Yes, folks, this was a big one, and most real fans knew it. As Doc Jensen reported, Rainn Wilson, star of The Office, just Tweeted the following: ''Tonight's episode was one of TV's greatest of all time. I'm gay for the eternal Richard Alpert. There I said it.''
Let's cogitate on both the Latin translation, and Wilson's, er, feelings, as we recap "Ab Aeterno"
We open with a return to the Ilana flashback from “The Incident.” This time we see Jacob’s discussion with Ilana a little longer. He tells her he’s giving her a list of 6 names that she is charged with protecting – the candidates. This is what she’s been preparing for.
Flash to Ilana, on the beach, telling her group about candidacy. Sun fills in the blanks. The problem is, now that Jack, Hurley and Sun know that they're candidates, whom Ilana is supposed to protect, Ilana doesn’t know what to do next.
Flashback – Ilana, her bandages removed, seems completely healed as the conversation continues. After she’s brought the candidates to the Temple, Jacob tells her, she’s to ask Ricardus, i.e. Richard, what to do next.
As Ilana relates this to the huddled group, Richard laughs nervously/ crazily. He insists everything Jacob ever said is a lie. "Want to know a secret Jack, something I’ve known a long, long time?" Richard teases Jack, and, by extension, us. "You’re dead." He says they’re all dead, and the island is really Hell. "So I’m not interested in what Jacob said," the once-loyal consigliere says. He says he’s going to start listening to someone else, and grabs a torch and walks off into the night. Ben, of course, knows exactly who Richard will start listening to - the very person Ben rejected when he chose to follow Ilana. Ilana loads a gun to go after him, insisting he knows something (Ilana, unlike Richard, has not lost faith in Jacob). Sun lets Jack know that Richard means Locke. "Locke is dead," responds Jack. "If it’s any consolation," Ben answers, "it’s not exactly Locke."
Aside #1 - Sigh, Jack. I want to like you, or think you're progressing. But when you act like something's impossible after you've already seen a dead guy talk to your friend, who led you to a lighthouse on a Pacific island, where you saw your childhood home reflected in a mirror...maybe it's time to stop getting all pissy about the impossible...
Hurley starts speaking Spanish, apparently to nobody (ghost whispering!) but insists it’s not Jacob, and tells Jack it has nothing to do with him. Ben tells Ilana that Jack is right that going after Richard is a waste of time. He’s known him since was 12, and "that should count for something." Frank starts questioning how it is Richard doesn’t age...
...and we flash to the main narrative for the rest of the episode. Like only a handful of prior episodes ("The Other 48 Days" and "Meet Kevin Johnson" come to mind), this episode, during most of its run, doesn't skip back and forth between timelines or past or present or what have you, and instead focuses on Richard Alpert...
Flashback to Richard, on a horse. This is Tenerife, Canary Islands, 1867. Richard ties up his horse, and goes into a hut. Inside is Isabella, his wife, and she’s sick, feverish. Richard tends to her as she coughs blood (TB! Ewwww). He says he’s going for a doctor, and hopes to back before dawn. She kisses her cross and gives it to him to give the doctor in payment. He tries to refuse this most prized possession of his devout wife. "If anything ever happened to you…" he starts to worry, but she calms him. "Close your eyes. We’ll always be together." She kisses him, and he promises to save her.
Aside #2 - Doc Jensen gives us this: (FUN FACT! Tenerife is known for its ancient pyramids believed by some to be a link between Egyptian and Mayan cultures.)
Richard rides off in the rain. He charges past a doctor’s butler, and the doctor orders some blankets – but it’s to keep his floor dry, and not to dry Richard off. The doctor refuses to go with him, but offers him medicine that is very expensive. Richard gives him his money, then Isabella’s cross. The doctor calls the cross worthless, and makes to put away the medicine. Richard begs to let him work off the debt. They struggle, and Richard accidentally shoves the doctor, killing him with a head blow on the table (much like Kelvin’s death at Desmond's hands in "Live Together, Die Alone"). Richard grabs the medicine and runs off past the dumbfounded butler. He returns to Isabella, but she’s already dead. As he cries over her, men rush in to arrest him.
