Wrestling With Angels- The Ricardo Alpert Story

24 Mar

I'll give you these keys... but only if you pretend to be Batmanuel...

Halfway through LOST’s final season and I feel confident that the series is heading to a rousing climax. Last night’s Richard-centric episode “Ab Aeterno” was a highly anticipated installment, and I can already tell it’s going to be divisive amongst fans. Many may be disappointed that Richard’s backstory was more or less as expected- like I predicted he was a prisoner (or rather an indentured servant) on the Black Rock, which was washed onto the Island via tsunami. Others, from the “GIVE ME ANSWERS” camp, may have been bothered by the fact that the episode didn’t so much answer any mysteries as it illuminated some and made them clearer. I know we’re all getting antsy, people- there’s only nine hours left and I’ll be the first to admit that LOST is taking its sweet time. But I think it would be hard to deny that “Ab Aeterno” was a great standalone story, and at the end of the day that’s what makes for great television.

I loved this episode. At first I was skeptical because I was so used to LOST blowing my mind with crazy reveals and Richard’s story was not only as I predicted, but also a pretty classic romance. But the more I thought about it afterwards the more I liked it, and because I know there’s going to be haters out there (looking at you, Nate), I’ve decided to not only make this post a recap, but a review.

The episode felt like it was actually two different stories playing out simultaneously. You had Richard’s tragic backstory, where he was a Spaniard that couldn’t save his TB-stricken wife and was sold into slavery for an accidental murder. Then there was the Jacob/Man in Black story, which I really, really liked- yes they more or less reiterated what we already knew about their conflict, but it was expanded on in such a way that I now feel I really understand the whole nature of the characters’ rivalry. This IGN recap does a good job of explaining this. Jacob’s bottle metaphor was great, and if you pick it apart it really does explain a lot about the show’s mythos. I think that’s why I liked “Ab Aeterno” so much- it was pure mythos, which is my favorite part of the show, but it grounded it all with a really heart-wrenching and compelling character-driven story. Nestor Carbonell gave an outstanding performance and it was nice to finally see him doing something other than giving cryptic hints to other characters and flashing his pretty eyelashes.

Now, back to the bottle- if we interpret what Jacob said literally, then the “darkness” the Island is keeping at bay is in fact the Monster, who is exactly what Dogen said he was: “evil incarnate.” Jacob’s fear is that should evil incarnate be allowed to escape his Island prison, his darkness will spread to every human being on the planet- much in the way it has already spread to Sayid & Claire. The Island acts as a buffer, preventing MIB from escaping, but only as long as there is a Jacob to keep him in check. This is actually a pretty neat twist on what we’ve come to believe the Island is- Locke has always spoke of miracles, and how the Island needs to be protected. The truth is, it’s not the Island that needs protecting- the rest of the world needs protecting from what’s living on the Island. Obviously the Island is special for numerous reasons- healing properties, fountain of youth, electromagnetism, etc. But the reason the Others go to such lengths to hide it from the rest of the world is not because they’re worried of industrialists like Widmore exploiting it, but of Smokey getting free and killing EVERYONE. It’s no wonder they had such a bitter conflict with the DHARMA Initiative- DHARMA literally threatened the safety of the whole planet with their middling experiments.

Jacob and Richard’s first meeting was probably the best scene of the whole episode. First off, it was really awesome to see Jacob kicking a dude’s ass. He’s so far been portrayed as a very Jesus-like pacifist, but we learned last night that he’s every bit as capable of killing a man as MIB. This also calls into question his murder at the hands of Ben- many have wondered if Jacob purposely allowed himself to be killed as part of his grander scheme. Now that we know he’s a Kung Fu master it seems likely that he let Ben slay him, despite Miles’ discovery that Jacob was hoping Bug Eyes wouldn’t do it. Again, there was nothing that revelatory in Richard and Jacob’s conversation, but it was nice because it explicitly explained their relationship, as well as Jacob’s relationship to MIB (well, it didn’t tell us if they were brothers or not). Like we saw in “The Incident,” MIB thinks all human beings are corruptible, and Jacob brings people to the Island to prove him wrong. It was cool to see Richard more or less ask God why he doesn’t enact some divine intervention every once in a while- “because then it would be pointless,” Jacob replied. He’s right- if he were to bend people to his will he’d be no better than MIB, and Jacob seems almost obsessed with the concept of free will. Before Ben stabbed him he reminded him that he had a choice. He could have just told Ben that Locke was actually the Smoke Monster and that he was manipulating him- but that would defeat the point of his whole, epic exercise in human nature. And that’s where Richard comes in- as God’s emissary to the people.

