The origins and motivations of Jacob and the Man in Black are revealed.
[Note that I refer to Allison Janney’s character as “Mother,” and the outside group of people living on the island as the “Outsiders.” This episode provides no names for these people, so I have created my own for the purposes of this recap.]
Some time in the distant past, a pregnant woman named Claudia washes ashore on the island after a violent storm destroyed the boat she was on. She’s startled to encounter a strange woman living on the island who speaks Latin. The woman takes her in and gives her food and shelter in a place we recognize as the Caves (where the Oceanic survivors sheltered for a while in Season 1). Claudia asks how this woman got to the island, and she says that just like Claudia, she got there “by accident.” Claudia tries to ask more, but the woman tells her that every question she answers will simply lead to another question, and that she should rest and be grateful to be alive. Claudia wants to go looking for the rest of the people from her ship, but her companion forcibly insists that she stay put, explaining that “if there are other people on the island, I will find them.”
Claudia suddenly begins feeling contractions, and goes into labor. With the strange woman’s help, she gives birth to a blonde baby boy whom she names Jacob. But both women are surprised when her labor pains continue, and she has a second baby. It’s another boy, this one with dark black hair, but Claudia mentions that she doesn’t know what to call this one because she only picked out one name. Claudia asks to see one of her sons, but the woman seems to grapple with a difficult decision, and then suddenly turns, a large rock in her hand, and says, “I’m sorry.” She bashes Claudia in the head with the rock repeatedly, killing her.
Thirteen years later, the two boys have grown up believing that the strange woman is their Mother. The blonde boy will become the Jacob we know, while the black-haired boy will eventually become the Man in Black. One day, young MiB finds a wooden box containing a primitive board game (called Senet) while walking on the beach. Jacob finds him and the two of them engage in a game, using the white and black stones inside the box. Jacob asks how his brother knows how to play this game, and MiB replies, “I just know.” He says he’ll show Jacob how to play if Jacob promises not to tell their Mother about it, because MiB is afraid that Mother will take it away from them.
After the game, Jacob returns home to the Caves, where his Mother is slowly weaving a tapestry on a large loom. Jacob evades her questions about his brother’s whereabouts and current activities, but he’s a terrible liar and she knows it. She gets the truth out of him.
She goes to visit her other son, MiB, at the beach, and he hides the game from her when she gets there. But he knows that she knows, and she confirms with a sly smile that Jacob told her, because “Jacob doesn’t know how to lie. He’s not like you.” He asks what that means, and she says that he’s special. He asks if he can keep the game, and she says that he can, since she left it for him in the first place. He’s surprised to hear this, having thought that it came from someplace else, somewhere out across the sea. “There is nowhere else,” she says, lying to him. “The island is all there is.” MiB is still skeptical, and asks where he and his brother and Mother came from, if that’s true. She lies again, telling him that he and Jacob came from her, and she came from her mother. MiB asks where her mother is now, and Mother says that she’s dead. MiB asks what “dead” is, and Mother replies that it’s “something you will never have to worry about.”
Another day, Jacob and MiB run through the jungle hunting a wild boar. But before they can reach it, it’s killed by someone else’s hands, and the brothers hide before they’re noticed. There, they watch as a group of three men cut up the boar and carry it away.
They quickly run back to Mother and tell her that they’ve seen other people on the island. Jacob asks where these Outsiders come from, and notes that they “look like us.” But Mother corrects him, saying that “they’re not like us,” and they don’t belong on the island. “We are here for a reason,” she says. MiB immediately wants to know what that reason is, and she says that it’s not time to explain that to them yet. But when MiB pushes her, she gives in.
She blindfolds them and leads them deep into the jungle. As they walk, MiB asks if she knew about the other people living on the island. Mother says that she did, and she didn’t tell them because the people are dangerous and she didn’t want to frighten her boys. Jacob asks why they’re dangerous, and she replies with words that MiB would repeat to Jacob on the day that the Black Rock was spotted off the coast of the island: “They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same.” MiB asks where these people came from, but she lies and says “another part of the island.” She forbids them to ever go looking for the Outsiders, because she says they would hurt her sons if they could. Jacob asks why they would hurt them, and she says that that’s what people do. MiB picks up on this and points out that the three of them are people, and he asks if that means they can hurt each other. Mother stops in her tracks and removes her sons’ blindfolds. “I’ve made it so you can never hurt each other,” she tells them.
