Lost does one of these episodes every season, always around this point, too: Last night’s “Ab Aeterno” followed the pattern of episodes like season four’s “Meet Kevin Johnson” and the subsequent season’s “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”: an episode that’s basically one extended flashback, so we can find out what the hell one mysterious character has been up to. The writing staff likes to paint itself into a corner, and then—bam!—get itself back out. This time it was Richard’s turn, for which the mythnerds have been jonesing since “The Man Behind the Curtain” revealed that Mr. Alpert doesn’t age. It was both rewarding and disappointing: some questions were answered, finally, though a bit bathetically.
The first of the answers: Richard’s swarthiness indicates Spanish origins—he’s from the 19th Century, the Canary Islands to be exact (off the coast of Morocco, not too far from Tunisia, incidentally). His origins story—full of consumption, a crime of passion, and being sold into slavery—often felt heavy on the melodrama: who wrote last night’s episode, Nicholas Sparks? The team that brought us X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Anyway, he was saved from the gallows by Magnus Hanso, who put him on the Black Rock for passage to the New World. New World indeed; the ship, instead, crashes onto The Island. How did the Black Rock wind up so far inland? A giant wave! (…oh.) How did the statue break? The ship crashed into it! (Can wood really smash stone? It’s time for a Mythbusters!)
But this episode wasn’t really meant to answer too many questions. Early in the episode, Ben says of Richard, as a sort of rebuke to the audience, “going after him’s a waste of time. He doesn’t know anything.” Which isn’t exactly true—he just knows very little. “Ab Aeterno”’s main purpose was to further separate the characters into clearly delineated camps: one side is good, one side is eeeeevil. Anyone yearning for grayer moral shades, who thought maybe Jacob wasn’t the good guy he pretends to be, better start subscribing to HBO.
For a show that relishes religious allusions, this episode was particularly packed with Christian iconography, particularly in its references to heaven and hell. Richard—who at one point was seen reading Luke 4:24: "No prophet is accepted in his own country"—opens the episode with an old canard: the island is hell! Sigh. We all know that’s not true—how can Jack be dead if he was in Los Angeles a week or two ago?—but the episode seemed quasi-dedicated to dispelling that theory, culminating in Jacob waterboarding Richard’s ass: “see how stupid your theory is? See? Stupid?” Yes, yes, I see! But now let me ask a question: why does Lost feel it's necessary to try to win converts this late in the game? Why not talk to your longtime viewers, who gave up on any sort of “the island is purgatory” theory long ago, instead of the casual viewers just tuning in—the “bro, I think they’re in hell” contingent?
Though us longtimers weren't totally ignored. At this point, I'm happiest when Lost expands on its mythology—as opposed to, say, how Kate copes with Clare's madness—and "Ab Aeterno" did a pretty solid job of further developing the Jacob-Smokey antagonism, further fitting them into a clear god-and-devil dichotomy, and also building up the show’s central theme of determinism vs. free will. After seeing Jacob's magic mirrors and cave-scrawled list, he was starting to seem like a Great Manipulator. But if last night's episode is to be believed, Jacob needs people to make their own choices—just like God!—while it's the Man in Black who wants to manipulate people into following his will—just like el Diablo! He has been trying to manipulate others (or, Others) to kill Jacob for centuries, and he issued the same instructions to Richard for killing Jacob that Dogen gave Sayid for killing Flocke. (Which was...weird.) The idea of the island as a cork that keeps some kind of Epic Evil contained is a compelling idea to bring us to the end game—especially as there’s more than one way to open a bottle, as the Man in Block showed at episode’s end, smashing the wine jug against a rock. (This season has had a lot of glass breaking, from Jack's lighthouse tantrum to Det. Ford's mirror smashing last week.) It also feeds into the genie/jinn parallels in which the show has been indulging of late. Did you notice how Jacob offered to grant Richard a wish, and he made three of them? I’d like to see where this is gonna go, I guess (I went into this season a little sad that Lost was going to be over forever soon, but now I kinda just want it to end already); unfortunately, it’s back to pointless flashsidewayses next week, when we find out what Alternate Reality Jin and Sun are/have been up to! I’d still take anticlimactic answers to the mythological mysteries over that any day.