Ever since the beginning of LOST, I'd hoped we'd get some sort of an island flashback. Something that would tell us how it all began... something to show us how things got so impossibly strange.
Across The Sea didn't answers all of LOST's questions, but it took a huge bite out of our list of mysteries. In writing my recap, I'm going to point out the many ways that 'mother' laid the groundwork for our entire show. I'm also going to rag on the glowing cave of molten doom a bit, but that's totally okay. THINGS I NOTICED:
Two Babies, Two Diapers... One is Black, and Well, I Think You Probably Get the Idea By Now...
Even going back two thousand years, the island is still bringing people to its shores. From an entire shipwreck of people a single woman is plucked, and it should be no surprise to learn that there's a reason she washes up on the beach alone. Immediately we learn that this is Claudia, birth-mom to LOST's two most important players: Jacob and the man in black.
Cue spooky music change, and enter our oldest LOST character to date - 'mother'. Right away, we should know who this really is. We're given a tremendous clue as Claudia stops to drink from a stream: the overhead reflection that startles her is nearly identical to a scene in The Cost of Living. In that episode, Mr. Eko is drinking from a similar stream when he sees the reflection of the smoke monster looming over him.
Yes, mother is the monster. As we later find out, she's also the keeper of the island, and protector of the holy heat lamp.
Watching Claudia give birth on the island was more than a little Claire-esque, but by now we should be getting numb to these parallels. The important thing here is mother's reaction after Jacob is born: she scoops him up and turns him strangely away from Claudia, cradling him as if he were her own.
Mother obviously expected these events, as she's the one who brought Claudia to the island. She even seems to have anticipated the sex of the baby, gratefully acknowledging "It's a boy!" In short, her prayers have been answered. Her successor has arrived. Seconds later however, something else happens that mother was definitely not counting on: the birth of Jacob's nameless brother, the baby in black.
While she rolls with it, you can tell this is not what mother signed up for. She expected a son, but the island has given her two. Nevertheless, these are the successors the island has chosen to take her place. Her candidates finally selected, she brains poor Claudia with a rock.
Yeah What The Hell... Sure. I'll Play.
The boy in black kicks off our eternal game of black vs. white by finding an Egyptian senet board washed up on the beach. Inherently, he somehow already knows how to play. This is of course reminiscent of the test Richard Alpert gives to a young John Locke, asking him which items already belong to him. Jacob's brother already knows the rules of this game because historically, a past version of himself has probably already played it. Jacob however has no such prior knowledge, and the writers make it a point to show us this.
Does this mean that the MIB was truly meant to succeed his mother in guarding that cave of plutonium? Hell yeah it does. She even sits him down to tell him he's special, taking the opportunity to drill more "there's nothing else but the island" propaganda into his skull. Yet even as she does this, mother knows there's one very big problem: unlike Jacob, her more gifted son likes to stare out at the ocean. He likes to wonder what's across the sea.
"Jacob doesn't know how to lie. He's not like you." Seems like lying would be a pretty good skill to have, especially if you need to go lights-out on someone with a heavy rock. You can't protect the island with blunt honesty and a charming smile, and this is why the boy in black is such a great choice.
We also learn in this scene that the guardian of the island must be immortal as well as resourceful. The MIB's mother tells him that when it comes to death, he has nothing to worry about. She's already marked him as the one to take her place, but she hasn't yet given him the Kool-aid of agelessness. That comes later.
Which One of These Instincts Belongs To You Already?
In the centuries it took for senet to become backgammon, one constant appears on the island throughout its entire long history: boar hunting. I'm betting that both Jacob and his brother spent a lot of time chasing boar through the jungles of LOST island, and that this instinctual knowledge got passed along to John Locke right after arriving at its shores.
Think about that. Just as the boy in black already knew how to play his newly-discovered game, John Locke already knew how to hunt boar. In fact, he makes his first kill at the end of Tabula Rasa, shortly after encountering the smoke monster for the very first time. Seems like Richard was right in that John was always meant to be a successor, his only mistake being that perhaps he gave him the test a little too early.
"They come, they fight, they corrupt, they destroy..." Mother's words would fall from the MIB's own lips, hundreds of years later. As successor, it stands to reason that he'd automatically acquire many of her ideologies. In similar fashion, as the smoke monster we've also learned that the man in black borrows things from those he would mimic or duplicate, perhaps even unknowingly. We've certainly seen him inherit the mannerisms, habits, and dialogue of John Locke. Apparently, the role of island guardian comes with certain baggage in the form of those who went before you - a definite reincarnation, of sorts.
Every One of us Was Brought Here For a Reason... and I Can Sum Up That Reason in a Single Word: GLOWSTICKS.
