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Why are the ‘Lost’ bad guys so dumb?

The Others have always been several steps ahead of the former passengers of Oceanic Flight 815. That changed in the fall finale for the usual TV reason: Bad guys are dumb.
/ Source: contributor

Throughout the history of “Lost,” the Others have always been several steps ahead of the former passengers of Oceanic Flight 815. That changed in the fall finale for the usual TV reason: Bad guys are dumb.

It’s hard to believe that a group smart enough to have Locke, Sayid and company running around in circles for more than two seasons would give one of the castaways access to their leader, anesthesia, medical instruments, and their secret plans to kill a fellow passenger, even if that person does happen to be a noted surgeon specializing in spinal surgery who has just seen footage of the woman he has the hots for in a compromising position with his rival.

But that’s what The Others did, which means Ben’s fate is uncertain until the show comes back in February. It serves him and the rest of the others right. Even the bad guys in James Bond movies tend to be more secure with their resources.

The “Lost” writing and production team has a delicate balance to maintain among its nine million characters. Some viewers love it when the show adds more layers to the mysteries of the island. Some want the mysteries solved already in favor of a more traditional adventure tale.

Unfortunately, these days many are turning to “Criminal Minds” or whatever’s on cable instead, which meant that this “Lost” episode had to create enough buzz that people would care enough to come back in February. The solution was to end on a cliffhanger, but it hardly falls into the “who shot J.R.?” pantheon of exciting finishes.

Jack’s ploy of holding Ben’s life hostage on the operating table seems likely to secure Kate an hour’s head start on her escape. Though it’s not explicitly stated, previews for the next episode indicate that Sawyer escapes his near-execution and joins her. Perhaps Kate can use the time to make him some tacos, as she did in her brief stint as a suburban housewife, as detailed in the episode’s flashback.

There’s nothing new about that plot twist, but then there’s nothing new about Jack either. On the island, Jack has been the most predictable of the main characters. Regardless of the stalker tendencies that have shown up in flashbacks, since the plane crash he’s been the closest the show has had to a comic-book hero. He looks out for the rest of the passengers, he sacrifices his own needs to help those around him … he’s a regular goody two-shoes, albeit one who just threatened to kill Juliet with a broken plate.

That’s fine, if a bit boring. Not everyone can be as mysterious as Locke or the dearly departed Eko, or the show trends too far into mysticism and fantasy. The contrast between the two protagonists is clear. Locke wants to learn the secrets of the island. Jack wants to get the heck off — but not without rescuing everyone else. Focusing on both leaves everyone at least a little bit happy.

The Others slip up?Of course, the fact that Jack’s actions are so predictable makes it unlikely that the Others would place so much trust in him. It’s a plot convenience that doesn’t seem to fit with their psychological acumen thus far.

The Others seem to know everything about every one of the castaways; we’ve already seen that their dossier on Jack is a thick binder that includes both his father’s autopsy and the whereabouts of his ex-wife. Ben is explicitly aware that asking Jack to perform surgery on him doesn’t guarantee he’ll get the best medical care possible; in fact, last week he told Jack that the goal was to get him to want to perform the surgery. Unfortunately, the convenience of a fast-growing tumor makes that impossible.

Working in Ben’s favor is the fact that Jack’s options don’t seem all that great. He can operate, and trust that Ben has both the means and the desire to get him off the island.  Of course, Jack’s also presumably aware that Ben can actually get off the island that easily, he’d probably have booked passage to somewhere with an actual hospital, rather than relying on a prisoner who may not be all that enthused about keeping his patient alive. He also knows that Ben’s word isn’t exactly his bond.

Or Jack can follow Juliet’s counsel and leave Ben to die on the table, trusting that she told the truth last week when she indicated people wanted him dead. That might sound great, except that it would mean Jack would be two-for-two on the fatality meter while operating on the Others on the island. Odds are pretty small that he’d make it out of there under those circumstances, particularly since Pickett already seems poised to shoot everyone who gets in his way in response to his wife’s death earlier in the season.

Neither of those options benefits Jack. It’s understandable that he would try and find a way out that at least could help some of his friends, even if he had to sacrifice himself. That thought doesn’t seem to have occurred to the others. Perhaps the island video store doesn’t have any good spy movies.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.