She spins them around to see their destination: a small opening in the ground at the end of a stream, that’s glowing with a bright, golden/yellow Light. She tells them that this Light is the reason the three of them are on the island. The boys run up to look inside, but she warns them not to go in. They see that the water rushes into the opening and down over a waterfall formed by a crevice in the ground, where the water is overtaken by the bright Light. MiB asks what’s down inside the opening. “Light,” Mother replies. “The warmest, brightest Light you’ve ever seen or felt. And we must make sure that no one ever finds it.” MiB is entranced, noting its beauty. Mother says that this is why others want the Light, and why they must protect it. “A little bit of this very same Light is inside every man. But they always want more.” Jacob asks if men can take the Light from the cave; Mother says no, but they’ll try. And if they try, they could end up putting the Light out. “And if the Light goes out here… it goes out everywhere.” She says she’s protected the island for a long time for this very reason, but she can’t protect it forever. MiB asks who’ll protect it after she’s gone, and she says it will have to be either MiB or Jacob.
Some time later, Jacob and MiB play Senet on the ground in a clearing. Jacob makes a move that MiB doesn’t like, and MiB tells him it’s against the rules. Jacob argues that he knows his brother just made up the rules, but MiB says it’s his game, so it’s his rules. “One day, you can make up your own game, and everyone else will have to follow your rules.” MiB looks up and is stunned to see a beautiful woman standing in a pool of light, smiling at him. It’s the ghost of Claudia, his birth mother. There’s clearly something supernatural about her, but she tells him not to be afraid. Jacob notices his brother staring at something, but turns to see for himself and isn’t able to see her. MiB makes up an excuse about wanting to go for a walk on the beach, and rushes off after Claudia.
When they’re alone, MiB asks Claudia why Jacob can’t see her. “Because I’m dead,” she replies. She offers to show him where he came from, and takes him across the island to an area he’s never seen. There, he finds a small village of huts where the rest of the survivors of Claudia’s shipwreck have settled. He doesn’t know what a ship is, so she explains that it’s a way to get across the sea. But he argues that his Mother told him there’s nothing across the sea. Claudia corrects him, saying, “There are many things across the sea.” She tells him that he comes from there, and that the woman he believes to be his Mother has been lying to him, because Claudia is his real mother.
That night, MiB sneaks back into the Caves and wakes Jacob quietly, telling him to come with him. As they walk into the jungle, MiB tells his brother that they’re leaving and never coming back. They’re going to be with the Outsiders, he says, because “they’re our people.” MiB tells Jacob that Mother lied to them about everything and she doesn’t really love them, but this is more than Jacob can accept. He tackles his brother and punches him again and again in the face. Mother finds them and pulls Jacob off of his brother, and Jacob cries as he tells her that MiB is leaving them to go live with the Outsiders. MiB tells his mother that he knows there’s more than the island out beyond the sea, and he means to go there because it’s where he’s from. It’s his home. Mother asks who told him that, and he says his real mother. He turns to Jacob and says that Claudia was Jacob’s mother too, and he tries one last time to convince Jacob that they don’t belong on the island, with this woman who has pretended to be their Mother. He asks Jacob to come with him, but Jacob says no. Mother reaches out to MiB one last time and tells him that whatever he’s been told, one thing he must believe is that he will never be able to leave the island. But he doesn’t believe her, and vows to one day prove to her that he can leave.
Mother retreats to the beach, in shock over losing her favored son. Jacob finds her there as the sun is rising, and asks if she thinks his brother will ever come back. “No,” she says. Then Jacob asks the real question on his mind: did she kill their real mother, as MiB claimed? She confesses to him that she did, explaining that if she had let Claudia live, she would have taken the boys back to the Outsiders, who she believes are bad. She didn’t want the boys to become like them, wanting instead for the twins to “stay good.” Jacob looks her in the eye and asks if he really is good. “Yes, of course you are,” she replies emotionally. “Then why do you love him more than me?” Jacob asks. She’s surprised to hear that he knows this, perhaps even never having consciously realized it herself, but she knows now that it’s true. She recovers and says that she loves the two boys in different ways. She asks him to please stay with her, and he says that he will, for a while.
