Going into last night’s episode, I was trying to figure out how the LOST writers would incorporate the flash-sideways storytelling device with the secret history of Richard Alpert. Thankfully, they decided to ignore Season 6’s structure and present us with a conventionally-structured flashback episode. Rather than alternate between the present day and flashbacks, as the show did for the first three seasons, this episode used the 2007 action to frame an episode-long flashback.
Very quietly, Season 6 appears to be hitting its stride. After a terrific Ben episode and a strong Sawyer episode, we get Richard’s long-awaited origin story. The broad strokes had already been guessed at by most LOST viewers, and the writers wisely used the story as a backdrop to further elucidate the conflict that is taking shape.
Richard has been one of the quieter mysteries of the Island. His presence has always been benign, even when he’s been working alongside some of the less savory elements among the Others. The mystery surrounding his eternal youth has somewhat obscured the deeper mystery around the character, namely: What is his role on the Island?
Before we get the answer to that question, we go back to the Canary Islands, circa 1867 where Richard’s wife Isabella has fallen ill. Having seen the episode play out, it’s difficult to decide if the drawn out sequence involving the illness, Richard’s frantic ride to find a doctor, and the doctor’s indifference was padding or misdirection. In the fan/critical community, Richard’s arrival on the Island has been tied to the Black Rock for some time now, but over the course of that sequence, I kept waiting for Jacob to show up to tell Richard that he could save his wife but he’d never be able to see her again.
Of course, that didn’t happen, as Richard found himself saved from the gallows, sold into slavery, and shipwrecked on the Island. The episode spent a lot of time with Richard chained below decks on the boat, struggling to get out before the Man in Black comes to set him free. While Nestor Cabonell did a fine job portraying the character’s desperation, there was a point about two-thirds of the way through the episode that it seemed like we weren’t going to get any answers.
Ultimately, the Man in Black convinces Richard that Jacob is the devil, and gives him the same knife and instructions that Dogen gave Sayid a few episodes earlier. While Sayid was able to stab faux-Locke, Richard is surprised by a surprisingly vigorous Jacob, who sits Richard down and lays out the rules of the game for him.
Jacob’s explanation sounds an awful lot like the Book of Job, which depicts God and Satan not as moral absolutes, but as on opposite sides of the argument. Satan thinks that Job’s faith is tied up in his good fortune and that if his fortune takes a turn, he will lose faith. All sorts of bad things happen to Job, but his faith remains strong, proving God’s point.
So the Island is the proving ground where Jacob tries to prove to the Man in Black that people are not inherently corruptible. But more than that, the Island is the prison that keeps the Man in Black’s darkness at bay, and Jacob is the gatekeeper.
Before she came to the Island, Jacob tells Ilana that Richard will know what to do after they have gathered the candidates, but he does not. At the end of the episode, he receives a message from his dead wife (via Hurley) that he must stop the Man in Black to keep the world from going to hell. If this is what Richard had to do next, it doesn’t count as much in the revelation department, since we still don’t know how he’s expected to do that. The one takeaway is that the battle lines have been clearly drawn, so I’m expecting more action going forward.
- So do I finally get my Jin/Sun reunion next week? It looks like Sun is the focus of next week’s episode, so we should at least find out whether flash-sideways Sun can speak English and what happened to Jin.
- The slow trickle of blood through the grate onto the ship captain after the smoke monster’s attack was another haunting image in a season that’s accumulating its share of them.
- I was hoping for a little more time with the neglected characters in the beach gang (Sun, Frank, Miles), but it looks like we’ll be staying with that group next week, so I’m cautiously optimistic.
- I liked Jack’s reaction to the news that Locke was still a player on the Island – it was like he’d forgotten that Locke was dead and was annoyed with having to butt heads with destiny boy again.
- So Charles Widmore’s definitely a jerk, but he seems to be anti-the-smoke-monster-running-loose-around-the-world, so he can’t be all bad, right?
- It seems like the conflict between Jacob and the Man in Black has been going on for pretty much ever – and Jacob’s only had an immortal deputy for 140 years?
- The show’s writers have been pretty adamant that the characters are not dead and the Island is not the afterlife, so I didn’t take Richard’s proclamations at the beginning of the episode very seriously.