'Lost': Richard Alpert's past is revealed in 'Ab Aeterno'

nestor-carbonell-lost-320.jpgIn "The Usual Suspects," Verbal Kint tells the interrogating officer, "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." In tonight's monumentally important, if more than occasionally obtuse, episode of " Lost," The Man in Black tries to trick Richard Alpert into thinking the devil exists ... in the shadow of the statue. Is the Island now home to angels and demons? Will Dan Brown send Robert Langdon there in his next novel? Probably not. But rather than a mere trip down memory lane for the enigmatic Richard, "Ab Aeterno" showed the moment in which Jacob's hope for progress finally began in earnest at the very moment The Man in Black started to look for his loophole.

4) In Short

Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling
Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?
Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming?
Is this burning an eternal flame?
The Bangles, "Eternal Flame"


8) Richard's Past

It's 1867, and we're on the Canary Islands. Look: Richard Alpert, like the guy in the Old Spice commercial, is on a horse! Look at your man, now look at him ... now look at his wife, suffering from tuberculosis. OK, this is less funny now. Isabella lies in their simple hut, gasping for air and coughing blood into a rag. Ricardo, as she calls him, vows to get a doctor for her. Before he leaves, she hands him the necklace around her neck, which bears a cross upon it. "Close your eyes," she says. "We'll always be together." They kiss, and Ricardo Suave rides toward her rescue.

He arrives at the posh manor of the nearest doctor, a half-day's ride from his home. The doctor asks for towels, not for the soaked Richard but the newly dampened floors. The doctor won't go to Ricardo's hovel, but will give Ricardo medicine for the right price. Unfortunately, Ricardo's small amount of coin doesn't do the trick, nor does the addition of the necklace to the payment. When the doctor throws the necklace on the ground, calling it "worthless," Ricardo loses his temper, clutches the doctor, and throws him across the room. The doctor snaps his neck on the dining room table and dies instantly. Somewhere in heaven, Kelvin Inman is preemptively calling out, "Copycat!"

Richard rides back home, medicine in hand, but by the time he reaches Isabella, she's already dead. As he weeps over her body, the local authorities arrest him and take him to the set of "Pirates of the Caribbean." The prison's priest visits Ricardo and notes that he is reading an English version of the Bible. The passage we see onscreen is Luke 4:24: "And he said, Verily I say unto you, 'No prophet is accepted in his own country." Ain't that the truth. I keep telling people that I'm the coolest kid on the block, and like, no one listens!

The priest starts to take Ricardo's confession, but oddly, does not absolve him. In fact, the priest is downright antagonistic toward Ricardo, insisting that he's going to be hanged and sent directly to hell. No passing go, no collecting $200, nada. Penance WOULD be an option, were the hanging not happening tomorrow. "I'm afraid the devil awaits you in hell," the priest says as he leaves Ricardo's cell. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, not even soon-to-be-ageless men!

The following day, the prison's guards blindfold and lead a terrified Ricardo down a hall. They meet both the priest and a British naval officer named Witfield. He's interested in Ricardo's hands, teeth, and burgeoning understanding of the English language. Rather than be sent to the gallows, Ricardo's going to be sent to the New World on the second-most doomed ship in history, just behind the Titanic: The Black Rock! Aboard the ship, the slaves below deck are feeling the affects of the raging storm outside. Another slave peeks out the window and sees Tawaret aglow in a lightning strike. Frickin' awesome. "It's the devil!" he cries, as a giant wave takes the Black Rock and hurls it directly into the head of the statue. So, cross THAT mystery off your checklist, treasure hunters!

The following morning, the slaves wake up in the Black Rock's familiar spot, well inland. They are all thrilled to be alive. They are less thrilled when Witfield comes down and starts executing them all, one by one. He tells Ricardo that if he freed him, it would only be a matter of time before the slave tried to kill the master. Just then, the familiar sounds of the smoke monster can be heard. Witfield feels the blood of a fellow officer trickle down onto his shoulder, and then he is pulled upward by the monster through the lattice. Hell yes. The smoke monster then slithers down the steps, churning and flashing. It gets up close, analyzing/psychically data mining in the way it did to Eko and Juliet, then slithers back out again.