Jacob kind of reminds me of the Doctor from Doctor Who, or just a Time Lord in general. He’s this immortal, very powerful being that has a vested interest in humanity while not really being a part of it. I hope we get more Jacob/MIB backstory, because I’m curious about whether they’re men at all, or some kind of spiritual entity that takes the shape of a man. MIB did say he used to be a man and had a mother, but he also seems to be centuries-old, and it’s weird that he and Jacob speak in American-accented English in 1867 when Richard is blabbering on in a high-pitched Spanish accent.

The rest of Richard’s story was equally great. I was almost brought to tears several times, particularly during the scene where Hurley speaks for Richard’s dead wife Isabella (can I just say that I’m really glad Hurley actually talks to dead people). The writers kept the Black Rock story line interesting by throwing in a couple curveballs- namely the fact that the Four-Toed Statue was destroyed by the Black Rock being tossed into it. Slightly hilarious, but I always appreciate LOST’s more over the top moments. There was also the really harrowing stuff in the brig, with the English officer killing the Spanish prisoners in cold blood to boost ration supplies. While nothing was explained outright, I think we got a little more clarification into how the Smoke Monster takes dead people’s shapes. Prior to this ep, I thought he needed the actual corpse to be present on the Island in order to take its form, mostly because the show made such a big deal of bringing Locke’s body back to the Island. But now I have a different theory- this is the third time we’ve seen the Monster envelop a character and “scan” them, displaying their memories as little flickering images on his smokey surface. In three separate occasions he immediately reappeared as a deceased person from that character’s memory- Yemi for Eko, Alex for Ben, and now Isabella for Richard. Because we saw Isabella’s ghost at the end of the hour, it seems pretty obvious that the Isabella we saw in the Black Rock was actually MIB just fucking with Richard. This calls into question whether he can actually deliver on his promise to Sayid to bring Nadia back to life. My guess is he’s full of shit.

It was really neat to see MIB trying to pull the same trick on Richard that he ultimately does on Ben. He also told Richard what Dogen told Sayid about him- that if you let him speak it’s already too late, etc., etc.- almost verbatim. He also gave Richard the same knife Dogen gave Sayid, which makes me wonder if Dogen was also full of shit and really did just want to get Sayid killed. Or perhaps the dagger has some magical properties since it once belonged to MIB- we’ll probably never know. We may also never find out the exact origins of the many physical structures on the Island not constructed by the DHARMA Initiative- i.e. the Statue, Temple, catacombs, etc. Presumably they were made by the people Jacob originally brought to the Island and who have all been killed by Smokey as of the time of Richard’s arrival. My guess is they were probably Egyptians.

Overall, it was a really fantastic episode, and if you don’t think so… well, maybe you should tune into NCIS next week instead. In fact, just writing about it has made me love it even more and has greatly increased its score to:

Score: 9.3

One last question to ponder before next week: What’s in Widmore’s Locked Door on the Sub? Most likely a weapon that can help them kill MIB, but could also be a person, most likely Desmond. I got those ideas from watching Jeff Jensen’s video series, “Totally Lost,” which you can watch here. Check out his recap of “Ab Aeterno,” but only if you’re really bored and want to read something three times as long as what you just did.

Lastly, I’d like to address the debate over the Flash-Sideways. It seems many fans outright hate them, and I’d like to throw in my two cents. I’m not in love with the flash-sideways- they’re usually pretty interesting, but also somewhat disconcerting since we’re seeing these characters in a weird parallel universe. The ones that stand out are Locke’s, Jack’s, Sayid’s and Ben’s- Kate and Sawyer’s sort of fell flat for me. Kate because it was exactly what we’ve seen her like in the other reality, and Sawyer because it was too obviously different from his other life. The thing is, I don’t feel like writing them off because I’m sure they’re going to factor into the Island story in some way, and I’m confident there will be a satisfying payoff.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what “Wrestling with Angels” is, check this out.

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