Analysis: 5.12 Dead Is Dead

Dead maybe dead, but this episode was very much alive and kicking with massive plot pieces, revelations and grand mythology. No time for poetic introductions – we’ve gotta roll our sleeves up, stick our hands in the water, turn that switch and get things moving. . .

Once upon a time a paralysed man woke up from a plane wreck on a beach and found he could walk again. Whilst this may have been considered miraculous, on a healing Island it was not altogether as momentous an event as we might have first thought. What is miraculous, however, is a dead person coming truly back to life on this same Island.

Ben reported as much to Sun. Dead Is Dead, he told her. Now it’s a matter of opinion about whether you think Ben was telling the truth here, but I think he was. What we ultimately got shown in this episode was that these people. . .

. . . and all the other various manifestations of the dead are not actually a dead person returning to life as a breathing, flesh and blood, alive physical being. Dead is dead. Therefore Locke is a miracle. (For the record, I don’t think he is a manifestation of the Black Smoke or anything of that sort. The episode toyed with the idea – in having Locke stride out of the jungle when Ben, and the audience, were expecting ‘the monster’ and having Locke conveniently out of the scene when the Black Smoke made its appearance – but I don’t see it being a tenable proposition for the long haul.)

You have to wonder what Miles would make of all this. We’re dealing in his speciality and I would seriously like to know what he makes of, say, Christian Shephard. He did see him, remember, when Claire went with him. Does Miles subscribe to the ‘dead is dead’ ideology? He’s referred to corpses as pieces of meat, but he’s definitely attuned to a more spiritual side of what’s beyond death. A person may be dead, but there’s still something that Miles is communicating with. . .

And speaking of Christian, notice Ben’s alarmed look when Sun mentioned his name, and that it was he who instructed her and Frank to wait for Locke to show up? Ben knows dead people don’t come back to life, and he apparently knows something about Christian Shephard that alarmed him, so what are we to make of that?

I’ll be making a more thorough examination about Ben and the Black Smoke sequence further on, but I am falling upon the conclusion that the apparitions are generated by Smokey, but both Smokey and the apparitions are operating under the service of the Island. This idea fundamentally leads to enormous notions about what the Island actually is. Let me throw a grand theory bone your way to chew on.

The hieroglyph apparently shows us Anubis – the God of the Dead – facing the Black Smoke. Is that Anubis taking something off the Black Smoke? Or the other way around? Personally, I believe Anubis is taking whatever the Black Smoke has collected from the people it has judged. That’s the function of the Black Smoke, or Cerberus, on the Island – because the Island is purgatory.

You read that right.

The Others, Dharma, the survivors of Oceanic and all the rest of the characters we have seen on the Island are not dead, they are simply alive in the place where the dead go for judgement: The Island. These lost souls are either cleansed of their sins, which are swallowed up by the Black Smoke before they move on, or they are condemned to the ‘underworld’ by Cerberus/Smokey for being unrepentant. Anubis being the God that protects the dead to bring them to the afterlife, he accepts the souls old Smokey has passed fit for judgement. . .

It puts a certain kind of angle on that remark Ben once made about how God couldn’t see the Island and it’s a new spin on the debunked purgatory idea. Our heroes aren’t in purgatory in the sense that they died in the plane crash – they’re just in the place where purgatory is. And those Whispers they hear could be the genuine dead, in purgatory, waiting for Smokey to pass judgement. . .

Don’t think I’m going all out over this ‘Island is the location of purgatory’ theory. It very well may be that this concept of purgatory, and souls being cleansed, was merely the understanding that the ancient civilisation that existed on the Island believed in. It's their mythology presented in the hieroglyphs but not essentially the precise truth. There’s always the chance they got it wrong, right!?

For one thing, I still saw a distinct link between The Others and The Whispers. When Ben decided he couldn’t kill Danielle (and leave a child with a dead mother like he had been) he warned Danielle that she should run the other way if she ever heard The Whispers.

