Lost's “Ben” says the new season changes everything

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Michael Emerson—who plays the nefarious Ben Linus on ABC's Lost—told SCI FI Wire that the upcoming fifth season will change things up.

"There is a delicious overturning of the mission," Emerson said. "We spent so many seasons hoping and trying to get off the island, and now a certain set of characters are going to have to try get back to it, which is easier said than done [laughs]. There isn't a secure method to make that happen, or not one that is under anyone's complete control."

At the end of Lost's season-four finale, a drunken Jack (Matthew Fox) stared down at Locke's (Terry O'Quinn) body in a coffin when Ben suddenly appeared behind him to tell him the island wouldn't let him return alone and that "all of you have to go back." Talk about a dramatic moment! After a season of flash-forwards that proved there was life after the island, if not a happy one, we found out that there is no real escaping the island—at least for the Oceanic Six.

According to Emerson, the actors have been just as surprised as the audience by the developments of the series.

"I think like most viewers, I thought the show was going to be simpler," Emerson said. "I mean, I thought that first season, 'Oh, this is a nice show. This is a drama about attractive people making do on this island.' I never dreamt that the island was merely the tip of a much larger iceberg. But it was only one dimension of a story that was going to get so much larger in scope and employ so many more complex storytelling devices. Every season the writers surprise us with taking us to another level of complexity."

As executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse told reporters last week, season five will begin to answer questions and push the series more firmly into science fiction territory.

Emerson is happy to go along. "I so implicitly trust the writers of Lost," he said. "They are really a gang of brilliant people and deeply read and philosophical and great plotters. Their various backgrounds in genre work—you know, science fiction, horror, fantasy, comic books, all of that—I think it's given them a skill and a background where they can make stories within stories and they can supply a surprising ending."

One of the key players in this sci-fi drama has been Emerson's character. So is Ben a bad guy or a good guy? "Heck of a character," Emerson said. "I think he's better than most people think he is, but maybe worse in some ways, too. I don't know. I think he certainly seems to be an ethical person, in his way."

Emerson admits he can't wait to see the episodes coming up when the fifth season premieres on Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT before moving to its regular timeslot, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. "The first few episodes were shot five or six months ago, so I've forgotten some of the storylines and the details," he said. "I'll be really curious to see how it's cut together. What it looks like. What the momentum of it feels like. Because even though I'm privy to the scripts, the story really gets told in post-production in the way they edit it, the way it's scored, things like that. It's like we've tossed a message in a bottle out there, and we're waiting for it to come back in its mature form. We'll see. I'm anxious to see it."

As for how the series will end, Emerson doesn't know the answer, and for now he's happy to be a part of the show's journey. One thing's for certain: There will be an ending, and there are just two seasons and 34 episodes left before Lost reaches that ending in a big way.

"I supposed there are a couple of writers that know [how the story will end]," Emerson said. "And sometimes I think Matthew Fox knows, just because he's close with the writers, and he has a little more pull than the rest of us. But I'm not sure. I'm not sure he knows the end. ... He seems to know a few episodes ahead of time what's coming down the pike. I don't think any of the actors on the show are really privy to the ultimate ending, but I have a feeling that it's going to be one of those 'Oh, my God,' contextual kinds of endings. It's hidden in plain sight. It's been there all along, and we just didn't get it. I have a feeling it's one of those. I think it's going to be good. God, I hope it's good."