“Ab Aeterno” was one of those episodes that had people buzzing even before it aired. The long-awaited Richard Alpert episode! Finally, we’d get some answers about the man who doesn’t age! Unfortunately, in this writer’s opinion, the episode didn’t live up to the hype.
Now don’t get me wrong. I liked “Ab Aeterno” okay; I just didn’t love it. The first half, while somewhat interesting, didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, or at least surmised, about Richard. The whole bit with his sick wife and the accidental murder and going to jail was kind of dry. Earlier this season it was insinuated that Richard came to the island as a slave on the Black Rock. This is interesting in and of itself, but by the time we get to the Richard Alpert episode it’s just filling in plot details we already know about. Even though I know the show has to go through these motions, I would have liked for them to do it a bit faster, allowing for more of the stuff we don’t know about yet. I would have preferred less of Richard’s backstory and more of Richard’s island years. His interactions with the people that Jacob brought to the island. Further encounters with the Man in Black, the Dharma Initiative, etc.
The best parts of the episode happened in the last fifteen or so minutes, starting with the scene in which Richard gets his ass kicked by Jacob. I felt this was an important scene, not just because it showed how these two characters met, but because it also demonstrated that Jacob could take care of himself when he needed to. This adds more weight to the scene in last year’s season finale when Ben killed Jacob. Clearly this was something Jacob allowed to happen, for reasons rooted in his “game” with the Man in Black in which he brings people to the island and allows them to decide whether or not they are good or bad.
Speaking of which, we still have no real explanation for why the Smoke Monster kills some people, but leaves others alive. It seems clear in “Ab Aeterno” that he left Richard alive in order to use him to kill Jacob, but if Smokey is really dead-set against people coming to the island, why doesn’t he simply kill everyone who comes ashore. He certainly made short work of the rest of the Black Rock’s crew. Does he do this every time Jacob brings people to the island? Kill most of them, but leave one or two alive to use as pawns?
I liked Jacob’s explanation that the island is a cork that prevents hell/malevolence/evil from spilling out into the rest of the world. Like any red wine, evil is hard to get out once it sets in. So does the Smoke Monster itself represent evil? Or would its escape into the world unleash something even worse? Nine episodes left to go and still so many questions…
And while I don’t completely buy the idea that a boat, even a big one like the Black Rock, could destroy a giant stone statue (and remain relatively intact), I’m willing to accept it for the sake of the writer’s explaining another one of the show’s big mysteries. At least they’re trying to get things done, even if I’m not always happy with the answers.
I enjoyed watching the Man in Black manipulate poor Richard into thinking that the island was hell (a popular fan theory that has been debunked many times over the years), that his wife was trapped there with him, and that he needed to kill Jacob (aka The Devil) in order to escape. Even back in the 1800s, the Man in Black was looking for his loophole. The conversation the Man in Black had with Jacob at the end of the episode seemed to suggest that this was the first time he had tried to use a proxy to accomplish this. Clearly it wasn’t the last.
I have to wonder, if the Man in Black wasn’t telling Richard at least a partial truth when he accused Jacob of stealing his body and his humanity. Maybe the Man in Black has a reason to hate Jacob. The show has done such a good job of blurring the line between good and evil, and playing with role reversal, that it wouldn’t surprise me if the Man in Black turned out to be not as bad as we’ve been made to think. Conversely that would mean Jacob isn’t the nice guy everyone makes him out to be, either.
Jacob can’t be all bad, though. Even when he went to talk with his immortal enemy, he was kind enough to bring the wine.