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Transmutation: A Character Study - Ben Linus (LOST)


Ben Linus is far from being my favorite character on LOST. He is, however, one of the most complex and fascinating TV characters of all-time, if you ask me. When I heard about this article his name is one of the first that came to mind. This study will not cover even half of the great many aspects of Ben Linus’ personality and story but I do hope to provide a quick reminder and highlight the wonderful work done by the writers and the amazing Michael Emerson. This one is a role to remember.

"I guess it's a good thing I'm not one of them, huh? You guys got any milk?"
We’re introduced to Ben Linus in the middle of season two but his presence (as the leader of the Others) is felt right from the beginning of this story. When he’s captured and taken prisoner by Danielle Rousseau he uses the name “Henry Gale” and tells a story of his supposed tragic crash on the island. It eventually becomes clear what a master manipulator he is with the number of mind games he’s playing on most of the main characters. Their scenes with “Henry” become a great opportunity for a deeper look on their motivations, doubts and true selves, but in the meantime we’re also getting a chance to see exactly how resourceful and dangerous Ben Linus can actually be, even when seemingly trapped and tortured. When he’s discovered as one of “the Others” he plays down his role in the group, while creating a more sinister and powerful view of the leader at the same time. After Michael’s brutal crime he’s finally free and ready to admit precisely who he is.

"It was a nice try though."
The second act of Ben’s story begins on the Hydra island where Jack, Kate and Sawyer are taken to in season three. There the viewers see the extent of Linus' power and his drive for control, of everything and everyone. His obsessive, abusive and aggressive side is also revealed when he’s interacting with Juliet or beating Sawyer to the point of unconsciousness. The reason for the main trio's kidnapping becomes clear when we learn of Ben’s tumor. Linus once again uses the circumstances in his favor and manipulates Jack into performing the surgery that would save his life. Though it seemed he might have finally been outplayed with Jack holding his life in his hands at one point, Ben's threats and promises are enough to ensure his survival in the end. Later, as he’s coming back to health he comes across and begins to develop a strange understanding with Locke, slowly growing with their shared knowledge about the Island and its mysteries. With their connection comes the conflict and jealousy over Jacob and the Island. Ben goes as far as shooting Locke and leaving him to die, and then actively tries to stop Jack and the other survivors from escaping the Island.

"I hope you're happy now, Jacob."
Once again captured and travelling with first Jack and then Locke, Ben is also struggling when it comes to the relationship with his adopted (or rather stolen as a child) daughter Alex. While their interactions are part of his story since season three, it’s their dynamics in season four that truly change everything for the character. When Alex is taken hostage by the mercenaries who arrive on the Island, one of the men named Keamy, angered by Linus’ knowledge of him, threatens to kill her. Ben responds to his threat with the usual plan to outsmart the enemy but the attempt to throw him off by claiming Alex means nothing to him ends in her death. It’s clear that her murder shocks Ben and he quickly sends the smoke monster after the mercenaries. He also takes a moment to say goodbye to his daughter before leaving with Locke and Hurley. Their journey leads to the Orchid and Ben moving the Island. There are several standout moments in this part of his story, the clear indication that he always has a plan and his confrontation with Alex’s killer that ends with stabbing Keamy to death, with no regards to the fact he’s causing the deaths of everyone trying to leave the Island on board of the freighter nearby. Ben's pain and anger at what happened to Alex at this point are only the beginning of the great emotional arc for the character and the reason for this article.

"I'll miss you, John. I really will."
After moving the Island Linus is thrown through time and space and finds himself in the middle of the Sahara. He eventually meets up with Sayid who offers to help him get revenge on the man responsible for sending the mercenaries on the Island - Charles Widmore. Ben is soon able to confront Widmore directly and in that moment their hatred and fight over the Island is revealed. While both men search for the way to get back there, Linus works with Sayid to eliminate a number of people from a list, who allegedly work for Charles Widmore and pose a threat to Sayid's friends. Ben also monitors all the members of the Oceanic Six and becomes aware of the fact that Locke has left the Island. The meeting of these two becomes another turning point in the story. When Locke sees himself as a failure Ben consoles tearful (and ready to commit suicide) man and gives him hope that they can all return to the Island. What could be an emotional scene and a step towards friendship takes a dark turn after John mentions Eloise Hawking and Linus goes completely cold, attacks Locke and strangles him to death. Ben then proceeds to use this death towards achieving his goal, convincing Jack of the need to return and bring everyone (including Locke's body) back to the Island. After a numerous lies and the attempt to kill Widmore's daughter, Penny, Linus eventually gets back home.

