This episode was billed as giving us the backstory of the age-less Richard Alpert, but for good measure they also threw in a few big revelations about the "Lost" mythology and the metaphysical laws of this very unusual land.
I think by now we've pretty much settled the good vs. evil debate. Jacob is the good that transcends religious beliefs and the baser instincts of humanity. The Man in Black is evil, the chaos of the dark side driven by fear an our natural kill-or-be-killed, survivalist impulses -- the kind of thing that organized religion is designed to help keep in check -- through fear, guilt, the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell. Whereas Jacob is something like faith in its purist form -- no written tracts, no robes, no iconography or sacred symbols -- just pure belief. Hence the seg title "Ab Aeterno," which is Latin for "From the beginning of time" (or so says my quick Google search.)
It takes a very special kind of soul to muster such conviction, such unadulterated feeling about man and the world and the spirituality that exists in every blade of grass, or carafe of wine. Religion is something that is used to control poor Ricardo -- from the beginning when the priest wouldn't absolve him, right through the moment when he digs up his wife's cross necklace nearly 150 years after he buried it, because she finally absolved him of the guilt he felt for not being able to cure her sickness all those years ago.
MIB uses the terror of being consigned to hell to motivate Richard (aka Ricardo) to act on his behalf. MIB is so convincing that so many years later, as Richard has a crisis of faith he returns to MIB's lie and takes it to be the real truth because he's so disillusioned with Jacob. Jacob, on the other hand, in his first meeting with Richard is straight up with him about not being able to bring back his wife (as MIB promises) or even absolve him of the accidental killing of the greedy doctor. But Jacob can make Richard live forever with just a touch of the shoulder, which is pretty awe-inspiring on its own. There was a lot of that in this fast-moving seg written by Melinda Hsu Taylor and Greggory Nations and directed by Tucker Gates.
The exchanges between Jacob and Man in Black were particularly tantalizing. Now we know without any doubt why Flocke can't just hit the road. He has to somehow overpower the spirit of Jacob in order to escape the island and spread his chaos into the wider world. Of course all I could think of by the end was the lengthy exchange between Jacob and MIB in the season five closer, where they talk about the cycle of violence and how everything else is just progress. One of many things I still don't quite get is MIB telling Richard, just after freeing him from Black Rock chains, was that Jacob "betrayed" him and took his body? True? Or just talk to scare Richard?
I'm half tempted to think that the very last scene of Jacob and MIB talking and looking down into the green valley was meant to be in our contemporary 2007 island time line -- to indicate that nothing has really changed. Jacob is not dead -- perhaps all of this "Jacob's dead" business is just a big test for his batch of favored "candidates" -- and the MIB is still scheming away but trapped.
What sparked that thought was the look of the white rock in MIB's hand as he tossed it from palm to palm. It was very smooth and rounded, nothing like the jagged hunk that Ricardo handed MIB more than 100 years ago after he was first recruited to Team Jacob. After all, he wanted to go to the New World, right?
Jacob targets people to come to the island to prove his point to the MIB about humanity -- that there is pure good in the world, and that's enough to want to prevent it from descending into mayhem. Jacob's point won't be made if he's always in their face telling them what to do, so that's where Richard comes in. "When you get here, the past doesn't matter," Jacob tells Richard.
This episode made me think a lot about Benjamin Linus and Charles Widmore and where they fall on the Jacob-MIB continuum. Obviously Ben thought he was doing Jacob's will, even when he was torturing unsuspecting innocents like Juliet and the Oceanic 815ers. I found it interesting that even with all he's been through, Ben still hasn't told everything he knows to Jack, Ilana, et al, because he was still only hinting at Richard's identity early on in the episode when they were sitting around the campfire. I still don't quite get Ilana's role in all this. Maybe she really is just muscle.
Hurley, naturally, has a crucial role in getting us to the end zone of this show. I've been feeling for some time that he's the new Richard -- the adviser who makes things happen and can see dead people.
I jumped when I heard MIB tell Richard "It's good to see you out of those chains," just as Flocke said to Richard last week.
My Variety colleague and fellow "Lost" freak Justin Kroll points out that the boar that feasted on the dead Black Rock prisoners was the same old sow who pestered Sawyer in that unnerving first season episode that taught us so much about the character.
Dogen's motivation is definitely called into question by the fact that MIB delivered the exact same "kill him don't let him speak" speech and a very similar dagger to send Richard off to kill Jacob as Dogen did when he sent Sayid off to kill Flocke. Or maybe Dogen just knew the drill and wanted Flocke to kill Sayid all along.
How great was it to see the Black Rock backstory, at long last?
As much as I loved the episode and as much as I adore Nestor Carbonell, there were moments in this hour that tested his limits as an actor. As thesps often say, it's hard to be convincing and real when you're working in fantasy/sci-fi realm and asking the aud to take a leap with you on the story.
Now we know what happened to the statue.
All of this thinking is making my head hurt! Till tomorrow, and a second viewing.