LOST Recap: Season 6, Episode 8: “Ab Aeterno”

25 03 2010

Well now, that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it?  I know alot of you had high hopes for this episode along with me, and I’d have to think that you couldn’t have been disappointed by it.  The story of Richard getting to the island and falling into his role was compelling in and of itself, and at the same time, the episode seemed to confirm some theories that most of us had thought were true.  I’ll go on record to say that I think one key reason (of many) that made the show work so spectacularly was that there was no flash-sideways.  We went back to the tried-and-true flashback method (as expected), and as a result, had a resounding 5-star episode.   I have to say, I was originally not going to write this entry so soon due to some changes in my personal schedule this week, but the episode begs for a recap, and I simply can’t wait to put this together and get it out there to all of you.  So here we go!

Ab Aeterno

OK, so just a quick level set here for those of you who don’t speak Latin, and didn’t want to do the research on looking up the translation.  What it means is “from eternity” or “from the beginning of time”.  Certainly appropriate for a Richard episode.

“Candidates for what?”

Very interesting approach to the start of this episode.  It actually begins with a flashback for Ilana, when Jacob requests that she protect the remaining six candidates.  In a Richard flashback, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  But the way I interpret it is that we’re meant to fully believe what happens in this episode.  This information is not a lie, or even a misdirection.  We’re getting a flashback for pieces of information and a conversation that the writers want us to take at face value, and not question with regards to validity.

“Ask Ricardos, he’ll know what to do next.”

I want to be sure to point out this line of dialogue, because I think it’s easy for it to get lost in the revelations later in the show.  Jacob clearly means for Richard to guide Team Ilana through the next steps.  But as he takes off and appears to be ready to switch to the Smoking Club, we never get an explanation, or any info in his flashback that indicates that he has a clue.  In fact, he seems to be nothing more than a liaison for Jacob.  I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, as I’m going to dive into this in greater detail when discussing the scenes between Richard and Jacob.  For now, keep it in the back of your head that Jacob told Ilana that Richard should know what to do.  All eyes are on him…let’s see if there’s anything that justifies that faith.

Tenerife, Canary Islands – 1867

Ricardo riding his horse home

So we don’t know exactly how old Richard was when the series of events that brought him to the island occurred, but it’s safe to say that he hasn’t aged in over 130 years.  And, based on the events of the episode, we can also assume that the statue has been reduced to it’s 4-toed remnant for just as long.  I mention this because it confirms that the statue’s destruction had nothing to do with women not being able to give birth on the island.  Juliet was able to deliver a baby in the Dharma Barracks in 1977.  These events are unrelated in time, so something else must be the cause.  At this point, the only thing that seems to make any sense is the detonation of Jughead.  And if you take a second to think about it, that’s pretty ironic.  Juliet was brought to the island in approximately 2001/2002 in order to solve a problem she created by her actions on the island in 1977.  Gotta love it!

The Things We Do For Love

Ah, poor Richard.  The man goes through a full night’s journey through the rain to retrieve medicine for his wife, but she is ultimately unsaveable.  And for his trouble (as a result of accidentally killing the doctor), he gets jail time.  But it’s ultimately this willingness to do anything for his wife that eventually sets the series of events in motion that makes him Jacob’s liaison.  But I’ll get to that a little later on.

Luke 4:24

OK, so bear with me for just a minute as I spend a bit of time on the biblical verse shown as clear as day on the screen in this episode, when Richard is confined to prison.  I want to do so because it’s shown to us for a reason, and I actually think I understand the meaning behind the verse, and how it applies to the story of LOST.  Here goes…

The verse goes like this: And he said, “Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.”  Without the proper context, and read on its own, this verse makes very little sense at all.  But what’s happening here is that Jesus is replying to a group in his hometown that have heard of his prophetic deeds second-hand, after he had left.  They see him as the son of a carpenter, and are highly skeptical of his professed status as savior.  How could this man be a prophet?  How could he know what he’s talking about?  Thus Jesus’ retort that he could (and any other prophet) could not be fully received in his hometown.  It’s only through others, from outside, that his true value can be understood.

So how does this relate to LOST?  Well, potentially in two ways.  One is somewhat straightforward but possibly weakly applicable.  The other is something that I had in mind way back when I watched “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”, but never really tried to explain until now.

