INTRO: Rock It
So, did LOST not ROCK IT with episode nine or what?!
Nestor Carbonell finally got to show off his mad acting skillz is this long-overdue tale of Richard Alpert’s epic back-story, “Ab Aeterno” (which for those of you who don’t know already can be translated to “For Eternity”). And it really did have something for everyone. A dashing hero on horseback straight out of a period romance-novel. A damsel in distress. Bloody outbursts of violence. The battle between good and evil. Faustian bargains. Richard's hysterical laughter. Built-in suspenders! Corks!!
When compared to the rest of the series, it was as emotional as “The Constant”, as mythical as “Cabin Fever”, as shocking as “The Man Behind the Curtain”…and I could go on and on through all of the major game-changing episodes we have seen. Just through following the fan rumblings on Twitter I found that there are only a few who have NOT added this to their “top-episodes of all time” lists. I believe this is true especially because of the fact we had previously been given NOTHING about this character’s tale but little spurts and hints since his first appearance. This in turn made the fan buildup to this particular installment nothing short of phenomenal, dare I say even rabid. And I must concur; it met and surpassed my expectations as it seems to have done for most of the fan-base.
There’s some heady stuff going on in this one so let’s just get right to the recap!
Every Planet We Reach Is Dead
We basically began the story where we left off at the Island beach camp with Ilana and Co. sitting around discussing their current situation. An immediate flashback revealed a little bit more about her time in that hospital when she was severely bandaged and Jacob came to her (dressed in BLACK) to ask for her help. She was told there were only six candidates left that she must protect, and that she had been preparing for this very task. It is still unclear as to why Ilana was injured and if Jacob had anything to do with her healing. Jacob was wearing gloves, so I am assuming he did not actually touch her as he did the candidates as we have already seen. Finally, at some point later during this more fleshed-out flashback when Ilana was no longer bandaged, Jacob told her that after she brought the candidates to the Temple, “Ricardus” would know what to do next.
Of course Ricardus is Richard Alpert, who had been standing in the background as Ilana asked him that very question. With a shocked and insane giggle he denied knowing anything, and then proceeded to basically freak-out in true “game over” style reminiscent of Hudson from the film “Aliens”. He tells the group around the campfire that not only is Jacob a liar, but that they are all really dead and actually in Hell. Richard then made it more than clear that he would no longer be a part of Team Jacob and told the group it was time to begin listening to someone else. He then grabbed a torch and stormed off alone into the jungle.
It would seem the writers still want to taunt the audience with the Purgatory theory, which has already been argued and shot down repeatedly for years now. At the same time, this isn’t the first time a character has declared the Island to be “Hell”, and there have been countless “Underworld” references throughout the entire show. I wasn’t buying it at all though, and we would soon learn there was indeed a specific reason for Richard’s severe doom-and-gloom perspective. More on this in a bit…
Meanwhile a few feet away from the group, Hurley was quietly speaking Spanish to someone who was not actually there. Freak-y! According to Lostpedia, the translation is, “Ok…What can you do?...Yes, I can help you…But, I don't know how to find him, if I don't where he went...” Jack heard him and assuming Hurley was speaking to Jacob, demanded to know what the Big J was saying. I loved how Hurley dismissively told Jack it was not Jacob and that it had nothing to do with him at all. Then he also turned around and headed towards the jungle.
After a quick shot of Richard’s angry trek through the nighttime foliage, we were given a flashback “whoosh” sound and suddenly a very hairy Richard was seen riding a horse through the pastoral Island setting. But it wasn’t our Island at all; it was actually Tenerife, The Canary Islands, in 1867 to be exact. Blam! We now know that Ricardus is over 140 years old, and that he was once just a poor bearded farmer, living in the sticks with a very ill but very beloved wife, Isabella. Just like Isabella, Richard was a Man of Faith, as they had been studying an English Bible together in preparation to fulfill their dream to begin a family in the New World.