Aside #3 - Doc Jensen ponders, "He bled out like a spilled jug of wine. Ricardo was now a murderer — but he took the medicine anyway and galloped back home. But Isabella was already dead. Was he simply too late? Or did she die because of his sin?" Of course, the very Catholic notion of "sin," we learn, will dog Richard throughout his very, very long life, prompting his somewhat crazed belief that the island is Hell.
Richard is next seen in a jail cell. A priest comes to see him, and offers him food. He asks to see Richard’s Bible, which is in English. Richard has been teaching himself, since he and his wife planned to move to the New World. The priest offers to take confession. Richard apologizes for killing the doctor, but the priest refuses to grant absolution. Richard pleads that it was an accident. He says there must be some way to do gain forgiveness. The only way, the Priest seems to mock, is penance, and Richard has no time, because tomorrow he will be hanged. "I’m afraid the Devil awaits your soul in Hell." The priest wishes that God have mercy on Richard’s soul, then leaves, as the cell is locked behind him.
Aside # 4 - I rely heavily on Doc Jensen this week, because, A. his observations are spot-on, and B. I'm a bit lacking in some of the Biblical and other references hinted at in this episode. Take this for example: "We saw [Richard] reading Luke chapter 4. In this chapter: Christ's temptation in the wilderness by Satan; Christ beginning his public ministry; Christ citing the proverb 'Physician, heal thyself!'; the story of Christ healing the sick and casting out demons.
"Regardless, as I listened to Father Black's pitiless theology, I found myself thinking this theory-thought: If only there was some second-chance place somewhere in the land of the setting sun, where you and other last-chance souls can band together and fight smoke monsters and prove yourself to cryptic gods and successfully score a seat on a flight or sub to Heaven. Could that be a viable theory of The Island?"
Then, all of a sudden, Samsung added yellow to TV pixels (much to George Takei's campy delight) and breaks the Guiness record for fast texting. Those Koreans are something else!
Some men come for Richard in the morning. The priest has them blindfold him. A Mr. Whitfield checks Richard's teeth, then confirms that he speaks English. Since he has strong hands and could work in the fields, he thus becomes the property of Magnus Hanso, and Whitfield says he hopes Richard doesn’t get sea sick. The next thing we know, he is among other slaves on the Black Rock, as a slave, bound for the new world, but rocking in huge waves in a stormy sea, in the same chains we saw him regarding after having led Jack and Hurley to the old wreck. Out a crack, one of the slaves sees the island, and the statue of Tawaret, which one of the others calls the Devil. A huge swell carries the boat up, towards Tawaret’s head. Then there is blackness, before day break, when we see the Black Rock has landed in the now-familiar jungle clearing.
Aside #5 - And just like that, two lingering island mysteries are solved - how did the Black Rock end up inland, and how did the statue end up broken? I must say, "a big tidal wave picked up a wooden ship and crashed it - still intact - through a huge stone statue, into the jungle" was not what I would have predicted, and I think I wanted something a little cooler. But closure is closure on these more minor Lost mysteries. As Doc Jensen snarks about the questionable physics of this turn of events...The Black Rock caught a wave and hurtled straight into Taweret's mug. In the aftermath, Taweret lost her head and became The Four Toed Statue, and The Black Rock crashed in the center of The Island, where the impact shattered the ship into a million pieces and Ricardo and his friends died instantly... but then both boat and humans were miraculously reconstructed by a flock of magical talking Hurley birds. All to say that I didn't quite understand how The Black Rock survived The Island belly flop, but I rolled with it because 1. If rolling with it hasn't become an instinctive reflex by now, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself; and 2. It evoked one of Lost's key literary touchstones, The Wizard of Oz. Ricardo and The Black Rock touching down on The Island = Dorothy and her house landing in Oz. Indeed, just like Dorothy's adventure was a fantastical mirror of her hard-luck dustbowl life and plucky spirit, Ricardo's Island origin story played like a ''This is your life!'' phantasmagoria of his hardscrabble underclass existence and religiously shaped/scarred psyche.
