Analysis: 6.9 Ab Aeterno

Ab Aeterno. From the beginning of time. The long-awaited backstory of Richard Alpert didn’t extend the ageless one’s lifetime to quite that long ago. The title Ab Aeterno can perhaps be interpreted as referring to Jacob and Nameless – that their contest on the Island has been running from the beginning of time. But we’ll get to them. This was Richard’s show – probably his one and only. Who would have thought back in Season 3 that this Richard Alpert. . .

. . . was a rugged, devoted man of faith from 1869 who went by the name Ricardo!

His journey to the Island had quite the epic sweep about it, beginning with his flight to the bad doctor’s house to try and save his wife, Isabella. This meeting with the doctor was filled with symbolic omens. Consider the doctor dressed in black, for example. Here was Ricardo, at his direst need, requesting help from a man in black. And the man in black, when handed a crucifix so dear to Isabella, tossed it aside as worthless. It’s not subtle when laid out like that, eh?

Even the medicine the doctor in black offered was white, looking a little like ground down powder of a certain white stone that Jacob would, later in the episode, use as a symbolic gift for Nameless. The resonance here is hard to miss. Ricardo tries to win the favour of a man in black that casts aside goodness (the crucifix) and dangles the promises of what he wants most (the medicine) before considering him unworthy.

Interestingly the other man that returned and witnessed Ricardo’s struggle with the doctor that resulted in his death was carrying blankets – which did remind me of that time Michael killed Ana Lucia which Libby, carrying blankets, witnessed.

Not saying that was intended, but it was a nice thematic harkening. And it’s not the only time events in The Swan serve as a thematic reference to events in this episode, but that’s big, meaty stuff we’ll get to later. Before then Ricardo was locked behind bars and facing a death sentence. Another man in black, this time a priest, came to offer a chance to repent. But Ricardo didn’t feel fully guilty. He said it was an accident. The priest declined to save his soul as a consequence of his weak confession.

Does this remind anyone of anyone?

“Confess,” Mr. Eko was told, by Yemi, who we now know was Nameless in disguise. Mr. Eko did not confess. He was, like Alpert, steeped in the belief that his regrettable crimes had been a result of actions he could not have controlled. Mr. Eko was served a death sentence as a result. As was Ricardo.

Only Ricardo’s English-speaking urge to visit the New World prompted a visit from Black Rock shipmate Jonas Whitfield. We didn’t get to see the elusive Magnus Hanso, alas, but it was nice that he was mentioned (Magnus Hanso being the forefather of Alvar Hanso, founder of the Dharma Initiative). And so it was, as many of us had long-suspected, that Ricardo came to the Island on the Black Rock as a slave. It would seem the boat we all thought was the Black Rock in The Incident. . .

. . . wasn’t actually the Black Rock at all. As the real Black Rock came crash-landing onto the Island, through statue Taweret’s face, on a stormy, stormy night. (Unless the Black Rock had been to the Island previously and this was something of a return voyage, not entirely impossible due to some timeline discrepancies found within the Black Rock ledger about the date of its disappearance – but I digress.)

We got two birds with one stone, here. An answer as to how the Black Rock wound up in the middle of the jungle (a giant wave picked it up and pretty much threw it there) and an answer as to why the four-toed statue was broken (a ship being picked up by a giant wave slammed into it – presumably both ship and water being forcible impact combined to produce the shattering rubble that remained).

It may seem miraculous that a ship could have slammed into a statue and crashed into the middle of the jungle on a giant wave and still been relatively intact and had people onboard alive – but then, you know, there was that time a passenger aeroplane split into three pieces in mid-air and hurtled to the ground below leaving about a third of the people onboard pretty much fine and dandy. The show set a precedent for miraculous survival events right from the get-go so we can’t go crying foul six seasons in!

Just like how the Oceanic 815 pilot was quickly despatched by the Smoke monster, the crew of the Black Rock were also rapidly wiped out. Justification? Maybe Smokey just gets really mad at those directly responsible for bringing people to the Island! Obviously the root cause is Jacob, who Nameless wants to kill, but as a substitute he goes after the literal people that brought others – for Oceanic 815 it was the pilot, for the Black Rock the crew.