For what seems like forever to Ricardo (and, to a smaller extent, the viewing audience), he tries to free himself from the chains that bind. Without food or water to sustain him, he slowly grows weak. After nearly being mauled by a boar, he loses the only tool at his disposal to prey his chains loose. At the point of exhaustion, he sees Isabella inside the belly of the Black Rock. She tells them they are both dead, and they must flee the devil together. The sound of the monster draws her upstairs, and Ricardo's screams drown out her own. He slumps down, a broken man. Know what that means? Recruitment time!

titus-welliver-lost-320.jpgOn cue, in steps The Man in Black. This isn't Smocke, but Original Recipe MiB. He comes bearing water, which Ricardo slurps up as greedily as Richard did when Smocke handed him some in "The Substitute." The Man in Black calls himself a "friend," and verifies Ricardo's hell hypothesis. He denies having seen Isabella, but thinks the two can help each other. See, The Man in Black wants to be free, just like Ricardo, and unbinds him for a small little favor: "There's only one way to escape from hell: You're gonna have to kill the devil."

In the jungle, Ricardo noshes on freshly cooked boar as The Man in Black sits on what looks like Pier One outdoor furniture. (I mean, it's weird there's a stone bench there, right? Why does this bother me? Clearly I'm delirious at this point.) He tells Ricardo to head due west, look for the newly smashed statue, and there be a devil to kill. He then essentially repeats Dogan's instructions to Sayid in "Sundown": Kill him with a big honkin' ceremonial dagger before the adversary gets a word in. Ricardo thinks stabbing black smoke will be sort of pointless. The Man in Black admits he in the smoke, but insists that Jacob took Isabella. He claims that the devil betrayed him and stole his body as well as humanity. If Ricardo ever wants to see his wife again, The Man in Black insists, then he must kill the devil.

Ricardo walks through the jungle, reaches the beach, and sees the statue's wreckage. As he approaches, an unseen figure grabs him and starting beating the holy hell out of him. The camera pans up to a very angry Jacob, who looks and acts extremely different than we've seen him before. He is curt, tense, and generally un-Jacob like. As he realizes his adversary put Ricardo up to this, the wheels start to turn in Jacob's mind. Ricardo insists that he's dead, so Jacob drags him into the water and starts to drown him. "Still think you're dead?" screams Jacob. When Ricardo finally begs for his life, Jacob calms down a little, and tells him they have to talk.

A little later, Jacob brings Ricardo a jug of red wine and two metal cups. (What, no Dharma boxed wine yet?) Ricardo asks what's inside the statue; Jacob tells him that no one comes inside unless invited. (Given what we saw in "The Incident," looks like Richard took that little tidbit of info to heart.) He tells Ricardo his name, and that he brought the ship there. Why? It's time for a block quote that explains the entire purpose of the Island!

"Think of this wine as what you keep calling hell. There are many other names for it. Malevolence. Evil. Darkness. And here it is, swirling around in the bottle unable to get out. Because if it did...it would spread. The cork is this Island. And it's the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs. That man who sent you believes every man is corruptible because it's in their very nature to sin. I bring people here to prove him wrong. And when they get here, their past doesn't matter."

Ricardo's intrigued by the notion that others have come before him, but horrified to learn they have all died. Why didn't Jacob help those that he brought to the Island? Jacob insists that interfering with their lives misses the point: "I wanted them to help themselves. To know the difference between right and wrong without me having to tell them. It's all meaningless if I have to force them to do anything. Why should I have to step in?" Ricardo then utters possibly the most important line in the HISTORY of the Island: "If you don't, he will."

mark-pellegrino-lost-320.jpgJacob soaks that in for a moment, then gets a grin that looks familiar. Like the Jacob we've seen touching people's lives in "The Incident." Like the Jacob that's conversed with Hurley this year. "Do you want a job?" he asks a perplexed Ricardo. Jacob offers Richard the role of intermediary between himself and those he brings to the Island. What does Ricardo want in return? His wife back. No can do, says Jacob. Fine, Ricardo counters: my sins absolved. Nay, replieth Jacob. "I never want to die," he utters, almost as a throw away line. "I want to live forever." "Now THAT I can do," Jacob says, and touches a wide-eyed Ricardo on the shoulder.

