Ab Aeterno – “from the everlasting” or “since the beginning of time”
This was an incredible episode. Easily in my Top 10. And with time, it might be one of my absolute favorites. A great script with a rich mythological narrative, answers galore, and Nestor Carbonell was on top of his game. A+. This episode was so good, in fact, that I could hardly stop writing about it.
The episode begins with a flash back to Jacob’s conversation with Ilana from the Season Five finale. Jacob asks Ilana for help; he gives her a list of six remaining candidates to protect. This is a revelation because I think it validates that Jacob knew he was going to die. As he says to MIB at the end of the episode, “If you kill me, someone else will just take my place.” We’ve assumed all along that Jacob was grooming someone to replace him; now we see that he understood that he was going to die well before it actually happened.
Back on the Island-present, Ilana tells Jack, Hurley, Sun, Miles, Ben, and Frank that — according to Jacob — Richard would know what to do next. Richard balks, bringing up his recent suicide attempt as proof that he’s just as clueless as anybody. Then he launches into a diatribe that lays out the trajectory for the rest of the episode: the Island as hell. The balance of the episode is spent either debunking or reinforcing this theory. Richard declares that he’s decided to follow “someone else” and marches off into the jungle.
Prior to the flashback, we have a setup scene at the beach. Jack inquires about this “someone else” only to find out that Richard was going over to Team Locke. “Locke? Locke’s dead!” Up until this point, no one had informed Jack that “Locke” was back. Ben gets in a great line: “If it’s any consolation, it’s not exactly Locke.”
Richard’s backstory was compelling: his attempt to save his wife leaves him a broken and conflicted man. In his zeal to save a life, he actually commits murder, albeit accidentally. In an absolutely heart-wrenching scene, Richard is too late to save Isabella. In prison, Richard reads the Bible (the Gospel of Luke, actually; the page close up is 4.37, “And he said, ‘Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.'”), presumably to learn English. But his priest (a man in black, no less) refuses to absolve him of his guilt. In fact, one has to wonder if the priest functions as a “representative” of MIB here — convincing Richard that he deserves eternity in hell. At any rate, in Richard’s story, reading the Bible does lead to his salvation; it is only his cursory understanding of English that keeps him from facing the hangman’s gallows.
Isabella’s iconic cross necklace figures prominently in this episode. Not only is it Richard’s enduring reminder of his departed wife, it stands for something deeper: faith, hope, even love. The unmerciful doctor takes the cross and casts it aside, calling it meaningless. But Richard knows better; he scurries to retrieve the necklace, the representative of that which is most precious to him. This Richard’s last action before he begins the downward spiral of his own personal Hades, a place of self-inflicted torment and grief. The worst part of Richard’s plight is that he actually believes he’s worthy of hell. (He and Sayid really need to get together for some group therapy.) This seems to be MIB’s doing; if he can convince Richard that he’s in hell, then he has found a willing accomplice in his plan to murder Jacob. (It’s interesting that this is similar to the plot he’ll use years later on Ben.) It’s fitting then, that Richard’s first step toward redemption occurs when he retrieves Isabella’s cross once more.
It seems the ship we saw approaching the Island in the Season Five finale wasn’t the Black Rock. Jacob and MIB converse about that ship in broad daylight (just after Jacob finished breakfast). The Black Rock arrives to the Island amid a raging storm. I’m guessing the storm was so great that the waves crested over the statue and the ship broke it into pieces??? That scene was a little weird and choppy to me. But Carbonell’s desperation during those “chained” scenes was gripping; I felt as if I was chained there to the Black Rock right along with poor Richard.
Smokey breezed in and wiped out the remaining Black Rock crew members. We’re still unsure why Smokey spares some people and not others. He did that picture-taking thing when he got to Richard and then took off. Was Richard a candidate? Is that why he wasn’t killed? Was it because MIB felt that he could corrupt him? Smokey keeps telling people that he’s “lost” something in his past. It seems that in this episode, he played on Richard’s loss to try and get what he wanted. Come to think of it, this is what he’s done to pretty much everybody: he plays on Claire’s loss of Aaron; Sayid’s loss of Nadia; last episode, he even tried to tug at Kate’s heartstrings on behalf of Aaron, who was “losing” his real mother who is crazy as a loon. MIB appears to Richard as Isabella, further cementing in his mind the idea that the Island is hell. At least I think that’s what happened. If Smokey can take on different forms, then it would make sense for him to do this.