Since Ben was expressly warning Danielle away from The Others, from ever coming looking for her daughter, it strikes me that warning her away from The Whispers served the same purpose. The Whispers and The Others are linked, controlled, part of each other. Still, at least we now have an explanation as to why Alex was called Alex by The Others (Ben learned her name) and why Danielle stayed away from places like The Flame – in her head, interfering with The Others meant death.

(We just have to give her some leeway regarding her behaviour with Ben when she had him caught in a net! (I guess he did keep himself in shadow so maybe she didn’t recognise him?))

We saw Ben with a Young Ethan, and he returned to The Others camp pretty much as one of them. Given we saw Ben pushing Alex on the swings at The Barracks then it seems all the flashbacks we saw of Ben as an adult took place after ‘the purge’.

When Ben returned to The Others camp with Alex there was a crucial exchange with Widmore. Ostensibly, Ben had apparently been sent to kill Danielle purely because they didn’t want her running loose. Alex changed that, and Ben asked the salient question: “What was it I was supposed to do?”

Widmore’s response was: “Kill it.” But when Ben proposed that he do it, Widmore backed away.

The question still stands, though: Was Ben supposed to kill Alex? My personal take on it is that Ben, in not killing Alex, took her life into his own care. You own the life you save. As such, when Keamy had Alex at gunpoint and Ben elected to call his bluff he put his own sake over hers, and this was his sin. He had granted Alex life, but he didn’t give up his own for her sake.

Widmore was banished from the Island for continuously taking trips off it and having a baby with an “outsider” (presumably Penny’s mother, whoever she is). When Ben went to see him at the pier he pledged that he would sacrifice anything for the good of the Island, which would make him a better leader than Widmore had been. Widmore called his bluff on that, and stated that he wouldn’t sacrifice Alex.

Curiously, when Keamy shot Alex, Ben remarked: “He changed the rules.” This has been a remark that has long been poured over by Lost theorists. My take on it is that Ben believed it was the will of the Island to let Alex live. He knew it. Widmore knew it. There’s a kind of ‘Island-first’ understanding to their game, but Widmore changed the rules of that when he sent Keamy to the Island, presumably with no instruction that Alex should not be harmed. In that sense, I suppose, Ben assumed Widmore had changed the rules by defying the Island’s will.

The trick is, we don’t know for sure whether the Island did or didn’t want Ben to kill Alex that night he took her. An impossible riddle, all right.

So riddle me this. What lies in the shadow of a statue? Cryptic clue aside, this was evidently a calling card question for a select group on the Ajira flight to know one another. Someone has put together a group who don’t know each other, given them this question to ask to identify other members of their group, and sent them to the Island for a specific purpose.

It’s reminiscent of that “What did one snowman say to the other?” code question Desmond asked. But who would put together a group of people, and know how to get them to the Island to fulfil some mysterious agenda? The kneejerk reaction is to assume Widmore, but I am thinking more along the lines of Eloise Hawking.

Funny thing about Eloise Hawking helping the Oceanic 6 is this: What did she have to gain? In all the time jumping and flashforward trickery, it’s an obvious yet overlooked question. What was her agenda? Seems to me that if she wanted to get people back to the Island then using the Oceanic 6 to replicate the circumstances of Oceanic 815, and knowing the Ajira 316 flight that was to be used, makes her the prime candidate for getting the likes of Ilana to where she wants her to be. So: What lies in the shadow of a statue?

Instant reaction is to assume that Ilana and her group are going to head off towards the remains of the four-toed statue. Taking that crate with them, they are going to head there to either retrieve something, uncover something, set something off or. . . Well, who knows? But I am guessing that’s their destination – but their agenda remains tantalisingly unknown. Definitely got my interest though, and suddenly makes new character Ilana an intriguing proposition. Which is more than can be said for the other new guy.