So here’s the first application: Jacob is fighting a battle against the Man in Black.  As he states later in this episode, there are two aspects to this conflict: to keep him on the island, and to convince him that humanity is not inherently sinful.  While the specifics are unclear as to when Jacob “wins”, in order to try to win the second part of this battle, he brings people from the outside to attempt to convince MIB that this is the case.  In other words, Jacob’s beliefs and abilities will never simply be accepted by the Man in Black; the “rules” dictate that he must be convinced by outsiders.

And now, for a second application, which I think is much more fitting, but calls for some type of miraculous ending to the series.  So think back with me for a bit to the story of the episode, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”.  Check it out here here for my recap if it’s been awhile.  In it, John Locke turns the frozen donkey wheel on the island, and is sent to Tunisia and picked up by Charles Widmore.  Widmore then fully funds Locke’s “magical mystery tour”: he visits Sayid in the Dominican Republic, then Walt in New York, Hurley in Santa Rosa, and Kate in Los Angeles.  Finally, he meets up with Jack in a Santa Monica hospital.  What’s the one thing that all of these meetings had in common?  With the exception of the Walt visit, Locke is completely rejected (and perhaps thought of as crazy) by each of his friends.  They all see him as a common man, stuck in a wheelchair, and that his fanaticism about the island and the idea that they have to go back is ridiculous.  It’s not until after his death, via convincing from others, that they all come around, and in fact do return.  Locke was not received in his “hometown”, his set of friends.

Just to be 100% clear, I’m comparing Locke’s exploits with Jesus, especially regarding this particular verse.  And I’m also suggesting, despite all evidence to the contrary, that I believe that Locke is still going to pull off some type of miraculous resurrection/reincarnation and become the savior of the island and Jacob’s replacement.  Considering who’s currently assuming the form of Locke’s body, that’s a bold prediction, isn’t it?  I’m either going to look like a complete fool or an absolute genius…

Anyway, thanks for following me on that aside.  It seemed incredibly relevant to me, and I hope that it at least gives all of you some food for thought.

Black Rock, Tawaret.  Tawaret, Black Rock.

Tawaret, about to be run through by the Black Rock

So there’s another question answered: it was the Black Rock that turned the statue into a 4-toed remnant.  And that should be taken literally: the ship itself crashes into the statue somehow, and destroys it, leaving the ship mostly intact, but far inland.  I have to admit, I’m having a hard time buying this one folks.  Somehow some huge wave (maybe a tsunami) gets the Black Rock high enough to smash into the top of the statue?  that would certainly explain how it got so far inland, but wouldn’t the island be mostly submerged if that were the case?  And wouldn’t the ship be more likely to break apart than the statue?  I guess in the grand scheme it’s mostly irrelevant, but the explanation for those two questions (how did the Black Rock get so far inland and how did the statue come down)…questions that we’ve been asking for quite some time…leave me wanting.

Richard narrowly escapes death…twice

Our man Alpert is having some really terrible luck.  Not only did he accidentally kill the doctor that was supposed to save his wife, but she dies before he could save her.  Then, his slave ship runs aground, and one of the ship’s officers goes on a killing spree.  Of course, just before he feels the steel of the officer’s blade, Smokey delivers his own bloodbath.  Finally, Richard goes face-to-face with Smokey himself…and survives.

I’m guessing that some of you are perhaps taking for granted the reasons why Richard was spared, or perhaps haven’t given it much thought.  I’m going to tell you exactly why he wasn’t killed like the rest of them, and also why any of those that have been spared by Smokey didn’t meet with their demise, but let me first quickly recap the rest of the events prior to Richard finally getting off of the ship.

By the way…

Another quick little aside here, perhaps meaningful, perhaps not.  Did any of you notice the butterfly sweeping through the scene right after coming back from commercial following the Black Rock massacre?  I mention it because the flight path seems highly deliberate, going directly to the Black Rock, and then through the lower deck where Richard was chained.  And, while I didn’t have a chance to go back through and re-watch it, the color of the butterfly seemed vaguely reminiscent of the color of the old “Hurley bird” that we haven’t seen since way back in Season 2.  I might be reading too much into a simple transition, but I at least wanted to mention it.

