The year is 1867 and Nestor Carbonell (not pictured above) is ready to show us that he’s a better actor than two-thirds of this cast.
Usually, episodes written almost entirely as flashbacks really annoy me, as I’m often anxious about what’s going on in “Island-time.” But this Richard-centric episode wasn’t so bad, mostly because his character really does hold a few keys to the larger Lost mythos.
Per usual, I wrote a very long scene-by-scene recap. But this week, I’m going to just distill the highlights first, and give you the option of ending your reading there:
- The Man in Black and Jacob have both told Richard that the other is evil. MIB says that Jacob lied to him and tricked him out of his humanity. He also implies that he can’t control who the smoke monster devours. He can see it happening, but he has no agency in preventing its attacks.
- Jacob tells Richard that the island acts as a cork, keeping evil from being swelling and spreading throughout the world. He also restates a few things we knew: he and MIB are locked in an ages-old battle to determine whether or not humanity is inherently evil. Jacob “brings people” to the island to prove MIB wrong, and so far, he’s been unsuccessful.
- Jacob commissioned Richard to be his go-between, a person who intervenes in hopes of nudging mankind toward choosing good over evil. Jacob is entirely disinterested in this kind of intervention, as he’s convinced people should be urged toward good on their own.
- Richard only asked for immortality because he didn’t want to go to hell (since Jacob told him he was unable to grant Richard absolution, Richard is certain that hell’s where he’s headed), and for most of this episode, Richard has returned to his initial presupposition that the island *is* hell.
- MIB tells Richard that if he ever wants to stop working for Jacob, his offer to escape the island together still stands. Richard almost takes MIB up on this offer in “present-day Island time.”
- The long-debated theory that everyone on the island is dead and in hell can probably be laid to rest with this episode.
- Isabella, Richard’s dead wife, sends him a message through Hurley: the MIB must be stopped. If he leaves the island, “we all go to hell.” That’s over half the cast, supporting, guest, and primary, who are on Team Jacob (or if not Team Jacob, definitely not on Team MIB).
- This show never resists the urge to provide its characters with a Greatest Love of All-Time backstory. And since everyone has one, each successive revelation about them becomes staler. I’m sure Isabella is awesome, but is she any awesomer than Nadia? Or Helen? Or Penny? Or that chick Daniel rendered brain-dead before falling for Charlotte? Or… you get the idea.
So after a few minutes in Island-time, where the key characters we last saw reunited at the beach—Jack, Hurley, Ilana, Richard, et al—are convening around a bonfire, we head into the Abbreviated History of Richard Alpert, Island-Go-Between.
Three things of note happen in Island-time: Ilana insists that Richard knows what they should do next, because Jacob told her; Richard says Jacob lied, they’re all dead and in hell, and he’s through taking orders; and Hurley’s speaking Spanish to someone invisible (and, as we’ll soon find out, quite dead).
So. Back in 1867, Richard’s all, “I’m on a horse.” He rides up to a hut-like structure that happens to be his erstwhile-happy home. Inside, we meet Isabella, his seriously ailing wife. She’s pale. She’s gorgeous. She’s coughing up blood. Richard shakes a few coins from a jar and says he hopes they’re enough to convince the doctor to make a house call. Isabella removes a gilded crucifix from her neck and tells Richard to add that to the pot. He balks, but she insists. He hastens to fetch the doctor, throwing vows to save her over his shoulder.
When he reaches the doctor, dude’s tearing meat from a bone with his teeth and looking none-too-concerned about Isabella’s life hanging in the balance. He refuses to make a house call (typical), because the Alpert home is half-a-day’s ride away.
Richard pleads and eventually offers the crucifix. The doctor says it’s worthless. There’s a scuffle, and the doctor falls headlong into a table.
Richard has managed to wrestle some curative substance out of the doctor’s cold dead hand. He takes it home to his wife, only to find that she’s also dead. He’s devastated. His face is an abscess of woe.
The next day, he’s in jail, reading a bible. A priest comes to bring him food and last rites. He begs forgiveness for killing a man; the priest says the only way to earn God’s forgiveness is through penance. And Richard has no time to earn penance, as he’s due to be hanged the next day. The priest realizes the bible is written in English. Richard confesses he was teaching himself because he and Isabella had dreams of traveling to the New World.
The priest returns in the morning with guards. Richard’s blindfolded and certain he’s being led to his death, but he’s actually being led to a slave trader, who asks if he speaks English. Richard waits till he’s being dragged away to attempt a few phrases in his second language. It’s enough; the trader declares, “This man is now the property of Magnus Hanso.”
