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Lost Recap: Vice Principal

I love Ben episodes.

I adore Michael Emerson.

And while I've been like the Lorax all season -- speaking for the Haters, if not the trees -- I enjoyed this episode so much I couldn't even obsess about the still-looming issue that the show has become a chess game between two coy, superpowered smirkers.

Besides, Ben's relationship with Alex has long been one of the show's most poignant elements. Watching his quiet satisfaction as she bounced toward her future was way more touching, for me, than Jack's detente with his son or Locke's with his own limits. And while the redemptive tangle of the two timelines offered numerous thumping ironies, there was ambiguity, in part because Emerson is such a terrific performer. Ben perked up at Smokey's offer. It wasn't very long ago that he killed Locke. Things could go either way.

The Richard/Jack scene didn't do as much for me, but then, I have Jack issues. I admit that and I will try to submit myself to a higher power. Not Jacob though. He's shady.

And on to the recap!

After the Temple massacre, Ben encounters the fleeing Losties: Ilana, Frank, Sun, and Miles. He dishes about Sayid having murdered Dogen: "He was standing over his dead body with a bloody dagger, so yes, I'm pretty sure."

Flash sideways. Nerd Ben is in the classroom, lecturing about Napoleon's powerless exile. To which he can relate, particularly when the soul-dead principal cancels his beloved History club and calls him Mr. Linus. "It's Dr. Linus, actually."

In the teacher's lounge, Arzt gripes over budget cuts. But even in this burned-out shell of a school, Ben still cares about the kids, dammit. Substitute teacher Locke chimes in with an appealing idea: maybe Ben should be the principal! Hey, he'd follow Ben. Heh.

Back on the Island, Ben has mysteriously lost his ability to lie. A suspicious Ilana hands her sack of Jacob Dust to Miles, who does blinky hoodoo and announces Ben's the killer. "He was standing over Jacob's body with a bloody dagger, so yes, I'm pretty sure."

Ilana calls Jacob the closest thing she had to a father. "Uh oh," says Miles.

LOST LOGO, SO DELIGHTFULLY ASKEW.

Ben snivels his way to the beach, where Ilana assigns jobs, Jack-style. "Yeah, a fire will fix everything," snarks Miles, the new Sawyer. I don't get why formerly decisive International Jacobite in Thigh Boots Ilana doesn't just shoot Ben and skip the poetic justice, but let's grade on a curve, since I want him alive.

In BeCarefulWhatYouWishFor, Ben microwaves organic grub for his sick dad. Ben has a doctorate, yet he's overseeing detention for ingrates -- is he a loser? Ben's dad, kinder and gentler in this timeline, wanted more for him. Imagine how different things would have been had they stayed on Dharma! Who knows what Ben might have become?The irony overload would kill us in a blast of electromagnetism if the scene weren't done so skillfully.

And how sad and sweet: Alex is at the door, but now, she's his student. "God, you're the best, Dr. Linus."

On the island, Ilana reveals to Sun that she is also looking for Jin. Because one Kwon is a Candidate. To replace Jacob. They exposit a bit. There are six left. This is worse than the electoral college.

Cheese curds, mutters Hurley. Jack wakes him, eager to rush to the Temple. But Hurley lallygags, and then Richard appears, urging them on. "At least he's not stalling," says Jack. (I only know this from the captions: I heard "Stalin," which was strangely exciting.)

On the beach, Ben's riffling through plane detritus: porn, Chaim Potok's The Chosen (the origin story for Jacob and Smokey?), and Oceanic bottled water. He remembers the plane breaking in half like it was yesterday! Frank says he missed that flight. The island still got him in the end, says Ben, smirking, only to get a gun in his neck.

It's Ilana, who shackles him to a tree. "Start digging," she says. His own grave, that is.

In ThisWouldBePreferable, Ben tutors Alex. She's freaking over college. "You're one of the brightest students I've ever had," he reassures her. "I don't worry about your future at all." He offers to write a letter, but she needs a Yalie, like "that pervert Principal Reynolds." No, she's not being molested. She caught the nurse and the principal doin' it.

Ben digs; Ilana guards. Miles brings green beans, but rejects Ben's bribes: he's sensed Nikki and Paolo's graves, coated with diamonds. And he puts the icing on the cake of Ben's guilt, telling him that until the knife went in, Jacob hoped he was wrong about Ben. I make omm sounds to calm myself at the amount of passive-aggressive Christliness I am likely to encounter before the season is out.

