Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Trials of Ricardo Alpert

Tonight's crazy good Richard Alpert-centric Lost actually reminded me of something that first appealed to me about Lost. Back in the early days of season 1 flashbacks, I remember thinking how Lost was a completely different show depending on whose episode it was. On a Kate week, the flashbacks could feel like a Hitchcockian thriller. For Jack a family melodrama. And not to mention full stories in Korean, Arabic, etc.

So I thought about that when we were first sent back to 19th century Canary Islands, a location and story that seemed more like it was out of a 19th century novel than the Lost we know. As Ricardo begged for medicine for his wife and later sat in a prison cell awaiting his execution, it almost felt like something out of Les Miserables or The Count of Monte Cristo. There's not many shows that can get away with doing episodes this radically different.

But things got a bit more familiar once Richard landed on the island (somehow destroying the statue with the strongest boat known to man) and the familiar squeals of the Smoke Monster chimed in. After a rather lengthy time trapped in his chains, Richard escaped to find himself trapped again in that chess game between Jacob and the Man in Black that has become the show. Having previously only seen him in that one pivotal scene from last year's finale, we got a lot more actual Man in Black this week, feeding in to Richard's explanation for the island in order to get him to do his bidding. And interesting that he used the same words to Richard that Dogen used to Sayid when he sent him to kill Man in Locke.

Speaking of Richard's explanation for the island, I'm sure plenty of people worried the island really would turn out to be Hell. After all, the producers have publicly denied that the island is Purgatory, but they never said anything about Hell, and have been known to use such tricky wordplay in the past. But since we've seen people come back and forth and dead people already walk around the island as ghosts, it didn't seem too likely.

Instead, Jacob and MIB just kept calling each other the devil to get Richard on their side. And in doing so, we learned a WHOLE lot more about what their game entails. According to Jacob, he believes people are inherently good, and MIB believes they are corruptible. Jacob brings people to the island to prove his point, while MIB forcibly tries to make his. Since Jacob doesn't like interfering on free will, he hires Richard to do his bidding, giving him immortality cause it was Richard's third choice behind getting back Isabella and being forgiven for his earlier murder. If that seemed a slightly convenient and unlikely explanation for a three season long mystery, it was one of the rare rushed moments in an otherwise well-paced story.

Speaking of Isabella, this episode also has something in common with the second season finale, in which we first met Penny Widmore and learned of her troubled romance with Desmond, and by the end of a single episode declared them one of the best romances on the show. Similarly, a single episode here was enough to make Richard and Isabella such a compelling couple that the final scene with Hurley really made up the emotional center of the episode. Regardless of whether you felt the "big answers" promised in this episode delivered (which probably depends on how much you care about Jacob and MIB's feud), it thoroughly succeeded in telling an individual character story that you cared about, no matter how minor a character Richard may have seemed before this week. Makes you wish there was time for a whole Lapidus backstory too.

Tonight's episode at times felt more like a self-contained movie than an episode of a weekly TV show, but it certainly accomplished a lot. We learned pretty much everything we need to know about Richard, making him a far more layered and sympathetic character than we ever thought. We know even more what the stakes of this season are (namely, Locke escaping = hell on earth). And we got solid proof that Jacob absolutely could have beat the crap out of Ben had he desired. Not such a calm, peaceful island god after all.

We're now halfway through the final season. Things are only going to get crazier from here.

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