However, after seeing Isabella cough blood, he decided it was time to call a Man of Science to try and save his dying wife. He gathered their meager savings hoping it would be enough to pay the doctor, and then in a very touching scene Isabella added her gold cross necklace to the lot. Richard didn’t want to take her cross, knowing that it was not only a treasure but a symbol of her Faith, of their Faith. However she insisted then asked him to close his eyes, and with a kiss told him that they would always be together.
With the promise of saving Isabella, Ricardus rode half the night through a storm to the Doctor’s home, where he forced entry even after being told by a butler that he could not come in. We were quick to learn this doctor was a selfish man, a glutton who cared more for his floor getting wet than for Richard possibly catching cold after his ride.
In fact, is it just me or did that doctor look a lot like The Man in Black? The entire scene was shot in darkness and shadow. Not to mention, how many times have we seen bad things go down in a storm? The only light in the room came from a blazing (Hell) fire. The doctor even threw Isabella’s cross in front of this fireplace as he refused to accept it in exchange for the medicine she so desperately needed. That sent Richard into gimmee-grabby mode as a final act of despair. In a brief struggle between the men, it would seem the doc slipped on that darn water that had dripped from Richard’s drenched clothing, smacked his noggin on a table and died, Desmond vs. Kelvin-style.
Richard got the heck out of there but by the time he reached Isabella with the medicine, the life had already left her. Cue the authorities.
Jailed and cuffed, Richard read his Bible as a priest stepped in to visit. Once again, we met a cruel-hearted man in Father Suarez, who insisted that Richard meant to murder the doctor and refused to grant him absolution from his sin. To add insult to injury he told Richard the only way to make up for it is with a life of penance, which he had no time for as a man condemned to die the next day. Then with Richard’s Bible in tow and a crooked grin he told Richard that the Devil awaited him in Hell.
Of course Father Suarez wasn’t going to absolve Richard of his sin, as we soon learned how valuable he was to the slave trading market. Now we understand a bit more about why Richard freaked out at the beach camp; this is his background, his belief system, and he had been manipulated specifically by a priest that told him he was scheduled for a trip on the ‘Down’ Escalator of the Afterlife. That twisted Father sold Richard off to one Officer Jonas Whitfield, who then proclaimed him property of Magnus Hanso, a name which we have heard before from the Island, linked to The Black Rock.
And the crowd goes wild! Well, at least those fans who have for years now held the belief that Richard came to the Island on that ship, and the Man in Black’s reference to Richard being in chains meant that Richard had also been one of the slaves brought there with it. Hizzah!
Highway (Under Construction)
But little did we know that we would spend nearly half of the episode on that ship itself, as we were first introduced to Richard’s trip to the New World during yet another storm. Oh yeah, the same kind of storm that Frank Lapidus accidentally flew into during season four’s helicopter trip from the Island to the freighter. I am pretty sure at this point that anyone coming to the Island who doesn’t use a specific bearing encounters those storms, almost as if the Island has its own type of event horizon.
It was also pretty cool to see the statue of Taweret in the night and in turn get to learn that the statue was still standing when the Black Rock reached the Island. Correction: the statue was still standing as the Black Rock approached the Island. One of the other slaves chained next to Richard saw the statue and immediately proclaimed “the Devil” was guarding the Island. Ah, if he only knew…
Then in a collision of questionable nature, a tsunami-sized wave heaved the giant ship right into Taweret’s face, breaking the statue into pieces and leaving the foot as we know it today. I have to admit I was a little bit underwhelmed by this explanation of both the statue’s fall and the reason why the Black Rock had been left in the middle of the jungle.
However, there is something interesting going on with this scene. For one thing, in season five’s “The Incident” we saw a similar ship approaching in calm daylight as Jacob and The Man in Black had that little talk on the beach, which many of us had assumed was the Black Rock. At this point I suppose it was just another group that Jacob brought to the Island prior to bringing Richard’s ship.