Dig! growls Ilana.

Hurley consults Richard on the audience's behalf: no, he's not a time-traveler, cyborg, or vampire. When Jacob touched him, he gave him "a gift." And while we're explaining things that we might have explained earlier, he isn't bringing them to the Temple, either, since everyone there is dead. Jack's shaken. Hurley admits Jacob had hinted as much. "Jacob talked to you?" says Richard, with a severe case of crazy eyes. "Whatever he said, don't believe him." He huffs. He has something to do: DIE.

In TheTimelineofMysteriousOrigin, Arzt merrily flunks students. Ben requests a geek favor: Could Arzt hack the principal's email? Sure, for better parking -- and lab equipment. Deal! "You had me fooled with that sweater vest. Linus, you're a real killer."

Aaaand ... back to Ben digging grave.

Then over to Richard, in the Black Rock. Fondling chains. "Been here before?" asks Jack. Yep, and this is the first time he's returned. Ah, dynamite. Perfect for assisted suicide.

Because Jacob's gift of eternal life is in fact a curse! And Richard's devoted his life to a man who said he had a plan -- and now that man's gone. He has no purpose! (I bet you could make a great "I have no purpose" montage of characters from this show.)

Jack lights the stick.

Now, says Jack as the wick burns, let's talk.

Hurley flees: "If you need me, I'll be, like, a mile away." But Jack's gone all Locke Season 1: that darned mirror convinced him he had a destiny. "What if you're wrong?" says Richard. "I'm not," says Jack. The wick goes out. Richard pants. Jack grins. This was exciting, but it also drove me crazy, for a variety of reasons I'll delineate below.

All right Jack, you seem to have all the answers, now what? says Richard. Go back to where we started, says Jack.

At the beach, there's wikki-wikki-wikki music and Smocke appears. Ben gripes that he's the guy who got him into this fine mess, but when Smokey dangles power, Ben's intrigued, conflicted. Make a break for it, says Smocke. "Don't hesitate. She won't."

In RedemptionInASweatervest, Ben confronts the principal with the emails of desire. "What do you want?" "Your job." Ben insists the principal resign and recommend Ben.

The principal counters: if Ben wrecks his career, he'll torch that college recommendation. It's deja vu all over again: Ben needs to choose power or Alex's future.

Ilana chases Ben, but he holds her at gunpoint to deliver an aria of remorse. He watched Alex die. He chose the island, in Jacob's name. He sacrificed everything and Jacob didn't even care. So yeah, he stabbed him. Ben was so angry and confused; he thought he'd lost his power -- but the thing that really mattered was already gone.

He apologizes. He can never forgive himself. He asks her to let him leave.

He'll go to Locke, he admits. Because Smokey's the only one who will have him.

She says she'll have him, turns her back, walks away. He follows.

In IfWishesWereBuses, Alex glows with delight -- she got her letter. Ben does manage to guilt the principal into reviving the History Club, but he loses his master plan and his parking spot, all to watch Alex walk toward her sparkling potential.

In FamousRaysOriginalTimeline, Ben returns to camp. "Do you need a hand?" he asks Sun. Elegiac music plays as Frank lights a fire, Miles gazes at diamonds, Ilana grieves, and Jack, Hurley and Richard return for a grand Season-1-ish slo-mo beach reunion.

This alliance is totally gonna win Survivor.

Ben stands to the side. And out in the Ocean, a periscope rises, as something weird slouches toward Lostieland. Of course, it's Widmore.

What We Know Now
• Richard can't kill himself.
• He came to the island in chains, on the Black Rock.
• Ilana has a serious inability to hold a grudge.

The Wha? Factor
• The living candidates are Hurley, Jack, Sawyer, Sayid, and one of the Kwons. Plus, who else? Desmond? (Kate, saith the commenters!)
• Yes, yes, Jack. Jacob has been watching from the start. That just makes him just a supernatural stalker! You've jumped time before, seen the dead walk, made innumerable destiny-based errors in judgment. Where's all this fanatical faith coming from all of a sudden? It wasn't that cool a mirror.
• Ben committed genocide. He killed his dad. Just two episodes ago, he gave a dryly funny confessional eulogy over Locke's corpse. Now he's sweating like Nixon. Is it just wishful thinking that I hope his grave-digging remorse is a masterful layer in his plan to be Island Principal? Also: where's Annie?

Photo: Mario Perez/ABC