About the plot of the episode itself, I have surprisingly little to say. Richard’s story was well done but I wish they’d spent more time developing the relationship with his wife. That would have interested me more. The jail stuff and the Black Rock did not grab me since it’s essentially exactly what we knew was coming. Oh, but then you get to Jacob and Smokey/MiB and they bring the awesome. It confirmed a lot of what we thought about the two (like Smokey’s game: he scans people and leaves the ones he thinks can be useful to him alive) but it also underscored that everything hinges on free will.
On the one hand you have Jacob, whose logic for staying out enforces his respect and reverence of humanity’s free will. If he steps in and makes everything better then there are no consequences. If there are no consequences then the choices we make are meaningless. Happiness guaranteed by an outside force might be nice but it still robs us of making the choices that determine our fate. On the flip side you have Smokey who creates situations that attack people’s emotional cores. He puts them between a (Black) rock and a hard place. This is important because it’s an implicit acknowledgement that he can’t force them into a choice. All he can do is manipulate their perception of the situation, hoping it leads them to make the choice he wants them to make.
One interesting compare/contrast element (prompted by reading the Onion AV Club recap) was the nature of the offers made to Richard by Whitfield vs. Jacob. They both offer life in exchange for servitude, yes, but the devil (or maybe the angel?) is in the details. The priest scares Richard into believing he’s going to Hell because there’s no time to atone. This backs him into a corner where he feels he has no choice but to take the Black Rock offer. Manipulative! On the other hand, Jacob’s offer, while essentially being the same at the end of the day, is arrived at through negotiation. Jacob offers Richard the job but he allows Richard to negotiate a “salary” within what’s in his power to grant. Richard chose life. He could have just as easily chosen to do it for free or for a hot meal.
Actually the more I think about this the more I love that there is so much nuance and the differences are not always obvious. Lost does this all the time and it actually reflects the real world, in the sense that the lines between good and bad aren’t always clear cut. It also drives home the idea that both good and evil essentially have the same tools to work with, it’s what they do with those tools that defines them. Furthermore, it externalizes the notion that all humans are capable of both good and evil, not either/or.
And all this dovetails nicely into my “theory of the week” if you will:
I think the final resolution will not be one side winning but it will be a truce of sorts, possibly even with Smokey being allowed to leave the Island. Jacob wants to keep MiB bottled up and MiB wants to kill Jacob. But it’s a battle that no side can win since all humans are capable of both good and evil, not inherently one or the other. Sometimes they choose the good, sometimes the bad. The very notion of free will implies that both good and evil will always exist; as long as humans are humans one can never eradicate or bottle up the other no matter how hard they try.
This isn’t a game of backgammon; it’s a game of tic-tac-toe: it’s going to end in a stalemate. And, oh snap, right after I typed that I remembered the scene in the Temple with Hurley & Miles playing tic-tac-toe. “Tie, again.”
Does Jacob know this? Is this what he’s trying to teach Smokey? I don’t know, maybe. I do not think Jacob is infallible. Maybe his successor figures it out. If Jacob is the wise mentor, then following your classic hero’s journey, his successor is destined to learn those lessons and then improve on them. Think Star Wars: Luke learns from Obi-Wan but surpasses him and is able to see the good in Vader. Evil is stagnating, it wants to keep you stuck in the past. Think about Smokey and his manipulations that keep people longing for what they once had. Good is about constant evolution. Think about Jacob’s words: “nothing before the Island matters,” a metaphorical way of saying “it’s all about living in the present and moving forward”. I’m leaning towards Jacob knowing the trajectory but his successor figuring out the details.
Could we see a final understanding, if not agreement, between Jack and Locke?
(Thanks to my buddy Matt for helping me pull that final character detail into the mix)
The other factor which I think will ultimately work into it the end is the idea of love. Obviously. But I’m not sure how. All I know is this: everyone has been choosing sides since the beginning. Groups have consistently been split into two. Choose between Jack and Locke, Ben and Widmore, Others (religion) and Dharma (science), Jacob and Smokey. Then try to get rid of the other. Love is the opposite. Love is about two people becoming one. It’s about embracing the other to form something new and different yet singular.
Think about Rose and Bernard. Think about Penny and Desmond. Think about their choices to not take sides in age old battles between rich and poor or black and white that would put them on opposite sides of the battle field. Think about their choices to embrace each other and what prompts that.
All you need is love.