The Man in Black: “Of course. Of course I’ll help. I want to be free too.”
• When the Man in Black appears he’s carrying a lantern – the same style of lantern that we’ll see in locations like “Jacob’s” cabin and the Orchid’s Wheel room. Remember that the ghost of Christian has also been seen carting around one of these lanterns.
• The camera makes a point of showing the MiB’s hand lingering on Richard’s shoulder, in an echo of the way in which Jacob will later make Alpert immortal. Does this have significance? Both Sayid and Claire – the “infected” ones among Anti-Locke’s recruits – were near or past death but came back changed. Has the Man in Black similarly tried to “infect” Richard? Or is this simply an illustration of how relatively empathetic the Man in Black seems when compared to the Jacob that we meet in this time-period?
• More proof that the Man in Black isn’t a “good” guy: He leaves Richard in the hull of that ship until he’s close to death, and only then does he go to him and offer Richard freedom. We’ve already seen that the MiB can open locks with his extraspooky ESP powers, so we know that not having a key isn’t a problem, and so it isn’t like Smokey had to go play fetch the keys before Richard could be free. There’s really only one way to view Richard’s position: its intentional torture. The Man in Black has left Richard down there in order to “break” him, and to ensure that Richard will do whatever’s asked of him, grateful for the opportunity. This is not dissimilar to the ways in which the Others attempted to “break” Jack during his time with them.
Richard: “I am…in hell?”
The Man in Black: “Yes, I’m afraid you are.”
• Yes, the Man in Black is preying on Richard’s fears of punishment and damnation when he makes this comment to Richard, further confirming his untrustworthy status as things stand. But what’s interesting to me about this line is that, from the MiB’s perspective, they are in hell. He may be attempting to use Richard for his own ends, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s lying. Sartre described hell as a room without windows or mirrors, where people served as reflections into your weaknesses and sins. Like that windowless, mirror-less room in No Exit, there is no escape from the Island for this man, nor is there a way to truly “reflect.” He’s trapped, unable to leave this place physically, and unable to see his true form in a reflection any more than Inez or Garcia could see their reflections in the hell that Sartre envisioned.
• Before the MiB frees Richard he secures Richard’s pledge to do anything he asks, delivering Richard out of old chains and into new ones.
• We hear the MiB tell Richard that it’s “good to see him out of those chains” – the same words that Anti-Locke spoke to Alpert in the first episode of this season.
• We return to the same location three times over the course of this episode: some new, unidentified ruins. There is a stone bench that looks almost like a pew, some broken stone columns, and a stone floor that’s grown over. Was this once a temple/church/other place of worship? Something else entirely?
The Man in Black: “If he speaks, it will already be too late.”
• These are the same instructions that Dogen gives to Sayid, and the knife that the Man in Black gives to Richard is the same knife that Dogen gave to Sayid – which reminds me of Season 5’s “perpetual compass,” passed from Richard back to Richard.
What does this odd mirroring mean, if anything? The simplest explanation is that Jacob wanted to return the knife to his adversary via Sayid and send him a message in the process. The weirder, potentially-brainbending answer is that Jacob and the Man in Black are two halves of the same whole – possibly even the same person. The “two sides, one black, one white” that we’ve been watching this season can metaphorically refer to the two sides of human nature. Are Jacob and the Man in Black then somehow two sides of the same person/entity?
That’s crazy, even for me. But do you want to hear something even crazier?
The Man in Black: “You aren’t the only one who’s lost something, friend. The devil betrayed me. He took my body. My humanity.”
All together now: Whaaaaaaa?
Maybe the Man in Black is lying here – he’s lied before, and it wouldn’t surprise me. But what if he’s not? What if he’s at least partially telling the truth? If he is, then that offers up two possibilities: (1) Jacob convinced/talked/tricked the Man in Black into giving up his physical body by dying and becoming what he’s become, either as part of Jacob’s plan, or in an effort to entrap him. Or, (2) Jacob has LITERALLY taken the MiB’s physical body, wearing Smokey’s “real” body like a suit.
Option 2 is tres creepy, no?
But it might explain a few things. We haven’t learned the MiB’s name yet, after all. And that’s odd, considering that he’s been around in one form or another for almost two seasons now. One of the reasons for this might be that the MiB’s name is one we already know. Who do we know that’s supposedly “special,” was born on the Island, had a “crazy” mother, and has an implied significance to Lost that’s never been explained?
Aaron. Blond-haired (like Jacob), blue-eyed (like Jacob) Aaron.
Are Jacob and the MiB both Aaron, both in different ways? Is the MiB Aaron’s “soul,” somehow displaced from his body? Is Jacob “wearing” Aaron’s body? If so, then that means that every time the Man in Black looks at Jacob, he sees himself as he used to be – Jacob is a walking reminder of his past.
