Illana Cleans Up Pretty Damned Good
There's one small problem with Jacob healing Illana in that hospital, and it involves him not touching her. From what we've seen so far, Jacob's touch has been required to manipulate or bring about change, and by the end of this episode we even watched him physically bestow his gift upon Richard. In the Illana scene however, we've known since The Incident that Jacob wore gloves. This seemed an obvious precaution against him touching her, even by accident.
So how did Illana get healed? We don't see it, but I don't think the healing is the important part. Maybe Jacob left Illana untouched because he needed her unmanipulated. Maybe he needed her pure and unbiased so that - in his own words - she could decide for herself what was right and wrong. Perhaps the very act of marking his playing pieces has invalidated their decision-making process, voiding them out as examples for Jacob's argument that people can change? If so, it would make the characters he hasn't touched yet a lot more important in the future.
Did You Rewatch Richard's Laugh About Twelve Times? Me Too.
Back "where it all began", everyone's playing a rousing, firelight game of What Do We Do Next? Illana steps up to the plate, quoting Jacob and pointing to Richard as somehow being the key. Here we have a character who, especially recently, seemed to be completely in the dark about what's been going on. Richard's been clueless since Jacob got stabbed... yet once again, we see someone who has some sort of hidden knowledge or purpose that not even they themselves know about. Just as it would seem that Richard is indeed "he who will save us all", he laughs mockingly and walks off into the jungle night.
We can't really blame Richard here. By now he's in the same boat as Ben: a guy who's played by Jacob's rulebook all his life (and then some), only to find out there never was a plan. Jacob's communication skills have traditionally sucked, and perhaps later in this episode we find out why. After his brief conversation with Richard on the beach, it seemed like Jacob learned something important: that the very act of illumination or explanation might be influencing the decisions his subjects make. Direct interference has been inadvertently corrupting the point he's been trying to make, marking the whole experiment null and void. This may be why everyone else is dead, and nothing has so far has worked to prove the dark man wrong.
Want to go a step further? Richard's own conversation with him is what exactly made Jacob realize the need for an impartial go-between. Jacob creates Richard's job because, after realizing Richard's point, he recognizes the necessity of giving orders without handing out answers. Alpert essentially creates his own position. In that respect, Richard becomes the cause of his own suffering. He wanders the island for the next 150 years as an ancient adviser with very little real knowledge to share, he himself nothing more than a middle man kept in the dark about most things.
As Long As We're Going Back To The Beginning, We May As Well Mention Death/Hell/Purgatory Again
Before Richard stomps off, we get a reveal so big it can't possibly be true: yes, everyone IS dead. Yes, everyone IS in hell... or Purgatory... or wherever it is that souls need to go to reconcile their past lives before moving on. Our main characters receive this news with the same impassivity as the rest of us, knowing it's too far fetched to be the one big answer. As snugly as that puzzle piece would fit right into LOST, after five and a half seasons it's just not something we can accept at this point.
So no, I don't think everyone is dead. I don't think everyone's in hell. I will however, say this: the way Richard looked specifically at Jack when he said "You're dead"? I happen to think that was tremendously important. If anyone did die during the plane crash, maybe it was Jack. Maybe that's why he woke up so far removed from 815's wreckage. Maybe that's also why his tattoo says "He walks among us (i.e. 'the living'), but is not one of us". Maybe that's what Achara saw in him back in Thailand that scared the shit out of her. So maybe, just maybe, when Richard said that Jack is dead, he hit the nail right on the head... without even really knowing it.
Where's Ji... Er, Oh, I Mean 'He Meant Locke'
Looks like Sun got a new line this episode. Together she and Ben catch Jack up to speed on John Locke's resurrection and newfound badassedness, but Jack doesn't seem all that surprised. The typical S6 reaction to this level of news is about the same as finding a polar bear in the jungle during season one. "Really? Whoa. That's strange." Not sure anything would phase new Jack at this point anyway.
Same Rain, Different Island
We've been waiting a long, long time for Richard's backstory, and I'm thrilled to say it didn't disappoint. What made it all the better though, was an absolutely incredible performance by Nestor Carbonell. Galloping through thunderstorms, the humble way Ricardo bowed his head as he tried to buy medicine for his sick wife instantly opened our hearts to him. If there were Easter eggs or hidden meaning during these Canary Island scenes, I totally and happily missed out on them.
