Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lost: "Ab Aeterno"

 ab aeterno
"Since the beginning of time..."

The delay of this writing is due to the fact that this was one of those episodes of Lost that was so textured and deep, from the dialogue to the images, that I just had to re-watch and ponder. For Richard and Lost fans alike, this episode was a long time coming; Richard (or should I say "Ricardo") is such a mysterious and ominous character, the show had a hard task of living up to, and fulfilling our expectations that we all probably had for finding out just where the hell the "Man in the Eye-Liner" (MiEL) came from, and what his true purpose is.

The history and trials of the 150+ year old have elements that we know to hold true in a lot of our castaways past or present lives: death of a love, murder, faith (or loss of it).

I don't think it's such a coincidence that the two characters that Richard's history seems to parallel are on-island Sawyer and Sayid;  all of these men lost the love of their lives, they have committed murder, and ultimately they all lost their will and turn toward Smokey (we'll get to Hurly/Richard later). I give a nod of the similarity being closer to Sawyer, as both of his and Richard's murders can also be checked in the "oops, my bad" category.

Even with a compelling and emotional story that rivals other great Lost episodes like "The Constant," Richard's story was heaped upon it a mountain of complexity thanks to the MiB and the MiW. If you have some sort of DVR, the biggest reason to hit  rewind was to try and parse (and not be twisted by) the masterful manipulations of Smokey and Jacob. The biggest "red herring" and sly wink to lost fandom was the immediate declaration by Richard at the beginning of the episode that everyone on the island is dead, and they are in hell; of course, we didn't know at the time that Richard was reverting back to old-school Catholic upbringing, but that is only half the point.

Richard thinks he was in hell because he programmed to believe that was the only place he could go, thanks to the notion he couldn't be absolved from the sin of murder; we also learned from his murder that the WWE is a devil's pastime, because clearly Richard was going for a table bodyslam and the Dr. fell wrong. Anywho, a long standing theory from season 1 was that all the castaways were dead, and the island was a sort of purgatory. I, myself, even postulated at one point that the MiB was the devil and the island was the place were he fell after being cast out of heaven, with Jacob being his eternal jailer.

Ok, so that theory might look a little better on the surface after this episode, especially if you take to the MiB really being "evil" incarnate, but the religion angle was at most a con for Richard and the fans, akin to the one that Smokey laid on Richard in this episode.  You see like Richard, we were all predisposed to fall for the "island is hell (purgatory)" story because we have heard it all before. Of course, Smokey knows what made Richard, and us, tick.

We now have an MO for Mr. Smokey:
  1. Find target(s), eliminate all other bystanders. 
  2. Examine target's soul: his or her hopes and fears.
  3. Project their greatest hopes or wishes to lure them
  4. Prey upon them and corrupt them by using their fears against them
So, if we revisit Smokey/MiB's first encounter with Richard on the Black Rock, we see Smokey's divide and conquer strategy play out in full. He first arrives in his "seek and destroy" mode, and after killing all other survivors, has the time to examine his target (paparazzi flashes). I refer to Richard as a target and not a "survivor" because Jacob brought the Black Rock the island, so the MiB had to have already determined to either leave one person alive to try and corrupt to kill Jacob, or a specific person to corrupt (Richard). After Smokey analyzed Richard, he came to him under the guise of his love and someone he trusts, Isabella, to lay the ground work for his con by convincing Richard of his greatest fear (thanks to his religion) that he was in hell. Smokey then projected Isabella's death by something unseen, "the devil," so that he can appear before Richard in his true form and offer a way out: kill the devil (Jacob).

Richard had very basic religious fears, and so Smokey's approach in trying to convince Richard to kill Jacob was to use his religion and beliefs against him. Curiously, the method of Jacob's demise was the same knife Dogen gave Sayid to try and slay the MiB, with the same warning attached, "If he speaks, it is already too late." Interestingly, the knife that Ben held when he slew Jacob was unremarkable - and Jacob did indeed speak before being shanked. My guess on the identical "read before using" warnings is that the "not speaking" has to do with both entities power of persuasion.

After a half-dead trek to the now destroyed statue (Jacob probably brought the Black Rock as part of a cosmic-insurance fraud scheme to build him some prettier digs), the Spanish Stallion is met with a pretty substantial Chuck Norris-like ass-kicking (sans roundhouse kick). Welcome to the worst (or best) day every Richard!

What Jacob also has: some pretty big insight. We now know what the purpose of the island is, at least in a "dumbed-down for the 18th century farmer analogy": it is proverbial stopper over a well of evil, and the island is the only thing that can keep it from washing over the world. Pretty heavy. Some other Jacob and MIB things of note:
  • Either by choice, or because of the "rules," Jacob cannot have an active influence on anyone he brings to the island. As part of their eternal game, Jacob seeks to prove to the MiB that not everyone is corruptible, and that people themselves can determine what is right from wrong. The problem that Jacob was having is that because he was unable to have an active influence like the MiB, and Smokey was easily able to corrupt or kill every generation of castaway. Hence the creation of the first "other;" Richard became Jacob's liaison and mouthpiece to try and protect his castaways. 
  • Curiously, Jacob brought the Black Rock to the island, but he doesn't know who Richard is? Especially after the admission that everyone before Richard had died, we are still faced with the ambiguity that remains on just how noble Jacob is. It is noble to be the gatekeeper that keeps evil from washing over the world, but why bring innocent bystanders to the island just to prove a point to that evil? Was Jacob always expecting to die, thus bringing more potential candidates? Clearly, we are missing big chunks of information on what exactly the candidates must do to ascend.
  • Jacob tells MiB, "You know you can't kill me, there will always be another." This reminded me of the oft-referenced movie Star Wars when Obi-Wan tells Vader, "If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can even imagine." I think Jacob was hinting at, that in the event of his demise, he would be able to break the rule that limited him to not having an active influence. Since leaning into the knife, Jacob is now able to appear at will to Hurley and aid his candidates. 
  • What is the origin of this massive evil on the island? Is it a pool where the worst of mankind's actions settle? Or is the evil a singular entity?

In the end, Jacob admits to not being able to raise the dead (I guess Locke didn't die from that fall) or go back in time and take away Ricardo's murder. He WAS able to sideways bro-hug him to immortality. Obviously we can assume from Richard's role that he still has intimate knowledge left to be shared to our "candidates."

Speaking of which (back on the island), Jack's group got to finally talking about fake dead Locke and being candidates, but once again it was Hurley who is the go-to facilitator. He is my odds-on favorite to win Jacob's job (check out the odds here), as well as my vote for the islands "biggest-loser," since Jacob has him running marathons everywhere. Just when Alpert was going to pull a Sawyer/Sayid, Hugo used his "gift" and proved his value in keeping Alpert on the team by delivering a message from his dead wife. I am starting to wonder, though, where the hell all these spirits are hanging out that they are so ready to appear and assist.

That's when it hit me, what if like the MiB, Jacob is either now able to, or always has been able to manifest himself as something or someone else (Christian Shepherd anyone?). Food for thought.

As Hurley and Richard depart, the camera pulls back to Smokey, who was just a wee bit late in answering Richard's call and looked pretty pissed because of it. That old smoke is losing it's touch - can't fly like it used to (or explode from the ground...).

In reference to my current odds, I might have to back-track on the odds that place our candidates as the new MiB; I am not sure how many of them qualify as evil-incarnate at this point.  Perhaps I will update them before next weeks episode. I am off to invest in that "Rosetta Stone" software; I got a craving to learn me some Spanglish.

- Claymhor

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