But that’s wonky stuff. Really, really wonky stuff. So I’m going to suggest that there’s no George Burns/Charlie Schlatter/Fred Savage/Judge Reinhold-style body-stealing going on here. Rather, I think option 1 is most likely.
Richard: “Murder is wrong. That is what brought me here.”
The Man in Black: “Friend, you and I can talk all day long about what’s right or wrong. But the question before you remains the same: Do you ever want to see your wife again?”
• The MiB offers Richard the chance to be reunited with his wife again by killing “the devil.” This is, obviously, a mirror of his previous offer to Sayid. Is the Man in Black capable of delivering on these promises? Setting that aside for a moment, let’s look at what Ol’ Smokey’s line of patter amounts to: “Right and wrong don’t matter. What matters is that you want something, and I can give it to you. All you have to do is betray your own instincts.” That’s the same general spiel he gives Sayid – another man with the guilt of a murderer in his heart – and that kind of shoulder-shrugging attitude toward ethics further convinces me that, of the two conflicting sides on this Island, Jacob’s side is the one I’d want to be associated with.
I love this shot, with the broken pieces of Tawaret half-submerged in the surf. Yet another example of the “cinematic” quality of the episode. And credit where credit is due: this is some nicely done effects’ work.
Jacob: “Who gave you this?”
• That knife has significance, I tell you. Jacob seems to recognize where it may have come from – otherwise why ask a strange man who gave him the knife he’s trying to kill you with, as opposed to “why are you trying to kill me?”
• Do the Others somehow get their ridiculous fighting abilities from Jacob? Because Jacob is apparently the reincarnation of Chuck Norris, aka Walker, Island Ranger. Watching Jacob kick Richard’s ass makes it clear that Jacob chose not to stop Ben from killing him.
Jacob: “Did you meet a man in the jungle dressed in black?”
• There’s a sense during Ab Aeterno that this is the first time the MiB has tried using someone else to kill Jacob. The Island’s curious God-figure seems genuinely knocked off balance by Richard’s attack, and by the sudden escalation in violent intent from the Man in Black. More interesting still: when Richard tells him that the MiB said he was the devil, Jacob gets a weird, shifty look in his eyes.
Jacob: “Still dead?! Why should I stop?”
Richard: “Because I want to live!”
Jacob: “First sensible thing you’ve said.”
• Richard’s impromptu baptism mirrors Sayid’s drowning in the Temple. It also reminds me that the actor playing Jacob once dunked Jeff Bridges’ head in a toilet while screaming “WHERE’S THE MONEY, LEBOWSKI?!”
Jacob: “No one comes in unless I invite them in.”
• That’s interesting. What does it mean? It could mean that the big stone door keeps people out unless Jacob wants them to visit. But it could also mean that something – perhaps the same something that enabled Dogen to keep the Smoke Monster out of the Temple – is acting as a barrier and protecting Jacob. I’ve suggested before that Jacob’s foothouse was a kind of self-imposed prison meant to protect him from the Man in Black, and comments like this reinforce that theory.
• Jacob tells Richard that he’s the one who brought the Black Rock to the Island. How? Did he somehow manipulate certain events to ensure that the ship would arrive with the storm? Did he somehow manipulate the storm itself? There’s a Dharma Station called “The Tempest,” which is also the name of a Shakespeare play in which a storm much like the one we see in this episode shipwrecks a man on a magical Island – is that Station able to manipulate the waves around the Island? In Shakespeare’s play it’s the magician Prospero who summons the titular Tempest in order to bring his enemies to the Island he lives on. As I’ve written about before, Shakespeare’s play contains a good amount of thematic similarity to Lost. There’s a magician capable of great feats, who brings a ship to his magical Island (Prospero/Jacob), there’s a half-man, half-magical being with a mother who was a witch who serves as Prospero’s unwilling, duplicitous slave (shades of the Man in Black, his “crazy” mother, and his apparent inability to leave, as well as Ben with his mommy issues, twisted love/hate relationship with Jacob). The character of Ariel, a spirit who serves Prospero in exchange for the promise of eventual freedom, also shares some similarities with the Man in Black, and now, with Richard.
Jacob: “Think of this wine as what you keep calling hell. There’s many other names for it too: malevolence, evil, darkness. And here it is, swirling around in the bottle, unable to get out because if it did, it would spread.”
• Jacob’s allegory recalls the Greek myth of Pandora and her now-infamous “box.” In the original myth, Pandora’s box wasn’t a box at all – it was a jar (in Greek, “pithos”), specifically of the sort that the ancient greeks used to hold wine (among other things). The pithos was also used to contain the remains of the dead. By opening the jar, Pandora set loose all manner of sickness and evil into the world. When the jar was closed, only one thing remained inside: hope. Where was “hope” located within the jar, and why didn’t it escape as well? More on this directly below.
