After initially thinking, “wow, they spent a little too much screen time in the Canary Islands,” I talked with my buddy Jay for a half hour and hashed out some thoughts about the overall mythology and direction of the show. Needless to say, I realized my much deeper appreciation for this episode through that conversation.
Who are Jacob and the Man in Black?
Jacob is not God – but the Man in Black may be some equivalent to the Devil. After listening to Jacob’s cryptic explanation of the Island and his relationship with the Man in Black, using a bottle of elixir and a cork as props, it seems as if Jacob fills the role of Hell’s Keeper more than anything else. Jacob is the cork, solid and singular in stopping preventing the liquid, the Man in Black, from spilling out and tainting the Earth.
From the very first episode, Lost has not really been about the human characters. They are mainly a means to an end. This show has always been about the Island: its purpose, its nature, and its destiny. If that is the case, the Island functions as a prison for the Man in Black, and Jacob’s sole purpose is to ensure that he is never able to return to the proverbial ‘real world’ where he can wreak havoc on civilization at large. While the Island’s mystical and magical properties must still be explained, it seems as if they exist to aid Jacob in his task.
The true significance of Richard…
Richard means something incredibly important to both the Man in Black and Jacob. For both men, he presented an opportunity they had not previously explored, and therefore was a pivotal turning point in both of their lives – and the struggle for power in general.
Based on the conversation between Jacob and the Man in Black at the end of the episode, it seemed very clear to me that this was the first time the Man in Black had attempted to kill his keeper. While this was never explicitly said, the nature and tone of the dialogue certainly indicated this to be the case. Yes, the Man in Black had foreshadowed to Jacob his plan to find a loophole, but trying to corrupt a mortal man to do his bidding was not what Jacob had bargained for. The Man in Black – as the Black Smoke – scoured the Black Rock for someone he could manipulate, and found his pawn in Richard, a man desperate to get his love back. Given the Man in Black’s shape-shifting abilities, staging a dramatic scenario that set up his manipulation of Richard was easy: he assumed the form of Isabella and set up her murder. He realized how close he had come, and the long con started from there, finding the perfect (dare I say) candidate to kill Jacob.
Jacob’s violent reaction to Richard arriving at the destroyed Statue with a knife indicated his sheer surprise at his adversary’s attempted mutiny. While we have seen Jacob intervening in people’s lives in some ways recently – bring people to the Island, touching the candidates, using the Lighthouse – this seems to be more of a situational response than a character trait. Once Jacob realized that the Man in Black was willing to persuade others to do his murderous bidding, he knew he needed to change his ways to an extant. He was not going to go quietly into the night: his mission to keep the Man in Black on the Island was too important. While there were still rules that needed to be abided by, there was no rule against hiring Richard as an intermediary. In this way, Richard’s immortality – begotten by his fear of ever going to hell – became the first counterstrike in this war of two forces.
Some of you may be balking at this last paragraph, wondering how I could say that Jacob’s interventions were recent if he was solely responsible for bringing the Black Rock to the Island.
Why Jacob brought the Black Rock to the Island…
Since the season five finale, we have all focused on the unexplained rule that the Man in Black cannot kill Jacob. Now let’s reverse the rule: for some reason, Jacob cannot kill the Man in Black. Nor does he want to at any cost, even if that means he loses his own life in the process. But why?
While some viewers have been seduced by the Man in Black, I have not been: Jacob is the epitome of good in the Lost world, and the Man in Black is his antithesis. If Jacob sought to kill the Man in Black, he would have already failed in his mission as Hell’s Keeper. Much as Richard killed the doctor unintentionally and expected forgiveness, the priest reminded him that murder was murder and salvation could not be granted. If Jacob killed the Man in Black, he would have fulfilled the Man in Black’s prophecy: that every man can be corrupted, that man is not inherently and purely good. Killing the Man in Black is not part of the bargain for Jacob. An alternate solution must be found.