Thirty years pass, and the two boys grow into men. Jacob remains with his Mother at the Caves, while MiB stays with his people in their village across the island. One day, while Jacob is working the loom, he notes that his mother seems deflated. She says that she’s merely tired when he asks. Jacob’s thoughts turn elsewhere…
He walks across the island to visit his brother at the Outsiders’ camp, and it’s not the first time he’s done this. The two of them have continued to play their board game together periodically over the years. MiB asks if Mother knows Jacob visits him, and Jacob says that she does, but she never asks about MiB. “Well I’m sorry I asked about her,” MiB bitterly replies. He asks why Jacob comes to watch the Outsiders, and Jacob says he’s curious if they’re as bad as Mother says they are. MiB affirms that they are indeed bad, saying their Mother was right about that one thing. Jacob says the Outsiders don’t seem so bad to him, but MiB notes that Jacob has done nothing but look down on them “from above” all this time, while MiB has lived as one of them for thirty years. “They’re greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish.” Jacob asks why MiB stays with them, then. MiB says they’re a means to an end. Jacob asks what end, and MiB reveals that he’s finally found a way to leave the island. He pulls out a metal dagger and throws it. It flies through the air but suddenly changes direction, soaring up to the well and slamming against it, holding tight to it magnetically.
Jacob’s stunned, having never seen anything like this before. He peels the dagger off the side of the well, and looks back at his brother in amazement. “There are very smart men among us,” MiB explains. “Men who are curious about how things work. Together, we have discovered places all over this island where metal behaves strangely. When we find one of these sites, we dig. And this time we found something.” He asks his brother to come with him when he leaves, but Jacob won’t budge. MiB takes another tack, asking what Jacob’s going to do when Mother dies. But Jacob doesn’t believe his Mother can ever die. “Everything dies,” MiB argues. Jacob says he doesn’t want to leave the island, calling it his home. “Well it’s not mine,” replies MiB.
Jacob returns to the Caves and Mother asks where he was. “You know where I was,” Jacob replies. She asks what MiB said to him, and she’s taken aback when Jacob tells her that his brother has finally found a way to leave the island.
Mother traverses across the island herself and watches the Outsiders work at their newest well. When the coast is clear, she climbs into the well and finds MiB working alone down there, building something. He’s startled by her presence at first, but she asks if she can join him and he says yes. He asks how she is, and she says she’s worried. “You should be,” he says, suddenly taking the offensive. He tells her he’s spent thirty years searching the island for the place where she took him as a child, and not once has he even come close to finding that Light source again. But then the idea occurred to him that he might be able to find the Light under the island by accessing it from someplace else, and he’s succeeded. Mother’s alarmed at this news, along with the fact that the Outsiders have seen the Light as well. MiB says that his people “have some very interesting ideas about what to do with it,” but Mother is startled to even hear that someone is thinking of “doing” anything with the Light. She tries to tell him that he has no idea what he’s doing, but he shouts that he has “no idea because you wouldn’t tell me, Mother.” He turns to a wall of stones — which we recognize as being from the frozen chamber beneath the Orchid station, where the wheel is, present-day — and pries loose a few pieces to show her the Light behind it. Nearby, standing on its end, is the wheel itself, not yet installed in the wall. Mother asks what it is, and MiB explains that it’s a wheel that he means to install in a large opening in the wall that they’re going to make, where they’re going to attach it to a system that channels the water and the Light. “And then I’m going to turn [the wheel],” he tells her, and he knows that when he turns it, he’ll finally be able to leave the island. Mother asks how he knows how to do all this, and how he knows it will work. “I’m special,” he reminds her. She begs him not to do this, not to leave, but he says he has to go because he doesn’t belong on the island. “Then I suppose this is goodbye,” she says tearfully. Slowly, tentatively, she reaches out to embrace him, and MiB finally drops his bitter exterior for a moment and hugs his Mother with genuine feeling. He bids her goodbye, but she pulls up and takes his face in her hands. “I am so sorry,” she says, and then in a mad dash, throws his head up against the stone wall, knocking him out.
