Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lost 6.09: "Ab Aeterno"

“Do you want a job?”


So, I think my opinion on this episode is going to be a bit controversial, but once again, since not many people actually read this blog, I can say what I want without fear of flaming in the comments! Yay! Here goes. I didn’t love this episode. It wasn’t the second coming of “The Constant.” There are a few reasons why I feel this way, and since it’s been over a week since the actual episode aired, I think I can articulate them in a way that makes sense. None of this is a slight on Nestor Carbonell’s acting by the way- I think he gave a great performance with what he was given to work with. I think it really has everything to do with the set-up to this episode.

The episode begins with a campfire conference of the recently reunited Losties on the beach. Ilana brings everybody up to speed- the remaining Oceanic 815ers are (and in some cases, were) candidates to replace Jacob as the Island’s protector. Ilana says that she was once told by Jacob that Richard would know what to do when she brought the Oceanic 6 back to the Island. Richard’s reaction was just a maniacal laugh, which was one of my favorite moments of the episode. He tells the Losties that they’re actually dead and in Hell, and then he runs off in search of Locke. He wants to switch teams. Lapidus asks the rest of the group how Richard could be ageless, and woosh, it’s flashback time!

Richard is riding a horse across the Canary Islands in 1867. He’s going home to his wife Isabella, who is very sick. She coughs, and what do you know, the handkerchief has blood on it. She has TB. Richard gets back on the horse and races to the nearest doctor. The doctor (like most of the people Richard meets in this story), however, is a prick. It’s rainy, and he refuses to travel to Richard’s hovel in the rain. He says he has some medicine that can cure Isabella, but it’s expensive. The little amount of money Richard has plus Isabella’s cross necklace isn’t going to pay for it.

Canary Islands Richard kind of looks like Desmond (grubby, long hair, and a beard), and it turns out that he kills people just like Desmond, too. In his rage at not getting the medicine (or perhaps to try and take the medicine), Richard shoves the doctor. The doctor falls and hits his head, and he’s not getting back up. The doctor’s servant sees all of this go down, so Richard knows that if he hangs around, he’s getting arrested. He rides his horse as fast as he can back to his hovel, but it’s too late. Isabella has died. And of course things go from bad to worse. Whatever you would call law enforcement in the Nineteenth Century Canary Islands has caught up with Richard. He winds up in prison, doomed to be hanged.

The second not-so-nice guy Richard encounters is an extremely corrupt priest. This priest tells Richard that he can’t possibly be absolved for his sin of murdering the doctor because there isn’t enough time left before his execution to do proper penance. Of course, however, this priest has a way out. He takes Richard to Mr. Whitfield, an officer aboard the Black Rock, captained by Magnus Hanso (shocker! Or not…it’s been pretty obvious for a while that Richard arrived on the Island on the Black Rock). Richard is going to be transported to the New World (as a slave, presumably) aboard the Black Rock.

As the Black Rock nears the Island, a fearsome storm brews up. One of the scared passengers looks out in the distance and sees the statute of Tawaret. He thinks it’s a statue of the Devil. The Black Rock hurtles towards the Island, smashing right through Tawaret on its way. The officers who survive the crash think that survival is going to be tough, and the best way to ensure that they get enough sustenance is to kill all the slaves in the hold of the ship. Richard is the last slave standing, and just as he’s about to be murdered, Smokey rolls on in and grabs his would-be killer.

Thus begins a sequence that goes on a bit too long of Richard suffering by himself in the hold of the Black Rock. He tries to escape, but he can’t get out of the shackles and chains holding him. At one point, he has a vision of Isabella. She appears to be taken by Smokey as well. It’s hard to say just what this vision was. A hallucination? A ghost? Smokey himself? Any of these explanations is plausible, although I’m leaning towards the third. Mostly because Smokey actually appears (in Titus Welliver, not Terry O’Quinn, form) soon after. He tells Richard that he is in Hell, and he also says that Richard needs to kill “the Devil.”

“The Devil” is, not surprisingly, Jacob. The instructions the Man in Black gives for the murder of Jacob are almost identical to the instructions Dogen gave Sayid for how to kill the Man in Black, down to the whole “if he speaks, it’s too late” warning. Richard heads to the base of the Tawaret statue and gets quite an unpleasant reception- basically, Jacob beats him up pretty badly. When Richard says that he doesn’t believe he is still alive, Jacob dunks him repeatedly in the ocean. It’s interesting how angry Jacob is in this scene. Very different from the more zen Jacob with whom we’re more familiar.

Richard is sent back to the Man in Black with a message and a gift- a smooth white stone. Richard will not be taking the Man in Black up on his offer to see Isabella again in exchange for Richard’s service. Instead, he took Jacob’s offer of immortality. If Richard can’t die, he can’t go to Hell like he believes he is doomed to do no matter what. The Man in Black isn’t pleased, but he tells Richard that if he ever changes his mind, the offer will still stand. Then he gives Richard Isabella’s cross necklace. Richard buries it.

Finally back in the present day, Richard reaches the location where he once buried the cross, and he retrieves it. He holds the necklace above his head and starts yelling “Does the offer still stand?” over and over. He hears movement in the bushes, and Hurley appears. Hurley has been chatting with Isabella’s ghost. In what is probably meant to be this episode’s “phone call” moment, Hurley “translates” as Richard has one final conversation with his wife. In addition to all the “I love yous” that you’d expect, Hurley also tells Richard that Isabella says they have to defeat the Man in Black.

It’s a very “Ghostwhisperer” moment, and it just didn’t work for me. I wasn’t crying like I was when Desmond called Penny at the end of “The Constant.” I think the reason this episode didn’t work for me like “The Constant” did is because it lacked the set-up necessary for a true emotional payoff. The depth of Desmond and Penny’s relationship was first established in the Season 2 finale “Live Together, Die Alone.” Penny’s note to Desmond literally saved his life, and it was very powerful. By the time of the phone call, we had seen the extreme lengths to which Penny was willing to go to be reunited with Desmond, both when finding him in the Los Angeles stadium where he was training for Widmore’s sailboat race, and in hiring the two Portuguese guys who were at the Arctic station and picked up on the Swan implosion. When Penny and Desmond were able to speak to each other for the first time in three years, we knew the stakes, and it was an absolutely beautiful, emotional moment. I hadn’t seen enough of Richard and Isabella to be as invested, and I think the episode overall suffered for lack of set-up.

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