Lost 6.9: "Ab Aeterno"

This episode breaks the pattern established by the first half of the season, and that lends it a certain simplicity. That’s also the result of the nature of the story. Richard’s story sounds like something that should be ridiculously complex, and yet, once revealed, it’s fairly obvious. Similarly, Richard’s initials interactions with both Jacob and his rival answer basic questions that reveal a context that isn’t al that shocking.

For some, the answers won’t be direct enough. The writers don’t give a whirlwind tour of Richard’s entire history on the island or repackage old scenes and situations from Richard’s point of view. Instead, the writers do something more in keeping with the tonal strengths of “Lost”: they provide a look into Richard’s role, as appointed by Jacob, and his resultant motivations. With that in mind, it’s up to the viewer to go back to Richard’s earlier appearances and see how it all fits together.

Which, frankly, shouldn’t be a burden. Much of this episode was hardly a revelation. It’s completely consistent with what has been shown. Richard has always been the intermediary between the leader of the Others, the people chosen by Jacob, and Jacob himself. And it’s equally clear that Jacob never really told Richard everything that Richard thought he should know. Now we know why: for all that Jacob wanted to demonstrate his faith in humanity’s ability to avoid “corruption”, to utilize free will to be something better, his approach is innately flawed.

The message of the episode, by the end, is that Richard’s role as “adviser” or “intermediary” is almost beside the point. It’s a known quantity that doesn’t need much explanation. Instead, it’s how he gets there. Just like every other character on “Lost”, it all comes down to Richard’s desire for redemption and absolution. Richard continues, in his own mind, to atone for the mistakes of his past. And like everyone on the island, he is tempted by the darkness.

At this point, it seems rather well-established that Jacob’s rival is not simply misunderstood. He may believe that he has been unfairly trapped on the island, but his methods are a lot more negatively manipulative than Jacob’s could ever be described to be. And Jacob’s description of their philosophical conflict is in keeping with everything that has already been seen.

It appears to come down to humanity’s true nature. Assuming free will, can humanity avoid corruption? Jacob’s rival has already made it clear that he believes anyone can be corrupted, and he has demonstrated a talent for offering people what they want, however impossible, to push them to embrace their darkest impulses. Jacob, on the other hand, manipulates the conditions of the choice, but seldom (if ever) makes an offer to push anyone towards the better, less convenient path.

If there is one plot point in the episode that doesn’t quite track, it’s the notion that Jacob wouldn’t have thought to use an intermediary such as Richard after centuries or more of unsuccessful management of Candidates. It’s not as though it’s some subtle, ephemeral concept. Nor does it quite make sense for Jacob to keep acting like it’s a shock that his rival would try to kill him. Richard can’t be the only person that Jacob’s rival tried to cultivate as an assassin.

Also, Jacob’s reaction to Richard’s presence by the base of the statue is a lot more violent than one might have anticipated, given Jacob’s demeanor up to this point. Given what is now known, the violence of the Others fits the notion that they were Candidates and potential Candidates who gave in to a measure of corruption. So it should have been easier for the writers, in this case, to establish a difference between Jacob and the Others in terms of their tactics.

On the other hand, Jacob’s violence could be seen as “self-defense”, if none of the previous Candidates had ever tried to find him directly. It certainly seems as though the island is deserted by the time of the Black Rock’s arrival. Also, it doesn’t seem as though Jacob’s rival allowed too many arrivals to survive very long. Perhaps Richard was the first one to be virtuous enough to pass the test, and force Jacob’s rival to use different tactics. Richard’s presence might then mark a different treatment of survivors on the island.

Jacob’s explanation of the island’s purpose, and perhaps his own purpose, implies that the philosophical debate between Jacob and his rival is an effect of the origin of their relationship and circumstance. Because Jacob speaks in metaphor, there’s plenty of room for interpretation. It’s unlikely that the island is, in fact, the cork keeping “hell” from escaping into the rest of the word. But it has been said, more than once, that the “sickness”, now associated directly with Jacob’s rival, couldn’t be allowed to leave the island. It all fits together.

