M: So, as I mentioned last week, I was really excited for this week. This week we finally got back story on Richard. As the previews and commercials for this week stated, Richard is “the most mysterious man on the island”… dun dun DUHHHHHH! Ok, maybe they didn’t put that much emphasis on the music, but you get the point. Well, I’m not sure Richard is the most mysterious man on the island, I think Jacob and Smokey both give him a run for his money there, but he sure as hell is mysterious. Well, a little less so after tonight, as we got an episode that actually had a LOT of answers, and was really entertaining along the way. As always, spoilers abound.
Before I get into the details of the episode, a quick point. Ok, if you’ve read anything I’ve written before you know I have trouble being quick, so let’s just say a point. Really good shows, and I think Lost is one of the best of all time, have the ability to create single episodes that really could stand alone as a separate entity, a movie or something outside the universe of the show itself, and be massively entertaining. One of the all time best shows at this, and the show where I sort of figured out how they are able to do it, was the X Files. I remember reading about one especially good episode, Pusher, that had started out as a screen play for a movie two of the show’s writers were writing. They could never quite figure it out as a movie, so they adapted it to fit in the framework of the X Files, and Mulder specifically, and wrote it as an episode. It was dynamite, one of the best the show ever made, and was so good that they eventually brought the villain back for a later episode. Episodes like that take a regular hour of TV and turn it into a greater experience, a trip to the movies, a night at the theater, I don’t know, just something more.
Lost has pulled this off several times in the past, from the episode that first hooked me on the show, Walkabout, to the one that stands out the most in my mind, The Constant. In case you’re not up on your episode names, Walkabout was the fourth episode of the show, and the first to explore the dearly departed John Locke’s back story, ending with the reveal that he was in a wheel chair before the crash. It was brilliant. I always tell people that if they can watch the first four episodes of the show and not be hooked, then Lost isn’t for them. Between the pilot and Walkabout you get the feel for the show, and the power that it can convey. The Constant is the episode where Desmond (admittedly, my favorite character) is drifting in consciousness between his pre-island failures and departure with Penny, and the freighter just off the coast of the island. We get such a powerful story for his character, and such a deep understanding of his relationship with and love for Penny, and have such empathy for him in the mistakes that he’s made and is trying to correct. It ends with the amazing Christmas Eve phone conversation with Penny, which could easily have been the “Best Picture” clip used at the Oscars had it been in a feature film.
Why am I making this “quick” point? Well, because Ab Aeterno was another of those episodes. We get the story of Ricardo (he clearly adopted Richard Alpert later), from the turning point of his life in the Canary Islands in 1867, through to “today”. It was powerful, touching and informative, and did not disappoint.
We pick up his backstory with his wife near death and in need of care. Desperate, Ricardo rides through storm and the dark of night to find a doctor. The doctor turns out to be the kind of villain we see in westerns, the decadently rich man who wouldn’t give even a bit from his excess to save someone’s life. Unsurprisingly, in his attempt to convince him to help, Ricardo accidentally kills him. As an aside (this one is quick) people are accidentally killed VERY easily on TV and in the movies. Our doctor bumps his head on a table, and is dead instantly. Ricardo rushes home with the medicine, but is too late.
He’s arrested, set to be hanged, but thanks to the, uh, compassion (?) of a priest (who as another aside, rejects his confession. um, last I checked, the priest hears confession, it’s up to God whether or not to forgive) who prevents him from being killed by selling him into slavery. We see the seeds of the Richard we know in Ricardo at this point. We discover he has been learning english so he and his wife could move to “the new world” (it was fun that they set it far enough back that people were still calling it that). We also see his faith, and a foreshadowing of his wisdom and caution as well. He withholds that he can speak english from the slave trader until he knows it’s his only option. More importantly, he is told that he needs time and penance to absolve him of the murder, and he desperately wants to do that.
He ends up the property of Magnus Hanso, and aboard the Black Rock. As it approaches the island, he ship battles a storm at sea, in stark contrast to the scene of it we saw in the season finale from last year, where on a bright sunny morning Jacob and Smokey chat about the ship, and Smokey looking for a loophole. Anyway, the ship gets caught on a huge wave, crashes into and through the Egyptian statue (if I remember correctly it was Horace) and into the jungle, answering the questions both of what happened to the statue and how the ship got into the middle of the jungle. Must have been a heck of a wave!