Richard goes through a long, painful struggle to get free

Richard struggles to get free

What must certainly be days pass before he finally breaks down and has a vision of his deceased wife, Isabella.  Or is she deceased?  Many apparently dead people have appeared to loved ones on the show.  Regardless, Richard convinces her to try to escape before “the devil” comes back, but as soon as she makes it topside, we hear Smokey’s signature noises, and Isabella’s screams.  Richard is beyond distraught.  But not surprisingly, what appears to be shortly thereafter, he is met by our Man in Black (who is indeed still wearing black, by the way).  And of course, the Man in Black has a proposition for Richard: his freedom for the life of Jacob.

Let’s stop right here.  One quick thing to share: I don’t believe anything that MIB says to Richard in this scene.  I could analyze it, but I feel as though it would be fairly pointless.  No, what I’d rather analyze is the sequence of events, because I think it hammers home a somewhat fuzzy theory that I’ve had, potentially to the contradiction of what you might think is happening.  This theory is best understood with the supporting evidence found in “Dead is Dead”, so feel free to head back to my initial recap of that episode if you’ve got time for a refresher.

Note the very specific order of events with Richard: first, he is scanned/read by Smokey.  We know that Smokey can read people’s minds, as was shown when it read Mr. Eko back in Season 2’s “The 23rd Psalm”.  After being scanned, an apparition of Isabella appears to Richard.  And then, Smokey requests that Richard kill Jacob.  I think that each of these events is related, and highly sequential.  Think for a minute about the prominent Smokey scans of the series: Locke early on, Eko in Season 2, Ben in Season 5, and now Richard in Season 6.  It could be argued, and I think the prevailing thought is, that each individual was spared because they were repentant, or pure in heart.  But I am hereby attempting to debunk that theory.  Now that we know who Smokey is, and what he’s all about, I think we can take the scans one level higher.  While you could say that each of the characters were “pure of heart” at the time of their scan, you could also argue that they all had something else in common: a situation or character flaw that Smokey could exploit.

Think of it this way: if you desperate to kill someone, but you can’t do it yourself, who are the best people to try to recruit to do that task for you?  People that have had tremendous loss, or are in a mental state that would make them do almost anything…if they could have a certain condition met.  Working backwards, Richard would do anything to see Isabella or be with her.  MIB knows this due to his scan of Richard’s mind.  Thus, he presents a vision of her to him, and makes him believe that he can see her if he does his bidding.  That’s strong motivation.  Last season, right after Ben was scanned and “judged” by Smokey, his daughter appeared, compelling him to do whatever Locke said…including killing Jacob.  Eko originally had a similar weakness, feeling nearly uncontrollable repentance and remorse for his actions that led to his brother’s death.  But later, Eko said he felt as though he didn’t do anything wrong, eliminating the possibility of Smokey using that remorse to manipulate Eko to do his will.  His usefulness depleted, Smokey killed him.  And finally, when Locke was scanned back in Season 1, he was willing to do whatever the island told him because he believed so strongly in destiny.  MIB used that mindset to pull of his biggest manuever of all: getting Locke to both position himself as the leader of the Others, and to sacrifice himself “for the island”.  Of course, we know that it was MIB himself that had Richard relay the message to Locke that he should die.  This allowed MIB to create a loophole in Jacob’s rules: the ability to get into his living quarters, and to do so with someone that was willing to kill him.

The bottom line is this: Smokey scans you for a singular purpose: to find something in your life that he can manipulate.  To find things that are so incredibly important to you that you are willing to “sin” for him if he promises to give those things to you.  And of course, he can deliver.  But by the time he does, you’re already playing for the wrong team.

One other related item to quickly touch upon: I’m still not 100% convinced that the apparitions are Smokey himself.  They could be, and likely are.  And if not, they are certainly working with Smokey in many cases.  But there still exists the possibility that they are a 3rd party in this conflict.  And the reason why I’m of the belief that this could still be the case is because of the young blond boy we saw in the same location as Smokey in “The Substitute” from earlier this season.  If Smokey was/is the apparitions, how could Sawyer see both the form of Locke that he was using, as well as the young boy, at the same time?  To me, that’s still an unexplained mystery.

I hope that all made sense.  Smokey’s a manipulative guy.  And while we all first thought that surviving Smokey meant that you were “pure of heart” or “true to the island”, I think we’re giving MIB too much credit if we still think that now.

