It was the best of episodes, it was the worst of episodes. A tale of two LOSTs came to us tonight, and the chasm between fans who liked it and fans who didn’t will probably never be wider. Perhaps “Ab Aeterno” was a breathtaking, deep, and daring voyage into the heart of a man and, therein, the heart of the whole series. Or, perhaps it was merely an extended flashback for a secondary character that ended with absolutely no forward momentum on the island.
We choose the former. We loved this episode.
If only for tonight, we forgot about numbers and vaccines and time travel, and immersed ourselves in the story of Ricardus the rich Spanish settings, the lingering moments of terror and despair aboard the Black Rock, the eternal chess game between the Man in Black and Jacob, and throughout, Nestor Carbonell’s fantastic performance. When Richard is visited by the form of Isabelle, we were enthralled. We couldn’t believe this eerie scene was part of the same show that started with a plane crash five years ago.
Before we even thought about where the pieces fit, “Ab Aeterno” reaffirmed our love of the picture being painted. In the end, will it be incomplete, fragmented, and confounding? We have no doubt. But six seasons in, “LOST” is still taking chances, posing big questions, and for that, we still think it’s the best show on television.
Nonetheless, the puzzle pieces demand some study.
No, the island is not hell, nor purgatory… yet it is the closest thing to it, in both the corporeal and metaphysical sense. Indeed, Alpert’s early declaration that they’re all dead is not entirely untrue. Souls come to the island to be tested, and have so far unanimously failed. Sounds like hell to us. We also learn that the island is a “cork” that keeps malevolence and evil contained, and that our survivors are pawns in an epic battle between darkness and its captor.
So: Before the Man In Black escapes, can the last of the candidates prove Jacob’s case? Can they demonstrate that people can choose the right path?
That seems to be “LOST” in a nutshell. The players and stories are simply human. Jack, Kate, Hurley, a Kwon… Their pasts don’t matter, yet obviously inform their future. But stakes are huge. Biblical, global, and universal. It seems impossible for “LOST” to satisfactorily resolve these grand themes in the next seven episodes, let alone a million other frayed threads. We’re afraid vindication may only come after re-watching the series from the beginning, after seeing everything through Season Six eyes.
Interestingly, we saw a distinct parallel between Richard’s failed attempt on Jacob’s life and Sayid’s failure to kill the Man in Black. The fact that both sides may be intent on murder certainly muddies the “good versus evil” waters. Also, even though we still don’t know what rules are in force (and thus what “loophole” Ben stepped through to finally stab Jacob), I was surprised by the suggestion that Alpert was the first to try. Coming to the island in the 1800s, his story already began much more recently than I’d assumed. Which means that the conflict has only recently turned ugly, maybe as Jacob’s candidates have started to run out.
On the questions checklist, meanwhile, we can cross out both “what destroyed the statue” and “how did the Black Rock end up in the jungle” with the same stroke. The physics seem a little iffy, but then again, there’s also a smoke monster on this show. Speaking of which, it’s now clear that said smoke monster “scans” people to find their motivations and weaknesses, if not also their usefulness. Conjuring dead wives, or daughters (Alex), or brothers (Yemi) is a useful power to get people to do things for you, and it’s a power that Jacob explicitly admits tonight that he lacks.
He can, however, grant immortality. And I’m curious why Alpert became Jacob’s ageless intermediary, when all who came before and after him were merely candidates to test. I’m guessing Alpert was a candidate himself, explaining why was he the only person on the Black Rock that the smoke monster didn’t kill. But did he end up extra special because he was the first to come at Jacob with a dagger, demonstrating to Jacob that he needed a helper?
And now, decades later, Richard is weak and tries to join the Man In Black. His dead wife, through Hurley, puts him back on track. Like Ben, he’s nearly led astray, but sticks with Jacob’s team. But also like Ben, I now wonder what else is left for him to do. I don’t know who’s going to be the last man standing against the Man In Black, but I’m pretty sure it’s not either of them.
We’re glad “LOST” took us on a ride into the past this week. But next week, we better rack up some serious mileage on the island.
Notes and Notions:
- Jen’s now fixated on Anthony Cooper. The man who appeared mysteriously on the island, and whom Ben prodded Locke to murder. With a knife. Quickly, before he had a chance to think. Was that whole scenario yet another “move” between Jacob and the Man in Black? And if so, who’s side did Anthony Cooper represent?
- Alpert’s backstory was almost flawless. But the ease with which the greedy doctor was killed was a bit silly. Coupled with Kelvin’s noggin knock at Desmond’s hands, it seems skulls on “LOST” are especially fragile.
- Now that we see even more significance and history to Alpert’s character, it’s hard not to think about some of the things he’s done in seasons past. The fact that he was merely a thug for Ben in “The Brig” seems ridiculous, as does his apparently pivotal role in “The Purge.” Was he acting in Jacob’s interests then? And how does that jive with his efforts to sustain a truce further back in 1977?
- Richard’s devotion to Isabella was well acted, but I couldn’t help but think it was an interesting choice to motivate him with his love for a spouse, rather than for a parent or especially a child. With all the generational issues explored on “LOST,” hanging things on a husband and wife bond seemed almost quaint.
- Some great, lighter moments: Richard’s almost girlish giggle when he’s asked what to do. Hurley telling Jack it’s not about him. And the look on the Man in Black’s face when Alpert hands him the white stone.
- The captain of the Black Rock was one Magnus Hanso. Presumably related to Alvar Hanso of the nearly forgotten Hanso Foundation, which funded the DHARMA Initiative. I wonder if this one mention of the Hanso name will be all we’ll see in the show from the Season 2 ARG? Or will the arrival of Charles Widmore open the door to a little more Hanso/DHARMA backstory?
- Lots of overtly Christian elements this week. God, the devil, a bible, a cross, sin, absolution and forgiveness, penitence… There was a lingering shot of Luke 4:24-29, in which Jesus asserts that prophets are often rejected in their own neighborhoods, and angers the people of Nazareth by telling them not to expect any special treatment even though he’s from their town. I’ll leave it to more qualified scholars to tease out how the passage applies to “LOST.” I’m also sure the nail Richard found on the Black Rock was symbolic, but don’t know how.
- At the end of Season 5, Jacob and the Man In Black see a ship sailing on calm seas in the middle of a bright, sunny day. Yet we now know the Black Rock arrived on a stormy night… delivered by a huge wave, no less. Presumably the first ship wasn’t the Black Rock, but one of many other vessels that Jacob has summoned.
What did you think? We’d love your feedback! Share your thoughts, theories, and reactions to “Ab Aeterno” via a comment below, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the LOSTLine at (815) 310-0808.