Good vs. Evil – Ben Linus


Last week I wrote about Charles Widmore, discussing wheat we know about him so far and whether he’s good or evil.  This week I want to talk about his nemesis, Benjamin Linus.  I really suggest you check out Widmore’s page, it’s quite relevant to what I’m talking about today.

I’m going to go through Ben’s actions, as we’ve seen them, and judge him based on what we know.  There’s still a lot that we don’t know about the character but I think we have enough to make an informed decision.

320-ben-young-01The Dharma Years

If Ben does turn out to be evil then it could easily be blamed on his awful upbringing by his terrible father.  From what we’ve seen of Ben’s childhood he was an ordinary boy thrown into a rough life.  His mother died when he was born.  His father blamed him for his mothers death and  neglected him after that.  His father drank a lot and ignored the boy.  Ben appears to have had two possible substitute father figures, Horace Good speed and Richard Alpert.  Unfortunately he eventually had to choose between the two.  He chose Alpert and survived the Purge.

320-ben-dad-01The Purge is a contentious issue between Lost fans.  We still don’t know who to blame.  We don’t have all the facts yet about it so we shouldn’t be quick to point fingers at Ben or Richard.  What we do know is that Ben let it happen, it doesn’t look like he warned any of the Dharma folk about the incoming wave of poison. That doesn’t reflect well on his character.

Then there’s the scene in the Dharma van.  Ben killed his father deliberately and in cold blood.  It’s almost as though he wanted to see it happen.  Strike two.

Surviving the Purge might have just been Ben using his skills of self-preservation.  We can’t condemn him for surviving, but going out and killing his father separately was way past self-preservation.


The Others

As the leader of The Others Ben had a lot of power.  The Others unquestioningly obeyed his orders.  You could say that all that they did was his responsibility.  So how did The Others act?  They’ve been involved in a few acts that were less than moral.

They tend to steal children.  So far the count is at four and a half; Alex, Walt, Zach & Emma (the Tailie kids) and Aaron (it wasn’t a real kidnapping).  The Others say it’s for the best, but it really could have been handled better.

As for the other actions of The Others, well they did kill people, but I tend to agree with what Tom told Jack way back in season 3, the Oceanic survivors killed Others more easily than they’d like to admit.  So The Others aren’t uniquely violent.  But on the other hand Ben has called for the deaths of our survivors and rarely even blinked when they died.

In the end Ben is responsible for leading a group of violent people, he is responsible for the deaths he ordered and although you can be sure they he’d be able to escape that guilt it’s still there.



There have been a few times when Ben’s evil really came through his facade of weakness.  The two times that I’m thinking of are when he shot Locke, then when he shot Charlotte, when he killed Keamy, and finally when he killed Locke.  The last one might have been the most innocent of them all.  The fact that he can talk his way out of punishment for these acts is mostly because all those times the innocent party survived.  When he shot Locke and Charlotte they both survived, so it was just attempted murder.  When he killed Keamy he blew up the Freighter, but the only person who cared about that was Sun because Jin supposedly died there, but he didn’t so it was OK.  And now he’s killed Locke but in the end Locke was resurrected and possibly better than ever, so in the end it’s OK.  The fact that he’s not very successful in his murderous ways doesn’t change the fact that he’d murder all of those people at the drop of a hat.

409-ben-03Ben’s Motto

I think Ben has one theme to all of his actions, it makes for a strong argument and is great for when he’s manipulating desperate people.  The motto is, The End Justifies the Means.  If you actually believe that then you might very well think that Ben is a good guy.  But I don’t think that in a discussion of whether Ben is good or evil that kind of moral justification should be tolerated.

I think what we should focus on is Ben’s “End”.  What is Ben’s goal?  In season 2 & the beginning of 3 it seemed to be surviving cancer.  In the second half of season 3 it seemed to be disposing of Locke.  In season 4 it was surviving.  Off the island, in season 4 and 5, it was revenge for Alex’s death.  And for most of season 5 it has been getting back to the island.  These aren’t noble goals, so unless Ben has some other very subtle goals then it’s time to admit that he’s evil.

320-ben-annie-01(Note: The two redeeming parts of the Ben’s character are actually not at all to do with the character.  They are the two women who loved him, Alex and Annie.  For unknown reasons these two characters seemed to love him despite all of his evil.  Unfortunately we don’t quite see what they see, maybe someday we will understand their point of view, but until then we can just like them separately from Ben.)

