Jack, Seth, it's good to see you out of those chains. Even the most ardent skeptic has to feel liberated after last night's voyage through Lost's major mysteries. What is the Black Rock? How did a four-toed statue lose everything but its foot? Why doesn't Richard age? We had suspected some of the answers, but last night gave us explicit closure on all of them. Seth, you asked me what we know now that we didn't before. Certainly all of the above. But I contend that last night also solved Lost's overarching mystery. What is the island? A penal colony. The original survivors left one—Australia—only to land on another.
We once thought Lost was a show about people trying to survive. We were wrong. It's actually a show about people trying to escape. We've seen Kate on the lam, Charlie and Jack delve into drugs, and Desmond sail around the world. Claire tried to run away from her unborn child, Sun nearly ditched her husband, and Ana-Lucia fled the scene of a murder. The characters on Lost commit actions that change their lives forever. Those actions then trap them either emotionally—through guilt and regret—or physically—in a wheelchair or on an island. When we talk about Lost's characters seeking redemption, we're really referring to their pursuit of an escape—an escape from the past that haunts their present. Smokey is no different.
The only difference is that we don't know what Smokey did to deserve the island as his prison. "Just let me leave, Jacob," Smokey says. Let me. Thus far we've considered Jacob and Smokey equals, two weights on either side of a scale. But this line, mixed with Jacob's masterfully dense soliloquy earlier in the episode, implies that the two men are far from equals. Which brings me to Lost TV Club Theory No. 8! Smokey is a prisoner, and Jacob is his warden.
And what a pain in the ass to have as your warden. By the end of last night, Jacob was like a pretentious friend who thinks that just knowing what's right and wrong makes him a good person. But would a truly good person act as pettily and selfishly as Jacob? We know that he brings people to the island almost as a fetish. Their purpose is only to prove Smokey wrong. Most of these people are inevitably slaughtered, the others are spared only to serve the selfish interests of one of the two patriarchs. But Jacob seems not to mind that his game leads to the death of hundreds, if not thousands, of relatively innocent (but still tortured) souls. Jacob makes Shawshank's Warden Norton look like a mensch.
Speaking of mensches, they didn't teach Lost's gospel in Hebrew School. Jack and Seth, you already mentioned the Lebowskian baptism, but what are we to think of the page Richard has his bible open to? Chapter 4 of the Gospel according to St. Luke. I'll leave it to New Testament scholars to do a full dive—Jack, you were an altar boy, weren't you?—but it's essentially an exorcism scene. Jesus vanquishes the devil inside a man's heart, everybody cheers, and he becomes more popular. At two different points last night, Richard's mission was more or less the same—first it was to kill Jacob, then it was to stop Smokey. The devil is in the eye of the beholder.
Jack and Seth, a couple of questions for debate: Do we think Jacob brought Richard to the island? I ask because it sure didn't look like he knew him. And why doesn't Smokey kill Richard along with the rest of the Black Rock passengers? I was giving a talk about Lost to a bunch of college kids last week, and one had the smart theory that Smokey is forbidden to kill Jacob's candidates. That explains Richard's survival but not how Richard became a candidate in the first place.
An alternative theory is that Richard was just a bystander. The real reason the Black Rock crashed on the island is because a Hanso was onboard. I don't want to spoil this week's SlateV offering too much, but we learned last night that Magnus Hanso was the captain of the Black Rock. (Did either of you catch that Hanso's officer was named Mr. Widfield? An aristocratic forefather to Mr. Widmore?) More than 100 years later, Magnus' relative Alvar Hanso would bankroll the Dharma Initiative so it could go to the island and conduct experiments. Perhaps Jacob wanted Magnus, but then failed to get to him before Smokey? Then, as a mulligan, he somehow coaxed Alvar into having something to do with the island. Perhaps the Hansos have more to do with this story than we thought. In this scenario, Richard is Jacob's consolation prize.
Of course, Richard becomes Jacob's only after he deserts Smokey. Richard is Smokey's original Ben, a soldier that can be manipulated into doing the one thing he cannot. That Smokey manifested as Isabella is important. It suggests that Smokey can appear as whomever—or maybe whatever—he wants and perhaps has been doing so since Season 1.
But how does he know whom to appear as? We know that when Smokey hovers in front of somebody, he's scanning their past. (The Smokey-Eko stare down told us that.) I once thought that Smokey was judging the characters while this happened. But maybe he's only doing recon. Lost TV Club Theory No. 9! It's this process that allows him to manifest as people from the castaways' former lives. Somebody should rewatch Season 3's "The Man Behind the Curtain" and see if Ben encountered Smokey before his dead mother showed up to entice him into the woods. If not, either my theory is bunk, or Jacob can conjure the dead too.
All of this also means we should be asking whether Smokey had been manipulating Locke from Season 1. "I looked into the eye of the island," Locke says after first encountering Smokey, "and what I saw was beautiful." Did Smokey purposefully put on makeup before nuzzling up to John so that he'd trust "the island?" It's that trust, of course, that eventually leads John to die for the cause and give Smokey a new body.
Note also that Smokey told Richard the same thing that Dogen had told Sayid: In order to kill one of the two patriarchs, you have to stab him through the chest before he talks to you. Yet another arbitrary "rule," I think. It also complicates my theory from a few weeks ago that Sayid was activated as demon spawn only after Smokey spoke to him. Maybe Richard became a full candidate only after Jacob said hello? Nevertheless, I continue to wonder who's the referee. If there are all of these rules, somebody—and not just a cute blond boy in the jungle—needs to be keeping score.
Question for the two of you and for the commenters: What did Richard's wife's comment—that Richard had "already joined" her—mean? Is Richard—our immortal, eyelined Muppet—actually already dead? Or just that he's fated to die eventually, and Isabella can already see the spot reserved for him in the afterlife?
Oh, and while we're here, can somebody explain to me why Richard's wish would be eternal life? The man has nothing left to live for! He's marooned on an island with nobody to talk to except a squinty blond guy and a brooding pillar of smoke. We know Richard wanted to be with his wife again and that he believed in an afterlife. So why would he want to stay separated from her? This was the only blemish on last night's otherwise well-written episode.
And since both of you forgot to update Formula Watch, I'll carry the burden. We had another accidental head-slam last night that resulted in a bloody pool forming on the floor. Same thing happened when Desmond accidentally murdered Kelvin in Season 2. The Lost writers have watched There Will Be Bloodone too many times. I'm tempted to say that Richard has daddy issues, too, but it was a different kind of Father that refused his confession and sold him into slavery.
As always, I have plenty more to say. Did either of you find the blue butterfly that flutters into the Black Rock conspicuous? Made me think back to Charlie's moth from Season 1. The commenters are rumbling about how a wooden ship could topple a stone statue. I say it's because the statue wasn't stone at all. It was a papier-mâché project Jacob erected in his spare time. Finally, why did Smokey tell Jacob he'd see him "sooner than you think," at the end of the episode? Do they next see each other 140 years later, when Ben kills Jacob (thus making this a commentary on the relativity of time when you have eternal life)? Or are we going to be treated to another 19th-century showdown soon? If so, here's hoping that they're staring into the horizon when it happens.
Slate V: Previously on Lost