It was lucky for Ricardo that Smokey did run riot, arriving just in time for him to not be shish-kebab on the pointed end of Whitfield’s sword like the other helpless slaves.

The confidence trick on Ricardo began with a scanning. Just like Mr. Eko and in the same fashion Juliet and Kate once got flash-scanned in the jungle, Black Smoke took a deep look at Ricardo and then retreated to formulate a plan. First, it left him trapped, thirsty and desperate. Ricardo pulled out a loose nail only for a boar (that I don’t think was the Black Smoke in disguise but just another nice reference to earlier episodes with pesky boars truffling through dead people) to knock it away. Then Black Smoke took on the form of Isabella, the one thing Nameless knew Ricardo wanted more than anything else.

Managing to convince Ricardo he was in hell, Nameless (as Isabella) managed the conjuring trick of making it sound like the Black Smoke was approaching. Let’s just pause for a second and consider this, because there is a reasonable explanation. See, there’s the big Black Smoke we are now well-familiar with, but there have been fleeting appearances of the ‘little’ Black Smoke.

Now I’ll venture this little wispy Black Smoke, like some kind of extra offshoot, is the bit that can transform into other people. The big Black Smoke is the one that can scan, travel long distances and, of course, pick people up and drag them off and smack them around to death. No doubt the ‘wispy’ bit rejoins the main Black Smoke when it’s not been sent off, clicking away, on manifestation duties. Maybe I'm over-thinking it. But I digress.

Through this Isabella encounter, and then faking her ‘death’, Nameless turned up in the ‘man in black’ form we have, perhaps, considered to be his original body but which, by the episode’s end, we can figure probably isn’t. Nameless would later remark that Jacob had stolen his body. Maybe that means Jacob now physically occupies the body that was once his – or the body that was once his is long gone and he has since had to exist in different forms, such as Man In Black and Locke.

Nameless had now got Ricardo mentally and physically in a state where he was very amenable for coercion and, with the offer of some food that this time Ricardo did take (note that previously, with the priest in black, Ricardo declined the food offered in prison – he was of stronger will back then – but it was left there for him, for later!), he was ready to believe he was in hell and that there was a devil out there he could kill with a dagger through the heart, just so long as he didn’t let him speak, which would earn him the gift of seeing Isabella again.

A few things here. First, Nameless’ promise that Ricardo would see Isabella again is certainly one he could provide. He’d done it once already! Sure, Ricardo, you can see her again – just give me a minute to go and turn into her. . . In that sense, Ricardo wasn’t quite making the bargain he thought he was (and makes me figure the promises he's been making to The Others and the Candidates is also equally rife with 'not quite as it seems' smallprint). Second, this business of a dagger through the heart before the victim could speak was, of course, the same instruction given to Sayid to use against Locke (as Nameless).

Locke managed to speak before Sayid stabbed him, and Jacob managed to intercept Ricardo when he attempted his assassination. Are we to believe that if Sayid or Ricardo had managed to stab Jacob or Nameless before they spoke it would have killed them? Is it really so vital, the not-getting-to-say-a-word-beforehand part? I don’t have an answer for that.

Also rather flummoxing was why Nameless, when speaking to Ricardo, elected to divulge that he was, in fact, the Black Smoke. For viewers watching it did make us wonder whether Nameless was really the honest one, and that what he was telling Ricardo about Jacob could potentially be the truth. But why tell Ricardo this?

Me? I think he made a mistake. I think Nameless, so filled with such bitterness and evidently cut off from humanity, wasn’t quite as refined a confidence trickster with Ricardo as when he became Locke and manipulated Ben. With Ricardo he didn’t rein in his own way with the truth quite enough, but he’d learn better as we recently saw when he omitted telling The Temple Others that he was the Black Smoke that had slaughtered the people left behind. Jacob, too, when he had eventually battered and drown-threatened Ricardo into accepting he wasn’t really dead, came to a new realisation that showed him he needed to refine how he was conducting himself on the Island.

Jacob’s attitude was that people’s innate goodness would ultimately rise above Nameless’ tactics, would surpass their corrupt ways, and they would find their own realisation about how to be good without him having to “step in”. Ricardo’s remarks that Nameless certainly would step in gave him pause. How does Jacob, who needs man to use his own free will to find the right path, get around this? He appoints an advisor, a go-between.