Jacob explains LOST’s endgame to Richard

Richard listens intently to Jacob's explanations

Pardon me, but I’m again going to completely skip the dialogue between MIB and Richard.  While he makes some interesting statements that echo things that Dogen said, you have to mostly believe that everything he says is a lie.  Instead, I’m going to focus on Jacob’s conversation with Richard, which are chock full of informational nuggets, and ones that I think we can take at face value.

First of all, we get confirmation that the island is indeed a prison for Smokey.  He desperately wants to get off the island, apparently to spread his evil around the world.  But Jacob is somehow using the island as a way to keep him there.  This “game” is an effort to keep the balance of good and evil in the world even, or at least as even as possible.  Taken a step further, it could be argued that Jacob’s decisions on who to bring to the island to help him in this task is critical.  Therefore, if something were to happen that would disallow him from bringing those he wanted (perhaps the existing candidates), then evil (Smokey) might win.  No wonder Faraday’s mom told Desmond that he was saving the world by pushing the button.  Doing so made it possible to bring the candidates to the island.  Additionally, it explains why she set up her son to die at her hands via his time travel exploits.  She sacrificed her son for the welfare of the human race.

Jacob makes his point with a bottle of wine

By the way, are you wondering at all what might REALLY happen if Smokey got off the island?  Just how would all of that evil “spread” like Jacob says?  If the good guys win (and I’m guessing we agree that we hope they do), then we’ll never know, will we?  Or will we?  Prior to this episode, I think we’ve actually been shown a timeline in which the island is submerged…and more than likely, is no longer holding Smokey in place.  And that’s the flash-sideways.  I’m now convinced more than ever that the flash-sideways is going to show us what happens if/when Smokey wins.  It’ll deliver the consequences of what happens if our LOSTies lose the final battle against Smokey in the finale.  (But I promise I’ll still finish the post I’ve started regarding the possibilities of what the flash-sideways could be).

Some other quick analysis of Jacob’s rules of the conflict: the only thing that matters for the purposes of proving a sinful nature versus an inherently good nature is what happens on the island.  Apparently, people can be “redeemed” if they make the right choices once they arrive.  Additionally, as we thought based upon the events in last season’s finale, Jacob has a very firm non-interference policy.  In order to prove the inherent righteousness of humanity, he feels as though the actions of the people he encounters or brings to the island must be of their own free will.  Of course, since MIB has no such restrictions, it puts Jacob at a bit of a disadvantage.  Thus the idea of having Richard as his liaison.  He needs someone to be his spokesperson (another possible allusion to Luke 4:24 listed above?).

The last piece we get out of the conversation is a a final confirmation that Jacob does indeed have the power to grant eternal life, and he does so with Richard.  Things to ponder about that: how does he have this ability?  What’s the nature of his being that gives him this power?  Additionally, why is he using it so sparingly?  I’d think that he’d want to give it to all of his potential candidates for replacement, and perhaps even to himself.

“He told me to give you this.”

While the gesture of Richard giving the white rock to MIB was certainly meant as a way for Jacob to antagonize him, I can’t help but to think about the skeletons in the cave.  They were holding white and black rocks, perhaps signifying opposite sides of the conflict.  Initially my thought was that Adam & Eve were likely Jack & Kate…and then I switched to Rose & Bernard.  But now, neither of those two seem to make a lot of sense.  It appears as though they’ll come from opposing teams, perhaps killing each other in the upcoming war.  Anything I would throw out there would be a complete guess at this point…

“Does the offer still stand?”

Very interesting scene towards the end of the episode, where Richard is almost imploring Smokey to allow him to be on his team so that he can see his wife again.  But amazingly, despite being in the vicinity, he allows Richard to be swayed back to Team Jacob by Hurley’s ability to speak with his wife’s apparition.  And thus, it appears as though Richard has his wits about him again.  Whether or not that will translate into him being able to remember what Jacob wanted him to do with Team Ilana remains to be seen.

One last rule of the game

Jacob and MIB have another chat

The final scene does a great job of explaining why MIB is on the recruitment warpath.  While he was successful in getting someone to kill Jacob, in order to be fully freed of the worry that anyone else could take his place, he needs to eliminate the rest of the candidates.  Unfortunately for him, he can’t do it himself (this was reinforced by the young blond boy as well).  So what he needs to do is get recruits that he can deploy to try to do that dirty work for him.

