Wednesday, March 24, 2010

6:9 Ab Aeterno

I can't believe it finally happened. Ever since we first heard the name "Richard Alpert" we've been not so patiently waiting for his story. And it was worth the wait! I haven't enjoyed an episode this much since "The Constant", it was that good. In addition to Richard's history, we also got more answers than ever before about Jacob and the Man in Black.

This is the first episode of season 6 to center around a flashback, not a flashsideways, so my format will be a bit different this time as well. It was almost all revelations this time! With just a few questions.


Revelations

-"Ab Aeterno" is Latin for "from eternity" or "from time immemorial." Wikipedia, the fountain of all knowledge, says that the phrase is sometimes used in theological language to indicate that something was "created outside of time."

-Richard was from the Canary Islands (part of the Spanish Archipelago off the northwestern coast of Africa). Again from Wikipedia:
The original inhabitants of the island, guanches used to worship dogs, mummified them and treat dogs generally as holy animals. In the ancient times the island was well known about its people who worshipped dogs there, and when the Romans first visited the island, they gave it the name: 'canaari', which means in Latin: "the ones who worship dogs", or "the ones with dogs". The ancient Greeks also knew about a people, living far in the west, who are the "dog-headed ones", who worship dogs on an island. Some theorize that the Canary Islands dog-worship and the ancient Egyptian cult of the dog-headed god, Anubis are in close connection, but there is no explanation as to which one was first, and how is it possible for those two far areas to be in contact with each other.
 So maybe later we'll see Richard worshiping Vincent! OK, maybe not.

-Richard is from the village of El Socorro, which is Spanish for "the aid" or "the help." 

-The way Richard accidentally kills the doctor is very similar to the way Desmond accidentally killed Kelvin. Sharp blows to the back of the head are brutal!

-The Bible passage Richard is reading in prison is Luke 4:24 : "Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country."

-Jacob's fellow passenger on the Black Rock is the first to see the Island and says "I see the devil! The island is guarded by the devil!" We've seen both Jacob and the Man in Black call each other "the devil," but from what we know so far, it seems like Jacob is the one who is guarding the Island - guarding it so that the Man in Black can't escape. That would make Jacob not the devil exactly, but more like a gatekeeper of hell, like Cerberus. 

-A big question answered: the Black Rock is what destroyed the four-toed statue! I'm not sure how a wooden ship breaks through a stone statue, but I'm not an engineer. 

-I didn't piece together at first that Smokey coming to the Black Rock would have occurred soon after the beach scene ("always nice talking to you Jacob") where Jacob admits that he brought the ship to the Island. That makes it pretty clear that Smokey/Man in Black was going to search the Black Rock specifically to find someone who would kill Jacob for him.

-One of the coolest moments for me was seeing Smokey scan Richard. It reminded me of the other times we saw this happen, and how much more we know about him now. Now I'm sure that Smokey/MiB isn't judging whether someone's good or evil; he's looking for malleability, a weak spot that he can exploit. He didn't find it in Mr. Eko, so he killed him. He apparently found it in Richard, Kate, Juliet, Sayid, and of course, Locke.

-The Isabella that appears to Richard in the Black Rock has to be a manifestation from the smoke monster. Smokey scanned Richard, found out what he wanted most in the world, and voilà! There's ghostly Isabella.

-It's interesting that Richard made a promise to the Man in Black first, before he met Jacob.

-Jacob describes the smoke monster as "malevolence...evil...darkness" and uses the analogy of a cork holding wine inside a bottle, the Island being the cork. This illuminates why Jacob is so hell bent on protecting the Island, but it doesn't explain why others want it so badly. Could it be that Widmore (who seems to be a pretty bad guy) actually wants the Island for unselfish reasons, to protect the rest of humanity from the smoke monster? That would be a pretty big twist.

-Richard gives the MiB a white stone from Jacob, like the white stone we later see Locke remove from the scales and throw into the ocean.

-Hurley speaks for Isabella (and presumably Jacob) and gives Richard his final task: stop the MiB from leaving the Island, or "we all go to hell."


Symbolism and Themes

-Fire and water: MiB first gives Richard a cup of water, then brings him to his campfire. Jacob dunks Richard in the ocean repeatedly, then brings him to his campfire. 

-The MiB tells Richard "If he [Jacob] speaks, it will already be too late," the same thing Dogen told Sayid when he sent him to kill the MiB. In many mythologies, speech is a powerful force.

-It's interesting that the Man in Black always finds what people want the most and then promise it to them if they will do what he asks. It's a very Doctor Faustus-like strategy. In contrast, Jacob's promises are much more realistic, and require a lot more blind faith.

-I loved the scene where Jacob plunged Richard into the water. It reminds me of this Zen parable:

A Zen monk and his student were walking by the river when the young student begins to plead with his master, "How do I become enlightened? What must I do?" The master grabbed him roughly, pulled him into the river and pushed him under the water until the young student was completely submerged. The Zen master continued to hold the student under water and soon the student began to thrash frantically. But still the master held him under the water. Desperately the student tried to free himself, to no avail. Finally, just at the point of drowning, the master released his grip and the student surfaced, gasping for air.
"What were you thinking while I held you under the water?" the master asked. "At first I thought of many things," the student answered. "But after a few seconds, when there was no sign that you would let me up, all I could think of was: Air! Air! Give me air!" "When you desire enlightenment with the same intensity," said the master smiling, "you will soon have it."
 Once Richard realized that he could still die, what he wanted most of all was to live forever.

