The half way mark of Lost’s final huzzah enters territory that previous series’ have not tread a'” an episode centered on the seemingly immortal enigma that is Richard. First seen way back in Season 2, and developed piece by miniscule piece over the following three seasons.
So as episode 9 begins, it could be that something of Richard’s past is finally revealed. But the first scene of the episode does not feature Richard at all, but instead the even greater mystery that is Jacob in a hospital visiting a heavily wounded and bandaged Ilana. Jacob tells her that he needs her help and she must protect six people, a familiar request as it always seems that someone must be protecting someone for some “bigger picture” reason.
Telling her the people are the remaining candidates, the scene cuts to the Island where Jack, Ilana, Hugo and the rest of their small group are gathered to listen to Ilana’s story of how Jacob told her to protect them (hence the flashes of Jacob speaking to her in the hospital intercutting with the beach scene). He tells her that once they have been to the temple, Richard will tell them what to do next. So finally Richard comes to the fore, and after announcing that he doesn’t know what they are meant to do next and that every word Jacob said was a lie, he asks Jack if he wants to know a secret.
Without waiting for an answer, he tells Jack that they are all dead, not on an island and actually in hell then he heads off into the jungle with the intention of finding Fake Locke. The theory of the Island being an interpretation of purgatory or hell has been one of the most banded around ideas of where the show is going since the very first season, but it is unlikely that Richard’s words are literal in meaning and more the talk of someone disillusioned by his very long life.
Illana prepares to set off after him and as Jack tries to stop her he discovers that someone in the guise of Locke is leading another group on the Island. Before anyone goes into any more details, Jack overhears Hugo talking to someone in another language and wrongly believes it to be the ghost of Jacob. Hugo tells him he is not talking to Jacob and who he is talking to has nothing to do with him. Back with the group, Ben tells then that he knew Richard when he was a boy and he hasn’t aged since.
This leads nicely to a flashback of Richard many years earlier tending to his sick wife Isabella in their hut. Isabella gives Richard a necklace and tells him to get a doctor and give the necklace to him. Richard tells her he will save her and leaves on horseback to find someone to save his wife. After failing to get the doctor to attend to his wife Richard accidentally kills him following a struggle but is still able to take the medicine for his wife. His efforts are in vain though as on returning home his wife is already dead and he is arrested for killing the doctor. In prison, Richard begs a priest for forgiveness but is told that murder cannot be forgiven and a place in hell awaits him, hence Richard’s belief that the Island is his hell.
On his way to be hanged, Richard is saved from the noose and sent to “The New World” on a ship that crashes on the Island in a time many years in the past where the strange Egyptian statue still stands towering on the coastline. When it crashes, we see that the ship is rather familiar to viewers as it is the Black Rock, which we have seen on the Island since the Season One and finally its origin is revealed.
In the ship, the Captain kills all of his slaves and is about to kill Richard but is prevented from doing so by the arrival of the Smoke Monster. After dispatching of the Captain and his crew, then Smoke Monster approaches Richard but rather than hilling him, it leaves him alive and leaves the ship. This has been seen many times before and always when the person saved will be of some future benefit to the Man in Black in his objective to be Jacob’s opposite.
Following days of trying to escape his chains, Richard finds himself face to face with his dead wife, who tells him that they are both dead and in hell. She says that she has seen the devil and he is coming back. Suddenly the Smoke Monster returns and Isabella is gone from Richard again.
More time passes, and when Richard is wakened from his sleep he finds the Man in Black offering him water. He tells Richard that he is a friend and he can help him. The Man in Black tells Richard that he too wants to be free and he will release him from his chains if he agrees to do as he says and help him in return. He then uses the phrase “It’s good to see you out of those chains” a phrase that Fake Locke said to Richard at the beginning of the season which now has its meaning. The Man in Black helps Richard out of the ship while telling him that the only way they can escape hell is to kill the devil.
In the following scene, the Man in Black turns on its head much of what is known about him and Jacob. He tells Richard that the Black Rock smashed the statue guarding the Island when it crashed, explaining what happened to the statue that has been seen so many times as a lone foot. He then tells Richard that he will find the devil by the statue and gives him knife instructing him to kill the man he will find there. Richard follows the instructions and heads to the beach. Once there he is beaten and unarmed by Jacob, who tells him that all the Man in Black told him was a lie and that Isabella was not really on the Island. Suddenly, the mythology of the Man in Black and Jacob is restored, but whether that is correct or not is anyone’s guess.
Jacob tells Richard that he brought the ship to the island in order to prove to the Man in Black that not everyone can be corrupted by evil. He explains that the Man in Black is evil and like wine in a bottle and the Island is like a cork keeping him trapped from the rest of the world. He tells Richard that although he will not interfere with the people he brings to the Island as they must make their own decisions, he would like Richard to act on his behalf to direct them in the way they are meant to go. Richard asks if Jacob can bring his wife back and is told no. He then asks to have his sins absolved and to live forever. Jacob says that he can do.
Richard then returns to the Man in Black, and in a similar speech to that given to Sayid by Dogan, the Man in Black tells Richard that he should not have let Jacob talk to him as he can be very convincing. He then says that if Richard ever changes his mind he can come back to him anytime he likes.
With Richard’s back story complete, we return to the present on the Island where we now know Richard is heading to find the Man in Black, now in the guise of Locke. He makes a stop on the way to retrieve his wife’s necklace which he buried following that long ago meeting. As he shouts out to the Man in Black that wants to take up the offer, Hugo appears behind him and says his wife wants to know why he buried her cross. It seems that this is who Hugo was talking to on the beach. Hugo says that his wife is standing right beside him and although he doubts he soon accepts what he is being told and he is able to interact with his dead wife before she vanishes again. Hugo then says that his wife said one more thing before she went. She said that he has to stop the Man in Black leaving the Island or they will all go to hell.
The scene flashes back to the Man in Black and Jacob. Jacob says as long as he is alive he will make sure the Man in Black does not leave the Island, and if he dies, some else will take his place.
In one episode, the Lost writers have unravelled more mysteries of the Island and the entire series than ever before. They have revealed what destroyed the statue, how Richard came to be on the Island, Jacob and Man in Black’s history and in some degree the purpose of the Island. Also the first scene of Season 5 which showed us Jacob and the Man in Black for first time, sitting on a beach and waiting for an approaching ship to land on the Island, always remained unexplained until now when it finds its place in the puzzle and slots in to complete a large part of the picture.
With all these revelations and new light shed on the Man in Black’s quest to leave the Island as well as Jacob’s quest from beyond the grave to protect his replacement candidates, the second half of the season is shaping up to be very interesting as it plays out over what is sure to seem like a very long eight weeks especially with new information about future episodes starting to be released including Episode 11 finally bringing Desmond back into the series, Episode 15 being a Jacob/Man in Black focussed episode and the final episode appropriately entitled “The End.”
It was expected that Episode 9 would be interesting with its Richard-centric design, but I don’t think anyone expected this many answers. Next week’s episode is centered on Sun and Jin and has a lot to live up to. We haven’t seen much of Sun in the flash sideways, but we know Jin was last seen bound and gagged in a locker and had just been discovered by Sayid so after a few weeks we may see some development in that storyline, while on the Island we expect to see more of both of these characters who have been mostly missing from this season to date.