In my opinion Ben is completely evil, he’s a great talker and at times he is useful, but in the end his evil is quite obvious.  Ironically I really like the character.  Without Ben the stories would be insanely dull.  So I don’t really want him to die, I just want him to continue to fail when he tries to murder my favorite characters, (I’m looking at you Penny).

What do you think?

– izi

25 Responses to “Good vs. Evil – Ben Linus”

  1. March 11, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    While I totally think Ben is evil, I still like him. He’s one of my favorite characters, I think because he’s just so cold and abrupt.

  2. 2 Anon
    March 12, 2009 at 12:45 am

    He’s good.

    They don’t give TWO love interests (Annie and Juliet), mommy issues, daughter issues and a scene like the dinner date with Juliet to characters we’re undeniably supposed to see as evil.

    Widmore will NEVER get any scenes like those. Widmore barely has to justify his reasoning behind the crap he’s done yet people believe him in an instant.

    Remember pretty much every character on the show has started one way and ended up another. Ben started evil, he will end up good.

  3. 3 Rosie
    March 16, 2009 at 11:41 am

    I don’t think that Ben is no more or less evil than Charles Widmore or most of the other characters. I can imagine characters like Jack, Sayid, Sawyer or Kate confronting Ben about his crimes and he could easily do the same to him.

  4. 4 Rosie
    March 16, 2009 at 11:42 am

    But then . . . it is easier, is it not, to paint someone as completely good or evil, instead of recognizing both aspects in every person.

  5. March 16, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    @ Anon
    I think it would be great to see the character redeamed but I still don’t believe that anythings that he’s done for the last four seasons has been morally good. It would be great if they turned that chracter around and made him a hero, or maybe an anti-hero. I actually hope they do.
    @ Rosie
    Don’t worry Rosie, you make sure that nothing’s ever easy.
    – izi

  6. 6 Rosie
    March 24, 2009 at 10:28 am

    “Don’t worry Rosie, you make sure that nothing’s ever easy.”


    Life is rarely easy. And fiction is a reflection of that .

  7. March 26, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Ben is evil. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s in Ben’s nature to be evil. He cannot help it. He told Sayid the same thing last night.

  8. 8 addicted
    April 2, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    I have high hopes that Lost will be of a higher caliber than most shows, and there is no “good” or “evil”. Instead, folks have certain objectives, belief systems, and time-frames (long term / short term benefit) in which they operate, which force them to make decisions in difficult situations, which may look evil (or good) but may actually be the opposite.

    Additionally, their objectives, belief systems, and time-frames need not be constant, but may change with time and experience (as has obviously happened with Jack, Sawyer and Kate).

    Until now this has definitely been the case. Which is why I think it is one of the greatest shows on television. Ever.

  9. 9 foketesz
    April 24, 2009 at 3:42 am

    Addicted, I think it is, in fact, one of the greatest tv shows ever.
    Izi, your analysis is very detailed and a real help reorganizing all we know about the story. Thanks a lot.
    In fact, what you point about Ben’s motto being “the end justifies the means” is very relevant, because that motto, it seems to me, guides everyone’s action on and off the island, and the fact that the whole human species (and the rest of nature) has to follow that motto as well, may explain why this show is more alive every season. I think it moves a lot inside every one of us, and that’s why it’s so hard to dissect between good and evil. It’s more like life than we are used to see, even (specially) in reality shows.
    tx again and cheers to you all

  10. 10 Reason
    June 14, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    It amazes me to see people rationalize Ben’s behavior.

    Worse yet, some rationalize it by comparing to the contemptible behaviors demonstrated by the protagonists. This is not a television show depicting saints against sinners, but one of human beings in desperate situations. Whether we may rationalize their behaviors or not, it is striking that the behaviors of the protagonists can indeed be rationalized by their situations.

    Ben’s cannot.

    Do the ‘heroes’ kill people? Yes. Do they rob, commit fraud, torture, kidnapping and other crimes? Yes. That plane trip seemed less a pleasure cruise and more like ConAir.

    The protagonists are rarely ‘heroic’, and most don’t pretend to be.

    Ben has committed mass murder, serial murder, multiple kidnapings, fraud, larceny, countless assaults, countless attempted murders, and is a clear misogynist, misanthrope and child abuser. @ Anon – of course he has love interests and mommy issues. So did Hitler.

    Like Hitler, he’s human.

    Yet, some humans are evil.

    That’s why he’s such a wonderful character who helps make this such a great show.

    He’s a believable evil. Very believable. A very human, complex and multi-dimensional evil – and I love him as a villain because of that.