It was good fun to watch Ben work his manipulation skills on Ceasar. Ben didn’t know whether he would need this guy, or for what purpose, but he seized the opportunity to get him on side and learn where he kept his gun. And just when you thought he would use Ceasar to stop Locke from taking him to the main Island – blam! Turns out Ceasar was a big mis-direction all along. (Though, knowing Lost, this probably won’t be the last time we ever see him!)

Locke appears to have learned a thing or two about manipulation, mind. Has he come back from the dead with some new-found deep understanding of the Island? I’m not so sure. He told Sun he was still the same person. I think he’s come back with a new-found confidence, and a capacity to play Ben the way Ben once played him. The scene in the office, where Locke made Ben blather out his reasoning for killing him when all he was after was a simple apology displayed this power shift. (As did Locke sitting in Ben’s chair at his desk with his feet up!)

Locke called Ben out about going back to the main land and forced him to go there to seek his judgement. He worked out that Ben’s guilt lay in what he had done to Alex. And when Ben had failed to summon the Black Smoke (turning that switch appeared to function as some form of pressure device, presumably for all these ‘vents’ that Smokey operates through) Locke lead the way as though he knew what to do next. Personally, I think he was just hazarding a good guess that they would find Smokey at the Temple Walls he had seen before. Turned out he was right.

To better understand what happened with Ben and the Black Smoke, it’s perhaps pertinent to analyse what happened with Mr. Eko during The Cost Of Living. Between that episode and this we have some good comparative sources for examination.

In The Cost Of Living we saw that Mr. Eko, in Nigeria, installed himself as the priest of the town in Yemi’s absence. There he witnessed gangsters holding the town’s supplies to ransom, but refused to bow down to them. There followed a bloody massacare, resulting in Mr. Eko taking a machete to one gangster – Emeka.

On the Island, in the jungle, the Black Smoke stalks Mr. Eko and eventually he is confronted by phantasm apparitions of the gangsters he killed, attacking him. This then switches to a young boy – Daniel – also from Mr. Eko’s past, encouraging him to “Confess”. Later still, Mr. Eko is eventually confronted by Yemi who, in a longer conversation, pretty much encourages him to “Confess”.

Mr. Eko doesn’t confess. Mr. Eko is killed.

The Black Smoke, then, having ‘scanned’ Mr. Eko back in The 23rd Psalm. . .

. . . had identified all the aspects of Mr. Eko ripe for judgement and produced them as manifestations for him to confront. Upon showing Mr. Eko his ‘sins’, the Black Smoke then summoned both Daniel and Yemi to urge him to “Confess”. Mr. Eko’s defiance in not acceding to this confession was what ultimately riled the Black Smoke into delivering a death sentence.

Now let’s compare and contrast with Ben during Dead Is Dead. Here we saw Ben turn up at the ‘altar grill’ of the Black Smoke where he was subsequently enveloped by old Smokey.

Within this maelstrom, Ben was shown Alex – his relationship with her and the key moments that ultimately lead to her capture by Keamy and the pivotal decision that lead to her death. Like Mr. Eko was shown Emeka, Ben saw his own ‘sin’ before him. Then the Black Smoke withdrew, and an incarnation of Alex appeared. Again, similar to Yemi’s last appearance to Mr. Eko.

Now here’s the thing. If Ben had been defiant here, had refused to repent like Mr. Eko did, then I think it’s a certainty that the Black Smoke would have emerged once more – this time in ‘Kill Mode’. But, as it turned out, Ben (with some assistance from Locke along his journey) acknowledged his guilt and admitted that Alex’s death was his fault. He was allowed to live but that wasn’t strictly a complete blessing, as it came with the caveat of a threat from Alex/Black Smoke/Island that his plans to kill Locke were to be abandoned and he was to pledge his devotion entirely for Locke’s purpose.