"What was it that was so wrong with me? What about me?"
Nothing is quite the same on the Island. Ben lost his control over the people and events happening there. He gets knocked out by Sun and brought to an infirmary inside the Hydra station to find a resurrected "John Locke" waiting for him. He travels to his old home and summons the smoke monster to seek penance for Alex's death. He's forced to relive her death and is confronted by a vision of his daughter who warns him not to harm John Locke. The more time Linus spends with Locke, the more surprising things await them, with Locke's knowledge far extending that of Ben. John admits that he's communicating with the Island and confronts Linus about never actually seeing Jacob despite his many claims. Ben follows Locke's orders and in exchange learns of John's true plan - to kill Jacob. More than that, it's Linus who is meant to kill the protector of the Island. When three men eventually meet, it's another powerful moment that makes a great impact on Ben and shows the viewers exactly how he feels about his life, loyalty, Jacob and the Island. We watch as Linus reveals all the little things about his position as the leader of "the Others". How he spent decades just doing what he was told, patiently waiting for Jacob, to see him, to understand the true purpose of the Island but never got the response he needed. Finally he decides he's had enough and in anger he kills Jacob, by repeatedly stabbing him in the chest.

"Because he's the only one that'll have me."
After the murder Ben learns of the true identity of "John Locke". He's revealed to be the Man in Black, the smoke monster that only took over John's body after they returned on the Island and manipulated Linus into killing Jacob. After attacking them in his true form, the Man in Black departs from the group with unconscious Richard and leaves Ben with Frank, Sun and Ilana. They learn of Linus' actions and Ilana, still loyal to Jacob, holds Ben at gunpoint and forces him to dig his own grave. In this powerful scene, which I find to be one of the best in the entire series, Linus uses the opportunity to explain why he killed Jacob and desperately asks to let him rejoin Man in Black because "he's the only one that would have him." His honest words and visible transformation change Ilana's mind and she chooses to forgive him and offer one more chance for him to stand on the right side. He stays with the group and helps for while but after Ilana's death he once again meets the smoke monster and has the final confrontation with Charles Widmore where he shoots him to take revenge on the man responsible for Alex's death. Though he claims to support Man in Black in the end he works against him with the others. He saves Hurley's life and helps him take on his new role as Protector of the Island. After years of leadership Ben gladly accepts the position of Hurley's advisor and declares he'd "go down with" the Island if necessary.

"And you were a great Number One, Hugo."
The story of Ben's great transmutation wouldn't be complete without the flashbacks, where we meet young boy who almost loses his life but survives to become the Leader of the Others, or without the story in the flash sideways world. The story of what could have been, the life of a teacher who would choose his student Alex's future over his own. Being described as "the nicest guy ever" and the closest thing to a father Alex Rousseau ever had bring him much needed peace and an unexpected chance for redemption. At the very end of the show, when all the other characters finally get to move on, Ben Linus is still not ready to go, but he admits to all his faults and asks for forgiveness. His sincere exchange with John Locke there shows just how much he truly has grown over the course of the series and the final season especially. While Ben can't join the others at the end, it's clear that he's on his path to eventually get there. We even get a glimpse of a harmonious relationship between him and Hurley in their long years of protecting the Island together. Happy and proud of his role as number two, Ben ends the series on a much more hopeful note than I would ever expect when his story was starting.

The complete story of Benjamin Linus, with all its ups and downs is a great testament to the talent of the LOST writers but I can't help not to mention the incredible performance of one Michael Emerson. He earned every single award he got for the role and many more. He brought life to this complicated character and made the viewers conflicted with their perception of him. His character is the one many loved to hate and others really cared for. While on paper it's easy to dismiss the man such as Ben Linus as nothing more than a killer and manipulator, watching the many turns in his story made us root for him in the most unexpected ways. There's a great number of scenes where a simple monologue delivered by Michael Emerson can be more powerful than an attack of the smoke monster or a twist in action. The confrontation between Ben and Ilana remains one of my favorite examples of the actors' best performances. If only for that reason alone I would want to highlight such a memorable character it would still be absolutely worth it.

Best Dialogue:
"BEN: I want to explain.
ILANA: Explain what?
BEN: I want to explain that I know what you're feeling.
ILANA: You have no idea what I'm feeling.
BEN: I watched my daughter Alex die in front of me. And it was my fault. I had a chance to save her. But I chose the island over her. All in the name of Jacob. I sacrificed everything for him. And he didn't even care. Yeah I stabbed him, I was... so angry...confused...I was terrified that I was about to lose the only thing that had ever mattered to me - my power. But the thing that really mattered was already gone. I'm sorry that I killed Jacob. I am, and I do not expect you to forgive me because...I can never forgive myself.
ILANA: Then what do you want?
BEN: Just let me leave.
ILANA: Where will you go?
BEN: To Locke.
ILANA: Why?
BEN: Because he's the only one that'll have me.
ILANA: I'll have you."

Thank you all for reading and be sure to return next week to read the next character study written by the talented members of our SpoilerTV team.

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