the why, hence the import placed on motivations.  But, as we all know, Lost is a different beast than most.  A different beast altogether.

Lost is differs from other TV shows in an infinite amount of ways, but the unclear motivations of its characters is a major one.  For the most part, we know exactly why the Oceanic survivors do what they do.  If we don’t, it’s generally a momentary type of confusion, soon made clear by flashbacks or flash forwards.  However, ever since Henry Gale showed up, the viewers have been sent into a permanent state of disarray.  Benjamin Linus is a man whose motives, even to this day, are a god damn mystery.  How the writers have been able to keep this up is astonishing.  Ben lies, then lies some more, then lies to cover up his lies, and in the process becomes a complete and utter enigma.  When it was only Ben orchestrating the puppetry, we all assumed (maybe correctly) that Ben was THE bad guy.  But, then Charles Widmore came onto the scene in a variety of ways, and Ben was able to convince our heroes that Widmore was, in fact, the real threat. 

While “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” was ostensibly about John Locke, about his journey off the island and back, it was also about the overarching story of Lost, about what’s really going on.  We still don’t know, and we likely won’t know for some time.  The Ben vs. Widmore debate will rage on in the Lost community until the mystery is solved for good.  There are, as I see it, three possibilities, if we decide to speak in gross generalities:

1) Ben is good, Widmore is bad
2) Widmore is good, Ben is bad
3) Both Widmore and Ben are bad

Let’s go through each of these possibilities and what the ramifications of each would be if true, given what we learned in last night’s episode of Lost.

1) Ben is good, Widmore is bad

Widmore doesn’t know where the island is, and wants to use Locke to find it.  He probably truly believes that Locke is the chosen one, or some such thing, and thinks that he’s the one that can help him get back to the island.  Why he believes this is unclear, and further complicating matters is Widmore’s seemingly astonished reaction to seeing Locke in the Tunisian desert, remembering him from their first meeting when Widmore was 17.  This scenario also means that Abbadon is, as Ben says, dangerous and may have planned on killing Locke.  Maybe Widmore is searching for Eloise Hawking and had Abbadon waiting for Locke to spill that name.  This scenario also infers that Ben knew Locke had to die in order to get the Oceanic 6 back to the island.  He could also have believed that Locke would come back to life upon his return to the island, but this is refuted by Ben audibly saying he’s going to miss Locke after killing him – he was alone, and therefore had no reason to lie.  Ben, being the Machiavellian mastermind that he is, would be willing to kill Locke for the greater good, if you will, so killing Locke doesn’t necessarily make him evil, though it certainly doesn’t help.

2) Widmore is good, Ben is bad

This is what the episode made us want to believe.  Widmore definitely seemed like the more agreeable figure last night, helping John out, trying to ensure his safety.  Ben killing John may turn out to be the moment where all doubts were erased in regards to Ben’s villainy, though I’m not willing to go there yet.  If Widmore is good, then he was telling the truth to Locke – Ben tricked him off the island, and has been keeping him away ever since.  Widmore could conceivably be trying to protect the island from the treachery of Ben. 

3) Both Widmore and Ben are bad

This is the scenario that seems likeliest.  They are using everyone as pawns, don’t particularly care about any of the prophecies or the mythology they espouse and only want the power that comes with the island.  It’s a true one-on-one scenario, kind of like what Desmond was talking about.  Locke, like always, is just being used by these men, as he’s been used by countless people before, his faith leading him astray. 

I hate to say it, but I just don’t know.  I don’t.  None of us do, and that’s the beauty of Lost.  Widmore, especially, has been painted in such broad and disparate strokes, that trying to parse his words and examine his actions is only going to confuse us more.  He wants to get to that island, he doesn’t like Ben, he wants his daughter safe, and that’s about it.  Though it looks like he wants Locke to get back to the island, he probably doesn’t care about that at all.  Widmore, himself, wants the island and I can’t imagine he gives a rat’s ass about John’s fate or destiny.  What makes all of this so interesting is that Ben and Widmore have their interests, seemingly, completely in line with each other. 

As always, there was too much going in last night’s episode to reasonably discuss or understand.  What’s this war Widmore speaks of?  How does this time travel thing work?  Who is Cesar?  Was Locke’s meeting with Walt significant in any way?  I’m trying to wrap my brain around all of this, but I’m at a complete loss.  Don’t read this as a cop out – it’s, once more, a credit to the writers, who have created a piece of dramatic fiction that is both totally exasperating and, yet, completely satisfying on a weekly basis.  When season 5 began, I thought I had a pretty good idea where the show was going. However, had I skipped every episode until last night’s and I watched “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham,” after being told it was only the seventh episode of the season, I would have glove-slapped you with no hesitation.  Lost is complete insanity.  Delicious, confounding, exciting insanity.

-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of ABC)

108 'Lost' Characters You Need To Know

Oscar Dahl

Senior Writer, BuddyTV