We know that Jacob has brought people to the Island for centuries, long before he ever summoned Richard’s ship. His goal: to prove the Man in Black wrong, to prove that man could be good. Within the confines of the Island, as opposed to letting the Man in Black into the world at large, Jacob was fighting his battle by proving a point through microcosms of society. By bringing people to the Island, Jacob was creating scenarios where men could start fresh – where “there histories no longer matter” – and they could build completely new lives. If he established a utopia on the Island, one that could not possibly be corrupted, he would thwart the Man in Black by proving him wrong. By exposing the Man in Black’s ignorance and incorrectness, Jacob would prevail. The Man in Black would see the light, have an epiphany, and change his ways. He would no longer present a threat to the world, and Jacob could abandon his post in peace.
But the Man in Black was stubborn and would not be proven wrong. Knowing that he could not kill Jacob, he took every measure to ensure that he remained correct in their argument. Before he devised a plan to kill Jacob, he retaliated by intervening in every society Jacob brought to the Island. We have no concrete evidence of this, but we know they all died – either at the hands of each other, or the hands of the Man in Black. While Jacob was trying to prove his case, the Man in Black was trying to prove his: if he could convince Jacob that man is evil, Jacob would realize he had no purpose in containing the Man in Black on the Island, abandon his post, and let the Man in Black leave freely.
But Jacob was steadfast in his mindset. Despite his experiments’ continual failures, he remained committed to his cause. “It only ends once,” he said to the Man in Black. “Everything that happens before is just progress.” If not before, at this moment, the Man in Black realized his own naivety and knew the only solution was killing Jacob. Through Richard, Jacob realized his own naivety, and knew that he needed to establish some defenses as he continued his struggle, or he would die.
Back in 2007…
Realizing the potential for his demise at some point, Jacob began to nominate candidates to succeed him in his position. While these candidates have no true role yet, those that were touched by Jacob have already received a certain layer of essential protection: they cannot be killed by the Man in Black. This explains why, even with Jacob dead and gone, the Man in Black has not yet left the Island. He needs to eliminate every existing candidate so he can truly be free, so that no one can ever stop him again.
That is why the Man in Black, manifested in John Locke’s body, is recruiting the six remaining candidates to his army – seducing them to the dark side. By convincing them of embracing their inner evil, by helping them to discover the bad within themselves, by manipulating them through false promises, the Man in Black is succeeding in what he failed in for so long with Jacob: turning them to his side, defeating them in his fight to leave the Island. By recruiting Sawyer, Sayid, Kate, and Jin (kind of, he’s still working on that), he has successfully neutralized them.
Of course, he really needs them gone entirely, for there is always the risk that they can change their minds. That is why he needed to recruit more members at the Temple, and that is why the imminent fight with Widmore is a blessing more than a nuisance. Since he cannot kill the candidates, he now has others to do his bidding. He can manipulate his new loyal band of followers to do his bidding, or he can have the candidates get caught in the crossfire on Hydra Island. Either way, as long as the recruited candidates are by his side and completely believing, he can manipulate their fates.
Sun, Hurley, and Jack still need to be recruited – the Man in Black needs them much more than he needs Richard or Ben, for they were only bonuses and luxuries in his ultimate plan. That is why Ilana was tasked with protecting the candidates, not from death, but from persuasion.
So how can it end?
Because Lost is a television show, we as viewers have come to expect an endless array of surprises to the very end. I do not believe this will be the case. Lost is more like an epic novel: it has a beginning, a middle, and a definite end. The writers and producers would not have set a definite end date if this was not the case. At some point we need to accept that, even in the show that has continually amazed us with unexpected and shocking plot twists, there is a definite ending coming. Some may still resent Jacob for everything he has done, but in the eyes and minds of the writers and creators, he is the representation of good on the show. Good needs to prevail. Salvation will be had by all worthy characters. Their purposes will be realized.
The Man in Black will be defeated, and one of the candidate’s will discover that their purpose on the Island is to defeat him. Whether it is Jack or Hurley (I have no doubt in my mind that it will be Jack), the means to the end remain in question, but the end is absolute, in my opinion. By defying the Man in Black, by refusing to succumb to his manipulation, by displaying some sort of purity, someone will prevail on behalf of Jacob. The Man in Black will be gone.
The Island will have no purpose – and sink into oblivion. (This may explain the Sideways world, but I won’t go there right now.) The perfect, definite ending to “the greatest story ever told,” in the words of Ben Miller.