6.09 “Ab Aeterno”
The episode began with an extended version of a scene we have visited before. A scene that gave us an image – the image that troubled me most from last season’s finale – Jacob dressed in black. And the fact that this particular episode began with this particular image – the most overt episode examining the nature of LOST’s dueling nemeses – troubles me more than ever.
Evil, malevolence, darkness, Hell.
Jacob is actively opposing these, yet he offers no heaven, no paradise, no absolution, no promise of reunion with lost loves. Only eternal life. Is he God without the goodness?
Though if we’re choosing sides? I’m still Team Jacob. More on Jacob & MIB later, first it’s Ricardo.
From the moment we saw Richard Alpert appear to Ben’s in the jungle duringhis flashback (The Man Behind the Curtain) we had a hint of his ageless state. Then when we witnessed him at John Locke’s birth in 1954 (Cabin Fever) we were certain of one thing – we wanted more about Alpert! “Ab Aeterno” was what we’ve been waiting for and it was well worth the wait.
“You’re dead” – “We’re in hell” – Around the campfire Richard seems well versed in season 1 theories. At this point every LOST fan worth their salt was not buying any of it. But this is Richard Alpert speaking – a guy who has seen more of the island than any other character – what is making him think this way? How has he come to this conclusion? Does he really think “Everything he (Jacob) ever said was a lie”? He heads for the jungle, looking for something and we flashback, probably as far back as we’ve ever been before , to 1867; to the island of Tenerife.
Ricardo’s wife Isabella is sick and she is dying, coughing up blood, and Ricardo takes all they have to try and save her. As a woman of faith she knows it is the last time they will see each other yet still he hopes – hope against hope – that she can be healed. He arrives at the Doctor’s, cross in hand, to give him all they have for medicine. But all they have is not enough. Ricardo complains, pleads and struggles until the Doctor goes the way of almost all the Doctors on the show (Christian Shepherd, Juliet Burke, Ethan Rom, Edmund Burke, Artz, Ray from the Freighter – there is of course one exception, though who has money on Jack being alive come the end of the story?).
Throughout this episode Richard reminded me of Desmond; the long hair and beard, being ship wrecked and woken by a crazy man needing help, his devotion to his Constant – and here he accidently kills the Doctor, much in the same way that Desmond inadvertently killed Inman – but for Ricardo there is no hatch with a button to rush back for; there is a home and a wife and not enough time.
In prison, awaiting execution, we find Ricardo reading Luke 4 – ‘The Temptation of Jesus’, foreshadowing his meeting with the Man in Black (or Jacob, or both). Here he stands before another Man in Black who tells him that his sins cannot be absolved. He is out of time again. There are not enough days for him to rack up the penance needed to wash the away the guilt that comes from a murder. Even an accidental one.
Richard is offered a lifeline by Whitfield. A stay of execution in exchange for slavery. The name Jonas Whitfield evokes the Methodist founder George Whitefield (pronounced Whitfield) who was, amongst other things, an advocate of slavery. For us in the 21st century this is an intolerable position to hold, yet he was known to treat his slaves well and was fiercely critical of those who didn’t; his slaves were reported to be unusually devoted to him. Could this represent Jacob’s relationship with his slave-like followers – particularly the ageless Ricardo?
After the mythological rush of seeing a tidal-wave-swept Black Rock crash into the statue of Tarawet (Ignacio sowing the seeds of ‘Hell’ and ‘the Devil’ into Richard’s mind) we see what could be called ‘the Breaking of Ricardo’. As the passengers stirred awake it was not long before MIB’s prophecy of “ They fight. They destroy. They corrupt” came true – Whitfield running his sword through his expendable slaves (not sure his namesake would have been happy about that). But then Smokey crashes in and deals out his own brand of judgement and justice – the crew are found guilty and duly punished. Richard is spared by Smokey but the Monster takes from Richard’s mind the memories he needs to manipulate him later. ‘The Breaking of Ricardo’ continues – in the middle of the storm he is inches away from quenching his first but his chains only go so far and he is left thirsty and desperate. Sometime later he is woken by a boar; feasting on his deceased crew mates – a boar that causes him to drop his nail, his tool for escape – and again it is just inches from his grasp. Then finally, most cruelly, he is visited by his beloved. We know she is not who she says she is and it was painful to watch Richard’s hope restored before being instantly ripped from him again, leaving him emotionally, physically and spiritually broken.
And on cue, the Man in Black enters.
After ‘the Breaking of Ricardo’ we have ‘the Temptation of Richard’. Like Christ in the passage referenced earlier Richard is dying of thirst. In the middle of his desert he is visited by a tempter – offering the kind of Faustian bargain we have heard him offer before. In exchange for rescuing Isabella the MIB wants an assurance: “I need to know that You will help me – you will do anything ask”. In Matthew Henry’s renowned Bible commentary he remarks on Luke 4: “ All Satan’s promises are deceitful; and if he is permitted to have any influence in disposing of the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, he uses them as baits to insnare men to destruction.”. Who is the devil here? Jacob, according to the Man in Black. Though it looks like MIB to us.
