Friday, March 26, 2010

LOST 047: You Had Me At Hell. . . Oh.

And this is why I watch and obsess over this show. Answers, deeper questions, amazing and affecting acting and character work, an ever-deepening mythology, and not a clunky expository paragraph of dialogue in sight. By the time they've wrapped this show up, last night's hour will stand as one of the very best of the entire series. Wow.

Also? I've got to say I didn't miss the Sideways World. At all.


So, we've had the long-demanded Alpert episode. What have we learned? First, we've learned that the depth of this show's commitment to "show don't tell" storytelling runs very deep, indeed. This is the guy who's life has spanned pretty much every major formative event of the island's history, who was around before any of the Jacobian "Others" appeared, who has watched the development of various factions and sects and power struggles . . . and we spend nearly the first half of the episode off-island, building the back-story of Richard's character, rather than that of the island's mythology. I wasn't surprised a bit. In fact, I approve. Alpert isn't just a puzzle piece, he's a person. We need to understand who he is as a character to understand why we should care about him, and if we don't care about him, than the answers his stories bring will be as clinical and antiseptic as working through a checklist. The scenes of Ricardo chained in the hold of the Black Rock were among the most effective and chilling of the series. When I watch the whole thing again, I know I'll be seeing the Black Rock with new eyes.

Second, we've learned that Nester Corbonell is one of the finer actors on the show. I've got to say, Richard has been such a rock of confidence for such a long time that at times he seemed dull. More than a little mysterious, but occasionally a square-jawed and dull know-it-all nonetheless. I had no idea the range and emotional power that Carbonell could bring to a suddenly very vulnerable and confused and human Richard, a poor Spaniard from the Canary Island who, sadly born before Obamacare, accidentally slew a venal doctor to secure medicine he couldn't afford for his dying wife. Dying? Make that already dead. Tragedy! Everybody drink! It's total melodrama, but the acting sells it. Richard on the island closing his eyes and finally hearing his wife? Chills.

We've also learned a lot about Richard's frame of reference. The island isn't hell, but to Richard that has always been a possibility. Ricardo, that good 18th century Catholic and accidental mortal sinner, is told that he is irreparably damned by the priest who takes his confession, and he believes that it is true in his bones. (Damn, priest, you really may as well have stayed home, if it weren't for the rather heavy implication that you make a nice little kickback off the condemned prisoner slave trade. Bad priest. No wafer.) Thus, he's primed already to consider the island hell, and when his hold-mate claims that the statue-through-the-storm is el diablo, it's pretty much a given that when the Nemesis heads on down into the hold to "read" Ricardo's mind (the better to manipulate him), what he's going to find there is a whole lot of hell. His Smokemonster "savior" is more than willing to feed those suspicions, by posing as his dead wife and telling him exactly that, in so many words, then sending him to fillet Jacob, using the exact same instructions Dogan used upon sending Sayid (more on this later). Jacob, in turn, cold-cocked Richard, baptized him into a new understanding and a new life. Richard's been living for a century and a half with his choice of Jacob over the Nemesis, so it can be no wonder that, with the object of his faith dead and dust, he returns to his previous belief system: This Place Is Hell.

The big reveals were delivered in true LOST sideways fashion:

1) Jacob is bringing people to the island for the sake of the Nemesis. We now have it confirmed that the nature of the conflict between Jacob and the Nemesis is this: The Nemesis hates humanity and considers them to be hopelessly given to sin. Jacob believes that humans are salvageable and ultimately good, and to prove it he brings them to the Nemesis as object lessons. What's interesting is that the people he brings are some of the least likely people ever for the purpose. Think of it: If you were trying to prove to some kind of Great Accuser of Humanity that humans were ultimately good, would you choose Sawyer, Sayid, Jin, Sun, Kate, Hurley, and Jack (to say nothing of any other random dozen murderers and liars from the pool of island denizens)? It's a very Biblical concept -- God constantly chose the least, the weakest, the incapable, the outmatched, to work his will -- but really, Jacob, why not bring Gandhi and Martin Luther King? I suppose Jacob is playing this game on Expert Challenge level.