Later that night, Mother returns to the Caves and wakes Jacob up. “It’s time,” she tells him, and he follows her out into the jungle. Jacob asks her what happened, and she tells him she had to say goodbye to his brother. “You’re letting him go?” Jacob asks, surprised. “I don’t have a choice,” she replies. “It’s what he wants.” She guides him back to the stream with the Light and tells him that he is now going to be its protector. “What’s down there?” Jacob asks her. “Life. Death. Rebirth. It’s the source. The heart of the island.” She makes him promise that no matter what, he’ll never go down inside the Light. “Would I die?” he asks. She says the result would be something much worse than death. She pulls out a bottle of wine, and pours a small cup of it. After chanting some kind of recitation or prayer over it, she hands it to him and tells him to drink it. He asks what happens if he does, and she replies, “You accept the responsibility that you will protect this place for as long as you can. And then, you’ll have to find your replacement.” Jacob argues, saying he doesn’t want to be the island’s protector, that he doesn’t care about protecting the Light, but Mother says that her time is over and that the new protector must be him. Jacob becomes emotional, saying that she originally wanted it to be his brother. “But now I’m all you have,” he says. “It was always supposed to be you, Jacob,” she says. “I see that now. And one day, you’ll see it, too. But until then, you don’t really have a choice.” She begs him to take the cup and drink it, and he finally does. “Now, you and I are the same,” she tells him.
The next morning, MiB wakes up outside the well, on the ground. When he gets to his feet, he sees that the well has been filled in with rocks and dirt. He also spots smoke on the horizon, and runs back to its source: the village. The whole place is burning, and the Outsiders are laying all around, dead. He finds his small game in the wreckage and hefts it over his head in pain and fury, already plotting his revenge against Mother, who he knows is the one responsible for this.
Jacob and Mother head back to the Caves, and Jacob notes that a storm is building. She asks him to go retrieve some firewood before the rain starts, and tells him to be careful. Her face says it all, as does his: he’s finally acquired her approval and her love. They are no longer mother and son, they are equals now. He says he’ll see her back at home, and she turns to go with a look of dread, knowing that something unpleasant but inevitable awaits her there…
She finds the Caves in shambles, everything destroyed, including her loom and the tapestry on it. On the ground, she finds the wooden Senet game, and opens it to pull out two of the game piece rocks: one white and one black. While she stares at the black one, she suddenly gasps and looks down to find MiB’s dagger sticking through her abdomen. Behind her, he pulls the dagger out, and she collapses. He kneels beside her and asks why she wouldn’t let him leave. “Because I love you,” she replies. Then, surprisingly, she thanks him for killing her and (we assume) relieving her of the responsibility of protecting the island. She dies as he watches, and he immediately bursts into tears. Their relationship was a complicated one, but some part of him still loved her, even at the end. As he weeps over her, Jacob returns and finds Mother dead, MiB standing over her holding the murder weapon. “What did you do?!” Jacob cries. He flies into a rage and although MiB asks him to stop and let him explain, Jacob tackles him just as he did when they were children and pounds him in the head even harder than before.
MiB is weakened by the attack, so Jacob grabs him and drags him into the jungle. MiB begs Jacob not to kill him, explaining that Mother burned the Outsiders, killing them all. When Jacob doesn’t reply, MiB reminds him that they can’t kill each other. “Don’t worry, brother,” Jacob says. “I’m not going to kill you.” Instead, he takes MiB to the Light source. MiB is stunned to see the place again, after all his searching, and realizes that Mother brought Jacob back here. Jacob reveals that he is the island’s protector now, and he tosses his brother into the water. MiB hits his head on a rock and loses consciousness, and the stream quickly carries him into the opening and down into the hole where the Light is emanating from. Though he’s furious and distraught at what his brother did, Jacob is taken aback after his brother tumbles into the hole and he sees that the Light is slowly going out. Once it’s extinguished, the black smoke monster roars in fury and pours out of the cave in a blast, rushing off into the jungle.
