This week's episode of Lost was...surprisingly cogent. The writers tried a few new and different things (practically unheard of for a series in its final season) and I have to say that I quite approve.
"Ab Aeterno" was touted as the long-awaited explanation of Richard. Finally, answers to the questions we've all been asking ourselves since we first appeared: What?, How?, Why?. Or so we were led to believe. In the end, there were about as many questions answered as left unanswered (answered insufficiently).
"Ab Aeterno" started with a reminder of Ilana's flashback...but the real answers came from another person's memories, the longest consecutive flashback yet to appear on Lost - almost the entire episode (this would be the new and different). It featured the memories of Richard from way back when he came from...1867. We figured out he came from the Black Rock as a prisoner a few episodes ago. But learning through intuition and watching the events actually playing out around an even-hairier-than-usual Nestor Carbonell is much more poignant.
The pre-Island life of "Ricardo" was, apparently, filled with enough strife and woe for six or seven Greek tragedies: sick wife, greedy and unhelpful doctor, accidental murder, dead wife, greedy and unhelpful priest, imprisonment by Englishmen, Smoke attack, pig attack, another Smoke attack, and being juggled around by Good and Evil (without really knowing which is which), getting eternal life. No wonder Richard started the episode with a mental breakdown and the most hilarious/frightening giggle of all time.
Richard's biography wasn't actually the point of this episode. Instead, it was a convenient vehicle for Lost to transition into its new theme: Good vs. Evil, with heavy religious undertones. I am not pleased about this. Lost was a lot more intriguing before all this Devil and Hellfire and Salvation crap started. To be fair, Jacob and the still-unnamed Man In Black are pretty fascinating characters. The latter with his mysterious motivations and entrapment and the former with his newly shared kung fu skillage and object-driven metaphors.
Frankly, this was a pretty damn uneventful episode. For all the fascination of Richard's past, "Ab Aeterno" ended up dangerously close to dull and only slightly less informative. We know how Richard ended up on The Island and why he's so damn gloomy. We know how the statue got broke (although how something that enormous got that decimated by such a little boat and one tsunami is kind of puzzling). We know a little more about Jacob and his view of his role. And we know that The Island is some sort of Hellmouth. "Ab Aeterno" gets points for exposition, but not for progress. Richard didn't even change sides like he threatened to and there was basically no narrative m0vement in the present.
One thing we can be very appreciative of "Ab Aeterno" for: no Sideways. Thank goodness.
(This review also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com).