Last night's episode explained how Richard Alpert got in "those chains," but it also told the story of how he was freed from them—literally and figuratively. You could say that "Ab Aeterno" was Richard's unchained melody.
Finally knowing how Richard got to the Island, and why he doesn't age (or at least a better explanation than we'd previously had) was a biggie for Lost fans. Also, can you believe the balls of the show's writers to turn a SciFi show into a costume drama? That said, I loved this episode.
Let's start at the end, during the Ghost-inspired scene when Hurley served as the Whoopi to Richard's Demi. All I could think during the entire exchange was, "Molly, you in danger, girl."
I'm a sucker for these kinds of emotionally manipulative moments. (When they make sense, i.e., Des and Pen; it didn't work with Charlotte and Daniel.) And just like in Ghost, "Unchained Melody" seemed to be the soundtrack for Richard's story:
And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
Godspeed your love to me
But the second verse of the song makes me wonder if MIB's desire to "go home" indicates that he, too, is a part of a star-crossed love story:
Lonely rivers sigh 'wait for me, wait for me'
I'll be coming home wait for me
Maybe it's a stretch, but you know, so are Smoke Monsters, time travel and talking dead people.
"Ab Aeterno" (Latin for "since the beginning of time") revealed Richard's back story, which began in 1867 in Tenerife, part of the Canary Islands (which is also home to ancient pyramids, suggesting a connection between Egyptian and Mayan cultures).
Richard's wife is sick and when that asshole of a doctor refuses to sell him the medication to heal her, a fight ensues between the two men, during which Richard accidentally kills the doctor. (One of many reasons why universal health care would behoove us all.) Richard flees with the medicine, only to return home and find that his wife is dead. He's subsequently arrested and sentenced to death. While waiting in jail for said sentence to be carried out, Richard reads the bible, partially because he's a devout Catholic and partially to teach himself English.
The page we're shown is the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, verse 24:
And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
While this could be applied to Richard's story, seeing as how he ends up leaving his own country for the New World (but ending up in perhaps a different world altogether), I'm prone to think we should backtrack one verse, if only because 4:23 would make more sense, given "the numbers."
And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself…
It reminds me a lot of "We are the causes of our own suffering," one of the phrases that flashed on the screen in Room 23, the freaky Clockwork Orange-esque brainwashing room that's part of the Hydra Station. Additionally, "Physician, heal thyself" is basically what the Island has been screaming to Jack for the past six seasons. Jack, of course, happens to be #23 in the candidates list. However, I think that it's not just Jack that needs to heal himself, but all those that who arrive on the Island with their heavy baggage. They're all carrying around a shitload of guilt—for various reasons—and no matter how much they repent to others, they'll never truly be free until they forgive themselves. They're the causes of their own suffering, and their guilt is their cross to bear. Speaking of which…
But more on that in a moment. Back to the bible. Luke is the gospel that provides the story of Jesus' life and ministry (it has some of the more popular parables like The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son), but beyond that, it goes into the theological significance of his history—kinda like how "Ab Aeterno" was for Richard's story.
Analyzing all the religious crap in last night's episode actually made my 13 years of Catholic school education pretty useful (which actually might be a first for me). Let's start with absolution. It's kind of a big deal. The first sacrament a Catholic makes is baptism. The second is reconciliation, which must be done before making the third, which is communion. All three of these were present in "Ab Aeterno." If a Catholic wants to get into heaven, s/he has to make those first two sacraments, as those are the ones that deal with sin. Baptism washes off the original sin (that we're all born with, thanks to Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge) and reconciliation takes care of the new sins we commit ourselves in our lives. Those sins must be confessed to a priest, who will give the confessor a penance (like 10 Hail Marys or something) and absolution. The latter forgives the sinner of any guilt and saves him/her from "eternal punishment" (aka Hell). However, the sinner still has to face temporal punishment (aka purgatory), unless of course an "indulgence" is applied. Indulgence is usually issued to people who have prayed really hard or done tons of charity work. I bet Mother Teresa got one. Indulgences don't forgive sins, they just take away any suffering in purgatory. Anyway, in jail, Richard made a confession to a priest and asked for forgiveness, but the priest denied him any absolution.
