Wednesday, March 24, 2010

“It’s All Meaningless If I Have to Force Them to Do Anything. Why Should I Have to Step In?” “If You Don’t, He Will!”

I went into Ab Aeterno expecting an episode as mythologically dense as Dr. Linus was emotionally rich. Though questions still abound, I think we got that. We needed the blip of Recon in between these two episodes; otherwise it would’ve been a one-two punch so powerful that the next episode probably would have felt like a total letdown. Then again, maybe each subsequent episode is going to be even better than the last. That’s a tall order, but I wouldn’t put it past LOST to pull it off...

So we finally got our background on Richard. I kinda figured that we might get a scene of him landing on the Island, then meeting Jacob, then in a series of later eras. But it seemed like too much ground to cover. I see now we really didn’t need to witness those later years. We’ve seen enough already to get a feel for what he did. The important thing was the beginning of his journey.

Boy, there was a whole lot of Spanish in this episode. Nothing but subtitles for at least half the dialogue. Just another thing giving Richard’s flashback an air of separateness. Richard is very special indeed. And boy, has he mastered the English language. Not a trace of an accent left, even in the 1950s. I suppose that 80-some years is enough time to achieve perfect mastery. Did Jacob give him a tutorial, or was Richard just left to improve his speaking skills on his own? He did a fine job. Did Nestor Carbonell grow up speaking Spanish, I wonder? What about Jorge Garcia? Pretty weird to hear both of them spouting it so fluently. Especially Hurley. How convenient that Isabella just happened to speak the same foreign language he did. Bear of little brain that he is, I wouldn’t have figured him for being bilingual, but I suppose his mom spoke Spanish around the house, and his dad before he took off.

I feel like Nestor deserves an Emmy nod for this episode, but the nod that would feel most appropriate is Guest Star, which he most assuredly isn’t. Still, he totally owned this episode, appearing in almost every scene and demonstrating that he’s right up there with Emerson, O’Quinn, Cusick and Davies. Can we just stack the Best Supporting category with nothing but actors from LOST? I was especially impressed with him in the scene on the Black Rock when Smokey showed up to liberate him. His voice so hoarse he could scarcely speak, his rambling panic, his confusion, his moral qualms... All a swirling kettle of Carbonell brilliance. And talk about emotion...

Here, just seven episodes away from the finale, LOST has given us its most epic love story yet. I’d never really given much thought to a Richard romance. He seemed so detached from all that. Once I began to trust him and to understand his unique role on the Island, I began to see him as an angelic figure, a supernatural entity removed from common human concerns. But that was only half-true. There are practical reasons for him not to have sought other romantic attachments. Because he would outlive them all. Because they might cloud his judgment. But those reasons really don’t matter because nothing would have compelled him to look for another mate. Richard had one true love, a love for the ages, a love to transcend death. A love that provoked profound empathy when Daniel pledged his love to Charlotte in Jughead, because of all the characters on LOST, none has exhibited the profound fortitude and faithfulness of Richard. I feel like I really need to read The Divine Comedy in its entirety, because that’s what Ab Aeterno reminded me of most.

Well, that and Job. You want resilience? Just look at his patient attempts to free himself from his chains. And reflect on the fact that in more than a century, he went along with Jacob, bound by his religious convictions, his desperation to perform sufficient penance to get himself back in God’s good graces. He told Ben to be patient, but Richard had to be much more patient still. In the backgammon board that is this show, Richard is the most Job-like of all the castaways. Yes, Richard has suffered. He is a murderer, but mostly by accident, in desperate circumstances much like Desmond’s when he killed Kelvin.

It's interesting that Richard and Eko are both reunited on the Island with a cross necklace that links each of them to the most important person in his life. Eko is told repeatedly by Smokey-Yemi that he must repent for his sins, but he refuses. Richard repents repeatedly and begs for absolution, and it is Isabella who finally seems to give it to him.

Can I just say how dreadful the authority figures in Richard’s time were? The horrible doctor who toyed with Richard’s hopes and refused to hand over the medicine for the price of all his worldly goods. The corrupt priest who, much like Smokey, used Richard’s beliefs against him. Who convinced him that it would take years, perhaps decades, to work off the debt incurred by his crime, hence compelling him to agree to signing onto the Black Rock. A potent metaphor, I think, for what happens to people who receive an offer from the Man in Black. It seems like a call to freedom, but they soon discover that what they’ve really done is sold themselves into bondage.

