I’m going to use the word sweeping to describe the first twenty minutes of “Ab Aeterno.” That was epic. Tucker Gates, the director of this episode, deserves an emmy. How they did shot that in 8 days, and produced the episode as we saw it in 3-4 weeks is astounding. I’m telling you: if I could create 44 minutes of fiction on screen that’s a little bit as quality as every episode produced by this show (particularly this one) I will be very, very happy.
ANYWHO, Heaven vs. Hell. Hm. Of course those two concepts can take on many meanings. This episode finally gave us the story of how Richard Alpert arrived to the Island and it provided a whole lot of light on Jacob vs. The Man in Black. The episode was jam-packed with religious themes. We even had a long shot of a specific bible passage. That passage? It’s from the Gospel of Luke and I saw something about a prophet. Significant? I rather think so. I rather think a lot of this episode is significant. You too? Good! We’re on the same page. Let’s dive into this heaven and hell thing while we’re at it.
Flashback to the teaser of “The Incident” when Jacob and Man in Black are talking about, essentially, nature vs. nurture. Jacob refreshed our minds when he told Richard that The Smokeness believes all men are corruptable and cannot avoid sin while Jacob believes men are not corruptable. He believes in free-will and choice. He brings people to the Island to prove Man in Black wrong. Something’s off about the both of them and the way they approach proving their personal philosophies and beliefs to be true. While Jacob told everyone he touched in “The Incident,” that they had a choice, he also brought them to the Island which is, in no way, a choice of anyone BUT he does allow them to be free of their past, as he told Richard on the beach; however, he does bring them to the Island without asking for their permission and makes it fairly hard to leave the place.
Man in Black seems to strive to corrupt individuals but he does so by promising them what they desire most in the world. He promised Richard that he would see his wife again if he killed Jacob, if he could assist him in leaving the Island. In fact, the scene between Smokey and Richard mirrored the scene between Sayid and Dogen. Intentional? I think so. Mirroring the two scenes made everything more ambiguous (and hell yes THAT’S intentional). Smokey’s desire to corrupt makes sense because he’s obsessed with proving Jacob wrong and it seems that all of Smokey’s declarations of Jacob being false and fraud are merely deceptions disguised as truth. He is OBSESSED with leaving the bottle and spreading darkness and evil to the world (if that is indeed the case).
I now think back to words Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse shared regarding the battle between good and evil we’d be witnessing during the final season. They spoke of the battle that exists within each individual character and that will probably continue to play out in the weeks to come as sides are drawn and whatnot. What about Jacob and MIB? I’m still leaning towards the idea that the two exist in a shades of grey though Jacob and MIB perceive eachother in absolutes. Smokey told Richard that Jacob was the devil and that they were in hell while Jacob obviously believes Smokey to be evil incarnate. We don’t know why this is. We know MIB couldn’t leave the Island on his own, that Jacob kept him entrapped but we don’t know why. MIB also mentioned something sort of MAJOR when he said his body was hijacked by Jacob. Hm.
What is to be made of all this heaven and hell talk? Let’s see. Smokey did his thing when he came into The Black Rock which means he scanned Richard’s soul, the essence of Richard. Richard was petrified of hell. His wife laid dying in their home in Spain and Richard sought a doctor’s help. At the doctor’s home, he did not have the money to afford the medicine, became upset, and accidentally murdered the doctor (shades of Desmond killing Kelvin? Maybe I’m the only who was reminded by that). He returned to find his wife, dead and then he was quickly arrested and put into jail. In jail, a priest visited him and asked for his confession after Richard told him that he and Isabella wanted to move to the New World. Richard tearfully confessed, explained that it was an accident, and begged absolution and the forgiveness of God but the priest told Richard that he could not absolve him from sin, that he would hang in the morning and would spend eternity in hell. On the day of his hanging, he was bought by Magnus Hanso and became a slave of his. He was chained in The Black Rock, that slave ship out of Portsmouth destined for the New World. But the ship shipwrecked on The Island (Jacob brought them there AND the ship also destroyed the statue thus creating Jacob’s Foot. I’ll take that as a shoutout!). Once shipwrecked, the ship captain went crazy and murdered every slave except for Richard. Smokey saved Richard from death. He killed every Black Rock officer. He did not kill Richard as mentioned above because he did his thing, looked at Richard’s life and decided Richard was not worth death. As mentioned above, Smokey saw the essence of Richard and felt he could use him to kill Jacob.
