"The story moves too slow"
"They never answer any of the questions"
"Nikki and Paulo sucked"
"They're just making it up as they go along"
Okay, the Nikki and Paulo thing is valid. Otherwise though, tonight's episode defies all complaints. Why? Benajmin F-ing Linus.
Ever since his first appearance as Henry Gale, Henry Ian Cusick has been elevating Lost with every appearance. Tonight was our "Ben episode", and it was a doozy. Best of the season so far, and when it's all said and done, may be one of the top ten, maybe top five, episodes of the series.
It starts off with Ben alone in the jungle and spotting Ilana (aka Ana-Lucia II), and her merry band of Miles, Sun, and Lapidus. He follows them to the beach where they start cannibalizing the old camp, since the Temple is no longer a safe place for them (being all full of corpses and all). However, Ilana shackles Ben to a tree and makes him start digging his own grave, for what he did to Jacob (Miles being the psychic snitch that he is). Interesting that we finally get a definition of Miles' abilities, as he's only able to tell the dead person's last thoughts and what happened right before their death, and only if he's near the body. Good to know.
Then we jump to Alterna-Ben...excuse me, Dr. Linus, as high school teacher and colleague of new substitute teacher John Locke. Linus feels put upon by the Principal (played by the snooty professor from Real Genius), but what can he do about it? "How about become the principal?", says Old Helpful Mr. Locke. The seeds planted, Linus comes home to his dad, good old Roger Workman, who is old and decrepit, and being taken care of by his good son Ben (instead of being "taken care of" by Island Ben). We get our first hint of new timeline events, as Roger did join the Dharma Initiative and they did go to the Island, but then they left. But why? And I guess Ben never got shot by Sayid? Oh, and here's Alex at the door. An Alex who isn't his daughter, but it his prize pupil. In the course of some extra tutoring, she reveals that the principal is giving the old hot lunch to the nurse, which sets Ben's wheels to turning.
Back on the Island, Hurley and Jack are on their way back to the Temple (although Hurley is trying to trick Jack into taking the long way), when Richard just pops right out of the jungle, and takes them in a third direction. They end up at the Black Rock, where Richard has decided that it's time to die. Jacob gave him immortality in exchange for service (and you said Lost never answers things!), but with Jacob dead and Richard never having been clued in to his grand plan, he's feeling a little emo (which finally explains the guyliner!) and wants Jack to help blow himself up. Jack agrees, but sits down right across from Richard after lighting the fuse, certain that based on the events of The Lighthouse, that Jack won't die. Wow, Jack went from unbeliever to full on drinking the Kool-Aid quickly, didn't he? Well, guess there's not much time to dally now. The fuse fizzles, and Jack's newfound mystical hubris can't be a good thing. Or can it?
Back in the "present", Ben enlists some help in hacking the principals email files, then confronts him with the evidence and his offer: Resign and recommend Ben for the top job, or have his career and marriage destroyed. However, nobody fucks with William Atherton, and he counter-blackmails Ben: He can have his job, but the last thing he does will be to destroy Alex's chances of getting into Yale. Ahh, so now we're coming around full circle: Ben has the chance to save Alex, which he wasn't able to do back on the Island.
And back on the Island, Not-Locke has shown up to offer Ben a chance to escape grave-digging duty and join Locke's Army at the Hydra station. Locke makes a break for it, gets the drop on Ilana, but can't shoot her. Instead, he bares his soul, explaining why he killed Jacob, and lamenting his own failure to save Alex when he had the chance. This is where the episode really grabbed me, as Linus has always been the man who manipulates and conspires in order to fulfill the destiny that he is sure he has: of power, leadership, and respect. All he ever needed to be, however, was a father. His own father tried and failed, and Ben followed in those footsteps. That rage, coupled with a nudge or two from Not-Locke, destroyed his life. In the obvious parallel, Locke's gentle nudge sets up another situation where Ben has the chance to put aside his personal goals in order to save Alex. And, after a quick headfake, we see that without the Island (well, without the current Island), he is able to make the right choice, saving Alex's future. Sacrifice. It is a theme, my friends.
So back on the Island, Ilana tells Ben that she'll have him (after Ben tells her that he's going to Locke because no one else would have him). Seriously, if you haven't seen it, watch the scene (or watch it again). It's a remarkable act of kindness towards a man who has seen so little of it. Ben and Ilana come back to camp just in time for Hurley, Jack, and Richard to show up. The love theme from Lost plays as we have a happy reunion, and it just about destroys me watching Ben's body language as he stands there, alone, as everybody else renews the bonds that they've made. Even if you'd never seen an episode, that scene right there just encapsulates Benjamin Linus. As the hugs and handshakes commence on the beach, a periscope breaches the water. For a moment, I thought Locke had already bailed, but it turns out to be...Widmore. WHOOOOOO!!! Can't wait for next week. Suck it, haters!
Castle: Nice to have an episode that just seemed like an excuse for some witty banter, with the actual crime somewhat on the back burner. Not that it wasn't a bad episode in that respect, we get the usual twists and turns, and some nice subtle things set up in the beginning that set up the end reveal well. The ability to make endless gags about the whole bondage scene though, that was where the episode earned the money. I have the feeling that this show could take the same characters, make them any profession, and still turn out winning episodes. The ensemble is just that much fun. Alexis' cheerleader subplot was harmless enough, and it was just a fun hour of television, so I'll leave it at that and just say "check it out if you haven't already".
How I Met Your Mother: Now this was an episode with layers. It starts out with Barney and this week's Special Guest Star: Jennifer Lopez. Barney wants her taco flavored kisses, but she's playing incredibly hard to get (while Barney is just incredibly hard: Up top!). Turns out, she wrote a book on playing hard to get, AND it turns out that Robin set her on Barney to get back at him for how cavalier he's been about their breakup. What looked like a light fluffy guest start showcase turned into a fairly deep episode about Robin and how badly she took the breakup. There were still laughs though, especially Marshall's "bangity bang bang" song regarding Barney's post-breakup conquests (even better was Ted coming in for a verse, followed by Barney playing the spoons). Ted's eerie "Superdate" song just came out of nowhere, but the Superdate sets up the finale, Barney promising not to nail J-Lo as way of making it up to Robin, then sending her on the Superdate with Don. The breakup of Brobin was very abrupt, and if this is what the writers had in mind all along for the post-Brobin episodes, then kudos to them. This show continues to chart new sitcom ground.