Unlike Nameless, Jacob would not grant promises he could not keep. He could not bring Isabella back, nor could he absolve Ricardo of his sins. And so, to avoid a fate in hell (very important, his belief in hell), Ricardo didn’t want to die. One touch from Jacob later, instant immortality is granted. And for the next 150 years Ricardo served Jacob’s bidding, changing into Richard and seeing the Island become more populated with people – Others – considered to be ‘good people’ that, unbeknownst to Richard, were potential candidates as Jacob’s successor.

As is fitting, Jacob didn’t even tell Richard more than bare minimum (he, too, needed to have free will to choose the right path) which, following Jacob’s death, was what caused his crisis of faith and made him return to that deep-rooted belief that the Island really was hell and Jacob had lied to him all along. Thank goodness for Hurley!

Richard’s collapse of faith meant he finally stepped up to the door Nameless had left open for him all those many years ago with that invitation to return should he change his mind. The longterm strategy very nearly paid off; Richard almost gave himself over to ‘the dark side’ until Hurley popped up with messages from Isabella.

Now, if the Isabella Richard saw and interacted with on the Black Rock was really Nameless in disguise – as it surely was – then what is this apparition that Hurley can see and speak to? It would appear to be a stronger manifestation of the same spiritual life-after-death world that Miles can tap into. It’s not something exclusive to the Island, but it’s a capacity that Miles and Hurley have perhaps only possessed because they have been on the Island. There are dead people on the Island that are Nameless in disguise. And there are dead people seen that aren't him, which must be sourced from somewhere else. . .

Let’s hold on to the idea of their being a ‘source’ for dead souls, like Isabella, as we consider the metaphor Jacob presented to Ricardo about the function of the Island.

Jacob: “Think of this wine as what you keep calling hell. There’s many other names for it too: malevolence, evil, darkness. Here it is, swirling around in the bottle, unable to get out because if it did it would spread. The cork is this island and it’s the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs.”

I mentioned earlier that this episode induced parallels with The Swan Station, and this metaphor of Jacob’s is a big one. Consider The Swan, and the function of pushing the button every 108 minutes to vent electromagnetism. Fundamentally The Swan functioned as the only thing keeping this devastating power in check. Seems the Island works on a similar principle, serving as a cap on a nebulous mass of all that is bad to prevent it from spreading out into the world.

It’s a pretty big concept to swallow, no question. But whilst we’re here, let’s really think big about this.

I believe Lost may be trying to introduce notions of there being a good and evil – sources for each that exist in the world. Now we are presented with Jacob, and Nameless, and our religion-aware minds wonder if they are representations of characters we know already. Is Jacob God, Nameless the Devil? Or are they angels – one fallen, one pure? I am forming up a belief that Jacob and Nameless, these notions of good and evil, they’re not of religious iconography, these are what religious ideas are based on.

Jacob remarked that Ricardo called it hell. That is, in Ricardo’s understanding of the world due to his religious upbringing, the place where all evil lies is termed hell. But hell is just a name, a religious interpretation of the real truth which is this nebulous source of darkness and evil the Island sits above, like a cork in a wine bottle. And maybe, if there’s this vague source of evil that some religions call hell, there is also the opposite – the white to this black – that some religions call heaven. Is this where the likes of Isabella, that Hurley can see, stem from? Is there a paradise Island somewhere, serving as a cork for this place also? Or does the Island cover both these sources – evil and goodness together – hence why both can, indeed need to, exist there?

Black and white, opposing forces, locked together. The theme has been there from the very beginning and the Island might just be the epicentre of both.

Jacob and Nameless, it would seem, are the determining balancing act keeping a lid on things. If one leaves then, like a one-sided see-saw, there is an upset in the equilibrium and the cork pops off and it all goes wrong. If Nameless leaves, it’s over.

When they spoke together at the end of the episode, Nameless once more re-stated his urge to leave with the connotation being that it was Jacob, and purely Jacob, that was preventing him from doing so. The only way he can go is over Jacob’s dead body, and even that comes with the caveat of their being no replacement to take over, to take up the seat on the other side of the see-saw and return the balance.

