I’ve fallen into a pattern on this blog of telling you all know what I usually like or dislike about certain characters’ episodes before delving into what I liked or disliked about their season 6 iteration and what their flash sideways story means in the grand scheme of the season 6 plan.
There will be none of that today. Gone last night was the flash sideways storytelling method and we spent an abundance of time in “Ab Aeterno” with a character for the first time in Richard Alpert in one what was one of the most hotly-anticipated episodes in the show’s history.
So loaded was Richard’s first official flashback episode (Sorry, I don’t really count Follow The Leader) that Lost extended its run time by six minutes. Hopefully, your DVR noticed. “Ab Aeterno” , literally translated from Latin as “from the everlasting” or “from eternity” excelled on the two levels that all all-time great Lost episodes do.
Pulling back the curtain
We got some concrete answers to some of the more intriguing mysteries on the show since Richard first popped up around the middle of season 3. The longstanding fan theory of Richard having arrived on the Island via the Black Rock was confirmed, but even more was revealed about the ageless wonder. He was once a Spanish laborer, imprisoned for killing a man in an act of desperation while trying to save his dying wife. Imprisonment eventually led to slavery and the fateful slave ship careened into the middle of the Island, but not before smashing through the statue.
Using Richard as an intermediary to reveal the framework of the Island’s greater plan was a masterstroke by the show’s creators, as the cowering fearful slave was yanked to and fro by the Island’s two dominant entities, Jacob and the Man in Black.
First up was MIB, and the glorious return of Titus Welliver, not seen since last season’s finale. After laying waste to Richard’s would-be murderers, he approached him with a very familiar deal. A deal in which Richard would have to slay “the devil” in order to escape from the hell he had fallen into. Much like Dogen to Sayid, he explained that if Richard allowed Jacob to speak, he would have no chance, as Jacob can prove to be very convincing.
Convincing is understatement. Jacob administered a pretty thorough beatdown and near drowning to Richard in order to dispell him of the notion that he was, in fact, dead and in hell. I loved the repititon of that theme, by the way, as it was one of the earliest fan theories to explain the castaways’ presence on this totally insane Island. I was nearly sent into a rage when it seemed as though that theory would actually be proven correct.
Jacob laid it on the line very simply for Richard. Specifically that he was serving as a cork, keeping the Man in Black bottled up safely on the Island for fear of him contaminating the world at large…or something. In the midst of this imprisonment, the two Island deities are engaged in a sort of old testament-style wager, in which Jacob believes man is inherently good and MIB believes that they are naturally prone to sin, fully revealing his words in last season’s finale “They come, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same.” The episode’s coda was a brief MIB flashback in which he further expounded on his intentions kill Jacob and whomever might replace him to free himself from his tropical prison, hammering the point home by shattering Jacob’s bottle metaphor all to hell.
There was not one thing wrong with the mythology of the episode, in my opinion. A friend of mine wandered aloud on facebook shortly after the end of the episode if Lost had in fact just explained everything. While that’s not specifically the case, I think the glimpse we were given of the Jacob/MIB dichotomy really puts a lot of what we’ve seen on the Island into perspective. The castaways were brought to the Island in the latest round of this wager that Jacob indicated had been going on even long before Richard washed ashore. Jacob’s laissez faire attitude towards the people he brings to the Island to prove his point soothes any concerns over the fact that ultimately what these people have done is of no consequence since Jacob is very clear about all of them having a choice.
Richard was granted a wish to never die and therefore be spared from the eternal damnation that awaited him and he struck Jacob’s fancy in such a way as to be “hired” as the advisor we’ve come to know.
A love across time
The episode also excelled as a tremendous stand alone love story, reminiscent of “The Constant”. This one was a lot more challenging, though, in that it had to make us emotionally interested in characters we didn’t know a whole lot about. Richard and his ill-fated wife Isabella rooted the mythology-heavy outing in real emotional terms. Nestor Carbonell has done masterful work with Richard in the past with sparse screen time, and the episode’s super-sized forum allowed him to show what he can really do. In both timelines, gone was the confident and quietly tranquil Richard Alpert who seemed to be a step ahead and was rarely thrown for a loop. Richard circa 1867 was a desperate and heartbroken man, willing to do anything to be reunited with his lost love and scared half to death by the weird Island goings-on that have become commonplace to you and I.
In 2007, Richard was again desperate, now ready to renounce everything Jacobs had said to him and strike up his standing deal with the Man in Black to join his legion and make good on that reunion. Interceding on Jacob’s behalf was Hurley, who was playing the Whoopi Goldberg-esque medium to the happy couple. This scene, while not quite packing the emotional punch of the Des-Penny phone call, just wrecked me. I think it’s just so incredibly difficult to effectively convey some real emotions amongst all this fate/coincidence, free will/destiny mythos and Lost continues to come up aces with alarming regularity.
The fact that the Man in Black used these emotions in an attempt to sway Richard to his cause and the fact that he is just continually coming off as a really foul dude would seem to quiet any notion of the “switcheroo” theory, which posits the notion that Jacob is actually evil and the man who is “not quite Locke” is actually good.
- I admired the show’s commitment to building the tension particularly in the lengthy “Richard in the hold of the Black Rock” sequence. Keeping so much of the Smokey carnage off-screen was both a great way to amp up the intensity, but also spare us from being exposed to the show’s increasingly lackluster CGI. It also allowed the audience to be just as bewildered as Richard as to what exactly was going on above the deck there.
- The episode was technically tri-centric as the opening fully illustrated Ilana’s mission to protect the candidates. I think Ilana is a really compelling and interesting character, and Zuleikha Robinson plays her admirably, but that’s probably the last we’ll see of her back story right? There’s just a lot of other stuff going on.
- I could probably watch Mark Pellegrino and Titus Welliver just sit and talk on the Island for literally 8 hours straight before feeling even a little bored. There is talk of a Jacob/MIB centric outing sometime around episode 15, which would make me one happy blogger.
- A traditional flashback episode was a real breath of fresh air, didn’t you think?
So, how did “Ab Aeterno” stack up for you? Are you happy with the simple good vs. evil conflict that’s seemingly going to drive the show’s endgame? Did the Richard/Isabella love story resonate enough for you like it did for me? Do you want more straight up flashbacks? Let me here you, Internet dwellers.