Also, I've heard a number of grouses about some continuity errors that showed up in the episode. The first, pointed out to me by Scott Pepper, is that, in "The Constant," the auctioneer said that Black Rock disappeared in 1845, and Magnus Hanso's journal from the ship was recovered in 1852. Yet, here we learn that Richard's voyage begins in 1867. Especially in light of the fact that Lost's own resident continuity Nazi, Greg Nations, was one of the co-writers of this episode, one might be tempted to think that this discrepancy can somehow be explained by the island's tennuous connection with linear time. But I think that, like Charlotte's botched age a couple of seasons ago, this is just a plain old mistake. The reason the mistake became forced into the narrative is that dynamite - one of the key artifacts found on Black Rock by Rousseau - was not invented in the typical "fuse/ blasting cap/ nytro glycerin" form until 1867. Clearly, the writers didn't realize that when they came up with the auctioneer's dialogue, but did by the time they wrote this episode, and adjusted accordingly. But if you want to believe that team Darlton is infallible, then we can just assume that the auctioneer did his research on Black Rock on some hacked wikipedia site...
The other seeming continuity glitch is the fact that, in "The Incident," when the ship first appeared on the horizon, it was clearly a lovely, sunny day, so this nighttime storm couldn't possibly involve the same ship. Some have suggested that the ship we saw last year was just a different ship. Not so, according to this week's official podcast. But this one doesn't bother me in the least. First of all, we know from "Live Together, Die Alone," that Desmond spent days circling the island, unable to sail away. Presumably, Black Rock spent a similar amount of time in "orbit." We also know from when the chopper first took Desmond and Sayid to the freighter, that some paths in and out of the island's immediate vicinity can go through big weather changes and different times of day in an instant. And, really, folks, if we're going to accept that Jacob can summon specific people to specific vessels, then summon those vessels to the island, and pick up tall ships with tidal waves, plunging them straight through statues, etc., why can't we give the guy credit for conjuring up some rain clouds?
Richard's companion says God spared them – at least some of them. They hear voices, including one referring to Captain Hanso, who is dead. They call for help, and down walks Whitfield. He draws his sword and starts running the slaves through. He justifies (to himself, or Richard, we're not sure) they are shipwrecked with no water and supplies, with only five officers left. He says he’s doing this because if he freed them, it would only be a matter of time before they tried to kill him. Isabella’s cross is gone from Richard's neck, when he grabs it for mercy. As Whitfield goes for Richard, the sound of smokey can be heard. There are screams outside, and blood starts to trickle in. Then the smoke comes, and yanks Whitfield away. Richard tries to wrench himself free, then turns as Smokey slowly enters and goes right up to him, crackling electricity. Richard closes his eyes, then the sound stops, and Smokey is gone.
Aside #6 - I wonder if Smokey, for some reason, is unable to directly assault people once he learns through his telepathy flashes that they're among those who Jacob, himself summoned? Clearly, Richard falls into that category. In light of the conversation Richard has with Jacob later in the episode, I wonder if Smokey's "prize" for winning his ongoing wager is the ability to pummel those who "chose poorly" to death. If that's how he gets his Smokey jollies...
A butterfly flies in to Black Rock, where Richard tries to free himself. Outside, a storm hits, and Richard struggles to get to where the rain water is leaking in. Eventually, the pin he worked at comes loose, and then he uses it to try to loosen the chains against the bulkhead, but to no avail. He wakes up prone day and sees a boar eating his companions. The board charges, knocking the nail, his only tool to affect his escape, out of his reach.
As Richard lies starving, presumably days later, he hears a woman’s voice asking if anyone is there. He answers…and sees Isabella. She tells him they’re both dead, and in Hell. She says she’s there to save him before the Devil comes back. She looked into his eyes and saw that he was evil. They hear the smokey sound. Richard tells her to run. She runs outside, and he hears her screaming, and begs for Smokey to leave her alone. She is silent, and he cries.
Aside #7 - This is Smokey's dirtiest trick yet. We have seen him take the form of dead loved ones many times to manipulate people. But to take the form of Isabela, then create the noises of Smoke monster menace just after she leaves to spin the illusion that he is menacing her...dude, that's cold.
