Ben chose to stay in the Sideways world instead of joining the castaways in their communal upload into the Source. He said he still had some things he needed to work out for himself. I've heard that some fans didn't like the implications of Ben's decision. If souls are allowed to kick around Purgatory for eternity and figure themselves out, then doesn't the Sideways world effectively cheapen the Island story? If our redemption issues can be processed easily and painlessly in the cushy limbo of our own blue heaven, then what does it matter what manner of evil that we commit or suffering we endure in the world of matter? It's a fair point but it misses some points, too, and besides, the criticism can't be fairly applied to Ben because it doesn't take into account facts that are in evidence. Apparently, both he and Hurley enjoyed a fruitful partnership on The Island in the post-castaway era. I like to imagine Ben did much to change during that time, and that perhaps the principled teacher that he was in the Sideways world was a fair representation of the man he became in The Island world. I think the example of Ben tells us something about how Lost's version Purgatory works for all souls. Yes, you can stay and ''figure things out,'' but this introspection doesn't change who you are. Or rather, were. You don't get to craft a flattering interpretation of yourself. You don't get to accumulate more experience to improve your chances at heavenly election. You only get one life to live, and the opportunity that the Sideways world provides is the chance to puzzle together and come to grips with the person you became while you lived it.
Still, I think Ben has other labors to execute in the Sideways world besides sitting on a bench and doing The Thinker thing. Theory! Ben will become another Desmond. He has a job: to chase after and gather his own spiritual clan and bestow upon them enlightenment. Those members could very well include all or some the following: his father, Roger Linus, Rousseau, Alex, Richard, Charles Widmore, Eloise Hawking, Daniel Faraday, Charlotte Lewis, Miles, Dr. Pierre Chang, Ethan, and of course, Annie... wherever she is.
My theory is informed by Desmond's Lost arc. Desmond wasn't an Oceanic 815 castaway. Why was he tasked with the work of their Sideways world enlightenment? Because Desmond was the person technically responsible for the defining experience of their lives: crashing on The Island. If Desmond didn't leave the Hatch to chase after Kelvin, if he hadn't given into his rage and killed that man on the rocks, he wouldn't have missed his button-pushing shift, and the plane wouldn't have crashed. The rejoinder that it was Jacob who pulled the castaways to The Island doesn't cosmically absolve Desmond of his actions. You always have a choice. And Desmond chose not to push the button. The consequence: crash. Last season, Lost cited the book The Little Prince that includes the great line ''You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.'' The word ''tame'' in this context means ''to create ties.'' Desmond created the tie that bound the castaway spiritual clan. So he became responsible for them. Forever. (Plus or a minus a few souls. Or should I say soulmates? Desmond got to bring Penelope because they were married. Sawyer wanted to marry Juliet, and I like to think they were married, even if there was never a ceremony. Clearly, the cosmic forces that regulate this soul-clustering thing dig a good love story.)
NEXT: So about that bomb...