In addition, with all of the white and black stones on the show, and the fact that Jacob later even sends a white one to MIB, I cannot help but think with a name like the Black Rock, MIB may have somehow caused that ship to smack right into Jacob’s abode. MIB does tend to operate well in stormy situations as we have seen, and he obviously had already grown tired of Jacob bringing humans to the Island, what with all their corrupting and destroying and whatnot. If this is true, than that was indeed one heck of a statement Jacob’s old friend sent him that night in regards to their little black and white game.
Last Living Souls
From that point on it was just one awful trial to another for poor, chained, in-much-need-of-a-bath Richard who ended up being one of the few slaves left alive down below the conveniently in-tact ship. Officer Whitfield came down and went into survival mode execution-style, and skewered the bound slaves like some demon Errol Flynn. Raise your hand if you too had a feeling we would hear that familiar "ticka-ticka" sound just as he was about to take out Richard, who had been watching in horror and begging for his life.
Smokey to the rescue…er, sort of. We were treated to yet another great Smoke-Monster sequence, when at first we could not see what was happening above except through a small, grated opening in the ceiling to the deck above. Of course, we all knew exactly what was going on, and then it was just a blood-drip away from Whitfield’s violent introduction to the Island’s Cerberus. We then witnessed one of the Monster’s abilities that we haven’t seen since way back in season three’s “Left Behind”. With some quick flashy face-time the Monster scanned Richard, and then disappeared.
According to the recent Geronimo Jack’s Beard podcast (with guest Nestor!), Richard was chained in the belly of that ship for four weeks, taking role as the new Island Jonah. If you want to dig further into the Christian symbolism at work here, look no further than the nail which became a tool and metaphor for Richard’s salvation, i.e. his escape from the chains still holding him in place. The Black Rock really was almost like a Purgatory for him, as he is broken down by thirst (more, water except just out of reach), a flesh-hungry boar (believed by some to occasionally be the Smoke Monster taking the form in certain situations), and finally the loss of the nail he had been using to scrape and chip his way to freedom.
The Monster/Man in Black wore Richard to death’s door, and then pulled the final deception by appearing to him as his dearly departed, Isabella. Since MIB had read Richard’s mind, he knew exactly how to manipulate the situation, and so “Isabella” began to tell Richard that they were both dead and in Hell, that she was there to free him, and that she had already seen the Devil “eye to eye”. MIB could have won an Oscar for this role playing both good cop and bad cop as he enacted the scenario above deck that made Richard believe she too had been taken by the Black Smoke he also had seen “eye to eye”.
Apparently Jacob isn't the only one who will reach out and touch someone. How fooled were those of us who immediately thought from previous setup that the hand being placed on Richard's passed-out shoulder was Jacob instead of MIB? How weird would it be if Richard had actually died and MIB brought him back to life like we have heard hints he has done before? How can I even trust who is alive and who is dead on this show anymore?!?!
OK, OK I don’t really think Richard is dead, but it is easy to see now how Richard could believe such a thing, especially when MIB feeds into it by telling him that the Devil took his wife. MIB gave Richard some water and just happened to have the keys to his bonds as well. There was almost a hint of sincere care for Richard there in the Dark One, until he made sure Richard agreed to “help” him in return for freedom, just like a good little mobster thug.
Richard and The Man in Black then sat down over some roasted boar for a little discussion about killing the Devil as Richard’s only means of saving his wife and escaping Hell. I loved how MIB not only handed Richard the same dagger that Dogen gave Sayid back at the Temple, but how he also gave Richard the same instructions that were given in order to do the deed. How curious it is that one would need to use the same weapon, and the same approach to kill both Jacob and MIB. I would have never had thought that way back in season one when Locke first revealed his famous case of knives that The Blade would become such an important instrument on the show.
It was interesting that MIB immediately confessed to being the Black Smoke, yet he denied taking Isabella and told Richard he saw the Devil do it. The best lies always have a hint of truth in them, and I suppose he told Richard that he was the Monster in order to gain that extra bit of Richard’s trust. MIB then played victim, claiming that Ol’ Scratch had betrayed him and took his body along with his humanity.
