Mar 24, 2010

Ab Aeterno

This was it folks, the episode we've waited years to see. It was Richard Alpert's back story! What did everyone think of Ab Aeterno (translated to mean since the beginning of time or from eternity)? Was it worth the wait? Did it meet your expectations?

While it will definitely go down as one of the best of season 6, I'm not sure it fully lived up to my expectations. Maybe I've set the bar too high. My first response after watching it was that I wanted more. Sure, I enjoyed the answers they gave and enjoyed seeing Richard's origins, but with only a handful of episodes left, it's still frustrating with how vague the writers are about revealing information.

After sleeping on it, I think I like the episode a lot more than I did just after it was over. This will be one of the more rewatchable episodes of Lost, but I'm not ready to put it up there with Walkabout, Exodus, Through the Looking Glass, The Constant or Jughead -- some of the more popular of the series and sure-fire Top 10 episodes.

I guess my main disappointment was that instead of just getting Richard's origin story, I thought we'd see more of Richard through the years. Seeing him develop into the role of adviser, seeing him interact with numerous leaders of the Others, seeing him welcome new people to the island and maybe provide them an answer or two about the island. But overall, it was a real solid episode, one that I'd give somewhere around an A- to an A ... it just wasn't the A++ effort I was hoping for, but at least we didn't have to sit through another flash sideways story!

Richard, in a nutshell
We were presented with an overview of Richard's origins in coming to the island. We started in 1867 where Richard was living on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. His wife is sick so he goes to get the doctor. The doctor refuses to come with him, they get in a spat, and Richard accidentally kills the doc.

Then Richard's in prison and set to be hanged for the murder. He asks a priest for absolution, but since he's to die the next day, the priest says he doesn't have the time needed for penance. Therefore, Richard is going to hell. But the priest sells him into slavery aboard the one and only Black Rock. Richard is now the possession of Magnus Hanso. While in chains on the Black Rock, the ship is caught in a nasty storm and shipwrecks on an island ... no wait, the island.

There you have it, that, my friends is how Richard Alpert made his way to crap hole island. It was cool to get this origin story, but unfortunately, the big surprise that he arrived as a slave on Black Rock had pretty much been revealed already. Still it was funl to actually see it.

Richard meets Man in Black
Now once Richard made it onto the island, things really got interested (except for the 20 minutes or so that he was just locked in chains and didn't do much. I know it wasn't really 20 minutes and more stuff happened, but that part dragged on a bit).

Just after the crash, Whitfield kills the slaves with his sword, since they are running low on supplies. Before he can get to Richard, Smokey makes an appearance, and kills everyone except Richard and performs the familiar flashing scan (as we saw the smoke do to Juliette and Kate) on him. Why did he spare Richard? What did he see in him that made him thing he would be the one to help him with his plan to execute Jacob?

Later, no doubt using the intel he received from the scan, Smokey returns in the form of Richard's wife, Isabella. Isabella tells him they are both dead and that the island is hell, just as Richard told Jack and company earlier in the episode. I guess since Richard lost faith in Jacob, he feels like it really is hell.

Man in Black continued the manipulation and made it look like Isabella was attacked by the smoke. He later shows up in his "human" form and frees Richard. He tells him that he's trapped too and needs Richard's help. All of this was just to plant the seed in Richard that Jacob is the devil and to try to get him to help him to get free of the island, and if the island is hell, then the only way to escape hell is to kill the devil. Why does Man in Black say the island is hell. Is it because it's his own personal hell thanks to Jacob?

Something to note from Man in Black's interaction with Richard is that he touched him. Wonder if his touch has any meaning, like Jacob's touch does, or as we learn later, does a certain request or action need to be implied behind the touch? I'll "touch" on this in a bit.

