LOST: Dead is Dead. I was extraordinarily excited to watch this, as Ben is one of my favorite characters, and season four Ben-centric episode The Shape of Things to Come was one of my favorite LOST episodes of all time. I think it is fair to say I may have been expecting too much from this, and while I definitely liked it -- and I bet tons of other people loved it -- it also had bits that did not work as well for me.
The key moment is the scene in which Ben in judged by the smoke monster. This was a moment in the show -- even more than the donkey wheel -- where the show just really confronts you with its looney pulpy Indiana Jones insanity that usually stays hinted at, stays on the margins. My first reaction is that the scene is pretty cheesy, but I am pretty sure it is supposed to be cheesy (though at least one reviewer said the scene filled him with holy awe and dread, so maybe this is just me). It was an interesting scene certainly. Like the donkey wheel I respect the show for just going for the silliness and having the confidence the audience will just come with you, but I also felt for just a moment in sympathy with the people who objected to the donkey wheel.
The flashbacks the monster shows Ben are the flashbacks we have seen. It makes sense, though I feel like the episode might have been more elegantly structured as taking place IN the cloud so that the flashbacks we were shown were the RESULT of the smoke (we see what Ben sees) rather than the audience prep to understand what is in the smoke: but of course in that instance they would have had to put the episode's big moment in front rather than in back, so I guess I can see why they did it this way. I thought the flashback involving Desmond was especially good in the way it tied into Alex, and I liked how swift and brutal it was.
Some parts of the show left me in a puzzle in a bad way (though it could always be cleared up later, I suppose) -- why, when Rousseau had Ben did she hand him over to the castaways in season two -- you have to think she would want revenge for his kidnapping of her baby? And Ben's explanation of his previous summoning of the smoke monster was unsatisfying -- now we see that he has to go drain water out of a pool in some basement cavern to call the smoke monster -- last time it seemed to come quickly, but now it is faster to march for like 12 hours (or at least till night becomes day) and just go to where it lives in spite of the fact that you told it you would be somewhere else? I feel like the writers wanted Ben to go back to his house (to pick up Sun, to remember where Alex died), but also wanted to have Locke take us to the temple (cool in and of itself) but did not have a convincing reason to do both.
It is fantastic to see John Locke back in top form -- his and Ben's fates are always inverse -- one's ascent is the other's descent. Locke being coy and knowing and in charge was great and I particularly like how he pushed Ben into doing what he said he was going to do -- playing along with what was surely a lie (based in the truth) he MADE Ben be judged. The dynamic between these two guys is a lot of fun and really interesting, and Ben's new role as reluctant acolyte should be something to see. Though I am sure Ben will have lots of tricks up his sleeve, I have to admit I hate to see him deflated so much and am a little worried that this episode marks his redemption (the smoke monster seems not to care about, say, his mass murder) -- Alias had a bad habit of redeeming its villains to the point where there were no real bad guys left -- and LOST is really in need of an active bad guy at this point in the narrative, with only three episodes before the two part finale.
And that brings me to by two favorite parts of the episode, in which LOST does what it always does so well -- gesture significantly toward bigger things, and change the game at will. Ben says they keep a wall around the temple so people can't see it and then the go under instead -- leaving this place, which was mentioned for the first time I think in the season 3 finale (it is where Ben told the Others to wait for him), to be revealed in the season finale or some time in season six. And finally it looks like the woman who brought Said in knows more than she lets on -- she is obviously looking for other sleeper agents or freindlys with the pass-phrase "What lies in the shadow of the statue." You have think she is working for Widmore but in any case we have a bad guy for the season finale. Should be good.
One final concern, perhaps an unfair one: Locke dies and returns to comes back with all kind of important knowledge in his head about the mysteries of the island (though he does not know where they came from). One of the things that worried me most watching Battlestar Galactica fall apart explaining all the mysteries in the last two hours was that the same thing might be in store for LOST. Having John Locke's story echoing Starbucks, at pretty much the same point in the narrative (20 episodes or so till the end)? Not a good sign.