Turns out there's a lot more to Richard than immortality and guyliner - there's a hardworking, loving husband. Desperate to save Isabella, Richard is willing to do anything and everything... and this is unfortunately where LOST has taken advantage of many of our best characters. As viewers, we know Ricardo never meant to kill the town doctor in the puffy shirt and mutton-chop sideburns. But in terms of the island? That one hasty act requires seemingly endless penance.
Again, I can't say enough about how amazing Nestor Carbonell was in this episode. Watching Richard's life spiral to the ground in such a short time span was heartbreaking. The writers made us watch angrily as the doctor threw Isabella's pendant to the floor, followed immediately by the overly righteous priest clipping his dead wife's bible. The symbolism in that scene was a little more obvious: Richard in white, the priest in black, along with the offer of food... right away it reminded me of the opening of The Incident. The priest tells Richard he can't be absolved for murder because he hasn't done proper penance, and unfortunately for him, there's just not enough time. Later on Richard would ask Jacob for that time, driven mostly out of the fear of dying and going to hell.
Strong hands and English lessons end up saving Ricardo's life, but they're also responsible for placing him on the island. Magnus Hanso ends up physically owning Richard, and it was interesting that the writers went out of their way to tell us that. Seeing Hanso himself would've been cool, but keeping him a mystery was equally so. I guess they needed Whitfield as the evil throwaway character - the proverbial pilot who gets sucked through the cockpit upon arrival on the island.
I Hope Those Waves Didn't Ruin Jacob's Tapestry
At long last, we finally got to see the Black Rock's ultra-dramatic arrival on the island. Waves cresting as high as the 4-toed statue's head plunge it deep into the jungle, crashing it through the statue in the process. This takes place, as is so often the case throughout LOST, during a spectacular thunderstorm. More important than that though, it also takes place at night.
For this reason, maybe the ship we saw during The Incident wasn't the Black Rock at all, but some other ship containing another crew of poor random souls. The weather isn't the only thing that points to this fact - Jacob and the Dark man both wear shorter, cleaner-cropped hair than they did when they were first introduced last season. It's like they were powdery-fresh from the nearest barber shop, shaved necks and everything.
And if Jacob brought the Black Rock to the island, maybe the dark man caused the wreck. Perhaps he's even responsible for the storm, too. We already know the MIB protests new people being brought to the island, so it would make sense that he'd try to sink or destroy the ship. In a vengeful way, it even makes sense that he'd ram the prow of the Black Rock right into Jacob's statue... almost as if saying "You want it? HERE!" and shoving the vessel down Jacob's throat. These two characters definitely revel in sending messages to each other, as indicated later on when Richard brings the dark man a white rock on Jacob's behalf.
People In The 19th Century Sure Were Sword-Happy Dicks
"They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt..." Damn, Whitfield proved every one of these things within 15 minutes of arriving on the island. Maybe this is why the smoke monster showed up so quickly, dropping the hammer right down on the Black's Rock's crew. None of the officers here were Jacob-type material, or at least none of them contained qualities that could prove his point. This allowed fast, hard judgment on the part of the dark man.
If it seemed the middle part of this episode dragged a bit, that's because it did. Yet in hindsight, it was necessary for us to see Richard get broken down to his absolute lowest point. This was a slow process, starting with the rainwater being just of reach as Richard is dying of thirst. Still determined to live, he pries a nail from the floorboard to chip away at his bonds.
That's where the man in black comes in again. The first time he scanned Richard as the smoke monster, to draw from his memories. This time he arrives in the form of a boar, to knock the nail from Richard's hand. As Richard realizes he's lost any real chance for escape, his despair runs even deeper. Again, the dark man leaves him to wallow in that desperation for a while longer, bringing him to a weaker and weaker state.
Then, in one of the dirtiest of all known tricks, the MIB shows up as Isabella. After giving him false hope, she runs from Richard's clinging grasp only to be crushed by the smoke monster. This destroys any last trace of fight, or even will to live, within Ricardo. And as he lays there utterly and completely broken, that's when the man in black finally moves to recruit him - first touching him on the shoulder.
He goes on letting Richard think they're in hell, mainly because it serves his purpose but also because the MIB is indeed trapped in his own personal hell. He also doesn't waste any time in getting to his point, convincing Richard he'll need to "kill the devil". The way the dark man gets Richard to agree to do anything he asks is almost like cheating; although still giving him a choice, he's been closely and directly influencing Richard's environment for several days now.
One cool thing we get confirmation on: the dark man can manifest himself based upon other people's memories. We've seen hints that this was possible during The Cost of Living, when he appeared as ghosts of the drug dealers Mr. Eko had killed with his machete. Up until that point we'd only seen the dark man use physical bodies he'd accessed while on the island: Christian Shephard, Yemi, and later on Alex. But just as he plucked those ghosts from Eko's past after scanning him, the dark man was able to take Isabella's form after scanning Richard. His abilities to take the shape of people are limited only to what he knows and sees.
