As if one week of exaggerated platitudes wasn't enough, now online forums are awash again with the sound of voices hyperactively screaming from the rooftops. "OMGLOLZ best episode EVA!!!", they tend to bellow, clicking the '10' button on the 'rate this episode' poll and sending the average score to an all-time high: at the time of writing, it sits neatly atop the pile with a remarkable 9.7. Doubtless this will change, and probably decrease, as the hours and days roll on and a more considered semblance of sanity creeps in, but there's certainly something to be said for the quality of an episode that engenders such unprecedented excitement. It's not the greatest hour of the show - in fact, it's not the best this season either - but it's unquestionably something a little special. It doesn't reveal a great deal (although there are a couple of huge explanations) and essentially, the story coasts along at a leisurely pace, not doing much that hasn't already been inferred elsewhere. However, the important factor here is engagement, which is not the exclusive property of unpredictability. It can also be sustained through strong writing, characterisation and acting, all of which 'The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham' has in spades.
This is Terry O'Quinn's chance to shine and boy, does he. From his emotional reconciliations with Kate to the pre and post aborted suicide attempt sequences with Ben, every word, every sentence, every nuance of his performance is nothing other than pitch perfect. More than any other cast member, O'Quinn is the character he is portraying, so much so that I find it hard to believe that I have ever watched him in anything else, let alone engaged with him as a recurring character on Millennium for three years. Just check out his body language when he's talking about Helen: something as simple as a persistent gaze towards the floor or a searching, irritated set of minor gesticulations sells the psychological enormity of his feelings to the viewer. The dialogue is barely even needed; so much is said in his external reaction. Then there's the marvellously executed scene with Jack, in which our central heavyweights duke out the science vs. faith dichotomy one more time, only, on his occasion, Locke actually gets a chance to sucker punch his counterpart with something concrete. The writing is astonishing here, building logically and tragically towards John's ultimate suicide attempt. With each and every encounter the man is pummelled further and further into the ground by those that he so clearly cares about and Jack's vocalisation of the sort of internal doubts and self-loathing that you just know run through Locke's head ("you're just a sad, lonely old man", "you're not special" etc.) is the final straw. However, it is certainly rewarding to see the beginning of Jack's comeuppance and descent further into darkness when Locke reveals that Christian spoke to him. Matthew Fox is brilliant here, subtly demonstrating the conflict that clearly now resides within his character.
And then, of course, there's Ben. Hats off to all involved in this one: it is a strong contender for best scene of the season. In fact, I'll throw my towel into the ring and say yeah, this is the greatest thing I've seen Lost spew at us so far this year. Perhaps the most effective and well written piece of character interplay since Mr. Linus squared off against Mr. Widmore in 'The Shape of Things to Come' last year. Inevitably, when you throw O'Quinn and Emerson together in an emotionally charged situation, sparks are going to fly but just look at how brightly they burn. O'Quinn sells Locke's self-doubt and frustration amazingly well and the juxtaposition of this, the man at the end of his rope (literally) with the man desperately trying to piece everything back together for his own endgame, works wonders. There are so many levels to the scene: first, you have a concerned individual trying to prevent another's death. The viewer sympathises with Locke and clearly wants him to survive, so is rooting for Ben's words to ring true. Second, the paradigmatic dramatic irony established at the culmination of the previous season, and qualified last week, keeps us questioning the outcome: we are certain that Ben won't convince Locke because we know he commits suicide... or do we? Could there be some other way in which he dies? Pretty soon, once he begins to step down from the table, we're questioning whether the bloke was ever dead at all and wasn't just put in a deep coma and bundled into a coffin for show. The awareness of Locke's inevitable passing casts additional aspersions onto the scene and has you searching for answers, mistrusting the course of the narrative that is apparently unfolding before you. And finally, you have Ben's motivation, the viewer's understanding of his duplicitous nature which feeds into the dramatic irony and ensures that you're questioning his intentions as he's speaking, contesting the validity of his words. In effect, the scene co-ordinates something of a brainstorm in the viewer's mind, ensuring that the variously ambiguous features of the narrative are bounced off one another and therefore generate a great deal of thought and, crucially, engagement.
There's certainly pause for thought elsewhere too. The revelation that Widmore is the vessel through which Locke catches up with his old friends is hugely intriguing and both reinforces and strengthens the prominence of the Ben/Charles binary, the question of whose side is 'right', if either, in this mini-characterial war. On this theme, Ben's shocking execution of Locke ensures that the possibility that the previously established 'evilness', if you will, of Alan Dale's character is a misinterpretation is given considerable validity. There seems to be a large amount of debate online regarding Linus' reasons for doing away with the Island's supposed leader and while I will reserve judgement for now and see what Lindelof and Cuse deal out later, my suspicions err on the side of concern about the depth of Widmore's knowledge of Elouise Hawking. As Ben's recruit, he would wish to protect her from Charles as she provides the only way back to the Island. Still, this is merely conjecture and it's rare that I'm ever right about these things... what I will congratulate myself on, however, is knowing exactly what was going on in the opening scene from the get go thanks to recognising Cezar's face from the airport scene in '316'. Nevertheless, this narrative structure is a wonderful way of weaving the story together and, thankfully, prevents the episode from simply being one giant flashback. There's much to ponder in all of this too: the unresolved nature of the boats, Lapidus and 'the woman', the fact that it appears that the flight came down on the other Island (supported by the fact that Locke can see an Island from his vantage point)... you know, the one with the Hydra station on it. I'm of the belief that this new bunch of Losties are in the Island's present, wherever that may be in the world (somewhere near Guam!), while the Oceanic Six are in its past, in a time when the DHARMA Initiative is active, as the boats that appeared in 'The Little Prince' are here and these have already been established as part of the Sawyer/Juliet etc. Losties' experiences in the future. Thus, the scene from 'TLP' will occur soon, in which we see whomever was in the boat that appeared to be shooting at our heroes. Probably.
'The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham' is clearly an important stepping stone in the arc of Lost's fifth season. It solidifies the return of all the key players to the Island (or, at least, somewhere near it) and removes the question mark that was hanging over just what Locke did when he 'became' that other English philosopher. It throws a number of fantastic scenes at us that perfectly illustrate the depth and breadth of the acting and writing quality on the show and offers up more than a few shockers too, from Widmore's involvement with Locke to John's apparent resurrection (I'm going to enjoy seeing this one explained) to, best of all, Ben murdering the guy. And in amongst all of that, there's a flurry of questions regarding the survivors of the Guam plane's crash and their presence in the timeline to ponder as well. Oh, and the return (and summary execution) of creepy Agent Broyles from Fringe and, shock of shocks, Walt. It isn't the best episode ever, no matter what the forums might have you believe: there are a couple of small moments that drag slightly, but it's fantastic all the same. Just like last week. Damn, I need some new material.