Jacob runs into the jungle and finds his brother’s body at the end of a stream. He cradles his brother in his arms, crying over him, and carries him back to the Cave they called home. He places his brother’s body in the Cave wall, and then places his Mother’s body beside him. Jacob takes the two game pieces that Mother pulled from the game — one white and one black — and puts them into a small bag that he situates in MiB’s dead hand. Thus, the “Adam & Eve” skeletons the Oceanic survivors find in the present day belong to Mother and the Man in Black’s human form.
Jacob is left alone on the island — and unaware for the moment that his brother lives on in the form of the smoke monster — and bids his brother and Mother a sorrowful goodbye.
- “Adam and Eve” were the Man in Black and his adopted Mother.
Who were the two decomposed bodies? [1.06]
- The Man in Black killed his Mother because she wouldn’t let him leave the island. MiB’s human form died after his brother Jacob punished him by turning him into the smoke monster in retribution for the murder of their Mother.
How did the bodies die? [1.06]
- No, they died hundreds or possibly even thousands of years prior to 2004.
Did they really die forty to fifty years ago? [1.06]
- When Jacob buried the bodies in the Cave, he left the two stones with his brother’s body because they were part of the Senet game the two of them played together all their lives. It was a token of affection and remembrance.
Why was one of them carrying two stones, one white and one black? [1.06]
- Jacob was the latest protector of the island, who was born there after his pregnant mother Claudia shipwrecked just off the shore of the island. He was a human man just like anyone else, until he took over the mantle of island protector from his Mother — an act that infused him with special abilities tied to the island’s power.
Who exactly is Jacob, and how did he come to be on the island? [3.20] & How did Jacob and the Man in Black come to be on the island? [5.16]
- The Man in Black is Jacob’s twin brother, and he was born there just as Jacob was. He was once a mortal man just like Jacob, but he became the smoke monster when he was thrown into the source of the Light beneath the island.
Who is the Man in Black, aka Jacob’s Nemesis? [5.16]
- They are twin brothers with opposing ideologies about the nature of man. They cannot kill each other because their Mother, the island’s protector at the time, somehow used her powers as island protector to make it so that they could never kill one another.
Jacob and the Man in Black have a real yin/yang thing going on. What’s the nature of their relationship? And why can’t they kill each other? [5.16]
- The Man in Black believes his home is the outside world beyond the island, since that is where his birth mother Claudia came from. He wants to leave the island because the woman he believed to be his Mother lied to him his entire life about who he was and where he came from. He has been trapped on the island his entire, very long life, and he longs to escape and see what else there is outside of the island.
Why does the Man in Black want to go home? Where exactly is his home? Is it off the island? [6.01]
- Yes, the blonde boy that’s been appearing to MiB is his brother, Jacob. He likely appeared as a boy to his brother to remind MiB of the relationship they once had, and how far MiB has fallen since those days.
The blonde boy bore more than a passing resemblance to Jacob. Was that who he was? If so, what’s the significance of him appearing as a boy to MiB? [6.04]
- This was probably meant to remind MiB of the blood on his own hands — namely, that of their Mother.
Why were the boy’s arms covered in blood? [6.04]
- No. It was alluded to that Jacob made up his own rules about the Candidates, after being told as a boy by his brother that one day he would make up his own game and everyone would have to follow his rules.
The “rules” the boy spoke of — that MiB couldn’t harm any of the Candidates… are these part of the same rules that kept Jacob and MiB from killing each other? [6.04]
- The name and true identity of MiB and Jacob’s adoptive mother was not revealed, but she was Jacob’s predecessor as protector of the island.
Who was the Man in Black’s mother? [6.08]
- It’s not clear that Mother was disturbed at all; she may have simply done what she deemed necessary in order to protect the island. But her lies to him during his formative years about where he came from, and her refusal to let him ever leave the island despite long years of trying, drove MiB over the edge.