Of course, there’s one final little piece of this that I don’t understand.  If all MIB needs to do in order to get off the island is have someone kill Jacob, then why the heck is not checking out the instant that the deed is carried out?  It seems to me that he should be long gone already.  Unless, of course, he requires someone to physically remove him from the island.  Perhaps that’s why he’s got Hydra Island and the Ajira plane in his sights…

Post-episode questions:

1. Can Richard remember what directives he’s supposed to give Team Jacob?

2. What’s the process to move from a candidate to Jacob’s replacement?  Why hasn’t that process gotten started?

3. Why did Locke allow Richard to remain on Team Jacob?

4. Are the apparitions really the Smoke Monster, or are they a separate entity?

5. Can you believe that we’re already halfway through the final season?

Overall, this was a spectacular episode, both in terms of the self-contained story of Richard Alpert, and the way it framed the story to give us so many answers and confirmations.  I hope all of you enjoyed it as much as I did!

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2 responses

25 03 2010
DDay

Post-episode questions:

1. Can Richard remember what directives he’s supposed to give Team Jacob?

Yes. I think he’s conflicted though. Hurley gave him instructions- that didn’t actually seem to be from Isabella- telling Richard to help kill Smokey or if he escapes, they all go to hell. I think he buys it and is on team Jacob moving forward.

2. What’s the process to move from a candidate to Jacob’s replacement? Why hasn’t that process gotten started?

I think it has gotten started in earnest. Hurley is definitely in a different place. Notice how he told Jack it was none of his business who he was talking to? I think we’ve waited because like Jacob casually said candidates that come to the island “are all dead”. I think the remaining cast members start to die now- as Smokey targets those that don’t follow him, ie, Sun, etc. Bringing this down to two in the end. I think you nailed Smokey’s MO and once the manipulative potential of a pawn is gone through redemption, the pawn is removed. see Eko. I think that begins source conflicts for core people that signal the beginning of the end. Jin will fight for Sun. Jack and Sawyer will clearly fight for Kate. Jarrah? Reyes? Jacob will watch and in the end will touch the “winner”. Smokey will transfer from “Locke” to someone else- as the dead Locke somehow re-emerges. I’m still going to guess it’s Jack and Sawyer in the end- but I’ll be wrong. Probably be Jack and Locke with Sawyer and Kate dead in the cave.

I love the idea that Locke will ressurect somehow. The bible passage and the Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham definitely lends itself to that type of direction. It makes sense that the show ends with two opposing forces, one light, one dark, that in balance. Jack-Sawyer? Jack-Locke? Any combination of Locke, Jack, Sawyer or even Hurley? Who knows? Free will is the key.

3. Why did Locke allow Richard to remain on Team Jacob?

Once touched, you can’t kill them. Rules are rules. They can change sides through free will though.

4. Are the apparitions really the Smoke Monster, or are they a separate entity?

I think they are a separate entity and I think there are three positions being recruited for. Hurley is in line for that one.

5. Can you believe that we’re already halfway through the final season?

Nope. That episode was so good. Nestor Carbonell’s acting talent is incredible. The show’s high points makes it feel like a movie and this episode had that feel. Its’ low points make it feel a little like hokey sci-fi (the ship banging into the statue was lame to be honest)- but still… just incredible. They have us all guessing and looking for clues everywhere. It’s so well thought through that I don’t believe we’ll see episodic TV like this again. Simply the best ever in my opinion.

25 03 2010
Robert Bonamico

I don’t think Ricardos is supposed to tell Team Illana what to do. I think that Jacob knew that he would be having a crisis of faith when this moment came, which further proves that Jacob was anticipating his own death. He knew that Richard would be tempted to go back to MiB. I think when he told Illlana to pose the question to Richard, it would ultimately force him to confront that challenge, and he apparently passed the test. Now Ricardos is back where he belongs. Whether he becomes a leader of sorts remains to be seen, but he is still a key player, and he may be the one that stops MiB in the end, as he was instructed to do so by his wife, who, incidentally, is pretty hot for a dead chick 🙂

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