• According to scholarly types, the myth of Pandora is “a kind of theodicy,” meant to address the existence of evil in the world. It serves a function similar to the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden in the mythical/religious sense, both parables that attempt to establish that mankind was created without evil in the world, but the actions of mankind introduced that evil into existence. In other words: We are the causes of our own suffering. And what is Luke 4’s command regarding our personal suffering? “Physician, heal thyself!”
Jacob: “The cork is this island – and it’s the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs. That man who sent you to kill me believes that everyone 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.”
• And just like that (if we can believe what Jacob’s telling Richard/us), we understand the purpose of the Island. After five-plus seasons, the answer is ours: the Island is a prison, the cork in a figurative bottle, a “gate” meant to keep malevolence from spreading through the world, “infecting” the earth. Note that in the Pandora myth, Elpis (or “Hope”) remained within the jar after evil had been emptied out of it. Where did Hope reside within the jar? In the lid – or the cork, if you will. It follows then, if Lost’s Island is meant to resemble the “lid” of Pandora’s jar, that the Island itself is/contains Hope, and that’s more-or-less explicitly confirmed by Jacob’s words here: “I bring people here to prove him wrong. And when they get here, their past doesn’t matter.” A clean slate; Tabula Rasa (the title of one of Lost’s episodes); A second chance. Aren’t all of these things bound up in the notion of Hope? Hope for a new beginning? For change? For “progress”?
• Notice that Jacob uses the word “sin” here to describe the true state of every person’s heart according to the Man in Black. Back in the Rewatch column for The 23rd Psalm I talked a little about sin and what it might mean in the context of this show:
“Do you believe in sin?”
I do, in that I believe all mankind has the capacity to inflict needless agony on the world around them. Sin is the dark half of every human being – the potential for cruelty and selfishness and harm – the black stone to the conscience’s white stone. In scientific terms it might be called the destructive impulse, or the unleashed Id, or any number of other terms.
Regardless of whether you name this impulse scientifically or spiritually, the complicated problem of sin remains, as does the thorny issue of “moral calculus.” If you do a ‘bad’ thing for ‘good’ reasons should you feel guilt, or should you find peace with the fact that you have taken on a heavier burden to lighten someone else’s? If you do a ‘good’ thing for ‘bad’ reasons is it less good? Or does the action justify itself?
These are brutally difficult questions. There are, arguably, no answers – only perspectives. I bring all of this up not just because I have a penchant for meandering as I write, but because these questions will come to have great significance for Eko’s fate on the Island.
We know that Eko is penitent through his actions and his behavior. We also know that he does not feel guilt for what he has done. Is this Lost’s way of illustrating the necessary formula for achieving personal peace/betterment? Again, it seems the show is suggesting that we cannot wash away what we have been, but that we can make amends and change who we now are.”
And while I’m obnoxiously quoting myself, let’s also revisit my column for The Incident, in which I pointed out the similarities between Jacob’s position on the Island, and Desmond’s position as the Button-pusher in the Swan:
“As Chud reader “Mattioli” pointed out, this riddle’s answer could refer to Jacob, who we saw laying in the shadow of the statue at the start of the episode. But it could also refer to the position that Jacob occupies – a necessary job that involves saving/protecting the world. If so, it’s another echo of Season 2, wherein the act of pushing the Button is supposed to save the world. Notice that Jacob, like Desmond, spends his time at work in a secret “Station,” albeit one created by much older visitors to the Island. In Season 2, we saw Desmond use a riddle (“What did one snowman say to the other snowman?”) to identify those he could trust. Here, Ilana does the same thing with Richard, aka Ricardus. If I’m right about Bram’s mention of a “candidate,” then someone will need to fill Jacob’s position – effectively taking over in the same way that the castaways take over from Desmond.”
• Where the Man in Black offers Richard water to drink, Jacob offers him wine. On a show as heavily steeped in symbolism as Lost is, this is probably not a coincidence. The shift from water to wine suggests the miracle of at the Marriage at Cana that the Bible describes in John 2:1-11, wherein Jesus was supposed to have transformed water into wine.
• Where does Jacob get his wine from, anyway? Does he make it himself using J.C.’s miraculous recipe (Instructions: “Wave hands. Be the Son of God. Voila!”)? Does he have a vineyard somewhere on the Island? Does he pick up a few bottles of red every time he heads off-Island to get a mummy to do his bidding, perhaps from Moriah vineyards, where Desmond once apprenticed as a Brother?
• Jacob and Richard sit down to discuss his involvement in the world, with Jacob claiming that he doesn’t want to have to explain to people what the difference between right and wrong is (quietly echoing the Man in Black’s comment that they could sit debating right and wrong all day), and Richard pointing out that while Jacob might not want to intercede in people’s lives, the Man in Black has no such scruples, which gives Jacob genuine pause. He seems never to have thought of this, and it again makes me wonder just how long these two have been on the Island, and why it is that the Man in Black has only now decided to try and kill Jacob.