    • June 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm

      Haha, the voice of Reason. Hilarious.
      You and I are completely in sync. I agree, people don’t like the word evil, so they really defend people like Ben. But in the end he’s just an evil guy.
      I was surprised to see that the poll has Ben at 55% good.
      – izi

  11. 12 AegisArete
    October 16, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Great analysis! I was hoping to find an intelligent assessment of Ben’s actions and motives, and here it is! There’s still much more debate to be had, of course, but this is a very sound start. I love Lost because it is so emotionally and philosophically challenging. Who will be redeemed? Is there ever a case where it is better to spare a monster than to end his reign of villainy? Where do we draw the line between good people making evil choices and evil people making good choices? What is the nature of good and evil?

    I love stories of redemption. A selfish, uncaring, or even cruel person changes his ways with his strength of will and perhaps the Power of Love, and emerges on the side of righteousness in the end, perhaps sacrificing himself in one final act of redemptive valor. Unfortunately for me the bleeding-heart and Mr. Linus the d@mned, Ben does not give a second thought to the path of redemption, coldly keeping his eyes on the prize, whatever that may be. I like to believe that there is hope for anyone, that it is never truly too late for someone to change their ways, to redirect their path, but the crucial element missing from Ben’s character is remorse. He does not seem to bat an eye over practically any of his heinous acts. His utterance of phrases like, “So?” and “Who cares?” in response to tragedies he has inflicted upon others could just be a smokescreen for his internal strife, but we as viewers do not have enough information to honestly draw this conclusion. As a point of comparison, consider the agony that washes over Sayid’s features as he undertakes each reprehensible action. Sayid is himself a tragic figure worthy of discussion, forever taking dreadful measures to protect or avenge the innocent, but destroying his own innocence in the process. But then, Sayid doesn’t claim to be one of “the good guys.”

    People want Ben to be a good guy, because he is such an interesting and well-developed (and well-acted!) character, and because they feel for him and the trials he has endured in his unhappy lifetime. I think, in his heart of hearts (or whatever passes for one in a Ben), he wants to be the good guy, too. He may have repeated the lie to himself so many times that he now believes it is real, but it doesn’t seem to grant him true satisfaction, and certainly not peace. He has to take his smug, smirking pleasure where he can, because while battles of wits tend to go in his favor, at the end of the day, he is a small and lonely man, not some grand puppetmaster. Perhaps people want Ben to be “good” because they see the emotionally stunted bookworm who doesn’t know how to behave around women he likes, who loves his daughter to the extent of his twisted capabilities, and they see something of themselves in this large-eyed man. People want Ben to succeed because they want to believe they can know success in their own lives.

    The final season of Lost approaches, and there is still a chance that Ben will change his tune, or even that he was acting with a higher purpose all along. Nevertheless, this does not excuse or explain away all the lies and cruelties he has perpetrated in the process. I cannot believe everything he did was necessary, and I refuse to believe someone with Ben’s intellect was unable to devise any other way of handling things. Ben was right about the freighter people. Ben’s heart was broken when his daughter was killed. Ben couldn’t bring himself to shoot Penny or little Charlie. Ben wouldn’t kill baby Alex. These are arguments I’ve seen trotted out to support the notion that Ben is good. Having good intel does not make you a good guy, it just shows a measure of foresight. As for the rest…this is why he’s GOOD!? Pro Tip: Most people agree, shooting babies and unarmed women is generally taken to be a BAD THING. And why didn’t he do it? He couldn’t go through with it at the last minute, or even the last second. Most folks, I’ll wager, would not have put themselves in such situations to begin with. And, hey, news flash: you are SUPPOSED to feel grief when your daughter dies. That shock you felt when you realized you finally weren’t able to weasel your way out of one situation? Why not turn that into a little bit of humility, and maybe things will go differently next time. Jeez.

    I freaking love Ben. He is compelling and magnetic and I adore the cadence of his speech, and when he gets out his little 16″ Baton-O-Doom I cheer with everybody else, ’cause someone is about to get pwned. He is, as they say, “teh awesomes.” But, seriously. Not a good guy.

    • November 3, 2009 at 7:25 am

      It seems like many Lost fans confuse entertaining with good. Ben has done way too many awful things to be considered good. And you’re right he completely lacks remorse for his actions.
      I kinda worry that the writers might take it upon themselves to redeem him. I really hope they don’t. I wouldn’t mind it if he dies in a self-sacrificing way, but I don’t want to see him live happily ever after with some random woman. I still expect Jack to die in that same way, dying to save everyone else, so it would be odd if they both did.

  12. 14 Whimsical
    December 20, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Well first off I am a big fan of Ben so I am a little biased.