Maybe it was just because French girl Alex was present in this scene, but I was reminded very much of a moment from Les Miserables the musical. There’s a character called Javert, a staunch God-fearing lawman, that had devoted his entire life in pursuit of a man, Jean Val Jean, who he perceived as a vile criminal. However, when Javert finds himself at Jean Val Jean’s mercy his life is spared, and Javert is left to go free. It’s a musical so, naturally, Javert sings:

“Is he from heaven or from hell? And does he know?
By granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so.”

For Javert being allowed to live was a poison chalice. Ben being allowed to live, but only to live in service to Locke, is a similar living hell. The Black Smoke has completely endorsed Locke. Any defiance from Ben would be in direct conflict with the Black Smoke. In Les Miserables, Javert finds this life is impossible to continue. I wonder if Ben might eventually feel the same way. Indeed, whilst I think Ben will be around to the end of the show I don’t believe he will survive – and I think this man that did bad things in service of a higher goal may eventually falter into true villainy starting from this moment, and ultimately pay the price for it.


Rasty said...

Great analysis as usual, AC!

The purgatory theory's comeback is also a possibility, even thou, if The Island actually serves as a purgatory/judgment place, I guess that Smokey would be pretty busy 24/7 with all the dead souls. That IMO are not likely to be The Whispers, since those seem now confirmed to be linked with The Others. Humm...

By the way, on your take about Ben's future, I still see him as a character that will ultimately die ideed, but by sacrificing himself for a greater good.
I don't think it would be all that interesting to the viewers seeing him turn into a true villain at this point, as much as it instead is seeing him switch his role with locke and slowly redempt.

Corellian said...

I also believe that Ben will sacrifice himself at the end.

Now, about the other undead people on the Island, i really think, after Alex showing up in this episode, that they are all manifestations of Smokie/The Island. Cristian, Yemi, Ben's Mother, etc. And about that last one, Ben was surprise with Locke beeing alive, but he has seen his dead mother on the jungle, when he was a child.

Regarding the whispers... They are definitelly related to the Others, as Ben said do Rosseau, but what could this relation be? We have already seen the whispers right before Smokie coming up, haven´t we? So, would they be another ancient device on the Island, that the Others trigger in a bizarre way similar do Ben summoning Smokie?

Anonymous said...

hope its not purgatory

Anonymous said...

Another great line from Ben 'I just didn't have time to talk you back into hanging yourself' Ice cold as ever..... I love it!

I also think that Ben is totally on to the 'What happens in the shadow of the statue....' brigade. His half-arsed attempt at conversation with them wasn't just him trying to blend in and look like a regular passenger. He is well aware of them and probably knows more about them than they do about him.......otherwise they would have at least tied him to a tree or something!!

I think that you are right in your translation of the hieroglyph, however I don't think that smokies chamber is purgatory for every man, woman and child that dies on earth. More a case of if you are standing in the chamber where Ben was then you will be judged. But we've seen from Mr Ekos fate that smokie doesn't mind playing in away games either

I also am scratching my head about whether or not you had to do something immoral ie kill someone, to feel the wrath of smokie or if you just had to do something that wasn't in the best interests of the island.

Eko didn't do anything for or against the island but had done bad things earlier in his life and he got done.

In not surrendering to Keamy he was acting in the best interests of the island(if he was its protector) and if Alex got killed that was collateral damage. Ben has racked up quite a body count with the purge and everything, I guess it could be down to what a person feels guilty about.

Anonymous said...

Also, when Ben and Sun are waiting for smokie and John comes out of the forest do you reckon thats when John was told where to bring Ben?

AngeloComet said...

Anonymouse: I read that last question before I watched the episode again last night. It IS rather curious, actually. Sun says that Locke went off saying he had something to do, and then he comes back with a new-found direction about where they should go because Smokey hasn't turned up.

It's perhaps a little wearying to wonder if we will ever see 'Locke's side' of what happened in a future episode - but, perhaps, he went to Jacob's Cabin? He did seem to get information from somewhere. But, as I proposed above, Locke may have just been manipulating Ben for a change - and his walk into the woods was part of that ploy.