Speaking for myself, I adored this scene, and the way in which it comments on the idea of a “distant” God who wants us to prove ourselves without His interference. Or, if you prefer, a Scientist who doesn’t believe in attempting to effect the outcome of his experiments.
Jacob: “Well, I don’t want to step in. Maybe you can do it for me. You can be my representative and intermediary between me and the people I bring to the island.”
Richard: “What will I get in return?”
Jacob: “You tell me.”
Richard: “I want my wife back.”
Jacob: “Can’t do that.”
Richard: “Can you absolve me of my sins so I don’t go to hell?”
Jacob: “Can’t do that either.”
Richard: Then I never want to die. I want to live forever.”
• Notice that despite Richard’s anger over his supposedly “meaningless” tenure on the Island, and the fact that Jacob’s “curse” has removed his ability to kill himself, its Richard – and only Richard – who asks Jacob for immortality. Richard causes his own suffering.
And notice all of the things that Jacob cannot do. If Jacob were actually God, he could presumably do anything – including reuniting Richard with his wife and absolving him of his sins. After all, God’s supposed to be all powerful. Even the Man in Black seems to (and the key word here is “seems”) have the ability to do more for Richard than Jacob can. But while Richard doesn’t get what he truly wants from this deal, it’s arguable that he gets what he needs (cue children’s choir and wicked Keith Richards solo). He gets time to do his penance, to work toward the penitent heart that he believes is necessary to save him from damnation. Getting his wife back via the Man in Black’s utterly-oblique promises would not accomplish this.
• All it takes to give a person “eternal life” is the touch of Jacob. I’m fascinated by this, and I want to know more. How is this possible?
• Richard returns to the Man in Black and gives him a white stone, which the MiB accepts with what seems to be surprisingly good-natured calm. In return, the Man in Black gives Richard his wife’s cross, promising him that if he ever changes his mind (“and I mean ever”), his offer still stands.
Richard: “I changed my mind. Are you listening to me? I changed my mind. I was wrong!”
• And with that, we return to the present day. Richard’s faith in Jacob has been shattered by Jacob’s death, and despite Jack’s Amazing Non-Exploding Dynamite Trick, he’s decided to try his luck with Smokey and the bandits. Like Benjamin Linus, Richard is at the end of his rope and finds himself Lost without purpose in the wake of Jacob’s demise. Like Ben, he reaches for the only person left on the Island who seems to offer him purpose, or at the least, rest. And like Ben he is persuaded away from that ominous path by the sudden emergence of Elpis, of Hope, from what seems like a hopeless situation.
Hurley: Your wife sent me. Isabella. She wants to know why you buried her cross.”
• The scene between Hurley, Richard and Isabella is deeply moving. And despite the fact that Hurley kinda reminds me of Whoopi Goldberg as he mediates between the living and the dead (It’s called “Ghost,” youngsters! Look it up!), I found myself genuinely touched. Once again, Hurley is responsible for helping to connect people, bringing them to places of potential “peace” within themselves.
• The moment where the camera captures Isabella’s kiss, moves behind Hurley, and reveals her to have vanished is very, very nice.
Hurley: “She said you have to stop the Man in Black. You have to stop him from leaving the Island. ‘Cause if you don’t, we all go to hell.”
• Awesomely spooky. And with that line we cut directly to Anti-Locke, who can’t be more than a hundred feet from the magnificently ancient-looking tree that they’re standing under. Was he on his way to get Richard? Did Hurley get to Alpert in the nick of time? It certainly seems that way. And what does the Ghost of Isabella really mean by saying that “we all go to hell”? Does the act of letting the Man in Black go act as a kind of Pandora’s Jar, allowing “evil,” “sin,” or “malevolence” to escape and spread across the earth? That’s the impression we’re given here, and remember that the Season 6 premiere featured Salman Rushdie’s “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” a book about a professional storyteller and his son who attempt to stop the tainting/polluting of the Streams of Story. Sound familiar?
• The Man in Black theme that plays over the opening of Ab Aeterno’s final scene is greatness. I’m baffled as to why the MiB can’t just smash pick up a stick or a rock and smash Jacob’s face in, but apparently he’s genuinely unable to do so. I’m looking forward to understanding why.
The Man in Black: “Just let me leave, Jacob.”
Jacob: “As long as I’m alive you’re not going anywhere.”
• When the Man in Black smashes the bottle, we get the sense that there may be more than one way to free him from his imprisonment. Will Anti-Locke attempt to destroy the Island to free himself?
• Whew. Tomorrow night the journey continues. You can join me on Back to the Island after it airs, where I’ll have my Insta-reaction up for you to read. Otherwise, I’ll see you back here on Thursday. Thanks again for your patience.
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