Richard meets Jacob
Man in Black directs Richard to the devil (aka Jacob). He gives a dagger (the same one Dogen gave Sayid?) and provides the same instructions that Dogen gave as well, stab him in the chest but don't let him say a word first. Hmm. Fans wondered at the time if Dogen was setting Sayid up, but apparently this is the way for Jacob and Man in Black to be killed. Looking back though, Ben killed Jacob after he spoke to him, and he didn't have the same dagger.

Richard approaches the statue, but Jacob attacks him. After Richard tells Jacob what Man in Black told him, Jacob sets him straight and tells him that wasn't his wife he saw, and he's not dead and not in hell. Richard doesn't believe him, so Jacob dunks him in the ocean (baptism?) until he says that he wants to live. What happens next is the best conversation of the episode, but also one where Richard should have asked more questions.

Jacob tells Richard that no one comes inside the statue unless he invites them in, something Richard recounts to fake Locke when he wanted to go inside with Ben last season. He also tells him that he's the one who brought the ship to the island and gives the mother of all metaphor's about the island with a wine bottle. Instead of rehashing it myself, here's Lostpedia's recap of the conversation:

The wine is evil, malevolence, the bottle is containing it, because otherwise "it would spread." He explains that the cork represents the island, holding the darkness where it belongs. Jacob says that the Man in Black believes everyone can be corrupted because it is in their nature to be bad and that he, Jacob brings people here to prove the man in black wrong. When questioned on whether or not Jacob has brought people to the island in the past and what happened to them, Jacob replies that he has but they are all now dead. Jacob says he wants people to know the difference between right and wrong without being told.

Wow! Great scene, and I don't even know how to start dissecting it. We've long thought of the island as a battle of good vs. evil and some have speculated that Jacob and Man in Black are God and the devil. The devil was thrown around a bunch in this episode, mostly by Man in Black toward Jacob. Is he deflecting who he really is onto Jacob, so the people don't realize that they're really dealing with the devil in him?

One surprise is that Jacob is pretty nonchalant about the people who he's brought to the island that have died. Once he brings them, they are on their own to make their own choices, so if they choice wrong, their fault, not Jacob's. All to prove a point to Man in Black to show him that not everyone can be corrupted.

Another thing Jacob said points directly back to our 815 survivors. He said that once they get to the island, their pasts don't matter. We've seen that redemption from the past with many of the 815 survivors.

Jacob's Touch
Since Jacob can't interfere with the people he's brought to the island, he asks Richard to be his representative. This is how Richard gets his adviser role, but I wanted to see more of Richard feeling his way through that role and anything else Jacob taught him about the island.

Finally, we get to Jacob's touch and Richard becoming ageless. It was actually Richard's request, which surprised me. As a reward for taking the job with Jacob, Richard first asks for his wife back then asked to be absolved from his sins. Jacob can't do either of those, so Richard said he wants to live forever then. That, Jacob can do, and with a touch on the shoulder, it was done (I assume this was the touch that Richard later calls a curse).

Back to my point earlier about the touches. Man in Black touched Richard, and Jacob had touched him before this point as well (the fight and the drowning). Does the touch only mean something if Jacob wants it to? Once Richard asked to live forever, then Jacob granted it through touch so none of the other touches mattered.

Jacob and Man in Black Talk, Take II
The more we learn about Man in Black, the harder it is to draw a line in the sand and say he's pure evil and Jacob pure good. I still think that Man in Black is the evil one, but Jacob is just as much a manipulator, and the way he doesn't care about those who die on the island makes it harder to believe he's 100% good. Man in Black is always friendly and tells people exactly what they want and need hear (which could be a trait of the devil).

Man in Black told Richard that Jacob stole his body and his humanity. But how much can we believe? Of course he's leaving out lots of minor details, so we have see the origins of their battle to find out what to truly believe.

Their conversation at the end of the episode was another great one and continues their discussion from The Incident. When they get together, the two are cordial to each other and don't get heated with their conversation. Maybe this is part of the rules.