After feeding him up, the Man in Black dismisses Richard’s opinions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and presents the question “Do you ever want to see your wife again?”. His heart broken by the MIB’s manipulation Richard has no fight to argue or resist. He wants his wife. So off into the jungle he goes; on a mission he doesn’t truly understand – like we have seen so many times before with other characters.
When Richard reaches the statue we immediately see a side of Jacob we’ve not seen before – aggressive, impatient and angry. But once Jacob works out what is going on – how Richard has been manipulated – he gives Richard an enforced baptism to snap some sense into him. In the following conversation we receive some of the answers we’ve hoped for from the mysterious Jacob; Is he the Devil? He says “no” (which I think is true); What is the island? A ‘cork’ keeping the darkness where it belongs; Why doesn’t Jacob intervene? Because ‘why should he?’ Why should he tell people what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? The Man in Black dismisses those clarifications as unimportant – but to Jacob they are all important.
The nature of the argument between the Man in Black and Jacob is not one as simple as ‘good versus evil’ – but is more about the ‘the capacity for good versus the propensity for evil’. Everyone is corruptible versus everyone is redeemable. The Man in Black is saying to Jacob “You can let go now” – let go of the island; let go of his faith in humanity; let go of his hold on the MIB. But Jacob replies “Nothing is irreversible”; the past doesn’t matter and everything is progress.
Richard is offered a job and in return he will get eternal life via a touch from Jacob. Apparently receiving a beating and a dunking doesn’t qualify as ‘a touch’. Richard returns to MIB, decision made, delivering an ‘inside joke’ of a white stone. In reply MIB gives Richard one final reminder of his lost love, Isabella’s necklace. He buries it. But, as we know, ‘things don’t stay buried on this Island’. As we skip back to the present Richard has a moment similar to John Locke’s way back when the hatch imploded – “I was wrong”. But then out of the jungle comes the best example of Jacob’s trust in humanity and incorruptibility we know; Hurley.
We then witness one of LOST’s classic, bittersweet love scenes. Full of hope, romance and loss. This reminded me of the films ‘Ghost’ and ‘Gladiator’ but most of all it reminded me of ‘The Constant’. Where Sayid managed to connect Desmond to his long lost Penny, Hurley manages to connect Ricardo to his Isabella. Hurley himself has also watched his own ‘Isabella’ die coughing up blood on her death bed (Isabella is the Spanish for Elizabeth or Libby). Isabella’s connection to Richard has always been there. In their memories. In their love. Not even death can steal that from them.
And if Richard was unsure about what to do at the beginning of the episode it is clear to him by the end; stop the MIB; stop him from leaving the Island… or “we all go to Hell”.
When Jacob responded “no” to the question of whether or not he’s the devil I believed him. My current theory is that Jacob and MIB aren’t devils or demons or even angels – but they may be the Devil’s children. They are brothers separated by ideology, worldview and parental issues; MIB’s recently revealed Mother issues and Jacob’s possible Father issues. Their fraternal relationship resembles many others we see in religion, literature and classical history; Cain & Abel; Jacob & Esau; Zeus & Hades; Romulus & Remus; Castor & Pollux; However there are two fraternal stories that LOST has directly referred to that could give us insight into their tumultuous relationship. Firstly – The Brothers Karamazov. The Dostoyevsky classic is a tale of brotherly differences and of patricide. Its central theme? Redemption. Patricide has been a hall mark of Jacob’s followers – the rite of passage for both Ben & Locke. Could Jacob have disagreed with his Father, the Devil, so vehemently, that he ended up killing him (like Dostoyevsky’s ‘Ivan Karamazov’) and betraying his brother in the process – his brother who wants revenge and the ability to continue his Father’s mission to utterly corrupt humanity? We shall see.
The Biblical brothers that are usually mentioned in relation to Jacob and MIB are Cain & Abel and Jacob & Esau – but these are loose associations at best. There is another set of brothers from the Old Testament that may be a better fit – Moses & Rameses. The name Moses has been mentioned twice on LOST to my recollection – by Naomi Dorrit in reference to Jack during ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and by Ben in reference to Locke/Smokey prior to killing Jacob in ‘The Incident’. Rameses has not been mentioned by name but there is no shortage of Eqyptian imagery on the Island and the biggest conflict between the brothers was referenced as far back as season one – ‘Exodus’. Moses was Rameses’ adopted brother but after Moses had been disgraced by committing murder he is called by God to lead his people out of Egypt; to leave the shackles that Rameses had put upon Moses’ people. In this scenario Moses would be the MIB and Rameses would be Jacob – alluding to what many LOST fans are currently thinking – Jacob could well be the ‘bad guy’ in this story. I still don’t think so, but I can’t wait to find out!
PS. There is one more thing to consider if we are thinking about Moses. He had another brother; Aaron.