Let’s move into the field of television for the next villain.
I found it shocking during a Pop-Up Trivia for a Seinfeld episode that its numbers were mediocre back then, but would be in the top five today. Why are fewer people watching TV?
Back when Seinfeld started, the only good shows on were Star Trek: The Next Generation and, well, Seinfeld. Nowadays, you have comedies of modern genius like The Office and 30 Rock, and there are dramas of unparalleled quality like Lost and 24. And fewer people are watching TV than back in the days when a character would break their leg one week and be running after a baddie the next? It’s all wrong … ah well, this little pre-rant went on a little long, let’s get to the good stuff.
No. 3. Benjamin Linus from Lost. Television as a medium gives the writers an opportunity to develop characters over William F. Zorziars, which is why in many ways I’ve come to love TV more than movies (though there’s still no better way to spend your time than a Lord of the Rings-athon). Ben Linus is an excellent example. He’s a sick, twisted man in a lot of ways. But he’s my favorite character, no contest.
In addition to having a richly tragic background, he’s also darkly funny quite often and maniacally brilliant. I find myself cheering for him more often than not (which I should probably seek psychiatric help for, I wonder if Dr. Melfi is available). At first, Ben just creeps you out. However, after you get a little background on him, you start to feel for the poor guy (and I am warning you now, CRAZY HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD).
Ben is an unwanted child, he’s really just a guy who’s willing to do terrible things in order to find his place in the world. His mother died in childbirth and his father hated him for it. He frequently forgets Ben’s birthday and often beats his own son. So once he reaches the Island as a pre-teen, he gains a new father-figure in the form of Richard (the leader of a group of “Others” on the Island who oppose the Dharma Initiative, which is the group that brought Ben and his father to the Island. We’re still unsure of how “good” Dharma really was, to further thrust Ben’s backstory into grey area).
Young Ben sides with Richard, and when he gets older he has the entire Dharma Initiative killed by poisonous gas, and he gasses his father personally (this was appropriately on his birthday, as he was born into being “Leader of the Others” and also because he lost both of his parents on his birthday). However, he can’t force himself to look at his father when all of this takes place. He had to look at the situation tactically and remove himself from it emotionally. He is an extreme, but conflicted man.
The episode where we receive this background information is one of my favorites and is appropriately titled “The Man Behind the Curtain.” Not only do I love pop culture references, but the title also has a brilliant double meaning. It can refer to the fact that in this episode we are somewhat introduced to Jacob, the mysterious actual leader of the Others. It can also refer to the fact that we are introduced to the man behind the monster when we see that Ben is just a frightened, abused little boy who never really grew up.
But even his position with the Others is not set in stone.
When the new leader John Locke emerges Ben attempts to kill him several times (and succeeds once). This seemingly came out of nowhere when I first saw it in the aforementioned episode, but then I realized that Locke was taking from him the only thing he really had: his position as Leader of the Others.
Eventually, Ben makes (from his standing point) the ultimate sacrifice for the one thing that matters most to him. In the season 4 finale Ben essentially saves the Island, and in doing so must exile himself from it. It’s a truly heartbreaking scene in a lot of ways, no matter how distorted the man may be. To add to this extended tragedy, he makes his way back to the Island in season 5, and in the finale he is once again rejected, this time by Jacob. He then proceeds to stab Jacob to death, and cause some major problems for season 6 (January 2010 can’t come soon enough!). But can we really blame him? He did absolutely everything that was asked of him and in the end, the man whom he served treated him like a stray dog.
But Ben’s not all monster, we see his humanity come out in very select and interesting circumstances. For instance, he has an adopted daughter, Alex, who he truly does seem to love as his own. He was sent to kill her birth mother when Alex was still a baby. He couldn’t bring himself to do it, and he took Alex as his own. For years, she kept some semblance of his humanity in check.
This all falls apart in another great episode, “The Shape of Things to Come” when she is killed by a former leader of the Others. It is at this point that Ben swears revenge on this man, Charles Widmore, by vowing to kill Widmore’s daughter Penelope. However, this is where the story gets really interesting.
In one episode, Ben got his chance to kill Penelope, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it when he saw she had a son. A man who seemingly has no heart is unable to kill mothers (as seen by this situation and by letting Alex’s mother live). In addition, he took Alex in for many of the same reasons that Batman adopts Robin in the wake of his parents’ death, he thinks that if he can save her (or him in Batman’s case) then he can save himself. Maybe if she received a proper, loving upbringing, she wouldn’t end up the same as him and then he can change. Sadly, he is not granted this luxury (villains rarely catch a break).
Ben is an expert liar, brilliant manipulator, and all-around creepy guy. However, he’s also been screwed in a lot of ways, so maybe in the beginning he felt that he had to manipulate in order to have things go his way (before just plain enjoying his power over others, which is kinda messed up).
And one must respect his skills, however evil they may be. I’d like to think that even though he’ll likely be the subject of some kind of retribution in the final season for the crimes he’s committed over the course of the show, he might find some measure of peace after his long struggle for acceptance. And that’s the whole meaning of the show, the people aren’t just Lost from society, they’re Lost from themselves. And Ben wants to find his way back just as much as anybody.