Back on the ship, the a creep officer that bought him kills most of the slaves (surprisingly, there were only four or five), but he and the rest of the crew are done in by Smokey before he could kill Ricardo. We get some excellently slow paced scenes of him, stuck in the chains on the ship, trying to get himself free and to get water as the rain drips down. So many shows and movies these days are afraid to pace something slowly, and they easily could have jumped from the Smokey scene to a scene much later, simply displaying the passing of time with his beard growth, but they didn’t. They made us feel trapped in the chains with him, stuggling to get free, prying a nail out of the flood board, watching a boar eat from the carcass of one of the other slaves, seeing the nail he struggled so hard for knocked just out of reach, seeing him strain for water, and thus for life.
Then, in classic Smokey fashion, he appears to Ricardo first as his dead wife, saying they are in hell, and that the devil is coming. Smokey pretends to kill her (just out of view), then appears to Ricardo and sets him free. We hear the line that he used as fake Locke when he first saw Richard after getting Ben to kill Jacob, “it’s good to see you out of those chains”, and then as they chat in the jungle we get some more symmetry, with Smokey (in the form we saw him on the beach with Jacob last season) giving him the same dagger, and the same exact instructions, that Dogen gave Sayid in trying to get him to kill Smokey, right down to the “if you let him speak, it’s too late”. Smokey manipulates him in a way that would make Ben proud, pulling at the string of Ricardo wanting to be with his wife, playing on his fear of hell by saying that’s where they were, and that the only way out is for him to kill the devil.
Well, since we know that Ricardo worked with Jacob for around 140 years, it’s not big surprise that he doesn’t kill him. It is a bit of a surprise that Jacob roughs him up a bit. What was more of a surprise, though, is that Jacob comes right out and explains the island to him. The analogy he uses combines the wine bottle he has on hand with Ricardo’s fear of hell. He tells him that Smokey is the wine in the bottle, is evil, is hell, and that it’s trapped in the bottle because the island is the cork preventing it from getting out. Jacob also shares that Smokey believes it is in our very nature to sin, so he brings people to the island to prove Smokey wrong. In asking why Jacob doesn’t step in, since Smokey will, Ricardo gives Jacob an idea. Jacob hasn’t wanted to step in because, like God giving us free will, he wants people to choose the right path, to do it for themselves. But the idea is for Ricardo, basically, to become Richard, the intermediary, the one who can help the people Jacob brings to the island. In exchange, since Jacob can’t bring back his wife or absolve him of his sins, he grants him eternal life. Not sure how he can do that, but still, we learned a lot.
Richard’s story ends back in the present, digging up his wife’s cross, and calling to Smokey to take him up on his earlier offer to be together with his wife again. Anyway, before Smokey can show up… Hurley does. Earlier in the episode we saw Hurley, very briefly, talking in spanish to a ghost. Turns out it was Richard’s wife, and she tells him that it was her time to die, that he has suffered enough and that they are already together. This snaps him back, and her last message is that he has to stop Smokey from getting off the island. It was a good scene, not Desmond/Penny phone call level good, but pretty good.
In the end, we get a final scene between Jacob and Smokey, where Smokey tells him that he wants to leave, Jacob says over my dead body, and that if he is killed he’ll get someone else to take his place. Smokey says he’ll kill them, too.
A few final points and thoughts, from a great episode. We did get a little additional non-Ricardo flashback, where Jacob went to Ilana in the hospital, and told her that there were six remaining candidates that she needed to protect. He told her that “after the temple” which given Jacob’s foresight in Lighthouse, I am guessing means after Smokey killed everyone there, that Ricardo would know what to do. He was reluctant, but clearly we’ll see that come back up. We didn’t get anything from the flash sideways timeline, but I think Jacob’s explanation of why he is bringing people there is a pretty clear explanation of why the island really is Pottersville. Their lives are better off without it, but for whoever replaces Jacob it is too important to not have them go through it.
Lastly, I know this was long, but I did say I have trouble being brief.