The shape of things to come is a chessboard. (Look, I know a chessboard isn't strictly a shape but if Lost is going to start going crazy with our sense and sensibilities then I’m taking leave to do the same!) In the grand mosaic of Lost, we can picture a chessboard and consider all the things we know to be the white squares and all the things we don't know to be the black squares. And The Shape Of Things To Come presented us with a whole bunch of black squares we have yet to fully find out about.
We were dropped, gasping, onto a black square at the start of Ben's flashforward. He's in the middle of the desert, apparently appearing there out of nowhere. It's 2005. And he's wearing a thick coat. What's that? The coat has a Dharma logo? And the name Halliwax? Ah, I think I see the game that's being played here. This all started back with The Orchid Orientation film as premiered at Comic-Con.
In brief, The Orchid Orientation (as presented by "Edgar Halliwax" - the man whose jacket Ben appears to have swiped) suggests that, via a sort of Casimir Effect, time and space can be warped and an object (in the video, a rabbit) can be 'shifted'. For the sake of ease (mine, not yours) I'll call it time-space teleportation. And this is what Ben appears to have done to pop-up in the Sahara Desert. (The suggestion presented way back during Confirmed Dead in Charlotte's flashback is that polar bears have undergone the same kind of 'journey', when their bones were found in the desert.)
This was the logo on Ben/Halliwax's jacket. Is this the official logo of The Orchid Station. . .? Until I hear otherwise I'm saying it is.
Where and when had Ben teleported from? The steamed breath and thick jacket raises the likelihood of him having been somewhere cold. Maybe the process of time-space teleportation is just really chilly (like in Back To The Future). And if you don't get it right you can injure yourself (Ben received a slight cut - Marvin Candle appeared to have lost his entire arm!) But we saw a Listening Station at the end of Live Together, Die Alone, where there were people who knew how to contact Penny. Maybe Ben had come from there on his hunt for Widmore's daughter. Maybe that’s where he picked up his injury. (Note that the two men in the Listening Post were playing chess before the 'electromagnetic anomaly' interrupted them, to continue the 'game motif' I've got going on. . .)
It's as basic for Ben as: Keamy shot my daughter, and Widmore hired Keamy, so I blame Widmore, so I'll kill his daughter. But it's never simple with Lost because Alex shouldn't have died, apparently, except for the fact that someone, somewhere cheated.
"He changed the rules," Ben said. Seems to me he should have noticed a lot sooner and not gambled with Alex's life so casually (his shocked expression suggested his realisation of the same thing came too late). With absolute confidence he sent Alex off with Rousseau. "Your mother will protect you." And then Alex, captured and at gunpoint, tells Ben that her mother has been killed. That should have sent alarm bells ringing. If the woman that's lived alone on the Island for sixteen years can get snuffed out then all bets are off. Yet Ben just didn't realise the ramifications. The board had been switched. The rules changed. The Keamy Bluff gambit isn't going to work. Ben calls out "She’s a pawn, nothing more" and on this game of Island Chess that was exactly what she became.
In the high stakes game of Island-ownership, you lose your daughter. And in good old Others' tradition of "eye for an eye" retribution, Ben promises as much to Widmore. The shape of things to come? Ben kills Penny? Well if Desmond has any say in the matter then killing Penny won't be as easy as Ben may think. (Come to think of it, Desmond and Ben have never actually met yet! The stage is being set for quite the confrontation. . .)
So what is the deal between Ben and Widmore? The pair have history, for sure. I've previously speculated that somehow Ben managed to swindle a lot of money off Widmore, 'purge' his Dharma organisation and take the Island for himself. Maybe that's even it. But with Widmore's remarks of "I know who you really are, boy" and Ben's talk of how he can't possibly kill Widmore and they both know it. . . Well, it all sounds far more grand and cosmic than petty human trivialities.
Without wishing to tread on any four-toes, this thing between Ben and Widmore all seems a little bit. . . dare I say it. . . silly? This is still Lost, right? You know, the show about the plane crash survivors? The Island hasn't become a playground of the immortals or something, right? Right?
(No wonder Jack was ill. Not so long ago he was the leading man. It'd make anyone sick to their stomach. Doc Shephard is fine. Well, apart from getting into the swing of self-prescribing himself pills to pop. The other doc's fine, too. Well, apart from having his throat cut in the Freighter future/Island past kind of way.)
Thankfully, to remind us that this was still Lost there was the classic staple on full display: The Black Smoke. Except Ben can't keep his fingers out of this aspect either. First came the Blast Door Map for us all to analyse and ponder. Now we have the Ben Secret Door Glyph (not quite as catchy, I grant you) for us all to puzzle over.
Off went Ben through the secret door and, a little while later, he emerges dirtied but resolute. Then the shaking starts. And then arrives a madder-than-hell Smokey to give Keamy and co something to play with. Ben clearly intended this. He told everyone where to run and when. I can't commit to the idea that Ben actually controls Smokey, but I think he understands how to push the buttons that alter the Black Smoke's behaviour. I guess he figured if "he" (presumably Widmore) can change the rules then the security system (can we think of the Black Smoke as a referee in this match?) can be tampered with. All bets are off.
This is the shape of things to come. We've gone right past the point of what's "supposed to happen" and into a new unchartered realm. So which square do we move to next in this chequered puzzle? Off to see Jacob, that's where. The arbiter of the Island rules. We've got Locke who can hear Jacob ("Help me!"), and we've got Ben who can speak to Jacob, and we've got Hurley who knows how to go and see Jacob. So these three wise monkeys are off for further instructions - but since we know Flashforward Hurley regrets ever going with Locke I think it's a fair bet to say that the shape of things to come isn't, in the near-future, looking particularly rosy.
Game on, then!