What “problems” were imparted on the Man in Black due to his mother’s disturbed state of mind, that he’s still trying to work through? [6.08]
- MiB was referring the day that Jacob caused him to become the smoke monster by throwing him into the Light source beneath the island. His human body died that day, and though he would be able to take on the form of any human being who was dead, from then on, he would always be the smoke monster and unable to live as a normal man.
What did the Man in Black mean when he said that Jacob took his body/humanity away from him? [6.09]
- The people who dug the wells were island inhabitants who originally came from the same ship that Jacob and MiB’s birth mother Claudia was from.
Who were the people who dug the island’s wells, and how long ago did they live there? [6.12]
- Who was Mother? How did she get to the island? Did she have a predecessor as island protector, or was she the first? How did she know so much about the island and how it worked?
- The Light beneath the island is what makes the island so important and special. But what is the Light?
- Why did Mother tell MiB that he would never be able to leave the island? And does this mean that MiB will be unable to escape despite all of his present-day efforts to do so?
- What exactly happened when MiB fell into the Light source beneath the island? Did sending a person (MiB) down into the source create the smoke monster, or release it?
“Across the Sea” was a bold move for Lost‘s creative team. Just hours away from the show’s final minutes, they paused to set aside the main cast and rewind to a story from the distant past that explained the motivations of two pivotal characters: Jacob and the Man in Black, who we learned are in fact twin brothers. The episode felt more like a fable than a history lesson, stuffed to the gills with symbolism, and containing subtle and not-so-subtle overtones of biblical stories like Cain & Abel and Jacob & Esau and even the Last Supper — which I’m sure were completely intentional.
I could go mad trying to dissect every single detail of this mythologically-dense episode, and posing questions about what all the endless, minute bits and pieces mean. An entire book could be written about it, connecting its dots to others throughout the entire Lost story. (Example: a pregnant woman washes up on the island after a catastrophic wreck. Paging Danielle and Claire!) Instead of trying to do the near-impossible, I’m choosing to accept the episode on its own terms and examine the parts of it that I believe are meant to truly matter. (Maybe someday if I get around to writing a guide book to Lost, I’ll examine “Across the Sea” in greater depth.)
Just minutes after it aired, Lost fans were already split over “Across the Sea.” Some loved its poetic beauty, others hated how much it left open to interpretation. The show itself reiterated something that Lindelof & Cuse have been saying for a while now — that every answer just leads to another question — which was meant as a cue for us to calm down and just let them tell the story they have to tell, and don’t expect every single thing to have a definitive answer.
So for those still grasping to understand why this episode was made and why it had to be, let me spell it out for you.
“Across the Sea” gave us:
- Who Jacob and the Man in Black are in relation to one another, and how they came to the island.
- Why Jacob and MiB can’t kill each other.
- How Jacob and MiB came to have the roles that they both have (or had, in Jacob’s case) on the island.
- Who built the frozen wheel beneath the island.
- Who the “Adam & Eve” skeletons are.
- Why MiB is so darn angry, why he hates Jacob so much, and how he became the smoke monster.
My one disappointment with the episode — and it’s a big one — is that we still have no name for the Man in Black, or the woman who raised both him and Jacob. I suppose I can live with Mother remaining somewhat ambiguous — some have theorized that she’s “Mother Earth” or some such — but we absolutely require a name for the Man in Black. It almost seemed as though “Across the Sea” went out of its way at times to make it appear as though he doesn’t actually have a name. But Damon & Carlton promised us as far back as Comic-Con 2009 that MiB does have a name, and that it would be revealed in time. I really thought it would happen at the end of this episode.
What on earth could his name be, that’s so big a deal that they’re either waiting until the final episode to reveal it, or they’ve reneged on their promise to reveal it at all and decided that they like it better if he doesn’t have one? I have no idea. At this point, it seems unlikely that any name will live up to expectations, so maybe they really have decided to leave him nameless. I always assumed, though, that his name was being kept secret because it would give too much away. As in, his name is a famous one, a name we would easily recognize from history or mythology or religion, and would hold the keys to understanding Lost‘s entire story.
But hey, it ain’t over yet. So I’m still holding out hope.