Once on the Black Rock, the waters are choppy, the slaves are panicking, and after days of treacherous sea travel, they see the gigantic Taweret statue, one four-toed foot of which we’ve come to know and love over our six seasons of viewing. The slaves say the island is guarded by the devil.
This hell/devil theme pretty much drives the entire episode. In Island-time, Richard’s once-devout Catholicism has returned to him and he’s convinced, as he was over 200 years ago, that he’s fallen prey to the devil, that his ageless time on the island is his eternity, and that nothing is redeemable.
By the end of the episode, we know that this is one lingering theory of the island we can lay to rest.
Here’s why: long story short, when the Black Rock crashes, it topples the Taweret. Only a few White crew members are left alive, the trader among them. The slaves, for the most part, are unscathed. Richard calls above deck for help, but when the trader comes down, he starts murdering slaves with a sword, claiming that if he let them live, it’d only be a matter of time before they’d try to kill him.
Enter the smoke monster. He kills everyone above deck. The trader calls up to them. The only responds he receives is their blood streaming down and pooling at his feet. His calls have alerted the smoke monster to his presence. He’s soon dead. But when Richard begins to pray, the monster dissipates.
There’s a really long montage of Richard starving and trying to drink rain water and trying to free himself from the chains tethering him to the ship planks.
After several days, Isabella appears to him and says that they’re both dead and in hell and she’s come to free him, so they can run from the smoke monster together. He tells her to go without him and he’d come save her later.
She reluctantly runs above deck, only to be consumed by the smoke monster. Richard is, again, awash in agony.
He passes out again, and when he comes to, the Man in Black is there. He just happens to have keys to Richard’s cuffs and frees him. He says they need to escape, but the only way to do so is to kill the devil.
Richard goes out to the Taweret, now just the four-toed foot, in search of Jacob, who he’s convinced is the devil. Jacob pummels Richard and wrestles away the dagger the Man in Black supplied him.
After a bit of miscommunication, Jacob submerges Richard in the ocean, baptism-style, to convince him he isn’t dead; he only stops when Richard proclaims that he wants to live.
Now, Jacob decides, they can have a civilized tete-a-tete. Jacob lifts a wine jug and says that the wine inside represent evil. The island is the cork, keeping the evil from escaping, spreading, and consuming the world.
Jacob insists that the closest thing the island has to the devil is the Man in Black, who’s certain that humanity is inherently evil. Jacob brings people to the island to prove the Man in Black wrong, but so far, everyone he’s brought in before the Black Rock passengers have died. Richard asks why Jacob never does anything to stop this. Jacob asks why he should have to, when people have free will and should decide on their own to do good.
Richard gives the obvious answer: “If you don’t, he will.”
This leads Jacob to offer Richard a job. Jacob still doesn’t want to get involved in influencing people’s choices, but he thinks Richard should have a go at it.
Richard asks what’s in it for him—absolution? His wife back? Jacob confesses he can’t offer those things. Richard says he doesn’t ever want to die, then. Jacob touches him, all, “Done and done.”
Richard returns to the Man in Black, who already knows that he’s lost Richard to Jacob. He tells him that he understands and if Richard ever changes his mind, his offer for them to “kill the devil” still stands. The Man in Black disappears and Richard tearily buries his wife’s crucifix.
Back in Island-time, about four minutes from the end of the episode, Richard’s tearily digging up that crucifix. He yells into the ether that he’s ready to switch sides. He reminds the Man in Black that he said his offer would still stand, but all his yelling is greeted with silence.
… Until Hurley shows up. Turns out the invisible person he was having a Spanish conversation with in the opening scene was Isabella. Isabella has a few messages for Richard: she wants him to stop feeling guilty for her death. As much as she wanted him to save her, it was her time to go. She also tells him she loves him, of course. And then, after she disappears again, Hurley informs Richard that Isabella’s last message was that Richard has to stop the Man in Black from leaving the island, or they’ll all be in hell.
In a final scene, we jump back to 1867, where Jacob visits the Man in Black and gives him the wine jug he’d used as a prop with Richard. “Something to pass the time,” he says. The Man in Black, who vows to kill Jacob (as we’ve seen him do before) breaks the wine jug as soon as Jacob leaves.
The wine thing’s a bit heavy-handed. But all in all, this episode was pretty cool.