As Richard lies on the floor, a lantern is carried in. A man’s hand touches him, and a strange sound is heard. He awakens with a start. We expect Jacob, but it’s the man in black, who gives Richard water. He says he’s a friend, in much the same seductive tone we've come to associate with his Flocke guise. He says he was there long before the ship. Richard tells him about the smoke, and how Isabella didn’t come back. That probably means he has her, the man in black says with fake concern. Richard asks, who, and MIB responds, "you know who. I want to be free too." He has keys, and gets Richard to promise to do anything he asks. When Richard agrees, he frees him. He says it’s good to see him out of those chains, (the line that decades later would be repeated by Flocke) then raises Richard to his feet. He says they’re going to need his strength, if they’re going to escape. There is only way to escape from Hell. "You’re going to have to kill the Devil."
Richard eats boar. MIB tells him to go to the statue and kill the Devil. He hands him the dagger Dogen had. As Dogen told Sayid, if his intended victim speaks, it will already be too late. MIB admits he’s the black smoke. He says Isabella was running from him, but he couldn’t do anything to stop Jacob from taking her before he could help. He says the Devil betrayed him, taking his humanity, and his body. The Devil has his wife, and he has to kill him if he wants to get her back. Richard is concerned that, he's only in Hell because he killed someone, so killing the Devil seems like a bad way to try to get out. "You and I can talk all day about right or wrong," an annoyed MIB states, "but the question remains, do you ever want to see your wife again?" "Yes I do," is Richard's now loyal and emboldened response. MIB gives him the dagger, and Richard makes his way to the statue.
Aside #8 - I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the instructions - and implement - to kill both Jacob and MIB are precisely identical. Nor am I sure what to make of the fact that neither assassination by proxy attempt was anywhere close to successful. Was Dogen really doing Jacob's work by trying to have Sayid kill Flocke? Do the "rules," whatever they are and however they came to be, stop both Jacob and MIB from killing each other? Does the parallelism suggest a deeper connection between them than simply whatever it was Jacob did to steal MIB's humanity and corporeal body?
Doc Jensen writes: '''There's only one way out of hell,' MIB said. 'We're going to have to kill the devil.' Ricardo argued that he'd basically be damning his soul with the same sin that damned him in the first place. Again: shades of Sayid. MIB got pragmatic on him. 'My friend, you and I can talk all day long about what is right and what is wrong but the question before you remains the same: Do you ever want to see your wife again?' His utilitarian logic is located in the broad, contentious body of thought known as 'Consequentialism.' As you might glean from MIB's sentiment, a weaknesses of 'Consequentialism' is its shaky, nebulous definition of justice. A major egghead in this field? Jeremy Bentham, the name Charles Widmore gave John Locke before his death. He had at least one thing in common with MIB/Fake Locke: Bentham was an abolitionist. And that explains everything, right? Right!
Sure enough, the statue, when Ricardo arrives, is all broken up, after the collision with the ship. Richard draws the dagger as he approaches the door in the foot. But he’s attacked from the side, and knocked down several times…by Jacob, who succeeds in disarming him.
Aside #9 - Burning question - why did Jacob defend himself against Richard, but not against Ben? He's clearly capable of self-preservation and self-defense, and if he's got this much kung fu mojo, surely weasly little Ben didn't have to get the better of him. The obvious answer? Jacob either wanted to die when Ben came for him, or at least was willing to if Ben made the wrong choice when all his remaining candidates were on the island.
Richard asks where his wife is. Jacob asks why Richard thinks his dead wife is with him. "Did you meet a man in the jungle dressed in black?" Richard tells him what the man told him. Jacob assures him he’s not dead, and demonstrates the point by dragging him to the ocean, and holding him under water, then pulling him up, repeatedly asking if he’s dead. "Why should I stop?" "Because I want to live," Richard protests. And, checkmate! Jacob tells him to get up, since they need to talk.
