Last night's episode was the first of this season to not focus on one of the passengers of Oceanic 815. "Dr. Linus" showed us the life of Ben as a teacher, and, alternately, learning a lesson back on the Island.
As he's heating up dinner for his dad—who, in this timeline, is not an abusive asshole—Ben peers at himself in the microwave, which, again, plays on this season's themes of mirrors in the sideways story, and reflection in the original timeline.
Things are different—and better—for Ben in the sideways world. He's much more caring, as demonstrated by his dedication to his students as well as to his father's health and well being. It's funny that in this timeline, he keeps his father alive with gas tanks, rather than killing him with one.
But still, even though Ben's not being physically beaten in the sideways story, he's still somewhat beaten up by life. He has a doctorate but is "babysitting burnouts" in detention, consigned there by his boss, Principal Reynolds, whom Ben feels isn't qualified or deserving of his position of power at the high school. It would be fair to say that Ben's feelings of inferiority have caused him to have somewhat of a Napoleon complex. It's no coincidence that in the opening scenes last night, he was teaching his class about the French Emperor.
The 19th century played a big part in last night's episode, which I think was a foreshadowing of a Richard Alpert history lesson that we can expect in a future episode. (Richard came to the Island via the Black Rock, which set sail in 1845.) But more on that in a bit. Let's get back to Napoleon, who was exiled to the island of Elba in 1813. As Ben said in his class, "It was on this island that everything changed, that everything finally became clear. Elba is where Napoleon faced his greatest test."
Hopping over to the original timeline, the Island is where everything changed for Ben, where everything finally became clear, where he faced his greatest test.
Ilana has Miles communicate with Jacob's ashes and learns that he was murdered by Ben. Wounded, she tells Ben that Jacob was "the closest thing I ever had to a father." So what does that mean? Why didn't Ilana have a real father? How did she come to be under Jacob's wing? And if she was so close to him, why wasn't she a candidate? More questions, per usual.
Anyway, once the gang reaches the beach camp, Ilana tethers Ben to a tree and forces him to (literally) dig his own grave. Miles approaches Ben and offers him food.
Ben tries to tempt Miles into setting him free by offering him $3.2 million, an offer which Miles turns down, because he's standing next to the graves of Nikki and Paulo and—upon communicating with their dead bodies—realizes that there are $8 million worth of diamonds buried with them. Incredulous, Ben says that he can't believe that Miles is just going to stand by and let Ilana murder him for killing Jacob, "a man who didn't even care about being killed." Miles pauses and let's Ben know that Jacob did care. "Right up until the second the knife went through his heart, he was hoping he was wrong about you." So was the choice to kill Jacob Ben's greatest test? No. This was:
As he's digging his grave, Ben is approached by Mocke, who offers him to be "in charge" of the Island, presumably as a Smokey replacement. As sideways Ben said about Napoleon, "What was truly devastating to him was the loss of his power." Regaining power is something that Ben really, really wants. So after UnLocke unlocks Ben's tether, he takes him up on the offer, and runs off into the jungle toward the gun that has been left for him.
Side note: Why does Mocke and his group need to go to the Hydra Station—on the smaller Island—in order to leave? What's there for them?
Theory: It might have something to do with evil. One of the definitions of "hydra" is "any persistent or ever-increasing evil with many sources and causes." Also, in Greek mythology, the Lernaean Hydra is a nameless (MIB!) serpent-like beast with a bunch of heads who was the guardian for the Underworld. (The hieroglyphs that appeared at the end of the countdown in the Hatch translate to "Underworld.") Additionally, "Hydra" is a genus of a freshwater invertebrate that's biologically immortal. The latter two associations of the word seem to be present on the station's symbol.
You know who was also talking about "genus"? Arzt. And a water-dwelling, serpent-like creature being somewhat corked by a light source (Jacob?) was pictured on this test he was grading.
OK, so anyway, Ben runs into the jungle and instead of killing Ilana, he decides to explain himself to her. Free will! Yes, he's dug his grave, but he didn't lie in it. He didn't lie at all. In a very un-Ben way, he told Ilana the truth about why he killed Jacob, and about how he's sorry for it.
He tells her that he wants to go join up with Mocke, because "he's the only one who'll have me." But Ilana says that she'll have him. She knows—perhaps from something in her past that we've yet to learn about—that forgiveness is a necessary part of redemption. Because without forgiveness, if people are only willing to see the bad in a person, then it is far less likely that the person will ever change for the better. Being forgiven has seemed to change Ben. He decides to stay with Ilana. He decides to be a good person. He has finally proved Jacob wrong. He faced his greatest test—temptation of power from Mocke—and he passed.
Additionally, in the sideways story, Ben attempts to blackmail Principal Reynolds into stepping down from his position, allowing Ben to become the new principal. However, Reynolds—who was asked by Alex to write a letter of recommendation for her to Yale—hold's Alex's future in his hands. Ben is forced, once again, to make the choice between Alex and power. He chooses Alex, and is much happier for it.
Side note: Are confederate flags "cool" with teens today?
"Justice is truth in action." - Benjamin Disraeli
One of the books Ben picked up in Sawyer's old tent pictured Benjamin Disraeli, the only Jewish Prime Minister in England's history. Dr. Linus and Alex were studying him in the library. Serving in the 19th century, he was known to put Britain's interests above the "moral law." Something that Ben Linus used to do when he was in control of the Island. But not anymore.
Another book he found was The Chosen, a novel by Chaim Potok.
It has major daddy issues (just like all he Losties), and relies heavily on themes of strength and validity of faith in a modern secular world. And speaking of faith…
Jack is no longer a doubting Thomas.
So now we know that if Jacob "touches" someone, they are unable to kill themselves. This actually disproves my theory about the show ending with a mass suicide. However, I still believe that Mocke is leading his group to do just that. Also, now we kind of know why Michael was unable to kill himself a few seasons back. We also know that Richard definitely came to the Island via the Black Rock. It's interesting that he—like Kate, and later Sayid—was brought to the Island in handcuffs.
Richard accompanies Jack and Hurley to the beach camp, where old pals are reunited.
It's unclear at this point whether Richard's faith in Jacob has been restored by Jack. But we shall see. At the end of the episode, we saw a periscope popping up out of the water, observing this happy reunion.
Was he the man whom Jacob was trying to get Hurley to help find the Island? And when he finally arrives, whose side will he be on? My guess—based solely on the whole water/hydra/underworld/sub thing—is that he will go with Mocke, if only because Ben is not on Mocke's team.
Lastly, here's another big mystery of the show:
Mario Van Peebles?