I think what makes Richard's experience (aside from not aging) different from others' on the Island is that while he has not been absolved, he's been indulged…by Jacob. He isn't suffering on the Island like the others (being chased by polar bears and flaming arrows and monsters and whatevs), but he's obviously still suffering with his own guilt.
So Richard was sold into slavery by the jerkass priest, and boarded the Black Rock. And then we got to find out how the four-toed statue got destroyed.
What the hell was that statue made of that it crumbled like fresco when hit by a boat? In a game of Black Rock, Paper, Statues, Black Rock crushes statues, I guess.
So the Black Rock crashed on the Island in the middle of a dark and stormy night. Interestingly, Widmore bought the painting "Black Rock Storm" at an auction in a previous season.
In last year's season finale, when we were first introduced to Jacob and MIB, the two men sat on the beach and had a conversation (basically about how MIB hated Jacob's guts and planned to kill him) as they watched a ship approach the shore. At the time, I'd thought this was the Black Rock, however, the sky is sunny and clear, and the waters calm.
But maybe it was the Black Rock. After all, according to the auction that Widmore attended, the ship had disappeared in 1845 (with the journal of its first mate popping up some seven years later). Richard didn't board the ship until 1867. Perhaps Jacob had kind of co-opted the ship, and used it to bring his lost souls to the Island on several different journeys, as he had with the Dharma sub a century or so later.
So the Black Rock crashes in the middle of the Jungle (totally Smokey's doing), and Richard encounters the black smoke, which bathed him in a bright white light.
Smokey used his favorite trick of impersonating a dead person in order to fuck with the mind of the living, by pretending to be Richard's wife. Then he and Richard sit down over a meal of boar and he gives Richard the same speech about killing "the devil" (aka Jacob) by stabbing him in the heart as Dogen had given to Sayid. It looks as if it was the same knife, too.
And while I know that Richard probably doesn't keep kosher, the bible-reading man should've realized that the boar was a really bad sign, since swine are referenced negatively in both the Old and New Testaments.
Let's talk about the knife for a sec, as I think it might reveal a little bit about MIB's past. It's a pugio, a dagger used by Roman soldiers in the first century. It was usually used for assassination and suicide. It was also the same kind of knife used to kill Julius Caesar. Basically, MIB is really, really fucking old.
So, tempted by MIB to kill Jacob in exchange for seeing his wife Isabella again, Richard heads to the four-toed statue, where Jacob beats the crap out of him…and then baptizes him!
At least sorta. And then they sit down, and take communion, complete with wine. They have a super important conversation in which Jacob tells Richard about the nature of the Island (it's holding in the evil from wreaking havoc on the real world), by keeping it corked in. I was questioning Jacob's "goodness" before, but now I'm thinking he pretty much is a better guy than MIB. After all MIB is all about death, destruction, and emotional abuse. Anyway, Jacob and Richard make a deal. Jacob says he can't forgive Richard for his sins (heal thyself!) but can "indulge" him by giving him the other thing he desperately wants: Time.
That whole corked up evil thing reminded me of the episode "Dr. Linus" a few weeks ago.The paper that Arzt was grading in the sideways world showed a light source keeping that serpent-like thing trapped.
Totally Smokey. Who I also think is totally Hydra.
Jacob gives Richard—formerly from the Black Rock—a white rock to bring back to MIB.
It's an inside joke between the two. But are they really "two"? MIB says tells Richard that Jacob "took my body, my humanity." I'm beginning to think that they are "two sides of the same coin"; that perhaps a Fight Club thing is going on here. Did Jacob rid himself of his own dark side, which apparently set it free on the Island? And now that they are separated, they are trapped on the Island, battling it out using the lost souls as instruments to play their chained melody.
And as MIB was telling Jacob, yet again, that he would kill him, I was really, really hoping Jacob would say, "Ditto."