Are You Done Eating? Cool, Because I Need You To Stab Someone For Me
For the second straight episode, the dark man fully admits to being the smoke monster. This blunt truth is actually detrimental to the story he's cooking up - believing it was the monster who killed his wife, Richard nearly balks at hearing the news. The MIB quickly backtracks, letting Richard know it was the devil that swiped Isabella and not him, hastily correcting what was almost too revealing a mistake.
The fact is, the MIB really can't help himself here. We learn that he holds Jacob responsible for stealing his form, and therefore his humanity. He can't even mask his anger long enough to lie. It's also obvious by now that the character being played by Titus Welliver probably isn't the original incarnation of the man who became the smoke monster, but likely just another human form he's taken for the time being.
Sometime, long ago, something happened between him and Jacob that ended with the dark man losing his physical form. The black smoke is all that's really left of the man he once was, and this is why he refuses to deny or lie about being the monster. To betray that one true image would be to deny all that's left of him, and the dark man is too proud to do so... even when lying his ass off and creating a story where Jacob is the devil who took Richard's wife.
It was also cool to see Dogen's dagger again. Apparently it works the same on Jacob as it does on the MIB, which is yet another nod toward the theory that these characters are nothing but two halves of one whole being. Jacob got the name, identity, and original human form... the dark man got the kickass smoke powers and ability to manifest himself as other people. They're as opposite as black and white can get, yet still cut from the same mold.
Technically, the MIB isn't really lying when he tells Richard he has the ability to let him "see his wife" again. What Richard doesn't realize is that the MIB's promise doesn't truly involve giving Isabella back to him. Again, the dark man has stuck around long enough to offer the one thing Richard wants more than anything else. His recruitment process involves promises that, so far, it seems he'll be unable to keep.
Jacob - Gentle Pacifist, But Not Afraid To Open The Occasional Can of Whoop-Ass
Opposite the MIB's approach, Jacob's beatdown of Richard was more physical than mental. It's not until he drags him into the churning surf that Richard finally realizes he's not dead or in hell at all. This baptism marks the beginning of Jacob's recruitment (and the beginning of Ricardo's new life), as he sits Richard down to explain who and what the dark man is. He also gives us an all-important glimpse into the island's exact purpose.
In every sense we're looking at Pandora's box. Jacob is the lock that keeps it closed, and the man in black represents the malevolence and evil trapped inside. Jacob describes the island as a cork, keeping that evil from spreading into the world. As long as Jacob lives, the man in black can't escape the island. The game these two characters play is an internal struggle for control: the dark man seeks release, and Jacob wants to keep things exactly where they are.
This would seem to go against Jacob's assertion that progress is being made. On the contrary however, Jacob is actively seeking to prove his point. He flat out explains LOST's most basic principal as his own philosophy: people need to do good or bad by their own choice. If he has to interfere or influence them in any way, his point is disproved and therefore meaningless. Over and over he's tried, and over and over he's failed, ending in the deaths of all those people he's brought to the island.
It's here that Richard points out the flaw in Jacob's logic: just because he's not influencing the people who come to the island, it doesn't mean the dark man isn't corrupting them himself. If you watch as Jacob first encounters Richard he actually seems frustrated that he's already been reached, or even touched, by the man in black. At this point Jacob realizes the need to protect his subjects from such outside influence, and that's where Richard's job as adviser comes in. Through the use of obscure lists and direction, Jacob's people can help those who arrive on the island's shores make their own choices without directly interfering in those choices themselves. That, in essence, is the crux of LOST.
One other thing about Pandora's box: although it contained a whole host of really bad stuff, it also contained something else: hope. Lessons of hope and faith have been drilled hard all throughout LOST, amongst the rest of the island's chaos.
Unlike the dark man, Jacob doesn't promise Richard his wife back, telling him simply "I can't do that". This seems out of place; according to Dogen, Jacob promised to restore his son's life in return for service on the island. Did Dogen really encounter Jacob, or did he unknowingly meet with the man in black? We'll probably never know, but it does seem an inconsistency. We also know that the MIB is willing to lie - especially about Jacob - to get people to follow him and do what he wants.
On The Spanish Speaking Side of That Coin...
