Tuesday's episode of Lost, "Ab Aeterno," was all about
Dick Clark Richard Alpert, the ageless wonder who doesn't wear eyeliner and has constantly played coy about what he knows about the island. It was also another entry in the ever-growing tradition of non-traditional Lost episodes that buck their season's storytelling devices.
For me, a break from the side-flashes was more than welcome. Even though I've recently started to warm to these alternate-reality tales, watching "Ab Aeterno" was like reuniting with an old friend thanks to the episode's straight-flashback narrative structure (although conspiracy theorists could reasonably argue that it, too, was a side-flash), which the Lost of old did splendidly.
We were flashed-back (flash-backed?) to Richard's real-time days, when he was an extra in Last of the Mohicans and lived in the Canary Islands in 1867. Things dragged for a bit—Richard had a sick wife, killed a doctor by accident, went to jail, and was sold into slavery, at which point he ended up on the Black Rock, our favorite dynamite-carrying sea vessel—before he was finally rescued by The Man in Black. That's when things really got cookin'.
Because in last night's episode, we learned more than ever before about Jacob and the Man in Blackalbeit through unreliable narrators. According to Jacob, he isn't the devil and the Man in Black is pure eviland being held captive on the island so that his pure badness doesn't "infect" the rest of the world (presumably as has happened with Sayid and Claire). According to Smokey, he's just a dude who wants to be free and Jacob is the Devil. Jacob's conversation with Richard on the beach was a fascinating, and worthy of a transcript:
Jacob: Think of this wine as what you keep calling "hell." There's many other names for it as well, "malevolence," "evil," "darkness." And here it is, swirling around in this 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. 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.
In this game of white vs. black, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, all we really know is that Jacob and Smokey pretty much hate each other's gutsand that they keep some rudimentary form of a score by trading different colored stones. When Jacob gots Richard on his side, he presents Smokey with a white stone, the equivalent of sliding over another point in a game of Foosball. The Man in Black, as Smocke, did something similar when he successfully converted Sawyer in the cave with all the candidates' names (I think he either removed a white stone from a scale or added a dark stone to it, tipping it in the favor of the darker shade).
And now we have Richard ready to leave for the other side because he believes Jacob is a liar. It wasn't until Hurley acted as speaker of the deceased that Richard learned what he really should do: Keep Smokey on the island, which puts him right back on Team Jacob.
"Ab Aeterno," as I said before, continued one of my favorite aspects of watching Lost: The writers' ability to step sideways and deliver what I call "special" episodes. Episodes that buck the trend of the season's storytelling yet still manage to be 100 percent Lost, making them some of the series' best episodes.
"Ab Aeterno" gave us the traditional flashback structure, and it may have been the series' flash-backiest extended flashback ever: We went all the way back to 1867. There was no side-flash, which some blame for making Season 6 frustrating. It almost felt like a missing episode from the series, but in a very good way.
A handful of other past Lost episodes did something similar and found a place in my heart as "special" episodes:
"The Other 48 Days" (Season 2, Episode 7): I think this is one of the more underrated episodes of Lost, as I remember watching it and thinking 'Holy crap, Lost is amazing.' Instead of flashing back to the characters off-island, we simply saw what happened to the tail section survivors after Oceanic 815 crashed. It was bold, it was risky, it was riveting.
"Flashes Before Your Eyes" (Season 3, Episode 8): Desmond becomes unstuck in time and is jumping around into his past, not simply flashing back. The result is the unique narrative stretching almost the entire episode, and completely blowing our minds (and Desmond's). Similar narrative structures occurred in "Meet Kevin Johnson," "316," and "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham," but it was done spectacularly in "Flashes."
"The Constant" (Season 4, Episode 5): Considered by many to be Lost's best single episode, "The Constant" featured more Desmond jumping around, but mostly a 1996 version of Desmond jumping forward. A great primer for the alternate reality we're dealing with now.
"Because You Left" (Season 5, Episode 1): Time jumps, time jumps, time jumps. But not just to times we hadn't seen before, to times we have seen before. We see Sawyer witness Claire giving birth from a different perspective, Locke sees the drug plane crash, etc. It wasn't just flashbacks, it was full-on time travel.
Have any other "special" episodes to add to the list? Let me know!
The rest of you, see me after class. Hovabyte and pichikin, let me know if this was better. Seriously, you two have to agree this was a pretty darned good episode.
"Ab Aeterno": This one really hit the good vs. evil nail on the head, and while it may not have been the most jaw-dropping episode of the season (that still belongs to "The Substitute") it certainly provoked the most thought, something that's been lacking from other episodes. Big thumbs up for this one.