Key Points from "Ab Aeterno"
Season 6, Episode 9
Episode Air Date: 03/23/10
Let me apologize in advance for the things I'll surely miss. Subsequent viewings will undoubtedly uncover clues and developments from this dense episode, so I might break with tradition and add to the review in the days ahead. (Or not ... don't hold me to that.)
Anyway, here's a feeble first stab at the recap.
Richard Alpert -- better known as "Ricardo" to his friends in the late 1860s -- began life as a regular man. A working man, in fact. He and Roger Linus would have gotten along quite well (save for that gassing incident). Both were a little naive. Both were under-educated. Both fell under the spell of powerful entities. Both ... knew Ben?
Okay, so that line of thought fell apart. Alpert and Roger Linus have virtually nothing in common.
Let's ditch that and get to the important stuff. After getting a brain dump of Alpert backstory and island lore, here's what we now know about the Mysterious Mr. Guyliner:
-- Alpert's story picks up in 1867, so if Richard was in his 30s or 40s at that point, that puts his current age in the 170-180 year-old range (remember, the island is still in 2007). Let's call it 175, just for kicks.
-- A twist of fate, and a bit of consumption, set Richard on his path to the island. The short version goes like this: In an attempt to procure medicine for his beloved, a woman named Isabella, he accidentally kills a Very Powerful Man. And because "Lost" just loves tragedy, it turns out Ricardo's murderous medicinal efforts were for naught because Isabella -- that ungrateful harpy -- goes and dies before he can sprinkle her with antibacterial powder. Richard is hauled off to jail, but he's saved at the 11th hour by two things: the English he's been practicing and the greedy needs of Magnus Hanso, captain of the Black Rock. (We never actually see ol' Magnus; his minion Whitfield does all the dirty work).
Of course, "saved" is a relative term on this show. What really happens is Richard swaps one bad outcome for another. Jacob lures the Black Rock to the island (we caught a glimpse of this in "The Incident"), the ship stages a dramatic landing (it wipes out 95 percent of the Taweret statue and somehow lands way, way inland), and then Richard spends an ungodly amount of time pulling at his chains and fending off wild boars. (Some have questioned if the ship we saw in "The Incident" is actually the Black Rock. This is the only screenshot I could dig up. It's inconclusive.)
And then there's that whole run-in with Smokey and has undead wife.
Yeah, about that. So Smokey / the Man in Black / the Artist futurely known as Flocke swoops in and kills everyone on the Black Rock ... except Richard. Smokey does his Polaroid thing -- scanning Richard for blemishes and sins -- and, for reasons unknown, Smokey allows Richard to live.
Post-Smokey, Richard remains chained to the Black Rock without food or water. And things get really, really bad when Isabella -- formerly dead Isabella -- appears in the Black Rock, attempts to free Richard, and then is dispatched to the hereafter (again) by Smokey.
So let's tally the emotional toll, shall we? Richard loses his wife ... twice; he commits manslaughter; he's imprisoned; he's sold into slavery; he's in a shipwreck; he watches everyone around him die; he's "read" by a pillar of smoke; and he's starved and thirsty. And all of that happens before the Man in Black appears in human form and tells Richard he's in Hell. Like, literal Hell. And the only way out is to kill the devil himself.
-- El diablo is, of course, Jacob. Or so the MIB tells our naive-and-broken Ricardo. See, Richard is actually MIB's first (attempted) assassin. Per the rules laid out in "The Incident" and in subsequent episodes, we know that MIB could not kill Jacob directly. What we didn't know is that, before Flocke convinced Ben to plant a knife in Jacob's chest, the Man in Black had tried this sort of business at least once before.
MIB was ultimately successful. It took a while, but he came through. But back in 1867, Jacob was a little faster and a little more aggressive. A little angrier, it would seem. And when Ricardo brandishes a dagger, Jacob kicks the snot out of him. (He does not, however, smudge his eyeliner.)
-- And then, in the end, Jacob gives Richard three things:
- A confusing description of the island involving old wine and a cork (more on that in Key Point 2).
- Eternal life (so Richard doesn't have to go to the real Hell).
- A job as his duly-appointed representative; the guy who intervenes in Jacob's silly experiments so Douchey McDouchealot doesn't get his hands dirty.
So that's pretty much the story. But there's a couple other aspects and questions that deserve mention here:
- Jacob claims that he cannot bring Isabella back, nor can he offer Richard absolution. Yet, he can grant eternal life, or some variation on it, and he can lure hundreds of people to a mystical island. Hell, Batman has better superpowers than this guy (and yes, I know Batman doesn't have superpowers ... that's my point).