Ricardo then returns to the Pier One Porch, where a disappointed though hardly surprised Man in Black chastises his would-be ticket off the Island for changing his mind. He grimaces when Ricardo gives him a gift from Jacob: a white stone. In return, he gives Isabella's necklace to Ricardo, noting the offer to leave with him would be good at any time. Say, in about 150 years or so? Still good! Just an FYI. Ricardo buries her necklace under the stone bench, tears staining the ground.

Looking at the mountains, absent-mindedly playing with the white stone, The Man in Black watches Jacob sit down next to him. Jacob seems surprised that his nemesis went through with his earlier threat to kill him. The Man in Black vows to kill Jacob, and any other successor, in order to secure his escape. Jacob then hands The Man in Black the bottle of wine, which the then smashes on the ground. Oh, the symbolism! Oh, the waste of a perfectly good pinot noir!

15) Richard's Present

We revisit the scene between Jacob and Ilana in the Russian hospital, first seen in "The Incident." Once again, he asks for her help, and once again, she grants it. But now the scene continues: There are six remaining candidates that need protecting. Ilana relays this information to Team Jacob on the beach, along with fact that Ricardus will know what to do next.

Richard gives a hysterical "b**ch, please" laugh, wondering if Jacob also informed her that he just tried to commit suicide in his former slave ship. He tells them all that the Island isn't an Island at all: they're dead, and they're all in hell. Oh, he's using the Anthony Cooper Defense, awesome. He thinks it's high time to stop following Jacob and start listening to someone else.

As Richard makes his way into the jungle, Jack and Ilana confab. She wants to go after him, but Jack thinks the effort would be futile: In his mind, Richard doesn't know what to do and is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs to boot. Plus, who else would Richard want to listen to? "Oh, this should be interesting," Ben dryly notes, and then we all realize: Jack has no idea there's a dude that looks like Locke lurking about. Jack, stunned from learning this piece of intel, then sees Hurley talking to air by the shoreline. He goes over, thinking Hurley's talking to Jacob. Hurley insists that he's not, and moreover, insists that he can't tell Jack to whom he's speaking. What's Spanish for "none of your beeswax, Doc?"

At the campfire, Ben gives Lapidus the 411 on his history with Richard, including that pesky "doesn't age" thing. "How do you think a thing like that happened?" Frank wonders aloud, and the episode dives into Richard's past....

....and we're back! Boy, that was a long break. (Well, in the episode, not between paragraphs. Anyways.) Richard approaches the stone bench, now overrun with weeds, and finds Isabella's buried necklace. "I've changed my mind," he says, at first softly, then louder. "I was wrong. You said I could change my mind. You said the offer would stand. Does the offer still stand?" He hears footsteps behind him, but they don't belong to Smocke, but rather Hurley. Hurley tells him that Isabella sent him, and she wants to know why he buried her cross. Turns out, she's standing right beside them both.

The camera pans around to show Isabella staring wistfully at her husband. Richard looks in vain, unable to see her. Just as she did in 1867, she tells Richard to close her eyes. Hurley offers to speak for her. "It wasn't your fault I died, Ricardo. As much as you wanted to save me, it was my time. You've suffered enough, Ricardo." (In other words: penance achieved.) He tells her that he'd do anything to be with her again, but she insists they are already together. And with that, she is gone. Richard thanks Hurley as he puts Isabella's necklace on. But Hurley has one final message from Isabella: Richard must stop The Man in Black, who just happens to be staring at them both in the nearby distance.

16) The Moment

Jacob hosts the most fascinating wine tasting in TV history.

23) The Mythology

Well, Sweet Jacob in the morning, where to start?

The Island = Pandora's Box (of Wine)! Not so much something that's new to the show so much as confirmed. It's unclear how evil would "spread" should Smokey get off, whether it be a physical, mental, or parapsychological means. Are Jacob and The Man in Black mere personifications of human impulses, designed alongside donkey wheels to keep man from regressing into cavemen? Is Jacob the "Lost" version of a Templar Knight? I'm not sure we'll get that answer for a while, but finally, FINALLY, we got a sense of why Smocke leaving the Island is such a terrible thing, which FINALLY gives definitive stakes to the war about to bust out on the Island. Which means...