The real ab aeterno we’re interested in concerns these two – the story of Jacob and Nameless, of how Nameless lost his body and developed the urge to kill Jacob. That, I feel, is subject matter for a finale. The finale. In the end we’re going to need to understand the beginning, and I am starting to believe the end is going to represent a new beginning.

Some day, maybe, these two men will sit together on the Island. . .

. . . immortally locked in an opposing battle on the Island interminably. They’ll watch over the Island, expecting more people to come, and the game will go on. Lost was originally going to be called 'Circle'; maybe with Jack and Locke as replacement guardians of the Island everything will come full circle and start anew with them, ab aeterno.


Kit Foster said...

Great post AC!


Acharaisthekey said...

I can see it now --

Jack sitting on the log on a beach looking at a freighter or boat of somesort off in the distance...

John coming out of the jungle with his evil face....

John says to Jack: Do you know how bad I want to kill you

Jack says: Yes


Great write up AC! As always very insightful...a couple points of interest...

Jacob leaves the island (a lot actually) as we saw throughout last year's finally....does this not give MIB a chance to get off the island? or Can jacob go back and forth without MIB noticing?? Kinda weird if you ask me.

Also, is MIB unstoppable? A dagger before only he speaks may work? or is it only the act of pure good in the face of evil/selfishness/whatever...that can defeat him?

Lastly - Richard is not immortal, he just doesn't age...he is under the impression someone can kill him and he was also frightened or taken back by Daniel's I'm guessing he can die, just not at his own hand or because of old least that's how I see it. Why this is important, is I think he will eventually want to die, and that can't be something that's impossible....but he wanted time to be obsolved of his sins, and maybe one final act can do that...(remember, the Priest told him, HE HAS NO TIME to Be OBSOLVED Of his SINS)....with his wife saying he needs to keep the MIB on the island or they all go to hell, it must make one wonder if Jacob has made a deal with 'the higher power of choice' that he can give second chances to people otherwise headed for 'hell' as he is on mission to prove someone will do RIGHT and not end up just 'dead'.

SmokeyRobinsonCrusoe said...

Anyone else notice the nod to "The Big Lebowski" as Jacob was repeatedly dunking Richard's head into the water? Priceless.

Fred said...

Another Swan parallel. In the Swan who ever is pushing the button is looking for a substitute to tkae his place. First it was Kelvin, then Desmond. Sounds very much like Jacob's plan to find a substitute who will look out for the island.

Like Richard, Desmond contemplates suicide, realizing he will never be reuinited with Penny. This is perhaps Richard's reason for wanting to kill himself, that he concludes he'll never be reunited with Isabella. after all his years of service, Jacob's death confirms to Richard that his extended life has not been part of his penance.

Locke loses faith in button pushing, saying it's just a damn button. MiB says the island is just a damn island. So we expect if MiB leaves, all hell will break lose. And we do expect to see that, because it will make for great drama.

If the Pearl was an observation station on the Swan, if parallels hold is there an observation island for our mysterious island. So far we had the Portuguese guys in the Arctic, and the Lamppost station. I expect we'll learn someone is watching the island, and watching these 2 guys, Jacob and MiB.

luis aguilar said...

"It would seem the boat we all thought was the Black Rock in The Incident. . .

. . . wasn’t actually the Black Rock at all. As the real Black Rock came crash-landing onto the Island, through statue Taweret’s face, on a stormy, stormy night

I don´t think you're right. The episode seems to indicate that the events on the Island are in fact following the opening of "The Incident" - it's the first attempt MIB does to kill Jacob (after threatening it in S5E17) and more subtle clues. But about what you present to disprove, I think it's quite possible a ship like The Black Rock takes a while to get to the island since it's first seen from there (like until the subsequent night who becames thunderous (as virtually (if I'm not forgetening anything) ALL arrivals by sea to the island are (thunderous, I mean - remember Desmond's, Danielle's and the Black Rock and even Naomi's arrival and Frank Lapidus and the science team)) there's no reason for us to believe otherwise)..

It could be like you're saying, it just seems to suit better that they see the ship farway in the morning, talk about it (famous discussion about goodness or evilness of mankind), the night arrives and so does the bad weather..

Anyway, good analysis.

abid said...