Before the Man in Black saved him from death in The Black Rock, Richard became a Job figure. In the biblical story of Job, The Devil tells God that Job would no longer pray to him or worship him if he suffers and suffers, that the suffering would cause Job to believe God did not exist. So God tested him and tested him. He took everything from Job and even gave him diseases but Job did not stop believing. Richard suffered for many days inside of The Black Rock as he was chained to the wall. It took him weeks to loosen up a screw in hopes that he could free himself. When it rained, he was far enough from the rain that he could not get on water on his tongue. He tried killing a boar with the screw/nail but could not get the nail back when the boar ran right past him so his hopes of freeing himself were lost. He was surrounded by the dead. His wife appeared to him and told him that they were in hell and must be freed from the devil; however, the sounds of Smokey were heard and Richard told his wife to run because he promised that he would save her but it seems as if she was eaten by The Smokeness (of course I think that was Smokey doing his manifestation thing). After this, the Man in Black finally showed up all Titus Welliver (the actor who portrays him) and freed him. He gave Richard water. He confirmed that they were in hell. He told Richard that the devil took Isabella, not the Smoke. He told Richard that the devil must be killed in order to be free. MIB picked Richard up and moved him out of the hell of The Black Rock and into the sunshine of the Island. The Man in Black took Richard to a place underneath a large tree that would remind some people of the Garden of Eden and the tree of knowledge and good and evil. The Man in Black and Richard sat on a stone pew and MIB proceeds to go Dogen on Richard. He instructs Richard to kill him with the knife given but that he must not let Jacob speak, must not hesitate because Jacob can be persuasive. He tells Richard that, along with his body, Jacob or the devil also stole his humanity.
Richard, after a walk, arrives at the Foot of the Statue but is quickly twarthed by Jacob himself. Jacob opens a can of whoop ass on Richard. When Jacob learns that Richard believes he’s in hell, Jacob rushes him to the ocean and waterboards him until Richards believe he is alive and declares that he wants to live. With that taken care of, Jacob wants to talk to Richard. They talk. Jacob gives Richard a plethora of information (and to the audience quite naturally) about the Man in Black when Jacob learns that Richard met the Man in Black in the jungle. The most significant exchange in their conversation revolves around why Jacob brings people to the Island (which I’ve addressed). Jacob tells Richard that he wants people to know the difference between right and wrong but does not want people to be told what is right and what is wrong because that defeats the purpose. It goes back to the essence of being, the battle that exists within each individual and figuring out the difference between good and evil. Damon Lindelof offered some really interesting words in the most recent podcast. Here’s a transcript of that:
CARLTON CUSE: What are we to make of Sayid’s condition coming out of Sundown, Damon?
DAMON LINDELOF: What I love about “Sundown”—and that script was written by Paul Zbyszewski and Graham Roland and directed by Bobby Roth—is, there’s this kind of cool thing in play which is if you tell somebody that they’re evil, is that an excuse for them to act evil? Ben Linus says last year, “Hey, you’re a killer no matter what you do,” and now Dogen, who basically tried to kill this guy based on whatever they hooked him up to, he says “You’re a bad dude, too, and if you’re not a bad dude then prove it,” but it seems like when he gives Sayid that knife to kill Locke, he’s actually setting Sayid up to have Locke do his dirty work for him, so there’s an argument to be made for the fact that Dogen sort of got what was coming to him.