Man in Black just wants to leave, but Jacob says that as long as he's alive, he isn't going anywhere. That's why he wants to kill him, and he threatens to kill those who take Jacob's place too. Jacob leaves the wine bottle with Man in Black and says I'll see you around, to which Man in Black replies, sooner than you think and breaks the bottle. We've heard him say "sooner than you think" before. Does this mean something more or is it just his catch phrase?

When fake Locke brought Ben into the base of the statue to kill Jacob, it had seemed that the two hadn't seen each other in a while. I wonder how often they got together and if they hadn't seen each other in a while at that point, then what pushed them apart? Could it have been a certain cabin?

Answers? You want answers? How did Richard arrive on the island? Why is Black Rock so far inland? What destroyed the four-toed statue? What's the island? How come Richard Alpert doesn't age? Why is it important that Hurley speaks Spanish and can see dead people? The last one wasn't a series mystery, but it was answered. Ehese were answered in some form or another. We even got another confirmation that Man in Black is the black smoke. It's like they have to tell us this reveal every week now to make sure we're paying attention.

So here we go with the big ones:
  • How did Richard arrive on the island? He was aboard Black Rock as a slave, and Jacob brought the ship to the island.
  • Why is Black Rock so far inland? & What destroyed the four-toed statue? These two go together as it was a huge wave during a storm that swept Black Rock inland on the island, but only after it crashed through the statue, destroying it. Funny that not much other damage from the wave or the crash was visible.
  • What's the island? The island is a cork of course. Who didn't know that?
  • How come Richard Alpert doesn't age? Richard actually told Jacob he wanted to live forever. He wants to live forever because he doesn't want to die and go to hell.
  • Hurley's importance: Hurley finally gets to use two of his skills, interacting with the dead and speaking Spanish. I knew that guy was way more important than we thought.
Ilana's Important Too
This episode revisited Jacob's visit to Ilana in the hospital, when she had her face all bandaged (still waiting on that story). We also saw them meeting again, and Jacob laid out the plan for her. She has six candidates to protect. There names would be on the list. This is what she'd been trained to do. So who trained her and what kind of training was it? Since the rest of her team is now dead, why was she the only one given the top notch training? Ilana asks Jacob what to do once she's brought them to the Temple (so this is where her plan ends and brings us to present time on the island) and he said to ask Ricardus, aka Richard.

Well, Richard didn't know what to do next, but luckily his wife told Hurley. They have to stop the Man in Black from leaving the island or they're all going to hell. Going to hell has been Richard's biggest fear since his wife died more than 100 years ago.

Other Tidbits

I guess the ship we saw arriving on the island at the beginning of The Incident wasn't really Black Rock after all. Black Rock had a much more rocky arrival.

When Richard told Jack that you're dead and we're all dead, I was worried that they were going back to the old purgatory story.

What happened to all the pieces of statue in the water and on the beach? Where'd they go over the years?

Was Whitfield meant to remind of of the name Widmore?

Who buried Magnus Hanso? On the Swan Hatch blast door map, there was a part about where Magnus was buried, but if Richard was the only survivor from Black Rock, then who buried him? And, how did the ship's log make it into auction in present day?

We see Jacob and Man in Black's "inside joke" with Jacob giving a white rock to Richard to bring to Man in Black. I guess whenever someone chooses Jacob over Man in Black, its a white rock and if they chose they other way, Man in Black gets to give a black rock.

Are we ever going to get an official name for Man in Black?

After writing this recap, I like this episode even more. This is going to be one that keeps growing on me the more I think and talk about it.

Other recaps and analysis on "Ab Aeterno":
Next on Lost: "The Package"

*Photos from


Chris said...

I know, yes or no, if we will get an official name for MIB.

Do you want to know that, or would you rather remain entirely unspoiled?

Also, the 5th Round-Up is up, featuring your great blog :)

Ernie said...

I'd rather remain unspoiled for sure

Chris said...

Cool, just checking it that was a literal or rhetorical question :)

Nice write-up! :)