Following up an episode that instantly becomes recognized as a classic is never easy for a series. It's even harder when the season is transitioning to the next phase. Had this been an episode from the first few seasons (this is the first episode this season to have traditional flashbacks from one character) it'd be easier to forgive, but this doesn't mesh as well with the resolve the writers have had this season. While previous episodes have had major reveals, this one just feels forced and sloppy.
Juliet was the sympathetic doorway into the lives of The Others. Since that society has been largely obliterated, Juliet now needs a new direction. So they branch out her character by introducing Harper, an Other who despite being married to Goodwin hasn't been seen, heard or referred to before. It also changes the context of her relationship with Goodwin, making it an affair rather than something open (which would've been the way to go considering there isn't much place for privacy in their group). Suddenly The Barracks feel an awful lot like Wisteria Lane.
The decision to add this element of Juliet as "the other woman", while it has multiple meanings (her affair, her involvement with Jack and being a female Other), is too melodramatic and seeks to define Juliet more by her romances than anything else. This has been a big problem with Kate since her second centric episode. However, Juliet has been well acted and written before, so this may be a bump in the road while the writers craft the next phase for her.
This episode also confirms that Ben had Goodwin killed for getting close to Juliet. Of course that begs the question how did he know that Goodwin would die on such a mission. It could be a good guess, or maybe Ben is far more astute than we give him credit for. Ben might've known Goodwin would become Ana-Lucia's right hand despite Ben's command not to get involved and leave after they took all people on the list. Many have wondered what Ethan did to have him sent away. It's possible he was thrown in to deflect suspicion that Goodwin was marked.
Michael Emerson, as many have claimed, steals the episode. We see another side of him, the love sick puppy that can't handle a crush. Some may think that diminishes Ben's image as a character, but it's clear he isn't about to hoist a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel anytime soon. He's a control freak, so he's prone to be jealous. Add his sense of power the island gives him and it's scary. His declaration "You're mine" makes the soap opera antics before far more bearable.
Considering how everything not spelled out to viewers becomes a source of speculation, I was rather naïve to believe that Harper's remark that Juliet looked like a woman from Ben's past referred to anyone besides Ben's mother. Some thought it wasn't because she died when he was born, but that there had to be pictures of her around. It could be Annie, but she had dark hair when Ben first met her. Ben's flashback showed his mother and her death played a major role in his development. Annie, while a friend for some time, is still a major mystery. His mother's death caused his alcoholic father to heap years of psychological abuse upon him. Later, seeing her would start the chain of events that lead him to the top of The Others.
Of all the unanswered questions about The Others, another love triangle was the wrong thing to introduce. Why not give us more details on how The Others were between the crash and when they became a bigger presence late in the second season? From that umbrella period they could explore a lot of elements they didn't get to last season. They could've even done more with the chemical burn Goodwin had. Of course, they may be saving the big reveals for the next Ben episode, but there's still plenty of room for Juliet to answer some long asked questions.
There is the question of how Ben, who has been in the castaways custody for a few days on the island, found out about which freighties were going on the mission and sent one of The Others to get Juliet to kill them. This was likely a back up plan we never saw when Ben left The Others to negotiate with the castaways. If he didn't return after a certain number of days, they would set off The Tempest's gas. Perhaps Ben sent his people to The Temple because they can control the gas or be safe from it. There are also the whispers, which may be his method of communicating should he not be able to otherwise.
The big problem of the episode is that the conflict exists entirely from the characters not disclosing things they should. Why would Daniel and Charlotte not disclose to the castaways that they were rendering the gas inert? It's unlikely anyone, not even Locke, would object to that mission. Also why do they knock out Kate (perhaps the better question would be why would she turn her back on one of them after catching them in a lie)? This may make more sense later as they describe the freighter's intentions.
Claire's request to question Miles is another jarring out of character moment. She has never been one of the leaders of the camp, so why is she suddenly being proactive in how they handle the Miles (who as far as we know still has that grenade in his mouth) situation? Perhaps this is representative of the lack of ideas the writers have for her without Charlie.
Ben continues to play Locke, but this time he has more than just mind games to back up his argument for freedom. This is executed the way the main plot should have. Ben and Locke's story comes from their established behaviors and not them behaving in a way solely to move the story. Ben manipulates everyone while Locke, trying to maintain a leadership role, remains susceptible to anyone who is somewhat convincing.
Widmore's role in the island mythology gets pushed further with the videotape of him pulverizing Ben's inside man (presumed a different man than the one on the boat). Considering what we know, especially from last week, Ben's assertion that Widmore desperately wants to get to the island makes sense. Purchasing the journal was the first step. It's long been theorized that Widmore used Desmond and exploited Penelope's love for him to find the island as well. Ben, of course, would be a major player to eliminate if he wanted to exploit the island as Ben believes.
With Widmore preparing for "war" with Ben (a "war" Juliet believes Ben will win) Jack prepares to stand by Juliet. This does play into the flashbacks for why she'd be concerned about that choice. However, this may ironically spell doom for her. Jack gets off the island and eventually finds himself in a deep dark depression over leaving the island. Perhaps Juliet's eventual demise is one of the things he's guilt-ridden over. It would also explain Ben and Sayid's crusade against those responsible.
Again we're teased with the identity of Ben's inside man, which is further frustrating if it turns out to be Michael as speculated. However, it may be interesting if it's Walt. Locke has loyalties to Walt, so Ben convincing Locke that he sent Walt to help the island might have been what bought Ben the right to roam freely. Of course, it's expected to believe that it's a lie, but maybe whatever he told Locke was right?
Following the string of solid or knock out episodes, this one is a mess. The back story for The Others offered more soapy gossip than major reveals, although the pay off was satisfying. Hopefully when the next stage of the season begins this will even out, and considering the first five episodes, the good will should be far from spent.