That scene just after the ship landed in the middle of the jungle was one of the most gruesome I have ever seen on the show. I had to avert my eyes. Yet another evil authority figure, slashing the life out of everyone he encountered. His reasoning called to mind Smokey from last week. “It’s kill or be killed. And I don’t wanna be killed.” Say it like that and it almost sounds excusable. Almost. Richard didn’t quite buy the logic, and neither should we.

Strange that Smokey was the one who first encountered Richard. The one who seemed to be kind and understanding. The one who told him almost exactly what Dogen told Sayid. Was that even the same knife? We saw several connections to past episodes here. “It’s nice to see you out of those chains.” So that’s why Richard reacted to that statement the way that he did. It’s not so much that he saw it in Smokey’s eyes; he recognized the words and all the pieces fell into place. Though I daresay he’d smelled a rat for a while. There was the inside joke with the rock, and a new inside joke with the wine jug.

And while Smokey came across as very congenial in his interaction with Richard, it’s seeming more likely that he is evil rather than the reasonable flip side of a coin. LOST is so obsessed with dichotomies that I couldn’t help thinking the relationship between Jacob and Smokey might be like the relationship between faith and reason, free will and fate, mercy and judgment... That sort of thing. In which case Smokey has his merits. But if he’s just evil and the Island is a sort of Pandora’s Box... Well, I guess I’m okay with that. As long as he stays contained. “The infection will spread,” Dogen warned. Sounds pretty much like Jacob and the wine bottle. Gotta keep a cork in it!

Jacob. There’s more to say about Richard, for whom my heart is currently exploding with love, but let’s side-track to our good buddy Jacob for a moment. Before the episode, LOST released two photos from the episode. One was a close-up of Smokey, the other a shot of Jacob pacing the beach, knife in hand, looking agitated. I wasn’t much surprised to see that either of them would be in this episode. Massive mythology download? Gotta see Mr. Black and White themselves. I was surprised to see Jacob in such a state. Just the picture was enough to show me that this was a side of him we hadn’t seen before. No sublime serenity here. Jacob looked Ticked Off.

But even with that warning, his behavior surprised me. He just beat the tar out of Richard, whaling on him like a common castaway (I’m pointing at you, Sawyer and Jack). He doesn’t seem to have done much damage. But he was livid. Was this the first time Smokey tried to have someone kill him? Given their later conversation, that seems likely. So I would venture to say he was upset about that, and exasperated because perhaps he knew that everybody on the Black Rock had already killed each other, and maybe he was really cheesed off that the ship he summoned all but destroyed his statue.

The statue, incidentally, that Richard’s shipmate described as the devil. There was a lot of talk of Hell and devils in this episode, and it was all very unsettling. But again, felt very much like The Inferno. I did worry fleetingly that Jacob might actually turn out to be the devil as Smokey said. But I kept the faith. I had to. Still... It took some time before I felt we got our old Jacob back. This is the man, after all, who stood there and barely flinched when Ben came to kill him. Then again, we know that before this point, he had his calm morning meeting with Smokey. So maybe Jacob hasn’t changed that much. Hard to say.

I found myself irritated with him, much like I felt toward Dumbledore in The Prince’s Tale. He had good reason to be very harsh with Snape, and Jacob had good reason to be violent with Richard. And his dunking of Richard felt like a baptism, certainly an awakening for him, possibly tied in with the slave Namaan, referenced in the fourth chapter of Luke, which Richard was reading in prison. I love that Richard is a devout Christian, and that now the totem he carries to remind him of his devotion to his cause is a necklace featuring a cross.

While in his first scene, Jacob seemed explosive, as well as a bit creepy in those close-ups, he came across as rather snide in the beginning of the second scene. He made it clear that Richard was not invited to join him inside the statue. Though he did give him some of his wine, a gesture of hospitality beyond the likes of Charles Widmore. And something changed when Richard asked if he was the devil. It seemed to snap Jacob back to reality, to center him and remind him what he was really trying to accomplish.

What I found really interesting was the fact that it was Richard who, whether he meant to or not, suggested the idea of an intermediary. You could see the wheels in Jacob’s head turning. “Hey... He’s got a pretty good point.” Smokey has an unfair advantage. Up until this point, Jacob’s experiment has been a colossal failure because everyone who comes to the Island is influenced only by the force of evil. Jacob is all about free will, so he doesn’t want to tell anybody what to do, but adding Richard as a go-between is a turning point. From that point on, there are survivors. Maybe most of the people who come to the Island wind up dead, maybe most wind up corrupted, but not all do. Richard really makes a difference.