Why could MiB see his birth mother but Jacob couldn’t? I don’t know. It doesn’t ultimately matter, but I would suggest that either MiB had the same ability to see and speak to dead people that Hurley would possess centuries later, or Claudia simply chose which of the brothers she wanted to appear to. I think the second explanation is the more likely one, because Claudia’s appearance was a little different than the way dead people have always appeared to Hurley, such as the supernatural light that surrounded her.
A few lines were thrown in to indicate that viewers shouldn’t expect the moon from Lost and all its lingering mysteries, such as the aforementioned bit where Mother tells Claudia that all of her answers will just lead to more questions. Plus, there was the moment when the boys were playing their game, where MiB told Jacob that one day he could make up his own rules that everyone would have to follow. This was an indicator to us that when it comes some of Jacob’s quirkier, more inexplicable actions, we should just chalk it up to his own idiosyncrasies and his brother’s suggestion to make up his own rules. I’m thinking of things like how no one was supposed to go inside the Statue chamber where Jacob lived unless they were invited by Jacob himself. There was no grand, mystical reason for this rule; Jacob just made it up because it was how he wanted to do things. It’s a sort of catch-all explanation, and an indicator to we viewers that not every mystery is meant to have an epic answer.
This episode never states when it takes place, but aside from the primitive clothing and rudimentary tools, we are given two clues about the time period: the use of Latin as a commonly-spoken language, and the ancient game Senet that Jacob and his brother play. Senet is very possibly the oldest board game in the world, dating all the way back to at least 3500 BC. But Latin was a commonly-spoken language only after Rome conquered most of the Eastern world, which occurred between 753 BC and AD 476. So while we can’t narrow it down any further than that, we can safely speculate that Jacob and the Man in Black are probably both well over 2,000 years old. No wonder MiB wants to leave the island so bad! You would too if you’d been trapped there for 2,000 years.
Incidentally, if you’d like to check out Senet for yourself, you can play it online here.
Going back to the “rules” for a moment… Mother’s explanation that she “made it so you can never hurt each other” explains the “rules” that prevent Jacob and MiB from killing each other. Yet twice in this episode we saw Jacob viciously attack his brother, punching him until his face was bloody. I’m forced to conclude one of two things from this: 1) they can fight all they want, but can’t do any actual permanent damage to each other; or 2) by “hurt,” Mother actually meant “kill.” As in, they can physically fight, but will never be able to kill one another. Some might argue that Jacob did exactly that when he threw his brother into the Light source, but I think we’re meant to interpret it that Jacob merely put his brother into the water, and let the stream take him, instead of actually doing the deed himself. I.E., his role in his brother’s death was an inactive one, so the rules didn’t apply.
Another thing that jumped out at me was Mother telling Jacob at the end that he didn’t have a choice about becoming the island’s protector, when Jacob is known for telling people that they always have a choice. I think Jacob learned from his Mother’s mistakes, and found a better way than her methods and beliefs.
Now we know that to become the island’s protector, a ritual is involved. So my theory about the new protector already being installed ever since Jacob’s death was wrong. But how will the new protector know to take the drink? Will Hurley serve as an intermediary between Dead Jacob and the new protector?
It’s never explained or addressed in the episode, but my interpretation of the scene where Jacob tosses his brother into the Light source is that as MiB died, his soul was transferred into the smoke monster. Hence, his body was expelled from the Light, dead. Yet he lived on as part of the “evil incarnate” entity that we know as the black smoke monster. The two of them were joined in that moment, and that’s why MiB never ages. (Jacob, on the other hand, never ages because he is the island’s protector.) Did MiB absorb the Light as he died, and that’s why it was extinguished? Did the act of MiB penetrating the Light source create or release the smoke monster? I have no idea, and my guess is that we’re meant to interpret smokey’s birth or escape or whatever, however we want.
So Jacob succeeded his surrogate Mother in the role of protector of the island. He seems to use much different tactics than she did, though. Although she appeared from the outside as a rather genteel soul, she was willing to go to any lengths required to protect the island — even massacring the Outsiders. She did a lot of terrible things that we consider evil, although she wasn’t what I would call evil herself. What a complicated character she was. Deeply flawed, yet she didn’t strike me as the mentally unstable figure that MiB claimed she was earlier this season (in his beachside conversation with Kate). As much as she was resolute in her duty as island protector, she was happy to be done with it when MiB killed her.
