At long last, after many years of mystery, wondering, and deliberate obfuscation, we get a glimpse into the strange past of the enigmatic Richard Alpert. And, as it turns out, he’s gotten more of the shaft than Miles O’Brien after he transferred over to Deep Space Nine.
The show breaks format this week, in a number of ways. First, we get Season Six’s first actual flashback (instead of flash-sideways) to Ilana. We then spend the bulk of the episode proper in a flashback to Richard, and the episode’s closer goes back to the Man in Black. A change of pace, with very little modern-day Island crisis, and no glimpses at the flash-sideways universe.
What we do get, instead, is a much deeper look at the mythos of the Island, and at the rivalry between Jacob and the Man in Black (and some hints as to what it all might mean).
Before we delve into Richard’s tragic and tortured backstory, we get a brief scene with the current group of Lostaways that gives us some nice moments of humor from Ben, Jack, and Lapidus. This levity is appreciated, because once it’s passed, the rest of the episode is a one-way trip to Misery Central. Which isn’t a bad thing; on the contrary, the things that we see Richard go through help to humanize him greatly, something that’s very much needed since Richard has, for the longest time, come across as this bizarre, almost alien-like entity. By the end of the episode, we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of everything to do with him and the Others, but we know a lot more than we did.
Lost has always been a show where people act like colossal dicks, but this episode sets some new benchmarks. A Catholic priest denying absolution for murder? A British naval officer butchering defenseless slaves? EXTREME BAPTISM? Good times all around this week.
I was quite happy to see a return of the original, pre-Locke version of the Man in Black. His interplay with Jacob is particularly fun to watch, and it’s interesting to see a bit more of him from “his” own perspective. Also, the actor (Titus Welliver) does a great job of matching the speaking style and mannerisms that Terry O’Quinn does, creating some nice character consistency. Of course, you can still see the “Locke” influence in the current incarnation, but that’s (probably) to be expected.
The nature of the diametric opposition between the Man in Black and Jacob is less clear, now. The Man in Black gives Richard instructions on how to kill Jacob that exactly mirror the instructions given to Sayid by Dogen on how to kill the Man in Black. Hell, it’s even the same knife. Yikes. Also, by the end of the episode, neither Jacob nor the Man in Black seem particularly trustworthy; if anything, the Man in Black is open with his motives and motivations (at least to a point), whereas Jacob takes a detached, hands-off role that seems suspiciously like a play to avoid blame.
Though hey, the scene where we see Jacob actually grant Richard eternal life? That was awesome.
There’s also an implication that it’s the Island itself, and neither of these two warring participants, that is the real crux of the issue. If what Jacob says is true, and the Island is a sort of “stopper” for some colossal evil, then what does that portend for the flash-sideways universe, wherein the Island has already been destroyed? Is this proof of Jacob’s B.S., or is the greater reckoning yet to come? Or does this cosmic duel not exist in that universe at all?
There’s plenty of other religious symbolism going on here, I’m sure, which I’m not terribly qualified to overanalyze. There are, as I mentioned, still plenty of unanswered questions when all is said and done. For instance, why is the Man in Black now stuck in the form of John Locke (and that of the Smoke Monster)? Why do Jacob and Ilana refer to Richard as “Ricardus”? And when are Miles and Lapidus going to have their amazing helicopter adventure?