Seems weird to me that the ship smashed the statue, but it's symbolically significant. There is no longer such a huge gulf between Jacob and those he brings to the Island. He's much closer thanks to Richard. And this seems to have affected his behavior somewhat, made him a little more willing to step into human affairs. And maybe was a calming influence. Was Angry Jacob an anomaly, or was he like that a lot before the tide started to turn?

Jacob is not God. He can’t absolve sins. He evidently can’t raise the dead; does that mean a John Locke resurrection isn’t coming? Somehow, though, he is able to bestow the gift of agelessness on an unsuspecting Richard, who seemed to me to be just expressing his fervent fear of Hell, not actually suggesting that Jacob see to it that he never age. Be careful what you wish for... And of course, this was the most convenient reward Jacob could possibly give him, since it meant that Richard could serve as his intermediary for decades to come. Richard is closing in on two centuries now, with about 140 years spent in Jacob’s service. When does it end?

Once again there was some seriously great music in this episode, particularly in the gorgeous Richard-riding-his-horse-in-the-rain segments, anytime he was with Isabella and anytime Jacob was on the screen. Beautifully shot too. I was especially taken with the use of light in the prison scenes and with the expanses of greenery over which both Smokeys presided.

While this episode was touted as a Richard flashback - and that’s certainly primarily what it was, and thankfully in the Flashes Before Your Eyes format - there were two other flashbacks as well. We saw Ilana consulting which Jacob - and being visibly upset about it. I suppose this was because she knew his request was an indication that he would be dying soon. I thought the funniest moment in an otherwise extremely solemn episode came when Ilana turned to him and asked him what they should do next and then, after a very pregnant pause, he laughed in her face. He reminded me in that moment of Leonard in Big Bang Theory, with his giggle made shrill with nervous incredulity. It also reminded me of Hurley's reaction when Ben said he was following him in Cabin Fever. That crazed laugh was just such an odd outburst from him, but really not that strange considering the state we last saw him in. Richard is having an extraordinarily bad week.

The other flashback, of course, was Smokey’s. I really hope that both Ilana and Smokey get flashback episodes of their own, though with only seven episodes to go, that doesn’t seem too likely. The scene between Jacob and Smokey was similar to what we saw in The Incident, only this time it was Jacob who joined Smokey instead of the other way around. Are we to assume that’s the same white rock that he tossed out of the cave in The Substitute? Also, because we know that some of what Smokey tells us is true, particularly about his being the Smoke Monster, I can’t help wondering about the rest of it. Jacob snatching Smokey’s body sounds a bit like Jacob snatching Esau’s birthright, doesn’t it? And Esau probably would’ve had reason to call his mother crazy too. I’m trying to think if there’s anything Jacob has said that we know isn’t true. He’s big on withholding information, but thus far, I’m not inclined to see him as a liar. But there’s certainly more to the story than he’s letting on. In his scene with Smokey, I really thought that he might drop his actual name, especially right at the end there. But no. We’re still left to wonder. And again I ask, what name could possibly be worth all this dodging?

Another thing I really wanted to see? Hurley giving Richard a hug. Yeah, they just met, and Richard hasn’t exactly been all that warm to him. But if anybody ever needed a hug, it’s Richard, and if anybody was ever equipped to give one, it’s Hurley. I really thought it might happen immediately after he told Richard that Isabella was gone. Back in the beginning, I initially thought that Hurley was speaking Latin, and I thought, “Wow, that’s weird.” And like Jack, I initially assumed he was talking to Jacob. But I soon realized it was Spanish, which was a little less weird, considering his upbringing. Not long after Isabella died, I began to suspect that she was the one Hurley had been talking to, so when he showed up in the graveyard, I was rather expecting a scene out of Ghost Whisperer. And that’s exactly what we got, except that this was all for Richard’s benefit. Isabella didn’t need any helping. What a cathartic, romantic scene. And again, how much do I love Hurley? He was in take-charge mode again this week; he’s somebody who kinda seems to need direction, but when he’s given it, he really flies with it. And Jack is no match for his sense of purpose. I was so looking forward to a Richard and Hurley scene, and though we got a bit of one in Dr. Linus, this was much more substantial. And now they share a pretty potent bond.