-Jacob's wine bottle analogy immediately made me think of the story from Greek mythology of Pandora's box. Pandora (which means "giver of all gifts") was the first woman. In the story it's actually not a box, but a jar. The type of jar described in the story was often used to contain oil, grain, or...wait for it...wine. When Pandora opened the jar, she unleashed evil, sickness and pain on the world. In some versions of the tale hope was released as well, but in others hope is the only thing to remain inside the jar. The story has many similarities to the Biblical story of Eve being tempted by the serpent; in both cases all the ills of mankind are blamed on the first woman (ahh, misogyny!)

-My favorite part of the episode was when Jacob and Richard sit down and hash out Jacob's theology - because it definitely is theology at this point (and I love it!). Jacob reiterates that the Man in Black believes that all people are corruptible because "it's in their very nature to sin". Jacob brings people to the Island to prove the Man in Black wrong. He says "When they get her their past doesn't matter." This is interesting, because from what we've seen of the main characters since season 1, their past DID matter; in fact, it influenced and interacted with their present in a huge way. But some of them were able to overcome it.

The best lines from this exchange:
Richard: Why didn't you help them?
Jacob: Because 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? [At which point I have to ask, who is the Mormon on the writing team, because wow!]
Richard: If you don't, he will.

-Some people have commented that the scene with Hurley translating for Isabella was too much like a scene from Ghost. I loved it. It's a perfect illustration of the difference between MiB and Jacob. MiB "resurrects" dead people that aren't really themselves - they are tangible and believable, but ultimately they're fake. What Jacob offers is much harder to believe in because it's not visible, but it's real.


Questions

-Why was Ilana in the hospital? I would love to know more about her background, but I'm not sure I want a whole episode dedicated to her at this point - there's not enough time! Maybe we'll get a nice expositional soliloquy from her, à la Dogen.

-Richard says that they are all dead and in hell, which was hinted at many times during season one. The other person who has insisted that they were in hell? Anthony Cooper. I wonder if Cooper got that idea from the same person Richard did?

-Why do all these Catholic people (Isabella, Mr. Eko, Charlie) wear crosses instead of crucifixes? Not a big deal to the story, but it's an interesting prop choice.

-Could the Man in Black really believe that Jacob is the devil, keeping him in hell? I'm inclined to believe that he only said this to manipulate Richard. Also, the MiB says that Jacob ("the devil") betrayed him, and took his body and his humanity. Could this be true, or is it another part of the manipulation?

-Why can't Jacob bring back Isabella or save Richard from hell, but he can give Richard eternal life? Is it a matter of "can't" or "won't"?


Moments of Pure Awesomeness

THE WHOLE THING. My heart was racing from start to finish, and when I realized it was almost over I couldn't believe the hour had already gone by. It felt like half the time. Just flat out amazing.


Not So Awesome

-I'm being really nitpicky here but...I wanted to see Magnus Hanso! I wonder if there's a reason we never saw his face, or if it's just a matter of the writers not wanting to introduce yet another character this late in the game.

-I was holding out hope that we'd learn the Man in Black's real name (if only so I don't have to keep typing "Man in Black" all the time!) but no such luck. 



Tell me your thoughts! Did you find this one as amazing as I did? Are you happy with the direction they've taken in the mythology? And what do you think will happen next?

5 comments:

The Dragonfly said...

I too loved this ep from start to finish. I almost felt like I was watching a mini movie. I felt so disheartened when Richard (who I choose to believe, and I think this ep proved, is inherently a good man) chose to go dig up the necklace in hopes of finding the MIB. But the Hurley translation moment was so poignant and offered what I think we are all looking for, which is HOPE. Hurley is like the one uncorrupted, pure and loveable person on the show. I was glad they used him in that way. I can't wait to see how it all plays out . . . hard to believe only 9 eps left!

Cozytailmom said...

But what does it mean if I find MIB to be hotter than Jacob? lol
This was such a great episode! Fantastic job on the Blog! Great insight!

Rochelle said...

Jeremy has dubbed the MIB, Marcos. Just for fun. :)

Holly said...

A few things I sent to you on FB yesterday, but I will post them again just for fun:

MIB says- Nice to see you out of those chains Richard ( for the 2nd time... or 1st actually) It's interesting to me that it's the MIB who saved Richards life ( 2 ways really, 1 by not killing him off, and 2 by releasing him from his chains) If Jacob brought them here, why didn't he do anything to save any of them? Richard becomes who he is to Jacob- because of the MIB.

Ben was able to kill Jacob- even though Jacob spoke first. Why? When everyone else was told that " if they speak first it will already be to late"

is the MIB actually a man with a body? Or just a manefestation of someone who was on the island once... and really is nothing more than smoke appearing in a body once in a while?

I loved this epi. I love Richard and I am so glad we get to see him lose his faith and struggle like everyone else on the island. He is a man afterall.

Kacy said...

Yes, seriously--who is the Mormon on the writing team?

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