Jacob’s task, it seems, is to ensure that the island, and its ability to contain his rival, remains intact. This ties into the previous impression that there is a connection between Jacob and the electromagnetic and temporal anomalies on the island. Those anomalies, unique to the island, keep Jacob’s rival trapped. Keeping people from finding the island appeared to be just as important; perhaps it was designed to prevent anyone from coming and giving Jacob’s rival a mechanism to escape.

While Jacob is still around in spiritual form, at least for now, the lack of a physical form seems to have weakened the cage, so to speak. Jacob’s rival can leave the island, and one might assume that Widmore’s ability to find the island (where before he couldn’t) is a part of the same phenomenon.

What all of this points to, in terms of Jacob’s side of the endgame, is finding a Candidate that, given the chance for redemption and a new life, embraces that opportunity and takes his place as the caretaker of the island. By the “rules”, still unspoken, the Candidate must apparently volunteer for this burden. The point of the current season arc, and thus the series, is the race for Jacob to identify and pass on his responsibility to his successor before his rival/prisoner can escape.

Ostensibly, this ties into the difference between “Lost Prime” and “Lost X”, though the new timeline doesn’t seem to factor into this episode. It all seems to tie back into “the Incident”, and as mentioned in earlier reviews, it’s a fair guess that the difference between timelines is how “the Incident” reacted with the electromagnetic anomaly on the island.

If “Lost X” was, as it seems, the result of dispersing the electromagnetic anomaly and causing the island to sink, then the real question is whether or not Jacob’s rival would also be eliminated in the blast. If so, then “Lost X” continue to show what would have happened if the characters had never become caught in the conflict between Jacob and his rival. If not, and if Jacob’s rival was unleashed, then the “Lost X” timeline seems to suggest that Jacob’s claims in this episode are overstated. So while the basis of the conflict between Jacob and his rival appears to be well-established, there are aspects that still need serious explanation.

While Richard’s story was poignant and excellent, highlighting the talents of Nestor Carbonell like never before, there were some odd aspects of his history with the Black Rock. On the positive side, there is an interesting legend from the Canary Islands claiming the existence of an “eighth island” called St. Brendan’s Island. It is said to appear on some older maps, and there are stories of sailors that once landed on the island. Of course, there are only seven islands in the Canary Islands, so this legend corresponds neatly with the notion of an island that moves!

Within the story, however, there is an odd inconsistency. For all that the rest of the details work out very nicely, the writers seem to stumble with the history of the Black Rock. In “The Constant”, the ship was reported as lost at sea after its departure from Portsmouth, England in 1845. The ledger of Magnus Hanso, supposedly first mate of the Black Rock, was supposedly discovered in 1852. In this episode, Magnus Hanso is the captain of the Black Rock when Richard is brought on board in 1867.

The ledger was supposed to hold clues to the location of the island, which it should not, unless the Black Rock was repeatedly looking for the island over the space of more than twenty years. But logically speaking, why would the Black Rock have been said to be lost at sea after leaving port in 1845, if it was clearly known to be in use in 1867?

As it is unlikely that the Black Rock’s history will be mentioned again, here is a potential answer: in “The Constant”, it was mentioned that Magnus Hanso’s ledger was discovered at a pirate haven in 1852. It may be that the Black Rock initially left in 1847 on its trading mission to Siam, encountered the island the first time (perhaps linking to the scene between Jacob and his rival at the beginning of “The Incident”), leading to a mutiny by Hanso and the crew. Hanso could have then taken control, spread the story that the Black Rock was lost at sea, and continued his quest to find the island by press-ganging criminals and convicts over the years.

Regardless, this apparent discrepancy, and the minor point about Jacob’s apparent lapse in judgment before Richard’s arrival on the island, do little to undermine the strength of the narrative. This is still one of the best episodes of the series, and the surest sign yet that the writers know exactly what they are doing as they bring the tale to a close.


1 comment

Default avatar cat

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Mar 26, 2010 1:28AM EDT

I am really sorry to point this out. But Your English is Sucks dude.

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