Though Richard’s conviction that he was in Hell was spooky, I never quite believed it, nor did I believe that Isabella was in Hell with him. It just didn’t make sense, and after what we saw with Alex in Dead Is Dead, I could definitely see Smokey imitating Isabella in the hope of manipulating Richard. Though that was one fancy bit of morphing he did when we seemed to hear her and Smokey at the same time. Also, I guess this settles the question of whether or not Smokey can imitate people who died off the Island. Jacob’s inquiry to Richard about meeting a man in black out in the jungle reminded me of Richard’s inquiry to Ben after Emily appeared to him on his birthday. I thought the timeline of when Ben first met Richard seemed off, maybe because, thanks to his Temple experience, he didn’t remember his first encounter. But I guess I was just basing it on Sayid’s description of “a 12-year-old Benjamin Linus”. According to Lostpedia, he was 16 at that time. Pretty scrawny for 15, but I guess I can buy it. Though Sterling Beaumon couldn’t have been older than 13 when he shot the episode.

We saw so little of Ben here. All he did was fill Jack in on Fake Locke and express his opinion that Richard didn’t know anything. The beginning of the episode played out a bit differently than I’d expected. I figured that Richard was going to gather everybody around and tell them his life’s story. Instead, he ran off into the jungle, and he very nearly joined Smokey after all these years. Wonder why he didn’t show up right away. I would assume that he heard him. But maybe he didn’t. In any event, I’m awfully glad that Smokey wasn’t the first on the scene. Back on the beach, meanwhile, I wonder what’s happening. Why didn’t we see Miles at all? I’m curious about the format future episodes will take. I assume it’ll at least mostly be sideways again, but maybe one or two won’t be. How far back do the differences go? Is it possible that in Sideways World, Isabella survives and she and Richard are able to make their way to the New World together, and we’ll either see some sort of historical marker or gravestone with their names or we’ll meet one of their descendants?

Next week’s episode is called The Package, and based on the brief preview, I’m going to assume it’s a Sun episode, or a Sun and Jin episode perhaps. Just as Smokey used Isabella to tempt Richard, he will use Jin to tempt Sun, and maybe Sun to tempt Jin at the same time. And that’s worrisome, since each is so desperate to return to the other. I wonder how Smokey manages to separate her from the pack? Does this mean that we’ll be getting both groups next week? Could the time for collision be nigh? That’s an intriguing concept, and it should make for a riveting episode.

But this week’s gonna be a tough act to follow. It was a strange one for sure; the whole thing felt a bit like the opening scene of The Incident, so epic and somber. Only much more harrowing. And gut-wrenching. There were precious few laughs to be had in this episode, and a few moments that were just plain gruesome. But there was abundant beauty and depth of emotion, a much-desired dose of mythology and a reason to love Richard every bit as much as Daniel and Desmond, and that’s really saying something. What a guy. Hey there, Ricardus... You’re all right.


Beth said...

Erin, I've been remiss about posting a comment here -- I loved your recap!

I thought the whole "this is hell" theme very interesting this week. Not that I bought it, even at the very beginning when Richard pronounced it with such certainty. He's been far too despairing/depressed for us to trust such a statement right out of the gate. And once we saw what Smokey was up to, in the flashback scenes, it was easy to understand how the idea of the island being hell had been planted in Richard's mind all those years ago, in *another* season of great despair in his life.

But it's also interesting for another reason: it seems to play upon (or at least dance around) the long-held fan theory that the island might be something akin to purgatory. And while I don't think the writers are going there precisely, there are echoes of the idea in the way that Jacob presented what he does (in his conversation with Richard) -- he brings people to the island where their past doesn't matter, presumably so they can work things out in their lives (and somehow prove his cosmic point about human beings being able to over temptation and ultimate corruptibility). Or am I reading that correctly? That's what I seemed to hear him saying, though when I write it out like that, it seems sort of cold, more like a kind of wager between MiB and Jacob regarding humanity (sort of Job-ian, yes?) and less of a sense that Jacob cares about the fate of the various people he's called to the island. Maybe it's not an either/or though? Maybe Jacob is trying to prove a point but doing so in such a way that offers a chance at real redemption to people who otherwise would be...well...lost.

