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Lost’s Michael Emerson on the New, Humbled Ben and Whether He’ll Make It to the End Alive

Every Tuesday throughout Lost's final season, we'll be talking to a different cast member, asking him or her to reflect on the previous week's twisty episode, and to set us up for the upcoming installment. In the spirit of classic-rock radio, today is a twofer Tuesday: We've already talked to Jorge "Hurley" Garcia, and now we're checking in with Michael Emerson, who talked about the new humbled Ben, whether he thinks he'll make it to the finale alive, and how he'd like it all to end.

The premiere made it seem like Ben is going to be less of the evil manipulator we’ve come to know and love. Will he remain powerless throughout the season?
I hope the fans continue to love Ben, even though he’s in a state of cringing vulnerability. I can only assume the wheels are still turning and he’s looking for an opening so that he can reassert his authority. In the meantime, he’s going to have some, uh, some very interesting adventures. [Laughs knowingly.]

It seems like it’s the first time he doesn’t know exactly what’s going on.
Very often in the course of the series, it turned out that Ben knew more than he let on about the way things work. But it sure does seem to me that this has taken him off guard. This entity that looks like John Locke, that requires some study and some thought on his part.

Is it any less fun playing powerless Ben?
No. The fun of playing Ben was not necessarily this power he wielded. Whether he’s on top or not, Ben still has a good verbal edge to him and there’s still plenty of room for his sardonic sense of humor.

Do you think he will be redeemed in some way?
You always want there to be resolutions. And yet Benjamin Linus has always been a constant. Maybe the most satisfying thing is for him to walk off into the sunset without resolution. I hope that my character survives until at least close to the end, but already we have casualties. I guess it’s inevitable that we’re gonna lose personnel as we get close to the finish line.

What would you say to those fans who are concerned that there’s too much complication being introduced this late in the series?
It would be kind of a dull season if the whole thing were dénouement, if all we were doing was watching the dust settle. It’s better that we rise to our conclusion rather than descend to it.

Did the premiere sufficiently make the audience aware of the real stakes at play in this story?
It was more successful than I expected it to be, to tell you the truth. I was thrilled at how much sense they made of it and how clearly they illustrated these parallel timelines. It’s going to get really tasty, the opportunities it presents for comparison and drama.

Comparison to prior seasons?
We are going to have the pleasure of comparing realities, some that we’re already familiar with, some that look like them but aren’t quite them, and some that are much different. We will be integrating a really complicated narrative puzzle as we go, trying to stitch it together. And bit by bit, big chunks of the puzzle are going to fall into place. We’ve shot some stuff already that is — ha! — so great.

Will fans get the answers they’re seeking?
Lost will end in a way appropriate to Lost. That may not be to everyone’s taste, and some may say that they needed more or they deserved more. Some stuff is going to be left open-ended. But the big things, I think, are important to me and many viewers, I think will get answered. What is the island really? What is this great battle or contest that seems to have been going on since before history? I think we’ll know that.

What’s the burning question you need an answer to before the show ends?
I would like to know if what we’ve been looking at for six years was reality. Are we seeing what we think we’re seeing? Or is it something else?

What if we find out it’s definitely not what we thought it was?
I’ve often thought the coolest ending to the show would be one where we stood up out of our Barcaloungers and said, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s what it was all this time?’ and makes us go back and start watching the series over again with new eyes, if that’s possible. Hopefully, it challenges people’s notions of how they understand reality. I think that’s a pretty high agenda for a TV show.

Are you ready to move on from Lost?
I’ll miss Hawaii and the friends I’ve made here, and this story line. This whole experience has been unique in my career. But I’m ready. I would like to resume the mainland life that I left four years ago and pick up where I left off.

Do you think Lost will win lots of awards after this final season?
I hope so. I think that Lost has been undervalued. I would hope that when it is over, people will feel its absence and maybe prize it a little more highly. I would like to see the show and its cast receive some of those honors. I think it has been handsomely earned in the jungles of Oahu.

As someone who is involved in the show, would it dishearten you to see the Lost brand turned into other products?
I suppose that’s inevitable somewhere down the line. What will they turn it into?

It would make a great theme-park ride.
I’d like to see that. What I want to know is, if you were on the original series, do you get to ride for free?

Photo: Patrick McMullan