That's two solid episodes in a row for Lost—no small feat for a show that only a few short weeks ago had been digging its own grave. Two factors are at play: first, the writers seem to have worked out how to make the Reality-X timelines work meaningfully in tandem with what, after all, is the real timeline (in terms of our emotional and fanperson involvement, anyway). That might also have something to do with the episodes' foci, as well. As the show spreads out its final hours equally among its main characters, the episodes' strength directly correlates to the strength of the characters that they prominently feature—many of whom, let's face it, have lost their luster. Jack? Yawn. Kate? Blech. But Sayid? Ben? Those are people I can still get interested in.
Last night's episode, "Dr. Linus," focused of course on the title character and his trials in parallel realities: to become the principal of a high school, in one, and the principal of the island, in the other, the former emotionally complementing the latter vis-à-vis Alex Rousseau. The Ben-as-history-teacher timeline featured several island-mystery-deepening allusions, not only substitute Locke's suggestion that Ben become "the leader," that it was time for regime change, but also the opening references to Napoleon's Elban exile. Is that who the Smoke Monster is? Napoleon? Maybe literally, even? (Why not, at this point?)
We also see Ben interact with his erstwhile odious father, now a sickly old man, sad that he didn't give his son a better life. Maybe we shoulda stayed with the Dharma Initiative on "that island," he suggests. Uh, not! Lost of course has always been about characters with daddy issues, almost to the point of absurdity, and it's interesting to note that, in Reality X, nearly all of the daddy issues have been resolved: Kate didn't kill her father, Jack repaired his relationship with his own son (and thus came to terms with the relationship he had with Christian), Locke is on good-enough terms with his father to invite him to the wedding, and now Ben, rather than poison-gassing his father, is changing his oxygen tanks. It seems to have been that damn [treasure] island, now blessedly sunken, with its contrasting father options—Smokey (Long John Silver) and Jacob (Dr. Livesey)—that caused all our Losties' problems.
Linus, by episode's end, was pitched as a Job figure, with Jacob as a callous, toying Yahweh who took his daughter from him. (Did he think she was a candidate? And couldn't be killed? This whole "candidate" concept explains so many mysteries! Maybe too many...) And, wow, did Michael Emerson sell that scene with Ilana, climaxing with his sobbing realization that Flocke was the only one who would have him. The following scene with Alex in the principal's office, despite its many conspicuous plot holes, was equally moving, if not more so. If ever a fictional character has traveled a dramatic arc and "grown," it's Benjamin Linus. These moments were so affecting, in fact, that I was on edge, for most of the episode actually, that he was about to take a bullet...any second...
But thankfully Ben'll stick around—for now, anyway. At episode's end, we learned Widmore is on his way in a submarine, and that can't be good for Linus. We also got a classic Lost slo-mo beach reunion, with characters appearing from around the bend, running towards each other, hugging. So, hey, the gang's back together! This is how Lost should always be: moving pieces around, slyly addressing its mysteries, and creating superlative character drama. Of course, "Dr. Linus" also resorted to some of the show's worst time-buying tricks, all of which involved Richard. At one point, in conversation with Jack and Hurley, he says they won't believe where he's been. "Try me," Jack challenges. "Not yet." Shortly after, Hurley asks him to explain how he never ages. "It's not easy to explain," Richard answers. TRY ME, RICHARD! For Pete's sake.