I think there's definitely a morality judgement about Smokey. Eko's crimes that were presented to him were all done off-Island. It was these he was being judged for.

Maybe from the Island's point of view, people who are immoral, and unrepetent, are bad for the Island and so cannot remain in such a state?

Makes me wonder what on Earth the pilot did!?

Anonymous said...

Great as always. Also fun to hear the word 'debunked' after so long. How I miss! Death to Seanie B!


shamballa said...

AC, for the most part I agree with your analysis and commentary.

I'm even entertaining the use of the term "purgatory" now. After all, did we not all read and hear from Darlton that there is/was/will be no "time travel"?

Maybe what the writers are trying to do is have us take a leap of faith as it were, and suspend our "myth-conceptions" of life, the universe, and everything (to borrow a phrase) as we understand it.

Perhaps the more frequent references on the show to ancient Egyptian gods and glyphs and the island's history are road signs that are are essentially saying, "Wake up, there's a curve ahead".

And while the mysterious Jacob wasn't present (if he ever is) in this episode, he certainly was mentioned and perhaps implied. I would be interested to know your thoughts on his role, or non-role in this episode.

So far we have only heard Jacob say, "Help me". How can we trust when those who claim to know his will aren't just using it for their own ends?


Anonymous said...

I think Smokie is really selfish and quite evil.

It was angry with Mr Eko because he did something against its interests, he couldn't be manipulated, and so he was savagely killed.

It's not keeping Ben alive because Ben deserves to live a little longer or torturing him by forcing him to follow Locke because Ben deserves it. It simply manipulates people knowing that guilty conscience is the best way to do so, to use them for its own purpose. Those it cannot manipulate, it kills.

I wonder if Ben is aware of this. I believe that the Smoke monster is not unbeatable.

shamballa said...

"I think Smokie is really selfish and quite evil."

Don't shoot the messenger... I think Smokie is impartial or merely the executioner.

But then that brings up the question of who are what is it beholden to and what is the moral measure or laws by which people are judged?

Tim said...

"But then that brings up the question of who are what is it beholden to and what is the moral measure or laws by which people are judged?"

I feel that Lost has always had a fairly complex view on morals; so far it seems to ask many questions and doesn't pretend to have many answers. Locke and Ben seem the best examples of this: often other characters have been outraged by the extent of their 'means' in achieving the Island's (or their own) 'ends', while at other times their actions are seen as being worth the costs. It would be a shame if this complexity is lost through Smokey taking the role of some ultimate arbiter, so I sympathise with the idea that Smokey is somehow malevolent.

For similar reasons I'm also slightly concerned about Locke - he's certainly being built up as a saviour, but where does that leave the moral outrage at some of his past actions? Where Jack and others simply wrong, and we just have to deal with that?

Basically I'm hoping for some more moral ambiguity by the end. Lost has been mostly excellent so far, I probably don't have too much cause for concern!

Acharaisthekey said...

I think we have to remember and accept there are two forces on the island. The island is obviously a force within itself and has destiny attached to it...however, the FREE WILL aspect and possibly even 'science' to the use of the island will be another force. This set up the Jack v John issue for 3 seasons. I still think though that the two forces are yet to be determined as good or bad. People act good and bad but reasoning behind there actions cannot be judged until the end game.

Ben asked for forgiveness and to be judge...the answer was simple....We'll let you live...but not if you try to kill Locke. The island's destiny and FATE is in the hands of John Locke, it always has been. Now...we'll have to see how the impending 'doom' or men of science battle it out and try to change that FATE/DESTINY....and then, when all is said and done...we as viewers will have a choice in our minds to make...was it Faith or Science that we felt should have won...or will Jack and John bring it together to a peacefull resolution.

Anyways...that's what I think is in store for us....and I think Smokey set it up perfectly with 'its' conversation with Ben.