By the same token, we can't completely absolve Jacob of outside interference either. Throughout the show, we've seen ghostly appearances by people who we know to be dead. Here, Richard's wife Isabella shows up to speak to him for the first time in a century and a half... using Hurley as an otherworldly, Spanish-speaking go-between.
Make no mistake about it: Richard was seconds away from joining team Flocke. Hugo arrived in the nick of time to turn Richard around, preventing the dark man from gaining a valuable recruit. The biggest question however, becomes this: did we really see Isabella speaking to her husband? Or did we see Jacob's own version of Isabella, strategically placed there to sway Richard back to his own team?
Manipulation goes both ways. It wouldn't be all too surprising to find out that Jacob is interfering here, in a much more direct manner. Then again, why wouldn't Jacob appear to Richard as Isabella himself? Why would he take a silent and invisible form of Richard's wife, and then use Hurley to speak to him? Either Jacob is playing that same middle-man game again, or we really are seeing Isabella here. The way she spoke to him it certainly sounded like Richard's wife, and she even knew to tell him to close his eyes.
I half expected Richard to open his eyes and see his wife here, which would've been really cool. Watching it again, I think maybe he actually did feel her. Overall, the whole thing seemed pretty real to me. I don't think Jacob was bullshitting or manipulating... I tend to think what we saw was genuine. There's certainly evidence for both sides of this argument, but that's my gut feeling.
Leave The Dagger, Take The Rock
Back in 1867, Jacob sends Ricardo back to the dark man with a message - sans dagger, of course. Yet instead of demonstrating anger, the man in black is understanding and even apologetic towards Richard. He obviously does this in order to leave the door open for future recruitment. He's already invested some time and energy into winning this playing piece, and he knows he's promised Richard something that Jacob never will: the ability to be reunited with his wife again.
In time, after much more frustration, the dark man realizes Richard will eventually arrive at another low point in his life. When that time happens, he wants Richard to remember his offer. He gives Richard back his wife's golden pendant and crucifix as a physical reminder of that promise, enabling him to change his mind at any time.
The Man In Black... Not That Big a Drinker
In a mirror image of The Incident's beach scene, Jacob approaches the man in black for a sit-down meeting. Everything we've learned about these two characters is solidified here, including their roles. There's no deception, no reason to lie, and no one else around to impress. In short, we can accept the very frank discussion they have here as a straight-up, real-deal representation of exactly what's going on.
Jacob can apparently be killed, and he knows it. His presence is the only thing keeping the man in black from leaving the island. This puts Jacob in the position of eternal guardian, a role he seems content enough with. It's also a role that can be transferred to or inherited by someone else, should the man in black succeed in killing his arch-nemesis. Jacob reminds him of this, as if to point out the futility of killing him.
We also see that Jacob's mention of candidates predates the crash of Flight 815. This means he knows in advance that he's going to die, and has been busy planning ahead by preparing a successor. The dark man has been equally busy destroying Jacob's potential candidates - if not physically, by at least corrupting them enough that they're no longer suitable to inherit Jacob's job. As The Others would put it, they're no longer one of the "good" ones.
It's unclear whether the dark man can actually be killed, or if he himself represents the evil and maleovelence Jacob spoke of to Richard. The mission Sayid sent Dogen on seemed to infer that he could actually be destroyed, but I'm not entirely sold on that. I tend to think the man in black isn't evil himself, but that instead he represents a dereliction of duty. Maybe he and Jacob are both required to keep the cork sealed - black and white together - and the dark man is finally sick of babysitting the island.
Just as the Swan hatch acted as a cork for unlimited magnetic energies, the island acts as a cork to keep corruption and wickedness at bay. This explains why Ms. Hawking (and probably Charles Widmore) understand the gloomy ramifications should the island fail to contain this wellspring of darkness. In fact, it might even explain Widmore's return to the island: he's always fancied himself as Jacob's replacement. I could totally see Widmore's fanatical devotion lending him a sense of entitlement to Jacob's position, with the very desire for that power corrupting him and disqualifying him from assuming the role. All other explanations for Widmore's motives don't seem to make any sense, at least not right now.
The Shape of Things To Come
Ab Aeterno not only lived up to the hype, I think it surpassed expectations. Richard's story was beautifully told, almost straight through, without the constant distraction of flashing back to island events. We got very big answers to long-standing mysteries, and we learned tons of new information regarding the rivalry between Jacob and the man in black. We also learned what the island is, metaphorically speaking.
Shit is winding down, and answers are finally here. Drink them in, and let's wait for the next inevitable step: Jacob and MIB's backstory. LOST can't end until we've seen that beginning.
Illana Cleans Up Pretty Damned Good