Let me begin by giving kudos where they belong: Nestor Carbonell's performance was outstanding, and that's saying something when you consider we are constantly treated with exceptional performances by Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn. It was obvious to me how happy he was to finally see what made his character tick, and he didn't let the opportunity to do the writing justice slip away.
The writing was also stellar. It's amazing to think that we are so used to the non-linear storytelling the writers have employed that we consider it novel the story be told in a straightforward style. This is just another reason why LOST is so groundbreaking as a series -- it has invented its own narrative language and structure.
Kudos have to be given to the technical team as well. The filming on the Black Rock was phenomenal. The lighting, editing, music, etc. were perfect.
Now that I've gotten the gushing out of the way, I want to take the time to address two key issues I picked out of the episode.
Good vs. Evil
One of the classic Twilight Zone episodes, penned by the amazing Charles Beaumont, called "The Howling Man," was about a great evil being held captive by a group of solemn monks. This evil is none other than Satan himself, who manages to persuade an unsuspecting visitor to free him.
In "Ab Aeterno," we learned that the still unnamed Smoke Monster/Man-in-Black is a great evil being held prisoner on the Island. According to Jacob, the Island is a "cork," holding back all this evil from entering and -- apparently -- destroying the world.
So, within one episode, the stakes of this Island game have been upped. Jacob and the Man-in-Black are playing their game with the world as the spoils. It would appear right now that Jacob is mostly good and the Dark Man is mostly evil. I'm not sure if we should see Jacob as good yet, though. In "The Howling Man," the monks appeared to be bad guys. They didn't want to take in David, the story's protagonist, despite the fact that he'd been wandering the surrounding forest for hours in the rain. They forbade him from talking to the prisoner. They were rude and insistent that he leave; the only reason the monks helped him at all was because he passed out on them after coming through the front door. It was a fine misdirection by Beaumont, getting us to side with the prisoner before making us realize that this incarnation of Satan was still just as much a silver-tongue devil as always.
Maybe we shouldn't see Jacob as good because he appears to be. This could be the misdirection. He's all about fairness, letting people make their own choices, yet he is a full-fledged puppet master. We discovered that he brought people to the Island as a moral experiment with the Man-in-Black to prove that people can be good, but he let them fend for themselves against a shape-shifting column of smoke. Then, after talking with Richard, he finally realizes he needs to up the ante and get involved in the lives of his test subjects a bit more.
This reminds me so much of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham wanted all the righteous to be saved before God sent the angels to destroy it, leading to this interchange between God and Abraham (Genesis, chapter 18 -- translation mine):
God: Sodom and Gomorrah are seriously pissing me off -- you wouldn't believe the stories I'm hearing!
Abraham: So, what ya gonna do about it, Chief?
God: Pay 'em a visit and show 'em what-fer.
Abraham: You're not gonna kill both the good and bad people are you? Cause that'd be seriously fucked up, Lord -- pardon my French.
God: Uh, of course not, Abe. If I find 50 good guys, I'll spare the place.
Abraham: Make it 45...
Apparently, Abraham gets God down to 10 before he has to go home. In the end, God only finds Lot's family and spares them (until Lot's dumbass wife looks back, remembering the good ol' days of sodomy). The moral here is that Abraham was able to influence God to some degree (depending on which interpretation you adhere to). Just like Abe, Richard Alpert influences Jacob, who seems resigned to letting things go on as is. In a way, that's what the God of the Old Testament feels like at times, to: pretty much everyone is allowed to live by freedom of choice until the Ten Commandments are unveiled. Up to that point, if God didn't like what was being done, he just got rid of them.
So, Richard Alpert is Moses to Jacob's God. He's the spokesman who had a speech impediment (limited English), but was only given limited responsibilities and information. Does this make Jacob good, though? I don't know. I have a nagging suspicion that we will never know completely, just like we'll never know completely what the motives of God are (if you are a believer). After all, "The secret things belong to the Lord," Deuteronomy 29:29 says.
I remember when I started watching LOST on DVD back before season 3 I was trying to fit all of the characters into archetypal roles as they work in mythological stories. Jack was easy -- the reluctant hero; Kate was the seductress, Sawyer the rebel, Locke the shapeshifter... I was never able to figure out Hurley, though. Was he the Falstaff figure -- the garish oaf? He seemed too tragic for that, and not nearly oafish enough. Or was he just the fun-loving sidekick? Eventually, after rewatching the golf episode, I realized that Hurley was the priest figure. His role was spiritual provider.
After Mr. Eko showed up and began building the church on the beach, I began to abandon this notion, but now I realize I was right all along. Hurley is the priest. He shares the characteristics.
1. Direct line to God. Hurley can talk to both Jacob and his saints (Charlie, Eko, Ana-Lucia, etc.)
2. Is an advisor. Because of his direct line to Jacob, Hurley has been able to give advice and guidance to both Jack and Richard.
3. Brings joy, hope, and purpose. Hurley loves games and community involvement. Some of our favorite moments of the series involve him interacting with the community at large -- golf, table tennis, fixing the Dharma van, handing out food to the survivors. Now he has brought hope to Richard by bringing him back into contact (if only for a moment) with Isabella, and purpose to Jack by taking him to the Lighthouse.
4. Explains mysteries. Since the beginning, Hurley has been tied to the mythology of the Island through the numbers. As an audience, we have gotten a lot of explanations and speculation through Hurley. My favorite moment involving this was after the Island disappeared at the end of season 4, when Jack tries to deny it, but Hurley calls his bluff and refuses to let him go into denial.
Since Hurley is now pretty much the spiritual advisor, it makes more sense to me why he is wearing a red shirt. Traditionally, the advisor must die so the hero may succeed on his own. Hurley is now Jack's advisor, and once Jack knows his purpose, Hurley will not be long for the world. It is through Hurley's death that Jack will be able to make the right decision. I'm going to speculate now that Jack will be put in a position in which he must either save Hurley or accomplish whatever mission Jacob has set for him. Early Jack would have chosen Hurley, even if it meant ruining things for everyone else (just like when he wasted almost all of the antibiotics on the Marshal in "Tabula Rasa"). Present Jack will make a different choice -- not without understanding the gravity of it though -- but it will be the "right" choice.
Can't wait for tomorrow night's new episode, "The Package." Now we'll learn why Jin was in the meat locker in the flash-sideways, and whether or not Sun will ever get a line different than, "Where's Jin?"