For the better part of thirteen years, mother is able to raise her sons within the confines of her own personal snowglobe. They believe what she tells them to believe; they obey her because they don't even know what it is to be defiant. That all changes at the discovery of other people on the island - or at least, at the boys' discovery that they are not alone.
"They're not like us", mother tells her boys. "They don't belong here." As if the death of Claudia wasn't enough, this is our first real taste of mother's fiercesome possessiveness. An almost purge-like atmosphere is created here, as mother tries to get her sons on board with the whole us vs. them mentality; a culture that would carry on for the next two centuries and pervade all six seasons of the show.
Yet the boys need something more here, and mother already knows it. They need a purpose or goal... a reason to swallow natural curiosity and steer clear of everyone else. Although she deems them not yet ready - mirroring Richard's words to a young Benjamin Linus - she's prepared to show her boys exactly why staying put is so cataclysmically important: to guard the inflamed yellow asshole of the island.
Okay, let's be honest here. At first glance, that piss-warm cave of infinite golden light looked totally out of place. Mother's explanation didn't help much either: "a little bit of this very same light is inside of every man." What? No nanobots? The whole scene reeked of midichlorians. Somewhere in the back of my mind, George Lucas was laughing at me. This was one Star Wars reference I really wasn't into, and I was struggling.
Then I watched the scene again, and again, and a fourth and fifth time. I have to say that softened the blow. In retrospect, we already knew there was something at the core of the island causing most of the magic to happen. Here, we were finally getting a direct visual. This isn't even the first time we've seen the light: we saw it after Locke fell into the well, and both times the donkey wheel was turned. It's not like we're getting introduced to something ridiculous and totally unbelievable - something the writers would never do - like alternate universes, or time travel. :)
Fact is, if they never showed us this thing we'd probably bitch. Here they take the time to show it to us, so I'm gonna cut the effects department some slack. Especially in light of the improvement in sub graphics last episode.
Alright, so the light needs to be protected. Man will always try to take it, because the light feels as good as waking up on the beach that third day of spring break with a beautiful girl lying next to you and no trace of a hangover. Mother's been guarding this place for a long time, but for some reason, she can't protect it forever. Despite apparent immortality, each guardian's job has a beginning and an end... the end usually coming at the tip of something sharp and pointed, like a knife.
As the boy in black asks his mother who'll stand next watch, she says something pretty important: "It'll have to be one of you." While it would've made perfect sense to task both brothers with guarding the glowcave, mother makes a point of stating that it's simply a one-man job.
At this point, it's obvious who the hands-down favorite to inherit that job is, and mother is leaning heavily in the direction of her special pick. While Jacob is a tapestry-weaving momma's boy, the kid in black has proven to be a more independent, resourceful, and adaptative individual. Lying, deceiving, killing, purging... these are all prerequisites necessary for taking up the gauntlet. Just ask Benjamin Linus.
For these reasons, Jacob the unlying is a terrible candidate for the role of island guardian. Moreover, his mother already knows it. Hundreds of years later Jacob is still naive; we see it during Ab Aeterno as Richard schools him in the arts of manipulation only days after reaching the island. While she loves him in her own special way, mother also knows that MIB is next in line for the throne.
Oh and by the Way... No Killing Your Brother While I'm Gone
Perhaps it's because she loves him that mother also puts a safeguard into place to protect Jacob. Knowing the true nature of her darker son, she tells the boys "I've made it so that you can never hurt each other." Immediately, I rationalized this to mean that whomever is guarding the island can also set the rules. Somehow, this person holding power over the island can extend that power even beyond his or her lifetime, creating a new set of laws and guidelines that need to be followed... or else.
A minute later however, another thought occurred to me: maybe there aren't any rules at all. Maybe Jacob and his brother just think there are rules, and they've been ritualistically following them out of two thousand-year habit. Remember, these are the same children who once believed nothing else existed except for the island. For most of their childhood, their mother's every word was indisputable law.
Thus begins what I like to call my sonic fence debate. Was the sonic fence really on when Mikhail manipulated Locke into throwing him into it? Or did main characters like Sayid just believe it was on, simply because Mikhail was allowing them to do so?
On the island, the likelihood of something happening has always seemed directly related to faith. Rose believed Bernard was alive. Eko believed he'd find his brother's plane. Hurley believed that 20+ year old Dharma van would start... and so it did, as ridiculously impossible as that scenario should've been. Even Locke's suicide note contained a very important phrase "I wish you had believed me."
So could the very act of believing in something make it true? And more specifically, could the firm belief in a set of rules actually bring those rules into existence? Jacob's brother even alludes to this, over a game of senet: "One day you can make up your own game, and then everyone will have to follow your rules." Is this what we've been seeing all these years? A game being played that's nothing more than a byproduct of Jacob's own design, with the MIB fighting for two thousand years to find a loophole in his rulebook? No wonder he's so pissed.