    So far as I am concerned he’s not a fundamentally good person but he has his moments. He has a lot of trouble showing affection and quite frankly I’m not suprised. His father wasn’t a great role model, but that he is capable of love does mean something in him is a little good.

    I’m not even going to start trying to justify some of the things he has done because quite frankly there is no justification. He is plenty smart enough to figure ways round the things he has done.

    He does have soft spots though. He seems to be quite attached to children, twice we’ve seen him NOT kill people because they had children with them. Personally, I think he would’ve killed Penny if her son hadn’t appeared. So yeah, that he won’t kill round kids is a point in his favour.

    But, then I look at all the arguments against him and I go, you’ve just destroyed any potential chance of being considered good. He kills in cold blood, and putting all his words aside, because he can. And this doesn’t bother him. Definitely not a plus.

    The thing with the Temple (loosing his innocence, being changed, all that jazz) and his childhood make me inclined to think that maybe he is more twisted and damaged by life than he is out and out evil. I also think while he may not consciously remember what Sayid did, on some level there must be something. And really, being shot by someone whose life you’ve just saved isn’t good for trust in humanity.

    In conclusion, I don’t think Ben is evil, per se, but if’s definitely not good. To me he’s a person whose basically landed up with a rough deal in life and has terrible coping methods.

  13. 16 Julie
    February 1, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Clearly, I’m late to this discussion and nobody will even see my comment. But… here goes… I truly believe that Ben is good and that everything he does is what he understands to be necessary to protect the island. From the perspective of a writer… Ben’s ultimate desire to do what is right, but obviously unpopular, is what makes him a such a compelling character. It would be easy to simply write him as evil.

    As I rewatched Season 5, I realized that LOST works because good and evil is not clearly defined. In each battle — and there are so many battles: Jack/Locke; Jack/Sawyer; Kate/Juliet; Jacob/Nemesis; Ben/Locke; Sayid/Everyone — both sides believe in their own causes 100%. They believe that they are the good guys. So, what is evil?

    • February 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm

      I think you have a point about evil not being clearly defined in Lost. It’s not like a murderer in the Lost unverse would necessarily be evil.
      But I still tend to think that Ben is written as an evil character. I can see that many of the ruthless things he’s done have been for the good of The Island. But there’s no excuse for things like when Jack asked him what would happen to the rest of the people on the Ajira flight and Ben just says, “Who cares”. In that situation Jack isn’t much better, he doesn’t bother warning everyone or waiting for another plane or even attempting to find a way to save them. I think that situation gives a good perspective of good and evil on the show. One one hand we have Hurley who does all he can to protect people from getting on the plane. Then there’s Jack who at least asks about them. Then there’s Ben who doesn’t even care.
      I might have mentioned this earlier but it bears repeating. There’s no doubt that Ben is one of the best characters in the show. We all love him, but at times I think we let our love for him blind us to the fact that he’s really one of the most dangerous, evil person on the show.

      • March 3, 2010 at 9:26 am

        I’m late to the discussion, too, but I still think it’s one worth having!

        Ben certainly behaves in what most people would consider an “Evil” way. But, I’m with Julie – I don’t think Good/Evil are very clearly defined in the Lost universe.

        Honestly, I think Ben sees himself as being above such petty concepts as morality. He thinks his acting for the Greater Good. I’m sure Hitler didn’t see himself as evil, either.

        And if there is a “god” out there somewhere, it certainly doesn’t do everything in its power to stop evil. The world is God’s Island, and if a bunch of us die in a plane crash, earthquake or tsunami, well … who cares? God’s certainly not stopping those things from happening, and god’s responsible for creating the world the way it is.

        So if a god does (or gods do) exist, does that make it (them) evil?

        I suppose that depends on whether there’s more than one, and how they interact with one another, and how they affect the world.



        • March 3, 2010 at 12:36 pm

          But in your example wouldn’t Ben be Hitler? I think that makes him pretty evil.
          I like your description of god though, it’s kinda how I see Jacob.

          • March 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

            Not really, no. I’m just saying that even someone who’s almost universally viewed as evil probably didn’t consider himself evil. That doesn’t make Ben into Hitler.

            However, I do think they share something in common: a belief that they are above considerations of Good and Evil.

            In a sense, they see themselves as something like Nietzschian Übermenschen … almost godlike in their indifference to lesser beings, except where they can use them to achieve their ends.

            Under the right circumstances, Ben probably would become a Hitler, though. So although my initial comparison was more specific, in general your comparison is apt.

            So, yeah in many ways, Ben=Hitler. There … I’ve officially lost whatever argument I was making! ^_^



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March 2009

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