In any case, what really threw me is not that Jacob is bringing people to the island to conduct experiments in human potential, goodness, free will, and choice, but that he claims to not be doing it for the people themselves. Rather, he is doing it to show the Nemesis something. To educate him. To perhaps redeem him? Riddle me this: Isn't it likely that, if Jacob is somebody who has hope and faith in the goodness of people . . . that he has similar hope for the Nemesis? He has the Nemesis contained, but is there a point at which he wants to see what the Nemesis will do with free will?

The whole thing plays out very much like the book of Job, in which Satan (also known as humanity's Accuser) tells God that men only follow him because he has given them good things, and, should he take those good things (wealth, family, health) away, they would surely turn rotten and curse him. God takes Satan up on the game, and they play it out in the life of a good man named Job. It seems to me that this island is crawling with Jobs.

Are their lives on the whole better, or worse, without the island? What has Jacob taken from them? And to what purpose?

How does that make you feel about Jacob?

2) Not all ghosts are the Nemesis in disguise. This may not seem as big a deal, especially given that we sort of expected it, but since we discovered the existence of the Nemesis and his plot to kill Jacob, it's been at least a strong possibility that all dead people on the island have been him in some form, with the likely exception of Jacob, as revealed to Hurley. Now, however, we have this extra overlay. Sometimes (maybe), the ghosts are truly who they seem to be. Perhaps this is not true, but to reverse it would take away a very powerful emotional moment from Ricardo, and I haven't observed the LOST writers engaging in dirty pool like that. So who are the "real" spirits? The off-island ones, certainly. Tall ghost Walt? Christian, appearing to Jack to show him water, and then later to Michael on the freighter, releasing him? Jungle whispers? Basically, what this gives me is the ability to not be so confused if some apparitions don't seem to have been following the Nemesis' script.

3) Jacob is irrevocably committed to the idea of free will. And irrevocably hands-off about it. Clearly, Jacob believes that he could make people behave correctly, and just as clearly he believes that to do so would make such behavior meaningless. The way his job offer to Richard was presented, it's quite possible that Jacob's prophet is the only one to have ever actually seen him; and even then rarely. The implications of this upon the Others is great. Rather than a group with a series of leaders who receive the Will of Jacob (such as Ben was suggesting was the case in Season 3), we may instead simply have a series of leaders who rely on The Prophet Ricardus to present Jacob's will to them, some of whom (or most of whom) claim to speak to Jacob in order to solidify their power. There is some evidence that Jacob probably has invited some Jacobians to him through Richard over the years, but these visits would be rare, indeed.

So what we have is a group of people (the Jacobians) who follow Jacob without seeing him, obeying (or not) the words of Jacob as delivered through his prophet. So everything we've seen of the Jacobians -- their rituals, their rules, their justice system, their policies and punishments and factions and wars -- is all their interpretation of Ricardus' delivery of Jacob's will. It's . . . religion. A holy game of telephone, if you will, in which "Don't hoe more corn than you can fry" may translate to "All homos must die. Chicken ranch melon." Rather than the relationship with Jacob, they have their rules, which calcify into dogma and all the while are subject to the manipulations of the Nemesis. I think we have ample evidence that the Nemesis has been actively (and in large part successfully) been working to corrupt and pervert the Jacobians. As an example, I present to you Dogan, who, though he has by his own testimony met Jacob (off-island), still uses the same words (and I think the same knife) in sending Sayid to kill the Nemesis, as the Nemesis used in sending Ricardo to kill Jacob. I think this probably explains why, when Jacob brings new people to the island, his people greet them not with openness (do you think Jacob cares more for the people he brought here a long time ago than he does for those he just brought in?) but with hostility and kidnapping and territorial attitudes and sometimes war.

And I think that it is very likely that the Prophet Ricardus allows many of these defects and shortcomings and errors, and many of these active corruptions by the Nemesis, in honor of his master's will to be non-active, in order to allow choices. So Richard certainly knew that Ben was lying about meeting with Jacob, and why, but allowed it to continue.

Furthermore, Jacob is not somebody who is going to show up and help you out of a problem, even a deadly one. I think that if the Nemesis hadn't appeared, Ricardo may have been allowed to die down in the hold. I think it is entirely likely that Jacob came to Ricardo sometime before he arrived on the island, to call him there. Jacob's direct manipulations seem to happen before the island, to draw people there. Once on the island, manipulations cease. His turn of the game is done. The Nemesis' turn has begun.