This part I might actually believe. Just as MIB said, “you and I can talk all day long about what's right or wrong”, and just as MIB doesn’t always seem totally “evil” Jacob himself doesn’t always seem completely “good” in this story. Is it possible that Jacob somehow tricked MIB into his current state of what seems like servitude to the Island as its “security system”? After learning the way that Jacob bestows “gifts” onto people, is it possible that MIB asked for his abilities without fully realizing the consequences? This would paint Jacob into more of the role of a Genie of sorts who grants wishes to people, yet always with a twist that results in the wish-fulfilled not quite turning out as the grantee had hoped for.
Even as Richard tried to refuse by saying that murder was what got him into the whole mess in the first place, MIB continued his schpeel about saving Isabella. The Devil isn’t the only one who can be “persuasive”, and eventually Richard headed off towards the ruins of the statue to carry out MIB’s side of the bargain.
Left Hand Suzuki Method
But before Richard even reached the doorway at the four toed foot, Jacob got the drop on him with some serious kung-fu action. How curious once more that Jacob defended himself when Richard came to kill him, yet didn’t raise a finger to stop Ben when he decided to get all stabby. I am wondering now if this means Jacob had been expecting Ben’s move, and that in the end we will find his death was necessary to drive us towards the proper resolution to this ancient back-and-forth match between him and MIB.
Stop the Dams
After baptizing some sense into the beaten man, Jacob brought Richard a blanket (finally!) and some wine. We’ve seen Jacob fishing, and now we see him bringing wine instead of water as did MIB. The Christian symbolism could not be thicker surrounding this mysterious being.
He did however let us in on an interesting tidbit via his wine-bottle, and equated the Island as a cork which held the darkness and evil at bay. I felt the writing became a little too repetitive and expositional as Jacob explained to Richard that he had been bringing people to the Island throughout time in order to prove the inherent goodness of mankind to MIB. However, he did give us a couple of new tidbits.
First, when someone is brought to the Island by Jacob, their past does not matter and they are given the preverbal Tabula Rasa. This would explain how folks like Sawyer and Kate can be murderers off-Island yet still be candidates for taking over the Big J’s throne on the Island.
Second and more importantly he states that he does not like to interfere by telling a person the difference between good and evil. But even as Jacob claims he is pro-free-will, we have indeed seen him interfere with people’s lives and at the least give them a little push in the right direction. Is Jacob himself telling a bit of a white-lie here? Or is this just his own “progress” we are seeing? Did it take some time for him to realize that sometimes certain situations did actually require him to step in a bit and lend a hand, so to say?
I mean, is it just me or is Jacob not a fool for failing to realize that the MIB was stepping in and interfering with the people he had brought there in his absence? Why did it take Richard to make him see that he could have his own intermediary? Either Jacob is a very flawed “god” on this Island, or he was also playing a con on Richard. I tend to think the latter, since he can well, time-travel and whatnot.
In the end, Richard accepted the job offer and after three choices (wishes) the two settled on compensation that didn’t involve bringing his wife back from the dead or getting him into heaven that Jacob actually could pony up. Jacob then gave Richard the mother of all cootie-touches, and from that day forth Richard was frozen in time, a man who would age no longer.
Jacob and the Man in Black have been playing their little game with humanity for ages now, and although I have no idea whatsoever what the “time-line X” is all about, I would like to put in my two cents in regards to who or what these two really are. Over and over we have been teased on the show in regards to who is “good”, and who is “evil”. Most of the time the answer comes in the form of a little bit of both, and I have already said countless times this is one of the show’s lessons; people are inherently good but do have the capability to sin based on their situation. Perspective, perspective, perspective!
At this point so far it would seem however that Jacob is indeed playing the light side, and MIB really is the bad guy here. We have no reason so far to disbelieve a thing that Jacob has told anyone, and even though he can be manipulative, even smug at times, and could potentially be responsible for countless deaths, he seems to be telling the truth. On the other hand, we have seen MIB repeatedly lie, as he tells different people different things in order to get them on his side based upon what he knows they want to hear.
