And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds. – Tennyson, Idylls of the King
When all is said and done, when the last white LOST logo falls backwards on the last black screen, it won’t be the quality or the quantity of the Answers we’ll remember. It will be the story.
Now that’s not to say we didn’t get our share of Answers this week. In fact, I’m guessing that the Answer junkies out there in the audience were probably giddy that they could tick off so many boxes on their Answer checklist.
It landed in the middle of the jungle on the top of a giant wave during a terrible storm. Check!
The ship and the wave smashed into the Tawaret statue and left nothing standing but a four toed foot. Check!
Richard doesn’t age because Jacob magically granted him immortality. Check!
And the mysterious, bewitching, inscrutable Island of infinite possibility, it turns out, is a … cork.
You know what I found out this week? I found out that for me Answers don’t much matter anymore. They’re always going to be only the icing on the great LOST cake. I know we need to start accepting them one by one, but each Answer rubs off just a little bit of the wonder and makes me just a little bit sad. Like, I always imagined the Black Rock taking flight somehow, before landing on its belly on the forest floor. Knowing that it rode in on a tsunami, and that it took out Tawaret’s noggin along the way, was useful information … but it felt just a little unsatisfying. Like finding out Santa Claus is really just Dad drunk on eggnog. It’s part of growing up, part of letting go of LOST, but my relationship to the Answers has changed. I’ll take them as they come, but I’m done with using a checklist. Answers, I’m convinced, are never going to be what LOST is all about.
This episode was called Ab Aeterno, which translates as “since the beginning of time.” The title reminded us not just that Richard is very old, but that the elements to any really great story are immeasurably older. It’s the Big Picture we need to be looking at now. Not each intricate, individual Answer Tree, but the eternal, universal Sea of Stories.
Which sent him into the clutches of a fat, greedy priest.
He navigated each harrowing turn in his bleak little life with the unselfconscious aplomb of a cork bobbing about loose in a bottle of wine until finally he washed up on the shore of the Fate he’s been enduring for 140 years: as a plaything of the gods.
Richard came from a time before antibiotics, indoor plumbing or iphones, a time when life, especially for the poor, was nasty, brutish and short.
Except for his trip on the Black Rock, Richard had lived his whole long life on an island. He came from Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands – a fittingly tragic place for a LOST luminary to hail from.
In 1977, Tenerife was the site of history’s deadliest air disaster, with 583 souls lost in a horrifying runway crash between two airliners. In this melancholy place, Richard lived a life of hardship and misery, looking not to this crummy world but to the glorious afterlife for his reward.
All Richard could see ahead of him was the gaping maw of eternal damnation in a fiery Hell. And for someone of Richard’s time and station in life, there was nothing hypothetical or metaphorical about Hell. It was so real to him he could smell the sulphur.
The local padre was a slob who used his Godly connections to run a very lucrative con with destitute beggars like Richard. He doled out absolution like it was his own private possession and enriched himself selling criminals to slavetraders. Richard was the perfect mark for this conman.
He was above all else, a Man of Faith. Denied absolution, he wanted only the chance to accrue enough penance to save his soul from eternal damnation.
And it was that same gullible faithfulness that made him an even more convenient mark for the two ultimate Con Men he ran into on LOST Island.
Mr. Whiteshirt and Mr. Blackshirt. Or, as they could just as easily be called, Mr. Whitepants and Mr. Blackpants. I wonder why no one thought to call them that. Because I really don’t think it makes any difference. The whole black and white thing has only always been a ruse. I’m convinced of that now. The relationship of these two dudes is fascinating.
They’re like Sheepdog Sam and Ralph Wolf, who clock in every morning to battle one another to the death, and then clock out every night to share a cocktail.
It seems that the Flim Flam Twins are running contiguous cons. Jacob offers tabula rasa, a clean slate, a new life unstained by past sins.
His brother offers freedom – freedom from Hell, from being Jacob’s prisoner. He offers free will.
Jacob has magical powers, but they’re a little bit half assed. He can make a person live forever, but for those who have already died, he can’t do a thing to bring them back.
But it’s conceivable that The Monster has always been more flexible than that. How many of the other curious things we’ve seen were ploys from his bag of tricks?
The Monster says Jacob is the devil. Jacob says The Monster is lying. The Monster says Jacob is lying when he says The Monster is lying. Last week, the NotLocke Monster told us that his mother had been insane. The more we learn about her kids, the more that starts to make sense.
Divine providence didn’t shine on these boys equally. Jacob gets to have a human body. He gets to have a name. His brother gets neither – although he does seem to like to be called “Friend”. What’s more, he’s Jacob’s captive. Like Richard, he can not be killed, but like Richard, he’s trapped within a place that’s more purgatory than paradise.
Jacob compares his no-named brother to the darkness inside the wine bottle. Jake has the job of keeping the evil genie inside the bottle.
Is No-Name the Master?
It’s worth noting that the Hellmouth did not spring forth fully formed from Joss Whedon’s imagination. People in the Middle Ages believed in a howling chasm below the Earth squirming with fiends, gargoyles and demons.
The concept of a Hellmouth corresponds to the pocket of supernatural energy that seems to be trapped within LOST Island. And there is still a lot of credence for that idea.
I’m in the camp that believes, not that it matters, that the ship we’d seen approaching the beach in The Incident was indeed the Black Rock.