Smokey tries to convince Richard to stab Jacob in the heart; the speech is almost verbatim the same thing Dogen said to Sayid a couple episodes back. Interesting. Richard agrees to do this because of MIB’s promise: if he is successful, he’ll be able to be with his wife again. MIB makes these promises to people and it’s easy to assume that he is powerless to really make them happen. But we know Jacob has the ability to give certain gifts (healing Locke and Ilana; granting eternal life to Richard). If he and MIB are truly squared off in an “equal battle” where the white rock and the black rock keep the scales balanced, then why wouldn’t we assume that MIB has some gifts / abilities that he can impart much like Jacob can?
The scenes of Richard & MIB and Richard w/ Jacob were classic. MIB holds out a dagger and tries to convince Richard to commit the crime he’s already been condemned for: murder. His offer seems to be: take another life to bring Isabella back from the dead. I loved the imagery of that conversation taking place over a smoking fire; gray smoke wafts all around Richard as MIB walks away. But Jacob gets to Richard first and tells him he’s responsible for bringing the ship to the Island. (Does that mean he’s also responsible for causing the ship to crash into the statue?) Jacob compares the Island to a bottle’s cork, keeping the darkness where it belongs. I love Jacob’s line: “That man who sent you to kill me believes everyone is corruptible because it is in their very nature to sin. I bring people here to prove him wrong. And when they get here, their past doesn’t matter.” Jacob’s offer to Richard reminded me of the interaction between God and Moses in the Old Testament. Jacob asks Richard to be his “representative” to the people; no one can enter Jacob’s presence unless bidden; Richard even has the backstory murder that leaves him feeling cursed and God-forsaken, a parallel to Moses’ murderous act in Exodus 2. Richard accepts the job as Jacob’s intermediary and begins his eternal, ageless existence on the Island.
Back in the present, after feeling betrayed by Jacob, Richard goes to retrieve Isabella’s cross and to find out if Smokey’s offer still stands. But through Hurley, Richard communes with her, if only for a moment. And this moment brings completion to what Richard has been longing for for nearly 150 years. I think this is meant to validate Jacob’s point in his eternal argument with MIB: you don’t have to choose the dark path in order to truly get what your heart desires. If only for a fleeting moment, Richard experiences this. And I think it will shape the rest of his story on the Island.
Some quick hits to close out:
- MIB tells Richard that Jacob betrayed him, took his body, took his humanity. What does this mean? And he can’t leave the Island while Jacob is alive. Yet, we know Jacob has navigated off the Island for years (interacting with Kate, Sawyer, Jack, Jin & Sun, Hurley, Ilana). Why can’t MIB leave? For him at least, the Island DOES seem to be hell.
- Don’t know if we got a mirror scene in this episode, but that may have something to do with the fact that we didn’t flash over to the Sideways world. I suspect we’ll pick back up with that theme next week if the episode is Kwon-centric (as it appears to be). But we did get a reflection of the Black Rock in the puddles on the Island. So there’s that.
- I think the guy that plays MIB kinda looks like me. Same salt and pepper hair, cropped close, oval like face. I don’t know; it kinda makes me want to root for him. But I’m more convinced than ever that he’s really the bad guy in all of this.
- I’m thinking Hurley might be next in line to replace Jacob. He’s beginning to take charge, from the way he talks to Jack on the beach to his relentless pursuit of Richard in the jungle. Or maybe Hurley stands to be the next Richard. In fact, at episode’s end, he functions in much the same way Richard has: as Jacob’s representative. How fitting, then, that Hurley should be the one to aid Richard in the restoration of his faith. Moving forward, I presume that Richard will be a key figure in keeping Smokey from leaving the Island. I don’t know what to make of Isabella’s chilling final comment: If Smokey leaves, they all go to hell. Yikes.