I’m ready for my close-up.
Various obligations today will prevent us from digging too deep into last night’s episode until much later on, so we’re posting earlier than usual and opening the floor for discussion. Last week’s guest blogging panel reached a rather unanimous conclusion about “Recon“; this episode will certainly be more polarizing. We swung from one pole to the other during the course of the episode, so allow us to make points for both sides.
CON: Halfway through, we weren’t sure whether we were still watching “Lost” or some strange cross between Treasure Island and Masterpiece Theater. Did Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof wake up one day and decide to film a mid-19th century Merchant Ivory production? We had Richard in period garb; subtitles; the most unsympathetic priest of all time; a looong, uninterrupted backstory of how Richard landed on the island; and the lingering question: How exactly does this all fit in? The fact nothing was foregrounded in on-island events was, to our mind, a huge problem … unless there was going to be a monumental payoff that justified so much time away from, well, “Lost.”
Tad texted us at exactly this point with, “Good ep?” The jury, we told him, was still out.
PRO: By the end, we could say — and believe us, we did not think we’d come around — that despite all the episode’s flaws and peculiarities, it delivered the goods. We’ll call it the best episode of the season.
The heavy dose of island mythology was like the cup of water that Nemesis/Man in Black (played very effectively by Titus Welliver, who Erin described as a “creepy Billy Joel”) offered Ricardo on the Black Rock: thirst-quenching and deeply satisfying. We learned more about Jacob and MIB’s eternal conflict (ab aeterno being “since the beginning of time”), with MIB wanting off the island (he sympathizes with Richard in chains) and Jacob pulling out a corked wine flask to illustrate how the Man in Black must be contained. Nemesis tried to convince Richard he was in Hell — which, interestingly, Jacob didn’t refute. (He told Richard there were different names for it — “malevolence, evil, darkness.”) Both figures offered Richard something — Nemesis/Man in Black suggested he could reunite Richard with his wife, Isabella, while Jacob told Richard he didn’t have the power to give that to him (or absolve his sins). What he did give Richard, in exchange for becoming Jacob’s island representative, is the same thing Richard feels cursed with in the present day: the inability to die and escape a living hell. (Hence, finally, the answer to why Richard Alpert does not age.) This would probably sour us on Jacob too.
Richard was on his way back to Nemesis, digging up Isabella’s necklace, when Hurley sauntered out of the jungle and proceeded to hold a seance. And this is the scene that got us. Consider just how hokey this could have been in the wrong hands — a character who can speak to the dead interpreting a ghost lover’s message for an ageless man who is caught Job-like between two immortal creatures playing cosmic chess. There’s no way that scene should have worked. And it did. It was surprisingly powerful and emotional. Nestor Carbonell, he of the heavy eyeliner, pulled it off. He made redemption and hope feel tangible.
What “Ab Aeterno” proved for us, not for the first time and probably not the last either, is that the “Lost” creators and writers simply do not have “wrong hands.” Material that would be the kiss of death for other shows works perfectly for the strange, confounding reality of “Lost.” How do they pull this off? It certainly helps to have top-rate actors playing complicated, deeply-sketched characters. Carbonell, Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson and Matthew Fox have all hit high points this season. It also helps to have such universal themes — life and death, faith and science, loss, redemption and hope — recast in such a strange, compelling fashion. There’s a lot of Biblical import in the show, and in last night’s episode in particular. But nothing is oversimplified: If Jacob is indeed God, or at least good (and if he can’t absolve sins, that’s a demerit in the God column), he sure doesn’t look like a typical god-figure. Jesus had an edge to him, but we doubt he took Peter down to the shore and threatened to drown him over and over again.
Other pros for the episode: We got an answer for the four-toed statue; an encomium on free will from Jacob (he’s inching back in the “God” direction); and a wink-wink Gerald’s Game reference. Although that was a terrible book.
Questions for discussion:
- Is it any clearer who is “good” and who is “evil”?
- Which figure is telling the truth — Jacob or Nemesis/Man in Black? Or is it neither? (Or both?)
- Has Nestor Carbonell officially atoned for “Suddenly Susan”?
- Is there more to debate about the most recent season of “Scrubs”? That’s certainly stirred a few people up.
Have at it.