About the only disappointing thing about this episode is that it's a flashforward involving Ben, not a flashback. But then again, since we saw in 'The Economist' that Ben was off the island, it does make a certain amount of the sense to figure out how and why.. Another disappointment; much like 'The Man Behind the Curtain' this episode raises almost as many questions as it answers. That doesn't change the fact that this is one of the best episodes that this series has ever produced. No question.
In the teaser, in addition to the comic moment of seeing Locke, Hurley and Sawyer playing Risk, we saw Ben sitting at his piano in a rare moment of peace before everyone comes in to tell him about the phone ringing. This is significant (aside from the fact that Ben has stashed a weapon under the piano bench) because it is the last time we will see him looking relaxed for a very, very long time. And he has reason to be worried, because there's a small, heavily armed group of mercenaries coming for him, with the intention of taking him hostage and killing everyone in their path to get him.
Because Ben is the focus of this episode, it's worth taking time to recognize the other characters who stand out. First, there's Sawyer, who now proves he really has come a long way. When he decides to save Claire, he goes on it with a force we haven't seen before, sweeping through a waves of bullets in order to rescue here, not even letting the fact that the house get blown up stop him. Then he decides to throw Ben to the vultures, even though the other options aren't that great either., and then when the hurlyburly's done, he decides he isn't sticking around and prepares to lead the survivors of this group (we see three background characters get kill; probably more die offscreen) back to the beach. And when Locke tells Sawyer Hurley's staying with him and Ben, the way he goes after Locke warning them not to harm a hair on his head, we see this isn't the same man who was hoarding medicine on day 1.
Then there's poor Sayid. As Ben learns in the flashforward, Sayid finally managed to find his beloved Nadia and marry her, but less than a year after his rescue, he will lose her in what seems to be an automobile accident. Ben will tell Sayid that her murder was arranged by Charles Widmore, but as we know very well, Ben can't be trusted. We won't see the accident itself for another season, but it's hard to tell whether it was arranged to kill him or her. However, it really doesn't matter much as far as Sayid's concerned. He's spent years trying to find Nadia, and it's pretty clear that she represented his salvation. But now that he's lost her, he has nothing left. It's pretty clear that Ben is manipulating him from the moment they meet, but Sayid clearly feels he has no other reason to live save for revenge. This thirst for vengeance may ultimately destroy him.
But it's Ben who's at the center of this episode, and he gets some tremendous moments. It starts with his waking up in Tunisia wearing a parka, and looking like he came out of nowhere. We won't learn how he got there til the end of the season.. But the way that he manages to adjust so quickly to his situation, leads me to believe he's done this before. But giving his actions, it's clear he's playing by a different set of rules.
And we see why. The leader of the mercenaries, Keamy, tries to find a way to get Ben out of his barricaded house. He decides to use Alex as the hostage. Ben keeps his face hidden, but then he begins to respond by telling Kearny that she means nothing to him. It's clearly a calculated bluff, and Keamy makes him pay for it. Ben is clearly shattered by what has happened, and can not bring himself to move. The moment he leaves the building, he kneels by his daughter (with what I have come to call 'Ben's theme' playing on the soundtrack; kudos to Giacchino for perfectly matching it) he closes his daughters eyes, and weeps. His world has imploded, and the phrase "He changed the rules" means that Ben is going to start playing differently. (Not like he was using Marquis of Queensbury rules before, but still...)
Which is follows his next action: when he apparently summons the monster. Based on what we now know about it, it's pretty clear that Ben summoned it, but that it also allowed itself to be used. But it runs headlong into this battle, and the bullets that are fired clearly bounce right off it. Furthermore, though it kills a lot of people, there are still a couple who manage to survive. Did the monster deliberately leave them alive? Still not sure yet.
But of course the scene that had everybody talking was the encounter at the end when Ben walks right into the penthouse of Charles Widmore. Up until now, Ben said that he didn't know why Widmore was seeking the island. Now we have a much clearer idea.
Ben asks Charles when he started keeping scotch by the bed (Charles still drinks MacCutcheon after all these years), and he tells him, since the nightmares started. Still not sure what that means. Widmore asks Ben if he's here to kill him. Ben replies: "We both know I can't do that." The clearest implication (at least by future events) is that the island has greater plans for both men, and just as in the case of Michael, won't let either of them die. Ben then says Widmore murdered his daughter, Widmore replies that he didn't kill that poor girl, as if to suggest that Alex meant nothing to Ben, which we now know for certain is not true. Ben then tells Charles he didn't kill Alex, but as we will find out, he believes this too. Widmore then tells Ben I know who you are boy. What you are. I know everything you have you took from me." We'll eventually find out that their history goes back over thirty years, so it makes sense Widmore does call him boy. He also thinks that he took the island from him. That, however, assumes that the island was his, and it's becoming less clear whether it ever did belong to him. Perhaps he spent so much time on it that he feels he owns it. Ben then says the words that made ice run down everyone's spine: he's going to kill Penny, so that Widmore will know how he feels. Widmore doesn't blink, but he then adds, "You'll never find her." Is it possible that the broach between father and daughter has become so deep that Widmore has now lost track of her, and therefore believes that if he can't find her, this boy can't either? I'm inclined to believe this, as evidence will show that to be true. Then there's one final exchange: Charles says that the island "is mine, it was once and it will be again." Ben tells him it isn't. Charles says that the hunt is on "for both of us", and that is definitely true. It's going to take both men awhile, but each of them will find their way there, and will step over the bodies of anyone in order to do it.
It's still not clear which of these two men is the villain and which is the victim. The language alone would seem to imply that Ben is the one who has been wronged. But the lighting of the scene is arrange in such a way that Ben appears in black, and Widmore in white, and we know that light and dark have been key themes through this series. However, just because you have two sides in a war, doesn't mean that either of them is right. The survivors of 815 know this better than anybody.
And even now, they're learning it the hard way. On the beach, a body was up, and it appears to be the ship's doctor, who when we last saw him was fine. Daniel manages to work up the radio so that it can transmit in Morse code. They send a message, and then Bernard reveals that Daniel and Charlotte are liars, and that by extension, there are no plans for rescue. This must be especially galling for Jack to learn that Locke was right after all. And speaking of Jack, no one's gotten sick on this island after over three months, so what does it mean that he's suddenly getting stomach pains. Is the island sending a message that he is not relevant, or is it trying to find a way to keep him here? I think we all know what the answer is.
'The Shape of Things to Come' features awesome intrigue, memorable confrontations, death-defying action, and Michael Emerson's continued ability to demonstrate why he is one of the finest actors working today. In short, it's everything we've come to expect from Lost, and then some. We seem to be in the middle of a major chess game here, and it seems that everybody has a part to play in it. Question is, who are the players, and how will they get there?