It’s a slippery slope these characters walk. Returning to Richard now, Jacob offered Richard a job: to be the go between between the people Jacob brought the Island and Jacob. Richard accepted it. Jacob asked Richard what he wanted most and Richard told him that he wanted to be with his wife again but Jacob couldn’t bring her back. Richard asked to be absolved of his sins but Jacob could not do that either. Richard then said he didn’t want to die, that he wanted to live forever. So Jacob did that for him. Richard returned to MIB after receiving the gift of eternal life from Jacob. Man in Black accepted it and told him that his offer stands forever: to reunite Richard with Isabella. Richard gave the Man in Black the white rock. MIB wasn’t too happy with that, folks. The Man in Black handed him Richard’s cross. The same cross the doctor said was worthless to Richard, which incited Richard’s rage and ended in accidental murder. The Man in Black disappeared. Richard decided to bury the cross.
CUT TO a sunny day in 2007 and the place where the Man in Black and Richard first talked. Richard has returned. He immediately digs into the dirt where he buried the cross, takes it out and puts it around his neck. No doubt a lot of symbolism about re-birth and resurrection. But before I dive into the conclusion of “Ab Aeterno,” I have to go back to the beginning (that was a sort of play on the episode title).
The episode opened with Jacob visiting Ilana in the hospital, as we saw in “The Incident.” The new footage we saw was Jacob telling Ilana that she had to protect six candidates on The Island. The next scene we saw was Ilana asking Jacob what she’ll do after she has the six candidates under her protection. Jacob tells her that Ricardus will know what to do.
On the beach, at night, the beach group sit around and fire and talk about what they need to do next. My favorite part of this whole scene? Jack’s reaction to being told that a John Locke is walking around this Island. I digress. Ilana made it clear that Richard was the one who would know what to do next. Richard seemed baffled and bamboozled by her words. He told her that he just tried to kill himself because everything he believed was a lie. Jack asks for Richard to explain and Richard tells Jack that the whole Island is not what they think it is. Richard claims that the Island is hell and that everyone on the Island are actually dead. Richard says he’s done listening to Jacob, grabs a torch and is off to listen to someone who can morph into a pillar of Black Smoke (not in those words). As Richard wanders in the jungle, the rest talk about him. Ilana’s ready to go after him but Jack tells her that Richard’s lost his mind. Jack goes over to Hurley who is speaking in Spanish to the air (but it’s not the air). Hurley tells Jack that whoever he’s talking to has nothing to do with Jack. At the fire, Frank wonders how the hell someone can not age after Ben tells Frank that he’s known Richard since the age of 12 and that Richard has always looked the same.
Back to daylight now and the tree and the digging and the cross around Richard’s neck. Richard starts yelling ‘does the offer still stand?’ and then Hurley shows up. Hurley has been talking with Isabella. Richard does not believe Hurley but eventually does. Hurley speaks for Richard’s wife, asking Richard why he buried her cross. He tells Richard to close his eyes and then Isabella does the talking. Isabella tells her husband that it wasn’t his fault that she died and that he’s suffered enough. Richard tells her how much he misses her and that he just wants to be with her again and that he would do anything for that to happen. Isabella tells him that they are together and after a kiss, she disappears. Richard looks content and at peace but Hurley has one last thing to tell Richard. He says his wife told Richard that he must stop Smokey from leaving the Island because if he does…everyone goes to hell. The last thing we saw was NotLocke watching from the distance. Uh-oh?
I don’t think the assertion that they all to hell is about the literal place. Think of the magic box that had people, for some reason, baffled in season three. I think it’s a metaphor. What it seems to mean is that people will lose the ability to decide for themselves the difference between right and wrong. The Man in Black will tip the scales the wrong way for many, many people. But who indeed knows. That is something for the show to resolve in the final 2 months.
The final scene of the episode was between Jacob and the Man in Black. Jacob asks why MIB tried to kill him. MIB explained that it’s because he wants to leave the Island. Jacob says that he’ll never let happen while alive and explains that someone will take his place if he’s killed so MIB explains he’ll kill every single candidate. Jacob gives MIB the bottle, tells him he’ll see the Smokeness around and leaves. Man in Black then SMASHES the bottle and the wine spills everywhere. “Sooner than you think,” the Man in Black says to himself.
