A mediocre Kate episode is followed up by a doozy of a Ben episode. Time to run it back.
Episode: "Dead is Dead"
The Happenings: The episode started slowly, and eased into the flow by cutting back and forth between the overall backstory of Ben and the Island, and Ben and Locke's present day tribulations. Right off the top, we meet the mysterious Charles that Richard mentioned last episode, and it turns out to indeed be Charles Widmore. He is established as the leader of the Island natives, while Ben, after being rescued, becomes one of his underlings. Skipping ahead we see that relationship change, as Ben assumes a leadership position, most likely after helping to destroy the Dharma initiative, though it's unclear. What is clear, is that Widmore's banishment from the Island was because of his carrying on an off-Island relationship, one that we know produced Penelope. This gives us what appears to be the majority of the Widmore-Ben rivalry backstory. Ben was an upstart who replaced Widmore as a leader, and even banished the latter from the Island.
This illumination of the past is interspersed with Ben and Locke's actions in the present. Near the Ajira crash site Ben reveals that he was trying to get to the main island so that he might confront the smoke monster about his behavior, specifically for leaving the Island. Locke agrees to help him. After a brief feint, where Ben seems to set Locke up for disaster with the hot-headed Cesar, the action doubles back as Ben kills Cesar to help he and Locke escape to the main Island. There they meet up with Sun and Lapidis. The latter leaves, returning to the plane, but Sun stays with Locke and Ben and the three of them set off to confront the smoke monster, which Ben tells Locke he actually believes will judge him for allowing his daughter to die. Arriving at or near the same place where Ben was healed as a child, he and Locke descend into a cavern. After Ben falls down a hole, he finds a room covered with hieroglyphs, and from a grating in the floor, the smoker monster surrounds him. It shows him several scenes from his life with Alex, eventually drawing itself away. Just as he thinks he is safe, Ben is confronted by Alex. After a brief confrontation she does allow him to leave. Locke lowers a root and helps him to escape.
The Craziness: Widmore had actually sent Ben to kill Rousseau, but when he arrives to find the baby Alex, he kidnaps her instead and leaves Rousseau alive, but distraught.
Locke can now navigate the Island pretty well, as evidenced by his finding of the cave on his first try.
The woman from the Ajira flight who had captured Sayid found a bunch of guns and took control of the remaining Ajira survivors. When confronted by Lapidis, she asked him a cryptic question: "what lies in the shadow of the statue?" She then knocked him out, and said something about something beginning. Yeah, it made about as much sense at the time.
Ben's missing time before the Ajira flight is revealed to have been spent attempting to kill Penelope. Instead, he shoots Desmond, and then is unable to kill Penny after seeing her son. Desmond beats the piss out of him, which explains Ben's wounds when he shows for the plane.
While being judged, Alex's tells Ben that she (the smoke monster, the Island, Jacob, something) knows that he's planning on killing Locke again. She demands that he cease, and instead says he must follow Locke or she'll personally hunt him down and destroy him.
The Verdict: After a real half-assed episode it was refreshing to get back to some high quality "Lost," that of course being exciting, revelatory, and bewildering all at the same time. This episode spun a number of Ben assumptions on their head, and spit us out a place where we may know slightly more than we did going in, but not by much. The biggest reveals had to do with the Widmore backstory, and in that regard we have some clarity where there previously wasn't any before. But what was revealed felt a little anti-climactic, particularly in light of the virulent hate that Widmore has expressed for Ben. It does help explain why Eloise, presumably another former other, who has now been banished would be friendly with Charles, but also help Ben at the same time. In any event, this episode helped carry us a good deal closer to what could be a pretty hectic climax in three episodes' time, and for doing that with some panache, I'd call it a win.
The Wild Speculation: There were more answers than questions raised here, but there was one gigantic opening that could dramatically change the course of events. That, of course, was the Ajira survivors' finding of the guns, and the woman (Ilana appears to be her name) who will be there leader. Her query of Lapidis, "What lies in the shadow of the statue?" seems to point to the bizarre statue that has puzzled "Lost" fans since season 2. If that is true, then we're looking at an entirely new group of people who will be battling for or against the Island. A couple things point to this being a real possibility: 1. Ilana's backstory is pretty sketchy. She captured Sayid for some family who's father/son/brother/etc. he killed. That's entirely plausible, but we have no reason to believe her. 2. That case of guns they seemed to be working on was pretty conveniently located, meaning that this was more than likely a planned job. And 3. the fact that she had a question to ask indicates that there were insiders to her plan that she may not have been aware of. That reeks of conspiracy, particularly where she's not the main player. My wild theory is that Widmore found out how Ben was planning on getting back to the Island, and while he knew that he himself could not go for fear of raising alarm, he could send a covert team by spreading them throughout the plane and making them strangers even to each other. Ben, by killing Cesar, may even have tipped his hand that he knew something like this was going on or could conceivably have been going on.
One final thing before I stop rambling. A couple of weeks back (maybe episode 5.7, "Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham") I said I was ready to make the call that Widmore was good, or at least less evil, and Ben was evil through and through. That appears to need some revision now. I'm moving them both into the evil category. It could be though that as Richard told Sawyer and Kate would happen, the Island changed both of them, creating a need that can't be filled other than by living on it and interacting with it. Kind of vague I realize, but it's really the only good explanation. They both claim to want the best for the Island, and know what's best, but that best often includes tons of killing and evil doing. It also appears to make them both want to keep the Island all for themselves. Ben has had the fear of god put into about knocking that kind of behavior off. We'll see if it sticks.