Aside #10 - Doc Jensen on Jacob: "I loved the way he was framed against the blue sky, bright and elemental, a morning star. The Latin word for ''morning star''? That's right: Lucifer. Which brings us to the semiotic cipher that is Mark Pellegrino. The actor is marvelous as Jacob. But Pellegrino also appears on Supernatural, playing... Lucifer. According to a few recaps I've read, Pellegrino's Lucifer is on a mission to purge the Earth of mankind, which he views as innately corrupt, and torments humans with visions of the dearly departed dead. He also requires a human host to get around. Again, I say all of this having never seen an episode of Supernatural, so here's hoping the Internet is reasonably correct. Regardless, I find the Lucifer/Luciferesque overlaps between Supernatural and Lost to be intriguing and ingenious. What better way to cultivate further mystery around Jacob's moral allegiance than by casting him with an actor who currently plays the devil on another show? One would assume that neither Lost nor Pellegrino would want to duplicate efforts — unless encouraging that assumption is exactly why you make that move."
Richard dries off in a blanket, and Jacob brings him some booze. "Noone comes in unless I invite them in," Jacob explains enigmatically. He pours, and toasts. "Are you the devil?" Richard asks pointedly. "No," Jacob responds, as directly as ever reveals anything. "Then who are you?" Jacob's explanation is the most detailed reveal we've had to date of what the frak is going on over on Lost island. ''Think of this wine for what you keep calling hell. There are many other names for it, too. Malevolence. Evil. Darkness. And here it is, swirling around in the bottle, unable to get out because if it did, it would spread. The cork is this island. And it's the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs. That man who sent you to kill me thinks that everyone is corruptible because it's in their very nature to sin. I bring people here to prove him wrong. And when they get here, their past doesn't matter.''
Aside #11 - for some, the debate rages on as to whether Jacob or MIB will indeed turn out to be the evil one. Jacob certainly seems to have taken on, at the very least, some of Old Testament God's less savory characteristics, including testing people for seemingly no purpose but to show they have faith under bad circumstances. But let's make no mistakes here. MIB is a liar. A killer. A manipulator. And every bit the user Jacob is. The idea that some twist ending will make him the "good" guy seems to me to get more and more remote as time goes on. Plus, you have to at least admire Jacob's seeming purity - he discounts the past and gives all on the island the chance to be "good," regardless of the murkiness of who it is who's judging. And this is why I think Jack will turn out to be the final candidate. Think back to Season 1, when Kate practically begged to confess why she was in handcuffs. At the time, Jack said it didn't matter, because after the crash, none of their lives before that moment really mattered. Clean slates all around. Very Jacobian, n'est-ce-pas?
Jacob says there others before Richard, but they are all dead. He wanted them to help themselves, to know the difference between right and wrong without him having to tell them. "It's all meaningless if I have to force them to do anything!" Jacob explains. " Why should I have to step in?" In his first moment as Jacob's trusted advisor, Richard imparts this wisdom: "If you don’t, he will." Jacob then offers Richard a job. "I don’t want to step in, maybe you can do it for me. You can be be my representative, my intermediary to the people I bring to the island." Richard asks, "what do I get in return?" Jacob says he can’t bring back his wife or absolve him of his sins so that he doesn't go to Hell. Richard then asks for the next best thing "Then I want to live forever," i.e., if he can't avoid Hell when he dies, he doesn't want to die. "Now that," smiles Jacob, "I can do." And he touches Richard. And the rest, as we know, is 140 years of history.
Richard then wanders into the jungle, to the man in black. "You let him talk to you, didn’t you?" he asks, but doesn't seem too angry about it. Richard delivers his first of many messages for Jacob. "He told me to give you this" – a white wrock. "I’m sure you realize," MIB tries once again, "if you go with him, you’ll never be with your wife again." Richard doesn't respond. "I understand, he can be very convincing. But I want you toknow, if you ever change your mind, my offer still stands." MIB then gives him back the cross, then disappears. Richard then digs a hole, and buries the cross, under an old stone bench.
Aside #12 -Jensen's take on this scene: "You got the sense that MIB's current incarceration had something to do with buying into something Jacob had once sold him long ago — something that hadn't gone exactly as planned or promised."