Everybody Knows That You Need The Glow - You Need To Glow, The Glow To Grow!
The glowing ghost of his mother Claudia, visible only him, reveals yet another level of the MIB being 'chosen' to take over the role of guardian. She leads her son to the settlement on the other side of the island, a place where her shipwrecked comrades are still looking for a way to escape the island's shores. She informs him there are many other places to go across the sea, and also explains that she is in fact his real mother.
These actions align Claudia directly against whatever protective agenda mother might have for the island. She provides unsolicited knowledge that will turn the boy in black against his adoptive mom, as well as motives for leaving both her and the island for good. It's almost as if she senses that the MIB will take over as the island's guardian, and is somehow trying to prevent this from happening.
By now, it's safe to see Claudia and Isabella as the same type of entity. These ghosts seem somehow different from the non-glowing whisperers we've seen appearing throughout the show. The aura surrounding Claudia draws obvious associations with whatever lies at the heart of the island, beneath the cave of a thousand fireflies.
Claudia also tells the boy in black that he can see her "because she's dead". As a potential candidate, he's allowed this ability - much the way Hurley could see Jacob and Isabella, or Sayid and Sawyer could see the younger boy-version of Jacob. Come to think of it, Jin could not see Jacob during LAX, and maybe this answers the question as to which Kwon was an actual candidate. Not that it matters...
For Someone Who Supposedly Can't Harm His Brother, Jacob's Got a Good Right Hook
This week a long-standing theory I adhered to finally got popped: the idea that Jacob and the MIB were two halves of the same entity. Although we learned this physically wasn't the truth, spiritually and emotionally they really are indeed two halves of a whole. I also found the boy in black's phrase "they're our things" pretty interesting.
Nevertheless, it's even more interesting that mother allows the boy in black to leave. After catching them fighting in the jungle, Jacob's brother gives him his only really big choice: come with me or stay here. Jacob chooses to stay with the only mother he knows. His brother decides to move in with the original Others, and 'mother' does nothing to stop him.
Choices. LOST is, and always has been, about choices. Mother seemed pretty defeated to learn where her son had gained his sudden enlightenment, but she also seemed powerless to stop him from making his own decision. It's as if she knew where glow-Claudia came from: the other side. And apparently, the other side is NOT to be messed with.
Mother and Jacob's following conversation on the beach further defines the roles of 'good' and 'bad'. Looking back, this little talk would be greatly influential in helping Jacob draw up all the lists he'd make later on. Yet despite being told that he's good, Jacob senses - as only a child can - that his mother has more love for his dark-shirted brother than for him. He's not entirely correct in this assumption, however.
"I love you in different ways", mother tells him, and I think she's being totally sincere here. She loves Jacob in pure ways, as a good son, without wanting or needing anything from him. But she loves the boy in black mostly as a successor - someone to finally take her place - someone to relieve her after a long, dutiful stay on the island.
Everything Dies... But Black and White Shirts Never Go Out of Style
Thirty years later, Jacob and his brother are still playing senet. No one's invented chess yet, and Mousetrap is still a long way off.
Turns out that the MIB can't get that golden honeyhole out of his mind. For thirty years he's been searching and digging for it, and with some magnetic help his people have finally found the subterranean source of its power. Since he can't stand his own people he's ready to blow LOST island, with or without Jacob.
Since we know what happens to the MIB at the end of this episode, it's important to stop here and note how jaded he's become. For three decades he's lived in a society that's "greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish." This would be the only mankind he really knows - the only people he'd ever get the chance to have any real-life experience with. Once he becomes the smoke monster, the man in black would base all future dealings with the island's inhabitants upon this one small, corrupted subset of society.
Jacob however, is not looking to leave the island. He runs home dejected, where mommy makes him tell about his brother's plans. Mother is not very excited at the prospect of losing her potential successor. Maybe she'd hoped he would eventually come around, but now it looks as if the MIB is staring out over the ocean again... and then some.
This is where mother makes one last play - one final bid to bring her son back to fulfill what she deems are his true responsibilities. She confronts him in the well, hoping to turn things around. Yet instead of agreeing to guard the leprechaun's pot of gold, the man in black is actually breaking down walls to reach it from beneath. He's hooking a donkey wheel up to the golden fleece, and he's spinning himself off this rock at first opportunity... or at least he would be, if he didn't underestimate his mother's ability to deliver brutal headwounds.
Again, it's incredibly interesting how the donkey wheel gets built totally on faith (because I sure didn't see any science there). As silly as the theory behind it sounds, the MIB fully believes he can somehow "channel the water and the light." His only goal is to leave the island, and he's been building the wheel with that single purpose in mind. So even though he never gets to finish it? It should be no surprise to learn that several hundred years later, the wheel does exactly what the man in black always believed it would do.