As it approached the Island, it became trapped in a violent electrical rainstorm, much like the one Frank had to steer Desmond through in The Constant. Passage to or from the Island seems to involve navigating some kind of turbulent EMF-infused moat.
For those still looking for science fiction in this fairy tale, there is plenty of evidence left over for a theory that the Island represents a pocket of super forces, created by an electromagnetic anomaly of ginormous proportions. But that wasn’t what this episode was about.
As a 19th century Spanish Catholic, the Hell that Richard feared was a place of merciless, incessant torment, a place that made perfect sense within a universe where insignificant humans accepted their plight as toys to a capricious God. A God who could punish men for failing to avoid the Evil that he himself had forced into their path.
The black and white morality of the Catholic Church made perfect sense to Richard, made him an easy subject for the Flim Flam Twins to manipulate. The question for us to consider is whether the writers are also expecting us to buy into this binary moral universe – where black is bad and white is right – or if they’re counting on us to have just a wee bit more intellectual sophistication.
When Richard finally decides to align himself with Jacob, he brings a message back to The Monster.
I have no problem describing The Monster as Evil. He’s done enough coldblooded killing to qualify hundreds of time over. But there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to see a way clear to identifying Jacob as Good.
Does that mean he brought everyone who came to the Island? Even the Dharma Initiative?
Since this is LOST, even an Answerpalooza episode like this one raised more Questions than it answered. For instance, if Jacob is the only thing keeping The Monster trapped, why isn’t he free now that Jacob is dead? And what kept him caged in on all the occasions when Jacob went off Island, shopping for Candidates to give his magic touch to?
Jacob asked Ilana to help protect the six remaining Candidates. So this group represents the end of the line. What then? What happens when the last Candidate dies? Or leaves? Does that mean The Monster wins? Is that what makes the stakes so high?
Why would anyone be willing to replace Jacob anyway? Does this look like a fun job? Alone for all eternity, keeping watch on a Monster who tries every day to kill you, all while constantly interviewing candidates for the inevitable day when he succeeds … Who would ever want a job like that?
Why did Jacob fight off Richard’s attack but not Ben’s? Why can’t Jacob just destroy The Monster? And why can’t The Monster kill Jacob himself?
It came with the same instructions – to use it before the victim had a chance to speak – and in both cases it failed to hit its mark, although for different reasons.
“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.” – Coleridge, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
– and for the time being at least, he spares his life.
We know from Outlaws in Season One that The Monster sometimes enjoys being a boar.
The Monster lets water pour into the cell, but none of it is within reach of Richard’s mouth. The whole time he is dying, we keep watching him try to live.
But when the boar runs by him and knocks the nail out of his hand, Richard’s despair is complete.
That’s when The Monster decides to pull the trigger on his scam.
“And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that Woman’s mate?”– Coleridge, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” – Shakespeare, King Lear
Richard is weak and easily bested by Jacob, who rudely baptizes him and then makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Still pretending he’s the High Priest of Free Will, Jacob decides he could use a translator, an intermediary to help him influence all that free will he says he’s not going to influence.
Or when Richard is sent to test the specialness of the six year old future Candidate, John Locke.
Somewhere along the way, the good God fearing Man of Faith became the co-author of a gruesome Island genocide, along with one of Jacob’s other murdering acolytes, Ben Linus.
Somewhere along the way, something went horribly wrong.
I think we’re probably going to have to face the fact that this is a story without a Good Guy. Just like it’s not about the Answers, it’s not about Good Guys and Bad Guys either. So what is it about then?
It’s not about Prophets. It’s not about following the leader. It may be reminiscent of Biblical chapters where God and Satan played dice with the lives of human beings, like they did with Job or with Adam and Eve, but it’s not really about that either. Jacob can’t absolve sin. He can’t reverse death. He isn’t God. He just plays one on the Island.
“The absurd is sin without God.” – Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
The Monster has a bit more charisma than Jacob, I think, and there’s something oddly sympathetic about him. As NotLocke last week, he told Sawyer his philosophy was “Kill or be killed.” We hear Whitfield use the same phrase as he systematically butchers the captives so he won’t have to compete with them for resources.
And it’s just as well really. Running from one false prophet to another is an exercise in futility. In absurdity. It’s the same madness the button pushers were driven to by the 108 minute clock in the Swan Hatch.
Richard may not be trapped in Hell, but he is trapped in a world where God is dead. Without God, without death, without love, without freedom, what can save Richard from his vast despair? Isabella is dead, on the other side of that great unknown where Richard can never go.
That’s where Hurley comes in. We see him early in the episode, looking surprisingly sane as he babbles in Spanish to the night air.
“Devils can be driven out of the heart by the touch of a hand on a hand, or a mouth on a mouth.” – Tennessee Williams
“…because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Like I said, I don’t think the Answers really matter all that much anymore. I used to think it was all going to come together like a clock, but now I’m pretty sure that if it did, it wouldn’t be the kind of clock that would ever be able to tell time. Maybe something more like this:
I don’t know if we’ll learn why the Others spoke Latin. I don’t really care what the Black Rock was doing between leaving Portsmouth, England in 1845 and taking on its human cargo in the Canary Islands in 1867. The puzzle has shifted now from this kind of arcane fact checking to trying to unravel the bigger questions of good and evil and loving and hating and living and dying.
“Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” – Cervantes, Don Quioxete