But even though Jacob is dead, he is still manipulating events. Hurley is his new prophet.

Other Random Thoughts

* The stakes are starting to become clear. If the island is the plug keeping the darkness in, and the Nemesis, who hates all people, needs to be contained, I'd say the theory that the Nemesis wants to kill EVERYBODY is gathering strength. Based on his heavily-symbolic breakage of the metaphorical wine bottle, I gather that my pre-season prediction that the Nemesis actually wants to unravel reality itself may not be far off.

* What is the Nemesis? The bottle metaphor Jacob chose (to say nothing of a main character who is actually named Jin) would give a lot of ammunition to anybody who wanted to make him a djinn (AKA a genie), an infinitely powerful wind spirit in Islamic tradition. When I notice that the apocryphal character from the Eden story, Lilith, Adam's first wife, may in some traditions have given birth to the djinn, I as Eden-theorist-in-residence take special notice. Anyway, whatever he is, he is, much like Shaft, a baaaaaaad shut-yo-mouth.

* We really didn't get much detail regarding the various factions of island-aware and Jacobians. I suspect that the almost-inevitable Widmore-back will give us some of this.

* I don't know the reason for the choice, but the editing was jarringly different this time. It makes realize how truly straightforward the directing has been that a few simple cross-cuts are immediately noticeable as a stylistic break. If this continues, I'll presume it is to up the tension and the sense of propulsion as all the pieces finally snap into place. If it's a one-off, I guess I will just chalk this up to being The Very Special Richard Alpert Hour.

* Hugo as a freelancer -- "This has nothing to do with you, Jack" -- is enjoyable every time.

* So the statue was destroyed by the Black Rock, in what must have been a tsunami. The physics are pretty weird, but I think we've already left some of that behind. However, that does make the first conversation we see between Jacob and the Nemesis harder to place in time. The ship they were watching has been assumed to be the Black Rock, and while it's not impossible that it could be, it doesn't seem likely, since the ship was nearly to the island on a bright sunny day, and the Black Rock arrived in a storm with 4-story waves. That conversation could now have taken place at any point prior to the Black Rock's arrival, and that ship could be pretty much any ship.

* By Jacob's own admission, nobody gets into his statue home unless they are invited. I guess that would mean that the Nemesis and Ben were invited. It's really starting to seem that the Nemesis' scheming is a part of Jacob's larger plan.

* "Ricardus will know what to do," Jacob told Ilanya. Richard has no idea what that means. I think we can take it to mean that Jacob has faith in Richard to do what needs to be done, since Jacob rather obviously hasn't given Richard any instructions.

* An interesting idea: From the Nemesis' POV, this may be hell. He was for sure manipulating Ricardo, but he may not have felt he was lying to the guy.

* Jacob warns the Nemesis that killing him won't change a thing, because a candidate will replace him. "Well, then I'll kill them all, too," snarls The Man Who Would Be Smoke. So now we know what Mock Locke has in mind. I'm guessing he doesn't do the killing himself because it would be against The Rules.

* Anybody get the sense that we have an episode coming up titled "The Rules"?

* I would just like to point out that in the "Island Cork / Wine Evil" analogy, Jacob turns the bottle over . . . which would put the island at the bottom of all that liquid. I'm not saying the island is on the bottom of the ocean in some strange way. Well, no. Actually, that's exactly what I'm saying.

* I do have a little bit of hope, via the AV Club, regarding the Sideways World. Perhaps it isn't the entire-series-negating future and total narrative disaster that some have proposed it is. Try this on for size:

You know what might end up being the central episode of this whole damn series when all is said and done? “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” Remember how Desmond returned to the world before he went to The Island, and how Mrs. Hawking told him he had to snap out of it and resume his responsibility? Two other relevant tidbits about “Flashes Before Your Eyes:” Desmond throws the engagement ring he bought for Penny into the Thames, just as Sawyer throws the ring he bought for Juliet into the water. And when Desmond wakes back up on The Island, his head still hurts from being whacked with the cricket bat right before he flashed—much as Jack still bears wounds and scars from his Island life in the Alterna-world. Not only am I going to predict (tentatively, of course) that the “flash-sideways” will resolve in much the same way they did for Desmond, with Hawking or someone similar shocking the Alterna-815ers back to “reality,” but I also predict—as many of you already have—that this resolution has already occurred, and that the season-opening scene at the imploded hatch takes place after our gang has given up their other lives and jumped back. I could be way off here, but that’s my sense of things. After all, it can’t just be a coincidence that The Hatch was the site of two of these reality-splits. (By the way, if I’m just repeating a theory that some of you have already espoused, I apologize. I do read the comment section extensively every week, but it’s hard to keep track of everything that’s been proposed.)

That's all for now, kids.

Give me Widmore-back or give me death.



Riggstad said...

"The Nemesis hates humanity and considers them to be hopelessly given to sin"

I don't think that's the case at all. I don't think that he even gives two shits about humanity.

I also agree with you that when he told Alpert that this is hell, he wasn't lying. Manipulative, yes, but I truly believe he thinks that this is hell.

Hell as in a place where you are imprisoned. Not a place per se, but some thing or, OK, place where you are banished for living a less than exemplary life.

I don't know that either affect the story line but I also believe that the nemesis has more in mind than destroying and killing everyone. I think he does want to destroy what was made. Time, place, all. Humans are just part of it, but not his real issue, other than those few chosen by Jacob to show him the way. How dare they. I get the sense he feels like it's akin to throwing deck chairs off the Titanic.

Lilith could be his "crzy" mother but that would be a huge leap of faith assuming all of our assumptions are correct so far (Eden, Genesis, and all). Certainly the show has done nothing to specifically allude to that theorem. Even if I happen to agree with it.

Sabrina said...

This was by far my most favorite episode yet.
I did not miss any of the main characters.
Well Hurley was there, but how can you not just want to squeeze him?

Julius_Goat said...

@Riggs -- So you think Jacob was lying about the Nemesis? Jacob expressly said that the Nemesis felt that way about humanity, and that his actions were taken specifically to show that the Nemesis is wrong.

John said...

The ship that we saw at the end of the 5th season with Jacob and the man in black is indeed the black rock. It has been confirmed by Cuse and Lindelof on a podcast.

mike said...

Two observations:

First, as to the AVclub theory re: the sideways world. While creative, there seems to be an obvious problem with it. Characters like Ben and Locke have had flash sideways episodes devoted to them, but they were not near the hatch at the time of The Incident (in Ben's case, at least not as an adult). So how does such a theory explain their flash sideways realities?

Second point, the parallel between what Dogen told Sayid and what Smokey told Richard is intriguing. Remember that Dogen (it appears) was not expecting Sayid to be successful. It appears he told him to do this because he hoped Smokey would react by killing him. That suggests that Smokey was similarly aware that Richard had no hope of killing Jacob and that he told Richard to do this because he expected Jacob to react to Richard's actions in a certain way. Could it be that Smokey was hoping/intending for Richard to become Jacob's confidant, that this was all part of his plan, his "long con" of Jacob, so to speak? That's my guess. I think Richard still has an important role to play in Smokey's master plan, whether he knows it or not.

By the way, love your posts on lost. Have been reading them for a long time, but have never commented until now.

Julius_Goat said...

@John -- Well then, I guess I'm going to have to put that down to either a freak storm that started the second that the Jacob/Nemesis conversation ended (possible), or else a continuity error (possible), or else the conversation occurred in one of the suspected many parallel timelines (possible). In any event it is a new mystery for sure.

@mike -- Thanks for commenting. I hear you on the problematic nature, but just I don't think that the proximity to the Event created a new parallel specially for Desmond so much as it made him AWARE of the various parallels in which he took part, so it is for those who were close to the Incident, who will have to make a decision. I notice that neither Ben nor Locke seem to have those "wait a minute, what's going on here" mirror moments of confusion that Jack, Sawyer, and Kate (and Sayid? I don't recall) seem to have had.

Julius_Goat said...

@ mike -- also, I like your theory on Dogan's words.

Bayne_S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bayne_S said...

I think we now need a whole episode centered on Kate's feelings towards Richard.