But if the island sinks, doesn't MIB win or get to escape? Kind of like the cork being useless if the bottle is shattered.

Anonymous said...

Great write up AC

I just have one question. If the island is a cork that is keeping a lid on a lot of evil being released into the world, how come in the alt-timeline when the island is underwater everything is is just fine and tickety-boo.

AngeloComet said...

Achara - It is odd, Jacob's ability to be on and off the Island. I wonder if this doesn't fuel Nameless' sense of injustice. That he is kept captive on the Island, apparently by Jacob, who can also come and go as he pleases.

In the same breath, what was with Christian Shephard appearing to Jack in the post-Island time? If Christian Shephard wasn't Nameless in disguise then there's still more layers to be pulled away yet!

SmokeyRob - I don't think the Jacob-dunking was a specific nod to Big Lewbowski. . . but it did really tie the episode together!

Fred - Great parallels; certainly aspects that hadn't occurred to me but slot in nicely.

Luis - Your point did occur to me, but wouldn't the slaves have seen the Island earlier? The slave appears to first see the Island during the storm. If the ship could be seen from the Island in borad daylight you can bet the Island could be much more easily seen from the ship.

Also, more pedantically, Nameless had a slightly different haircut in 'the incident'!

Abid/Anonymous - Big question and, had the post not been so long already, I would have been inclined to address it. Since there wasn't any alt-flash business this episode I figured I would leave it, but it's definitely a pertinent question.

Perhaps it's just Nameless LEAVING that causes hell to break loose. If the Island went under, maybe Nameless went down with it? I can't really evaluate the full rationale.

My gut says that the point of the Alt-Flash is that they show us a world without Jacob. I'd say the same extends to Nameless. Almost like the point is this is a 'Godless' world, and without those extreme of good and evil what we get is this Alternate Reality were no one is the fully-fledged person they could be, and instead is more a watered-down version.

I'll be honest, it's not a great interpretation. Possibly the fact that Jacob/Nameless don't figure in this Alt-Timeline further emphasises how temporary it is; this offshoot tangent timeline isn't the dominant timeline and so the important of what is going on with the Island isn't undermined.

I'm open to all other ideas about this!

RW said...

Darlton confirmed in the latest podcast that it was the Black Rock we saw in the Incident. So that question is settled.

Also, we've seen numerous times before that weird things are going on when travelling to and from the island. Time is behaving strange and there's often turbulence, storms and thunder. So I don't see why it would be so unreasonble to assume that it is the same ship in these two occurances.

Btw, great blog and work angelo!

I'm one of your regular readers (but I rarely comment on anything).

RW said...

Darlton confirmed in the latest podcast that it is the same ship. It was the Black Rock we saw at the famous scene in the Incident. So that question is settled.

Also, we've seen numerous times before that travelling to and from the island is surrounded by time weirdness as well as turbulence, storms and thunder. So I don't see why it seems so unreasonable to assume that it was the same ship. The logic of distance and time is a bit skewed around this island.

Great blog AC! You're doing a great job. I'm one of your regular readers and your analyses are very appreciated.

luis aguilar said...

ok, haven't thought of that...

Anonymous said...

The writers made such a point of showing the island underwater that I feel like it must be part of the storyline.

From Jacob and MIB's point of view the fact that Juliet smashed the nuke at the Swan site and apparently sunk the island changes nothing. Juliets action only affected the lives of the Oceanic passengers and Dharma people. There is still good and evil in the world and if the island is a cork for the bottle then it would still be needed in both timelines.

Are we to believe that the island sinking was fate course correcting itself. The island that we watch each week and everybody on it are now in Alt timeline.

We have already seen the island shift through time and move geographical position. So maybe its not such a leap for us to believe that it can jump between realities.

The main hole in this theory is Widmore turning up. Wasn't Widmore on the island immediately before the incident so he would have sunk also, not turn up in a sub with no hair!!

Anonymous said...

Didn't Isabella both times tell Richard that Nameless was the devil? First time just before she was grabbed by the devil black smoke. Then Nameless tells Richard he's the black smoke? Something fishy there. And she appears again just in time to keep Richard from joining Nameless. Isabella was Jacob, both times. What one can do, the other can do.