We can probably put the epilogue theory about the sideways flashes to bed! Here's why: You can still operate, if you like, under the assumption that everything in the sideways flashes happens after an event in the Island's future that leads everyone off the Island. But if Smocke leaving leads to the spread of evil, then the epilogue cannot stand alone as the end of the stories of these characters. If anything, people who live in a new reality in which Smocke has been set free are living with evil amongst them. Maybe it takes a seemingly benign form (like, say, incredibly good luck), but it's there, its unnatural, and it must be undone.

The Statute Didn't Land on the Black Rock, The Black Rock Landed on the Statue! Now, either Jacob dialed up a massive storm after the opening scene of "The Incident," or that scene took place as another ship was pulled into the Island's orbit. In any case, it was awesome to see the Black Rock ride the tidal wave that smashed Tawaret into the sea. I'm going to assume here that the wave, not the ship, did the majority of the damage here. In any case, while not necessarily a vital piece of information, was still fun to witness. So much for my whole "Smoke Monster destroyed the statue so Island women would stop having babies" theories. Probably shouldn't have reminded people how wrong I usually am about these things. Oh well.

Richard Alpert may have been the first human Jacob interacted with on the Island! Let's ignore for a moment the true nature of Jacob/The Man in Black. We know little of their true nature, and all that's for future discussion. I'm more intrigued by the dissonance in the Jacob we know and the Jacob we saw take down Ricardo in a way that would make Sayid stand up and take notice. My impression: This was a man insanely frustrated by his attempts to prove The Man in Black wrong, a man who maybe thought his nemesis might be right, a man who had literally never given even the slightest nudge to anyone that came, a man who sat around and threaded all day long and wondered why his candidates kept killing each other. But all that changed when Richard correctly pointed out that absolutely no interference would always ensure that The Man in Black's hypothesis would be correct. With those few words ("If you don't, he will"), Richard changed EVERYTHING about Jacob's approach. Fantastic. I wonder if this means...

The Others, as we know them, date back to 1867 but not beyond! That's my new cutoff point for the group that's included Charles Widmore, Eloise Hawking, Ben Linus, Ethan Rom, Dogan, Lennon, and the legendary Turban Tim among its ranks. Until Ricardo's arrival, I envision a series of short-lived scenarios in which boat after boat was brought to the Island, followed by quick and bloody massacres before you can even ask anyone what lies in the shadow of the statue. But with Ricardo in charge, I get the sense a proper (if primative) society formed for the first time, with a continuous identity derived from Richard's pervasive presence giving them the form and shape we know today. How does this explain how the temple and the statue were built? Um, uh, er, hey, look, it's that Old Spice horse guy again! He's got two tickets to that thing you love! *Runs away*

The Man in Black CAN kill the candidates, but doing so would trap him! That's my takeaway from the final scene, in which The Man in Black realizes that a succession of candidates would just mean that his cycle of trying to get off the Island would spin right round, like a record, baby. If Jacob is the "cork," then The Man in Black needs to convince the other, um, corks to simply leave. Meet the new cork. Same as the old cork. Etc. Smokey's evolved, just as Jacob has. But here's the trick...

Jacob's interference does not deny free will so much as promote it! Here's why I've been OK with Jacob all along this year: I pretty much figured out early on that he's as hands off as he possibly can be, given that humanity often needs a virtual kick in the pants if it's ever going to actually progress beyond mere existence into something worthwhile of the oxygen it consumes. He does NOT, as Smocke insisted to Sawyer in "The Substitute," strip free will from people and leave them his mere minions. This suggests to me that Jacob, in his own way, is as sick of the state of stasis on the Island as The Man in Black is. That further suggests to me that after his conversation with Richard, he stopped seeking candidates to take over the Island and started looking for candidates to help improve humankind as a whole. In essence: fine, let The Man in Black try to leave. But 1) let him leave and enter a world that will be more immune to his evil (the mirrorverse that fights back), or 2) let him confront humans that defy his limited perception of their innate strength and goodness and meet his defeat that way. Or, to put it another way: all you need is love. Love is all you need. Richard's love for Isabella. Claire's love for Aaron. Sayid's love for Nadia. Sawyer's love for Juliet. Jin's love for Sun. So on and so forth.