I Didn't Have a Choice. It's What he Wants.
Once it became obvious that she couldn't sway her first draft pick, Jacob becomes mother's unfortunate plan B. She leads him to the radioactive gash in the forest, and that's where she swears him in. But first she explains what we've always wanted to know: exactly what lies at the heart of the island.
Life, death, rebirth... all of these themes have been strong throughout LOST. Therefore it stands to perfect reason that they'd all flow right beneath the very feet of our main characters, healing them when they were sick, killing them off when they weren't needed. Mother makes Jacob solemnly promise to never go down into the light, telling him it would be "much worse" than dying. And she's speaking from experience here, because in my opinion this is exactly what she did at one point.
The ceremonial chanting and sharing of wine seemed largely symbolic to me. It was as if mother needed to convince Jacob that once he did this, his path was forever bound to the island. Jacob's still gullible at this point. He drinks up, and he believes her. Whether or not this truly does etch his destiny in stone remains to be seen, but this is where mother does something really, really slick: she recruits both Jacob and his brother to guard the island.
Jacob is 100% right. His brother was always first choice. But what he doesn't know: mother is shrewd enough to recognize that as 'good' as he is, Jacob can't guard the island alone. Jacob's honesty and commitment needs to be tempered by his brother's willingness to lie, be deceitful, and do anything needed to get the job done. Alone, each of them is only half a candidate. But together, they make an ideal guardian for the island's shores.
Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?
This is where mother's plan gets totally insidious. She knocks the MIB out, and drags him to his village. By the time he wakes up, she's decimated the settlement and killed all his comrades. Even worse, she's filled in his well, eliminating any hope he might've had at getting off the island. THIS is what infuriates the man in black most of all. He couldn't care less about the people he lived with... but messing with his escape plan was the one thing sure to drive him completely berserk.
So how did mother accomplish all this stuff? As the smoke monster, of course. When she warned Jacob not to go into Yoda's cave, she was speaking as someone who'd done it herself. Sometime over the course of her tenure on the island, she'd put her own body through the island's paper shredder... and emerged with the power to commit the carnage we saw here by the time she got to the other side.
Also, consider the wall glyphs we saw during Dead is Dead, involving the worship of the smoke monster. Egyptian hieroglyphics would predate Jacob or the MIB's arrival on the island, indicative of the monster being around for much, much longer. At least that's my take on it.
The next thing mother does is plant the senet board at the scene of the crime. This makes the dark man think Jacob was also responsible for the destruction. Mother knows the MIB will seek them out, and in his rage, finally put an end to her life. She might even have needed him to kill her. Her time was up anyway, and Jacob had already taken her place. Hell, she'd even physically handed him a torch.
After conveniently sending Jacob away to 'get firewood', mother willingly meets her destiny at the end of the now infamous knife. She even thanks the man in black for her release. Predictably, this is when Jacob approaches. He sees his murderous brother holding a bloody knife standing over the body of their mother, and delivers another great flying tackle. A half-dozen punches later, and the final piece of mom's puzzle falls into place: Jacob drags the MIB to the secret stream, knocks him out, and sends him through the island's giant QUIZNOS oven.
In the end, this solves mother's every dilemma. Jacob gets spared the cost associated with going into the cave, and the man in black can no longer leave the island. When she first hatched her plan, mother knew full well this would be the end result - even if she wouldn't be around to see it. Her own long con involved serving out the rest of her time, and getting the best of both worlds when it came to a replacement for guarding the heart of the island.
Meanwhile... Back When Kate Still Had Lipstick...
I really didn't mind rewatching the skeleton scene at the cave. Learning the origins of Adam and Eve would've been cool with or without the Jack/Kate/Locke flashback (forward?), but they way they did it was pretty tasteful. It lent a definite sense of coming full circle, to both the overall story and the image of the black and white stones.
Across The Sea was an excellent example of how satisfying it can be to finally get answers. More importantly though, I think it put the smoke monster / MIB character into a whole new light. I feel like I really understand the MIB now, and his motives for wanting to go home. As terrible as they might be, at this point I don't even blame him for the things that he's done. In many ways he's been cheated out of making a choice: something that seems to be granted in rule-like fashion when it comes to a good many other characters on the show.
So is the smoke monster solely Jacob's brother, or was he merged with an even older entity on the island? How much of him could be attributed to mother at this point, or even John Locke? Is the circle we saw Bram use to protect himself made from the ashes of the MIB's old village? These answers might be hard to come by, but so far, I'm extremely satisfied with how this storyline has played out.
Ever since the beginning of LOST, I'd hoped we'd get some sort of an island flashback. Something that would tell us how it all began... something to show us how things got so impossibly strange.