I'm sort of fascinated by the idea of their pasts not mattering...I wish I could recall the whole quote in its entirety. Does he mean that literally or figuratively, I wonder? Do their pasts not matter because they've suddenly been cut off from their former lives? Or have their former lives somehow been altered because of the new reality occurring on the island? In some sense, of course, their pasts do matter -- even though they get new starts on the island (and "blank slates") they're often still hampered by their old issues/baggage. Ha! It just occurred to me what a funny image emotional baggage is for a show about people plane wrecked on an island. Maybe all those times we've seen them rummaging through suitcases is a tip-off that they're dealing with issues...

Erin said...

Grrrr... I was just about to post a long comment when Mozilla crashed. Hate it when that happens! Anyway, it does seem like Jacob has provided a type of Purgatory where people who have major problems can try to become better people. But he's kinda kidding himself if he thinks their pasts are not going to inform their present states, even if they are able to move beyond them.

It seems that there's probably a bit of both happening in regards to his summoning of people. I think he really does care about the castaways; that's the sense I get, anyway. But he also seems to relish his competition with Smokey, with all their little inside jokes, and he doesn't appear hugely concerned about the lives that have been lost along the way. Then again, maybe all that death on the Black Rock was what had him so upset in this episode. Maybe he was even more upset at the way 815 came in. But he can't have been very surprised.

From the transcript:

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. The cork [raises 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.

RICHARD: Before you brought my ship, there were others?

JACOB: Yes, many.

RICHARD: What happened to them?

JACOB: They're all dead.

RICHARD: But if you brought them here. 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?

All the baggage problems do seem very fitting! Thinking about Sideways World, John lost his knives, and he had to learn to let go of the idea that he could do anything he wanted. No boar hunting for Sideways John. Jack, meanwhile, lost his father's body, and he has to learn to let go of the pain of a difficult childhood and not repeat the mistakes that his father made. Of course, who knows where Sideways World is going??

Beth said...

Ooh, cool...didn't know transcript was available. Thanks for posting the whole exchange just seems really significant!

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?

There's something about that particular part that makes my skin itch a bit. I know the writing is not specifically Christian (or rather, it has some Christian elements and symbolism, but other elements too) and yet I can't help reading my worldview into things. "Because I wanted them to help themselves" sort of makes me want to bang my head into a wall (but how do I REALLY feel?) ;-) as it smacks of "God helps those who help themselves," a sentiment that doesn't feel very Christian. I know Jacob isn't God, but he certainly seems to be the closest thing we've got within the LOST universe, so it's hard not to read him that way. So I feel like asking, how on earth can people learn "to help themselves" if they're not being given the knowledge they need regarding what's right and wrong? There's a difference between someone forcing people to act a certain way (taking away their free will or their ability to choose) and someone giving people choice but also revealing to them what's right and wrong. It seems to me what's missing here is revelation/knowledge, and our castaways need some level of that if they're to have a chance to respond in the right way or ultimately overcome their issues and past mistakes.

And maybe that was the point Richard was trying to make when he pushed Jacob a bit on this, and wound up with a job as...well, Jacob's prophet.

I do wish I understood Jacob's identity better. If he's a deity, he's a deity in process, still learning and growing (which I'm not sure I like at all). I tend to think he's only a semi-deity though, or perhaps a sort of angelic power a la Gandalf, representing a power higher than himself but still with limitations. He seems more than human in some ways, and less than human in others. And I agree that there's an odd sense of "enjoying the competition" with MiB. I got a almost comical vibe from the last scene with them on the beach -- it reminded me of those old Wylie Coyote cartoons with the coyote and the sheepdog bitter enemies all day, but punching their time cards and wishing each other an amicable good-night at the end of the day...

Erin said...

Yes, I've always gotten a bit of a Warner Brothers vibe from Jacob and his nemesis, since The Incident... I'm really curious about the identity of the spooky kid in The Substitute. It's possible it's Jacob, but I'm thinking it's somebody to whom both Jacob and Smokey answer. That could put another spin on the situation altogether. I know what you mean about Jacob's sentiments; I'd like to think that there's significance to the fact that Richard, a devout Christian, changed his mind on that, and that it seems to have worked much better when Richard's suggestion was put into place.

Beth said...

Y'know, there's been so much good stuff this season, I'd almost forgotten the spooky kid. It's funny that you wondered if it might be Jacob -- I remember that was my first thought (I wondered if we were somehow seeing him from another time plane/reality) but I think you're right that it seems more likely to be someone they both answer to. After all, someone has to establish the "rules" that everyone on island seems to have to follow...