42) Random Thoughts

That was the most overtly religious (as opposed to spiritual) episode of "Lost" since Eko died. That was shades of "The 23rd Psalm" and "Fire+Water," although unlike that latter episode, this episode didn't make me want to bang my head against something sharp. I'm still not tempted to assign the show 1-1 Biblical interpretation, but in this episode, given Ricardo's faith, it makes sense that everything was framed in terms of his religious upbringing. The Man in Black scanned Ricardo, learned his vulnerabilities/beliefs, and went to town.

Loved the Luke passage from the prison cell, specifically the part about the unheard prophet. To me, that symbolizes a lot about the way Jacob's message has been systematically ignored/misinterpreted over the years by the various leaders of the Others, Richard included. More on this from an article I wrote in November can be found here.

The pop-culture freak in my kept vacillating between images of The Dos Equis spokesman and Inigo Montoya as 19th-century Ricardo went through his paces. As he struggled to taste rain water in the Black Rock, I may have shouted, "Stay thirsty, my friend!" to my TV set. (Though, given his agelessness, maybe I should have shouted, "Stay thirty, my friend!") And as he crept up the statue, dagger in hand, I really hoped that Jacob would turn out to have six fingers.

I got the sense that Richard didn't really WANT eternal life, and just decided to throw out the request as an almost lark, uttered under his breath. Why would a man distraught over his wife's death opt for an everlasting separation from her during which he could constantly dwell on her absence? Ironically, that wish allowed him the time to achieve the type of penance alluded to by the prison's priest.

Better minds than mine can dissect why both Dogen and The Man in Black give almost the exact same speech when handing out assassination assignments. 'Twas cool to hear it again tonight, but to me it's almost like hearing two equally compelling versions of how a staged version of Oceanic 815 ended up at the bottom of the Pacific in Season 4. It's interesting, but completely opaque to me at this point. Would love to hear theories, though, on how Dogen managed to repeat The Man in Black almost exactly.

In my first pass through the episode, I really didn't think the episode was that great. I had a pit in my stomach. But while watching it a second time to recap properly, I stopped looking at the show as not showing me what I thought it would and looked at it for what it actually offered. The long flashbacks, use of intense period costumes, crazy accents, and the occasional instances in which Ricardo looked like a disheveled Morgan Grimes from "Chuck" completely threw me off my game. But while I still think the bookend love story between Ricardo/Isabella was slightly cheesy, I found the meat of the episode generally great, and the second half of the hour damn near flawless. In some ways, the episode was like Peter Jackson's recent adaptation of "King Kong": Once that boat hit the Island, the sucker took off in terms of ideas, entertainment and pure fun.

108) In Summary

That was probably the ballsiest episode of "Lost" ever. In terms of look, feel, and structure, it violated what we have come to know as an episode of this show more than perhaps anything since "The Constant." We've seen episodes that have broken from traditional on-Island/off-Island action. We've seen episodes that have taken place in relatively ancient history. And we've seen episodes that stop the action of the show in order to tell a character's backstory properly. But to throw in an episode like this, at this point in the show, was either insanely brilliant or insanely stupid.

I honestly can't tell, although I am sure it's going to split people right down the middle. I can see a lot of people marveling at the audacity of postponing the War of the Island in order to tell the backstory of one of its central players this late in the ballgame. I can see a lot of people upset thinking that they just watched what amounted to a hybrid of The History Channel and SyFy. But I don't think anyone can say that Richard's back story was delivered in a boring manner.

Do we have more information about the War of the Island? Yes, and that's much more important than getting mere "answers." The latter amounts to mere trivia; the former provides actual stakes. And since tonight's episode provided the moment at which the War started to take the shape we see in the present day Island, then the hour-long detour into Richard's past was definitely worth it.

What did you think of this Richard-centric hour? Live up to expectations, or did your hopes crash upon the shore and take down the statue with it? Leave your thoughts and comments below!



Ryan writes about "Lost" over at Zap2it's Guide to Lost. He invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It's Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to subscribe to the Zap2It's Guide to Lost Twitter feed and Zap2it's main feed for all the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.

Photo credit: ABC