Aside #12 -Jensen's take on this scene: "You got the sense that MIB's current incarceration had something to do with buying into something Jacob had once sold him long ago — something that hadn't gone exactly as planned or promised."
Back in the present, (or 2007 or 2008 or whenever we're supposed to be now), Richard comes into a clearing, to the same bench, now grown over with vines. He digs, and finds the cross. He says loudly he’s changed his mind. He calls out, "are you listening to me? I’ve changed my mind. I was wrong. You said I could change me mind. Does the offer still stand?" He turns, and…Hurley comes out. "What offer, dude?" Richard tries to shove him away. Hurley says his wife sent him. "She wants to know why you buried her cross." She saw him dig it up, and she’s standing right next to him.
Isabella is there, at least to Hugo. She tells Hurley to tell him his English is beautiful ("awesome" is his translation). Richard starts to cry. Through Hurley, she has him close his eyes. She says it was not his fault she died. It was her time, no matter how hard he tried to save her. She touches his face, and says he has suffered enough. He says he would do anything for them to be together again. She assures him they are together again. He opens his eyes, and Hurley confirms she is gone. He puts the cross back around himself (a reaffirmation of his faith and purpose). He thanks Hurley. He asks if something is wrong. "She said there’s one more thing," Hurley relates. "There’s something you have to do. You have to stop the man in black. You have to stop him from leaving the island. Because if you don’t, we’re all going to Hell."
Aside # 13 - query how the dead have access to Jacob-type knowledge. Is Jacob also taking the forms of others, and appearing through Hurley? Or is Jacob somehow connected to a higher power? In either case, over the past couple of weeks, a theme has emerged in these distant messages. Here, one came from the dead. Last week, in sideways world, it came from TV. As Jensen writes, "[Isabela's message is] what Michael Landon said in that Little House on the Prairie clip from last week: It's about ''knowin' that people aren't really gone when they die. We have all the good memories to sustain us until we see 'em again.''
what Michael Landon said in that Little House on the Prairie clip from last week: It's about ''knowin' that people aren't really gone when they die. We have all the good memories to sustain us until we see 'em again.''
From a distance, Flocke watches. His expression seems to state that he realizes after 140 years, his play to corrupt Richard, no matter how long he was willing to wait, had failed.
We Flash back once more to MIB surveying the island from a hill. Jacob joins him. "I see you got my present," he says, indicating the white rock. "Don’t gloat Jacob, it does’t become you." He says he wants to leave. "As long as I’m alive," Jacob taunts, "you’re not going anywhere." MIB says he'll kill him. "You don’t figure someone else will take my place?" Jacob asks. "Then I’ll kill them too." (bad news if you're a candidate!) Jacob hands him the bottle – something to pass the time. "I’ll see you around." Jacob is gone, and MIB says, “sooner than you think,” and breaks the bottle.
Final Aside - so the island is a cork, holding all the evil and malevolence of the world at bay. But some of it has seeped out - think about the transmission of the numbers, and the seductive (lottery win!) and evil (family tragedy!) events that triggered, just for poor Hugo. And the island offers its special invitees - who apparently can survive even the worst of calamaties - a clean slate, and an opportunity to do what's "right" in the face of temptation to exploit, cheat and steal for the power of the island. And lest you think the cork metaphor was just a ploy to sway Richard, Damon Lindelof confirmed on this week's podcast that "cork" was the metaphor the writers have used since Season 1 in their discussion of what the island really is.
On another note, this really was Nestor Carbonel's moment. Emmy for supporting role, look no further. He was brilliant throughout, and I can't help but wonder if Jacob engineered the cancelation of the actor's short-lived CBS drama, "Cane," just to get him back to his rightful place on Lost.
Now, again, I'm a bit disappointed in the continuity glitch, and was hoping for something bigger for both the landlocking of Black Rock and the destruction of Tawaret. But at least we've gotten answers to lingering questions, and on balance, I think this extended look at Jacob, MIB and Richard seriously did the trick of setting up the last half of the last season.
A season that resumes next week, back in sideways fashion, with "The Package," which gives Jin and Sun their moment, and maybe even their reunion after a season and a half of separation. Until then, Namaste!