Like an idiot, I fell, once again, for the only thing on Lost more deceitful than Ben Linus — the “Next Time On Lost” advertisement. A Richard episode teased with him saying that he knows what the island really is. I can’t believe I thought the episode was going to be about how Richard knows what the island really is.
Ilana tells the castaways that Richard knows what to do next, but Richard, upset that Jacob is dead and his life has no meaning, storms off, claiming they are dead and this is hell. The episode unfolds as a massive flashback, showing how hundreds of years ago Richard, looking for medicine for his wife, accidentally killed a man, and ended up on death row where he was purchased as a slave; the ship crashes on the island where the Man in Black and Jacob manipulate him, each claiming the other is trouble. The Man in Black promises Richard he can have his wife back if he kills Jacob; Jacob explains the Man in Back cannot be allowed to escape and gives Richard eternal life. Back in the present Hurley, telling Richard what his wife is saying, helps Richard to return to Team Jacob to prevent the Man in Black from bringing hell to earth.
One of the things I have always liked about Lost is how you never know what kind of story you are going to get: How to find food on the island, crazy time travel science fiction with Desmond and Faraday, temple fantasy with Kung Fu Guy and a Spa of Life, three dudes fixing a truck, Alfred Hitchcock Presents with Nikki and Paolo. Tonight was a period piece Telenovella mostly in Spanish, and you have to admire the audacity of how straight the first act of the story was played: Melodrama, Spanish, an accidental murder, a man on death row pleading for forgiveness, and not an island plot point in sight. (When a commercial for Windows 7 came on, the one in French with subtitles, it really started to feel like I was reading a book).
But a lot of tonight’s episode felt like filler, and I think it would have even if I had not been lead to expect more with such a juicy focus at the halfway point in season 6. A lot of it had been implied before to great effect, like how Richard came to the island as a slave in the Black Rock. Some of it we had already been told, like Jacob making Richard eternal. And some of it did not really add much, like Richard’s accidental murder of a doctor to save his wife. The story of a man who wanted to kill himself but cannot, and who tries to redeem his earlier crime of murder, told with an unusual structure for the show (one massive flashback bookended by two scenes in the present) — I already saw this when Michael did it in season 4. The theory that the island was hell and everyone on it is dead had already been raised by fans AND incorporated (and dismissed) on the show when Locke’s Dad claimed it back in season 3, and when Naomi told Hurley that the rest of the world found flight 815 and everyone was dead.
What was good was Jacob’s metaphor of the island as the cork keeping the evil (the Man in Black) in the bottle, preventing it from getting out and brining hell to earth. This raises the stakes of the show considerably, something I was looking for. I had wondered why we get a Richard story before a Sun and Jin Flash-Sideways — perhaps it is because the Alt U, where the island sunk, will give us a chance to see what happens if it is no longer holding the Man in Black back.
I also liked the little bit where the slave ship was run by Captain Hanzo. The guy that bought Richard was named Whitfield (thanks to Sara for looking this up) — a name that might someday morph into Widmore? (Or is this over-reading? It was more interesting to me when I thought the name was “Widfield”)
I have to end with something that both my wife and my friend Kevin Maher pounced on, something pretty genius. Kevin wrote me this:
“I don’t know my Bible or Greek mythology, but I do recognize a Chuck Jones cartoon reference when I see it. Tonight’s last scene in LOST may very well be an homage to “A Sheep in the Deep” and other cartoons starring Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph the Coyote.”
[The five second sound bite]
[a whole episode on youtube — go to the 5:50 mark to see the final exchange that feels like the end of this episode of Lost.]
Kevin continues: “On the surface it’s a joke that these two are mortal enemies, but they are civil co-workers before and after work. (The same way a Prosecutor and Defense Attorney might share a drink at the end of a day.) But on a “deeper” level, the sheepdog is the protector (Jacob) and the coyote is a menace (Man in Black).”
Like I said above, You never know what you are going to get on Lost. At the bare minimum it is going to make the final episode pretty exciting, cause there is no way to know what it will be about.