There are a lot of people out there who keep trying to equate Jacob and MIB to some specific Biblical parallel. But I do not at all believe that they are literally “God and Satan”, nor “Cain and Abel”, or even “Jacob and Esau”. I just do not buy that the creators of LOST would give us an answer that is so literal. Instead, I think the writers are simply playing with these stories and ideas in a metaphorical sense, using archetypes from just about every culture you can think of to create something new. LOST itself has become a collage of religions, philosophies, and symbolism of the human psyche spun into its own magnificent tapestry of sorts.
As Jacob visited MIB one morning, notice how the scene was exactly reversed from the beach scene we were given in “The Incident”. This time it was Jacob who approached MIB, and they were not on the shore but instead they were inland. Opposites and mirrors prevail. Once again we had a discussion where MIB asked to leave, then threatened to kill Jacob and anyone who replaced him. Jacob sounded ready for it, anytime, anyplace. As Jacob left MIB his bottle of wine, MIB smashed it, which I think is foreshadowing that all Hell is literally about to break loose.
After Richard was given his eternal gift by Jacob, he returned to MIB to pass along a white rock from the Big J and confess what had happened. MIB was understanding and kept his offer open, and then he gave Richard back Isabella’s gold cross necklace as one final reminder that item would be all that he would ever have left of her by taking Jacob’s side. Richard then buried the cross and with it I believe a part of his own humanity in the form of his love for his wife, and in return set off to be Jacob’s new right-hand man.
When we got back to current time, Richard dug up the necklace, and in a setting reminiscent of the Tree in the Garden of Eden, he yelled out to MIB that he was wrong and that he changed his mind. However, MIB was not there, and instead Hurley stepped out of the jungle to drop some wisdom from Richard’s dead wife.
The show had a bit of a “Ghost” moment as Hurley acted as the intermediary between Isabella’s spirit and Richard. However the acting and direction gave it enough emotional weight to put it up there with Desmond and Penny’s phone call in “The Constant”. I become a complete wreck now when I watch either one of these scenes, especially when she asks Richard to “close his eyes” again. I do believe Ricardus really felt her presence there for a moment. Once again we are told that even after death, our loved ones will always be with us, in our memories and in our hearts.
CONCLUSION: Spitting out the Demons
At that point, Richard was redeemed and Hurley basically once again saved the day. Score yet another white rock for Team Jacob, as it was soon revealed that Lockeness Monster was not far off in the distance and had almost caught up to them.
It is important to note this episode marked the midpoint of the series’ final season. If traditional storytelling in regards to LOST tells us anything, it should be a nice ride from here on out.
It is also fascinating to me how the fan-base has split into opposing factions. Life imitates art as people are either believing in Jacob, or trusting the Man in Black. There are the ones who seek a scientific conclusion, and those who want to see a more faith-based ending just as there are those who are rabid for answers, and those who are content to simply let the story play itself out no matter what happens.
If you know anything about the world of J.J. Abrams, he has always been a fan of ambiguity. A quick view of his speech at the 2008 T.E.D. conference gives us all the insight we need to understand his philosophy which I am pretty sure at this point LOST has adopted as well. The answers – the BIG ones at least – will more than likely never be able to top the ones that our own imaginations have been serving up to us at this point. Take for instance the bit of a letdown I described in the reveal of how the Black Rock made it into the jungle, and how the Taweret statue was destroyed. Am I the only one who had grander expectations for these explanations?
I don’t think I want to be told exactly what the Island is, or exactly who or what Jacob and MIB are. I too, enjoy the mystery, the guessing, and where my own musings on these themes takes me. As Team Answers keeps score for each new episode I am just going to sit back and nod along with them.
I for one am, and always will be on Team Mystery Box.
*I write about LOST because I love the challenge of deciphering the clues and adding the pieces together. My thoughts are based solely on the show, the LOST Experience, and random research, as I try to avoid spoilers, promos, and even future episode titles. I love to guess what is going on, but I also like to do so in a way that leaves some of the conclusions still up to you. I do not know the answers and am often wrong. Whatever the truth turns out to be, it has been the journey that has meant the most to me.*