Episode Title: "Ab Aeterno"
Written By: Melinda Hsu & Gregg Nations
Story: The story of the seemingly immortal Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) is finally revealed. How did Richard get to the Island? What is his relationship to Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) and the Man in Black (Titus Welliver), better known as The Smoke Monster? Why does he seem so lost in light of Jacob's death? How is it that he can't age? What's up with the eyeliner?
The answers to all of those questions and more — except for the eyeliner thing — are contained within "Ab Aeterno." You can learn the spoiler-filled truth after the jump.
Ask Ricardus: The vast majority of this episode was a flashback detailing the life of Richard Alpert immediately prior to arriving on the Island via the Black Rock — yep, he was a Spanish slave as many had speculated — and his initial meetings between Jacob and the Man in Black, well before he took on the likeness of John Locke (Terry O'Quinn).
We learned that the Black Rock was catapulted from the ocean and directly into the four-toed statue, completely demolishing it in one deft blow. We also learned that the Man in Black wanted Richard to kill Jacob — or, in MIB's words, the Devil — and as a reward, he would liberate the eternal soul of his recently deceased wife Isabella (Mirelly Taylor). But Jacob had a counter proposal of his own: if Richard becomes his representative, a man that can speak to those that Jacob invites to the Island, he'll gift Alpert with immortality. After Richard sided with Jacob, a surprisingly compassionate MIB promised Richard that he could revoke his loyalty to Jacob whenever he chooses to.
And that, in a nutshell, is the epic story of Richard Alpert.
Corking Hell: Jacob, killed by Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson) at Smocke's request, informed Ilana that Richard would have all of the answers for her on how to proceed in light of his death — except Richard feels completely clueless without his leader in place, driven to madness and unable to provide any guidance to Jack (Matthew Fox), the other candidates and the remaining survivors. Thankfully, residential ghost talker Hugo Reyes (Jorge Garcia) renews Richard's faith with a message from his dearly departed wife: if Richard does not stop the Man in Black from leaving the Island, "we all go to hell."
So, what is hell? Jacob explains by using a bottle of wine as a metaphor — the liquid is hell, outside of the bottle is the rest of the world, and the cork preventing the liquid from seeping out of the bottle is the Island. In other words, Jacob views the Island as nothing short of a prison, or a containment unit. Presumably, he is containing the Smoke Monster. If the Smoke Monster is allowed to leave the Island, the rest of the world will go straight to hell. Clearly, the stakes are high.
Playing God: That's not to say that Jacob is guilt-free. In fact, he's uncharacteristically aggressive when he first meets Richard, even though he admits to luring the Black Rock to the Island. Jacob freely confesses that he's responsible for bringing various human beings to the Island in order to prove to the Man in Black that humanity is a decent species. He believes that man should figure out how to do the right thing without him having to tell them what the right thing is — that they have to figure out the answers for themselves and make their decisions based upon those judgments.
That philosophy sounds strikingly familiar to Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse's apparent stance on how they plan to answer the big questions of "Lost." They don't feel the need to explain all of the answers — instead, it's up to us to connect the dots ourselves and live accordingly.
That said, Jacob admits that everybody he has ever brought to the Island has wound up dead, so it might be wise to arrange your own funeral plans well in advance of the series finale.
The Devil's Advocate: Upon their first encounter, Jacob viciously manhandles Richard and nearly drowns him at the foot of the statue. In comparison, Richard's initial conversation with the Man in Black is quite peaceful. MIB identifies himself as the Smoke Monster, but he's quick to call Jacob the Devil, something that Jacob denies when questioned by Richard.
Clearly, nobody views himself as the villain in this eternal conflict — but am I the only one who thought Jacob came across rather ugly in this episode? Maybe I'm falling for the Smoke Monster's long con, but I'm rapidly slipping away from Jacob's camp with each passing episode. It'll be interesting to see whose side most fans are on when the dust settles on "Lost."
Best Quote: "I want them to help themselves, to know the difference between right and wrong without me having to tell them. It's all meaningless if I have to force them to do anything. Why should I have to step in?" — Jacob's philosophy as explained to Richard, seemingly mirroring the stance of co-showrunners Lindelof and Cuse.
Most Valuable Player: As if it needs saying, Nestor Carbonell completely owned this episode, delivering one of the strongest performances ever seen in the history of "Lost." Clearly the greatest episode of the season thus far, "Ab Aeterno" also ranks as one of the finest installments of the entire series. Chalk that up to excellent production value, brilliant writing, Michael Giacchino's always impressive score, whatever you'd like — but the bulk of the credit goes to Carbonell for instantly turning the enigmatic Alpert into one of the most tragic figures on the Island. Truly excellent work.
The Shape of Things to Come: In next week's episode, titled "The Package," Smocke resurfaces and explains to Sun (Yunjin Kim) that he's located Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), her long lost lover that she hasn't seen in three years and nearly two full seasons.
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