- The Man in Black gives Richard the exact same instructions Dogen gave to Sayid -- even down to the "don't let him speak" bit. Is this some sort of universal killing rule I don't know about? More importantly, do those instructions ever work? Sayid failed to kill Flocke. Richard failed to kill Jacob.
- Picking up on something I noted earlier: Sometime between 1867 and 2007, Jacob mellowed out. The slightly stoned guy we've grown accustomed to was once a younger hothead who didn't take kindly to knives. He also had a wicked chip on his shoulder about "stepping in" to help the lab rats (i.e. "castaways") find salvation. He was cockier, too. He really didn't view the Man in Black as a threat -- even to the point of taunting him.
- The Man in Black tells Richard he can ditch Jacob and join Team Evil whenever he likes. And at the end of the episode, Richard does just that. Granted, he quickly recants after Hurley delivers a message from dead Isabella, but couldn't Flocke simply ignore the back-track and force Richard into his evil plan? And what are the repercussions of Richard wearing Isabella's cross? Isn't that asking for it?
- Finally, why did "Ricardo" bother changing his name to "Richard"? And I'm guessing "Alpert" wasn't his given name.
Now, for the cork business.
To explain the island's true purpose and, by extension, the very forces of good and evil, Jacob turns to a prop ... just like Carrot Top would.
He begins by showing Richard a bottle of wine. Imagine, if you will, that the wine sloshing about the sides of the bottle represents Hell (or evil, or malevolence, or your chosen form of unniceness). If it get out of the bottle, it'll spread like a virus. But if it's contained ... well, life might not be great, but it's still manageable.
And what keeps the evil at bay? What keeps badness sloshing in its bottle?
Why, a cork of course!
"The cork is this island," Jacob says. "It's the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs."
Got that? The island is ... a wine stopper.
And this leads to a whole bunch of questions:
- Who created the cork in the first place?
- If the island keeps a lid on evil by default, what's Jacob's role? Does he (well, did he) make sure it doesn't slip?
- If the remaining candidates somehow find redemption, will that make the cork unnecessary? Put another way, what's the connection between Jacob's centuries of experiments and the perpetuation of evil?
- Taking that a step further ... doesn't the black stone / white stone stuff suggest the answer lies in balance between good and evil rather than one triumphing over the other? And if that's the case, did Jacob actually want his experiments to succeed?
- And what are we to make of the alternate timeline? The "cork" in that universe is no longer bobbing.
Remember when Jacob visited Ilana in the hospital? It was all very mysterious ... with the speaking foreign languages and the bandages and the whatnot. Well, we saw an extended version of the same scene in the early moments of this episode. And in that we learn that Jacob charged Ilana with protecting the "remaining" six candidates (I found that word choice intriguing). We also see that Jacob's mere presence seems to heal Ilana. When he first appears, her face is almost entirely covered in bandages. Then, sometime later, she looks as we now know her. No signs of scarring at all. Handy!
A few closing questions and observations:
- Best Line: "Oh, this should be interesting." -- Ben, murmuring to himself just before Jack learns that Locke isn't dead.
- Second Best Line: "If it's any conciliation, it's not exactly Locke." -- Ben to Jack.
- Third Best Line (not clever, but relevant): "It's good to see you out of those chains" -- Man in Black to Ricardo.
- Things I still don't understand: How did the Black Rock get so far inland? How did Isabella
and her necklaceget on the island? Was Isabella actually the Man in Black? And if so, does that mean he can take on the form of any dead person? And continuing that thread, who/what was Anthony Cooper? Who/what was off-island Christian Shephard (the guy who appeared to Michael on the freighter and Jack in Los Angeles)? We're nearly six seasons in and I still don't have the dead/undead rules sorted out.
- I'm starting to think Sun isn't the "chosen Kwon." I know this has been discussed before, but six "remaining" candidates -- to steal Jacob's phrasing -- were foomed and/or donkey-wheeled to 1977: Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sayid, Sawyer and Jin. You'll notice Sun isn't on that list. She got dumped in 2007 with Lapidus, Ben, Ilana and those poor suckers from Ajira 316.
- Speaking of the chosen: we should start a pool. My money's on Hurley to assume Jacob's throne, but Sawyer might be the dark horse. Jack? Maybe. Seems kinda obvious though. Jin? He's got off-island responsibilities. And Kate? No friggin way. I am not comfortable with Flakey Katie guarding my cork.
- Kudos to the eagle-eyed commenters who noticed last week that one of Widmore's rifle-toting goons is played by Fred Koehler -- aka Chip from "Kate & Allie."
That's all I've got!
"The Package" -- Stop giggling. This appears to be a Sun/Jin episode. Airs Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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