THE CORK

There was no LOST post last week. Which really kind of bummed me out since it would have come on the heels of Ab Aterno, aka the Richard Alpert Backstory, or as Jay called it, “One of the greatest acting performances in TV history. (couldn’t agree more btw)

Sorry but between battling migranes and shuffling zipcodes I just had no time to post last week. But I ‘m not really going to touch on last week’s Jin/Sun episode. Which I thought was just “okay” but made much much better by the return of Desmond Hume. Finally.

Anyway, lets travel back in time (hee hee) two weeks to Richard’s story.

Richard Alpert has been at the forefront of many viewer discussions. The spiritual adviser to the leader of the Others, he had been blessed–or cursed–with eternal life and the episode’s title draws attention both to his condition as well as that of the island’s battling entities, Jacob and his Nemesis, the Man in Black. Just who is Richard? What was he before he came to the island? How did he receive his gift from Jacob? And how much does he really know?

I wondered for a moment if the producers had pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch with the audience and would focus not just on Richard but also Ilana in this week’s episode, given the way that the installment opened with the heavily bandaged Ilana being visited in a Russian hospital by Jacob. But this sequence seemed almost out of place, given the fact that we learned precious little more about Ilana and it didn’t connect very much with the Richard plot. (The sequence involving the castaways at the campfire acted more as as a narrative framing device, with Hurley and Richard’s scene at the end wrapping the Richard plot up as it were.)

But Ilana’s story will have to wait for the time being as this episode was devoted almost entirely to exploring Richard’s backstory and shedding light on the complicated rivalry between Jacob and the Man in Black, the latter of which I enjoyed thoroughly and far more than Richard’s noble savage plot in 1867. With a nice bit of visual theatricality, Jacob explained the true nature of the island, the Man in Black, and his role in this eternal battle. (I’m hoping that this speech more than anything will finally silence those who believe that the Man in Black could possibly be good.)

Using the half-empty bottle of wine as a metaphor, Jacob explained that the wine itself is symbolic of a terrible darkness, which if it could flow from the bottle, would overtake everything, a viral infection of evil that could spread throughout the world if unchecked. The island itself is the cork in the bottle, a means of keeping it trapped and contained. I thought it interesting that Jacob didn’t view himself as the cork, but gave that role over to the island itself, an eternal prison for the darkness that would consume everything in its path. Jacob, therefore, is the caretaker for the island, a tapestry-weaving prison warden whose mission is to protect the island and therefore keep the darkness at bay.

The Man in Black’s attempts to escape, to find a loophole to kill his jailor and flee, would result in the scales tipping towards black for the entire world. If the island has sunk to the bottom of the ocean as it has in the Lost-X timeline, then it could mean that the wine has flowed out of the bottle. Despite people getting their heart’s desire (or close to it) in that world, it might just point towards the Man in Black having escaped from his prison and roaming freely. Which would be very bad indeed. In detonating the hydrogen bomb and altering the timeline, did Jack and the castaways smash the bottle? Have they freed the MAN IN BLACK and unleashed unspeakable horror on the world? Or is the Nemesis still there, at the bottom of the sea, biding his time and plotting his escape once more? Hmmm…

To use the cork and bottle analogy further, the Man in Black’s efforts to find a loophole to escape take on greater significance. He and Jacob are opposing forces whose respective strengths have resulted in an even scale and stasis. The cork in place, the wine can’t get out of the bottle. But there’s more than one way to get out of the bottle, one that doesn’t involve removing the cork: simply smash the bottle. Which is exactly what the Man in Black does here after Jacob makes a gift of his lesson to Richard by giving his Nemesis the bottle as “something to pass the time.”

So why bring people to the island? Jacob is not only looking for candidates to replace him but also to allow the eternal game between him and the trickster to continue, a moral Skinner box in which those who find themselves on this island can choose to become repentant for their past sins or choose to become corrupted, to select between the light and the dark. Prior to Richard’s arrival, everyone who has come to the island has been killed but Jacob isn’t there to force them to act one way or the other–that is the Nemesis’ style, given his gift for manipulation–but rather he wants people to figure out right and wrong on their own. Jacob’s whole modus operandi is to foster free will, then.

Richard’s arrival on the island is a fortuitous one as it seems as though we’re seeing the birth of the Others before our eyes, a race of people who have chosen to protect the island, to fortify the prison, and keep the cork firmly in the bottle. So why might they have sought to purge the Dharma Initiative? My theory: the Dharma Initiative’s experiments into the electromagnetic energy properties of the island were creating a situation from which the Nemesis would be be to make his escape. They were effectively weakening the cork and allowing the darkness to seep out into the rest of the world. They saw the island as something that needed to be dissected, examined, probed, and categorized rather than what it was: a prison with them as the jailers. (The same held true of the U.S. Army, which is why the Others slew them in order to prevent others coming there and giving the Nemesis further opportunities to escape or to allow the scale to tip the other way.)

Richard’s need for contrition places him on the path to righteousness. His crimes were accidental but crimes nonetheless. While he sought to help his wife, he murdered and stole but he turned towards redemption rather than destruction. Did it matter whether Jacob had spoken to him before he plunged the knife? Or was Richard’s fate decided the moment he turned towards the light, towards divine forgiveness for his past misdeeds? It’s not Jacob’s ability to offer absolution. If we can move past our issues, our damages, and transgressions, we can be forgiven it seems. At the very least by ourselves.

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One Response to “THE CORK”

  1. Impressive post,You discover new things every day.

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