Here’s some MORE thoughts:
–I really enjoyed Richard’s entire flashback. I particularly want to focus on the metaphorical cross Richard’s been bearing for over 100 years: feeling responsible for his wife’s death. The final scene between he and his wife freed him of his cross. He sought forgiveness for his wife’s death. I think the doctor he killed was never the source of his anguish. I think it was feeling guilt for not saving his wife when he promised that he would. He wanted absolution for his sins. He wanted tabula rasa but no one granted that to him really. Jacob sort of but he told him he could not absolve him of his sins. He just wanted to forgiveness and he finally got it which I thought was one of the great LOST scenes in a series packed with so many.
–I mentioned how the bible passage we saw was from the Gospel of Luke. Well, in that gospel, Jesus spends 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. While out there, he is tempted by the devil. The devil offers him all of the kingdoms in the world. MIB comes off a lot like the devil as he tempts Claire, Sayid and Richard with whatever they want. Even Sawyer. And they believe him and follow him. It’s never good when you resemble Satan himself.
–It’s worth noting that Ab Aeterno translates to: from the beginning.
–I really want to know why Man in Black is imprisoned by Jacob on the Island. I’d like to know the whole history. I imagine we’ll get that answer at some point before the series takes its final bow.
–This whole episode had me thinking about the sideways as well. Mostly about the nature of the sideways and why they exist. I have no theories to offer. I’m remaining patient, not thinking too much into them as Team Darlton recommended.
–This episode makes one wonder about The Purge and Richard’s role in it. Of course we still need more information about The Purge and why it happened. Obviously, Dharma loosely followed the truce and were using Hostile land when building the Hatches. Also, Richard told Locke that his father needed to go in “The Brig.” But the death of Anthony Cooper was about freeing Locke from that. Hm. Intentionally ambigiuous as always. Richard’s one heck of a fascinating character though.
–I wonder about the nature of the apparitions on the Island. Smokey can assume the form of some people but the people who talk to Hurley are not dead. I wonder about Christian Shephard and the nature of his appearances. The same goes for Ben’s mother, the boy we saw in “The Subtititute,” Dave, etc. Wet Walt is also still a mystery.
–I also wonder if Jacob vs. Man in Black will be resolved in 3-4 episodes. Am I insane for thinking such a thing? Perhaps. But I know this season is a three act season. We’re in the middle of act two and act three is to come. Hm indeed. I doubt it’ll be resolved in 3-4 episodes. This battle will be with us during the final act of the final season. I feel sad typing those words.
–This was one of the few episodes with no B plot, folks. I usually reserve this spot in the recap for the B plot but this episode was all Richard. It was quite a linear story as well. This quite the different recap to write.
–Nestor Carbonell deserves an emmy for this episode. He was outstanding. Tucker Gates’s directing was astounding. The First and Second Unit crews deserve emmys. If this episode doesn’t win some emmys, I will be speechless.
–Melinda Hsu-Taylor and Greggory Nations wrote this one. Gregg Nations is Lostpedia of the writer’s room. The dude keeps track of everything. Tucker Gates, the director, did a marvelous job. Jean Higgins deserves some props from The Foot too. She does so much for the show but I never mention her by name. The whole crew deserves many free milkshakes for this one.
TO THE RANKINGS!
THE OFFICIAL LOST RANKINGS
An exciting week for the rankings. STEVE has a different looking top 5 with the Man in Black getting the number two spot and Richard getting the number 4 spot. My rankings aren’t too exciting. Hurley moved up one spot in the top 5. Richard nearly cracked the top ten but I didn’t want to demote Kate or Sayid. I didn’t even move Jacob or MIB from 16 and 17. Perhaps I’ll explain. Unless your Charles Widmore, I’ll leave characters in the cellar of the rankings if I’m not sure what to make of them. Remember the NotLocke bombshell in “The Incident”? Locke had been in the top spot for weeks and then I found out that Locke never resurrected and it was the Man in Black. I was floored. I didn’t know what to make of it. It’s like that. Plus, MIB hit Claire. Not cool. Jacob seems cool and all. But yes, Locke dropped to no. 5. Me and STEVE discussed whether or not sideways Locke should be ranked. We’re still not sure. Anywho, check the rankings out for yourselves:
AFTER EPISODE 9
17. Man in Black
2. Man in Black