6.9 Ab Aeterno
There’s a special kind of feeling that only the most awesome moments of TV can give you. The feeling that can only happen when a really good story lets you know that shit just got real. I got it when Caleb poked out Xander’s eye. I got it when Sydney and Vaughn finally brought down SD-6. I got it when Galactica/Pegasus rescued the citizens of New Caprica. And I got it about six times during this episode of Lost.
We all knew that the secret behind Richard Alpert was going to be one hell of a story, but did we really expect this? An episode that was almost movie-like in its scope and production. Sure, the CGI wasn’t perfect and Hawaii made for an unconvincing Tenerife, but that aside, it delivered on just about every level.
Last week’s episode might have been one of the poorer showings for this season, but this week’s? Easily one of the best Lost episodes ever. Up there with The Constant, and I don’t say that lightly.
The episode started normally enough. Some amused banter from Ben, notwithstanding, the beach scene was largely a brief re-introduction, serving only to have the characters wonder who Richard was and how he ended up in the situation he’s in.
And, indeed, those are the questions we’ve wanted answered for some time. Despite Richard’s prominence and apparent significance, we haven’t actually seen much of his actual character until this episode.
Since his first appearance in Season 3, he’s been an enigmatic cipher. Possibly a time-traveller, possibly ageless, apparently far more aware of what’s going on than most. The cracks in his demeanour have been showing ever since the start of Season 6, but only now have they been wrenched open, allowing us to see who Richard really is, and finally learn what his motivations are.
There was a certain element of black humour to Richard’s pre-island existence. His wife, dead from a curable illness; made into a murderer by a comically evil doctor; sentenced to Hell by an unsympathetic priest; sold into slavery; stranded on an island; forced to watch his peers murdered in cold blood and rescued by a man who wants him to kill the devil.
Richard’s story showed us a man shattered by a seemingly endless parade of torment. From the moment his wife was taken ill, it’s no surprise he ended up willing to do anything to escape his misery, even if that meant serving Jacob, the only man capable of preventing his damnation.
Interestingly, although the episode was about Richard, we also got to learn much about Jacob and his nemesis, the so-called Man in Black. At the end of last season, I said that it looked like Season 6 would be the theological season, and Jacob’s talk about evil, the role of free choice and his non-interventionist policies suggest that that analogy is being played very tightly. Is Jacob literally supposed to be God? I doubt it. But I also doubt we’ll ever get a definite answer.
Some things, however, we did get answered. Like how the statue got destroyed. How the Black Rock ended up inland. Why Jacob gave Richard his “gift”. And everything about Richard’s character.
Nestor Carbonell got to be the latest in a long line of actors to knock their performance out of the park this season, and it’s a testament to his skills that even when we knew that he’d escape his chains on the Black Rock, we still felt the frustration and anguish at his seemingly hopeless situation.
Meanwhile, the writers got to give us a genuinely affecting emotional climax the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Constant, as Richard spoke to his dead wife, with Hurley as the Whoopi Goldberg to Isabella’s Patrick Swayze. The scene was made far more affecting by the decision to make Hurley’s translations implied, rather than explicit.
And so, with Richard’s role finally revealed, and the stakes for which the characters are actually fighting laid bare, we enter the final stretch of the season. I seriously doubt anything will top this episode, but I’m open to their attempts.
Check out our review of episode 8 here.