Who Mother really was and why she did the things that she did, have purposefully been left open to debate. As a writer, I perceived the scent of “intentionally vague” when it came to these things. And at the end of the day, Lost is not her story. Lost is the story of the survivors of Oceanic 815, although she played a crucial, if indirect, part of their history.
But because I know this will not be enough for many of you, here’s my official theory on Mother.
She told Claudia that she came to the island “by accident,” which implies that she, just like Jacob, was once a regular human who took on the role of island protector after someone else passed it off to her. Maybe she was telling the truth, and she was a shipwreck survivor just like Claudia, who was taken in by someone else and given the responsibility of island protector. Or maybe she was lying, and she was always on the island. Some will argue, as I mentioned earlier, that Mother was some kind of mythical being, but she lived and breathed and died, just like any normal human can. So let’s assume she was telling Claudia the truth.
Something about this role causes the island’s protector not to age. So we have no way of knowing how long Mother had been on the island before Claudia came along. But when she found Claudia, a pregnant woman, I think she sensed an opportunity. What she would later tell Jacob may have been partly true — that she killed Claudia to protect the boys from the dangers of the Outsiders — but she also knew that she needed a successor, and an easy way to get one would be to raise one from birth. So she killed Claudia and raised the two children herself.
It seems clear that Jacob was right about Mother loving MiB more. Jacob, while very human and flawed, was clearly the more pure-of-heart of the two. But Mother was very skilled in the art of deception, so perhaps she identified more with MiB, seeing in him someone a lot like herself.
When MiB unexpectedly found out the truth about Mother from the ghost of his biomom, he couldn’t deal with all her lies and fled. He’d always wanted to leave the island and see what else is out there, and he believed his people might be able to help him accomplish that. MiB was telling the truth to Kate when he said that his mother imparted a lot of serious issues upon him, as we saw here through all of her lies. What MiB failed to mention in his little confessional to Kate is that his mother imparted issues upon Jacob as well. Maybe MiB never noticed, maybe he simply didn’t care. But pure-of-heart Jacob knew that Mother loved his brother more than him, and even though he stayed by her side until the end, even though she showed that she did genuinely love him, it still left him with emotional scars. Yet because of his own innate goodness or maturity, he was able to get past this, while MiB’s immaturity and selfishness have caused him to suffer under his Mother’s lies to this day. Lost has herein made a very strong argument for nature in the old “nature vs. nurture” debate. It wasn’t Mother that made these two boys who they became; Jacob was mostly good and MiB was mostly bad because that’s who they were in their heart of hearts. Put another way, their choices caused them to become good or bad, but Jacob knew how to make better choices than his brother did, who always relied on his selfish emotions as his rudder.
Living with “his people” didn’t provide MiB with the happiness he thought it would. It didn’t take him long to realize that Mother was right, and they were a far cry from the love he was used to receiving from her. Yet he’d already written her off as a liar and felt he had nowhere else to go, so he stayed with these “bad” people. It appears that this is where he developed his opinion of people being fundamentally corrupted. This opinion is the foundational argument between him and Jacob, and the very thing that would lead Jacob to bring countless people to the island over the centuries, in an effort to prove his brother wrong. Jacob believed in the goodness of people, while his brother believed otherwise.
The Light was potentially the most important revelation about the island we will ever get. Others far more versed in mythology and religions will all have their own theories about what the Light represents. Traditionally, Light is a representation of goodness, righteousness, and truth. All that matters in the context of Lost is that the island is the source of the Light, and the Light is the most precious and important thing in all the world. Mother had a lot to say about the Light, yet her cryptic comments revealed very little useful information about it. I think most of her words were meant to captivate her sons’ imaginations more than provide us viewers with useful answers.
In a more practical sense, the Light appeared to be holding in the black smoke. Call it a mystical “force field” or whatever you like, but the Light was the thing keeping the smoke — which we know is evil incarnate, from what Jacob told Richard — imprisoned. Yet Jacob went against his Mother’s warning to never let the Light be put out, extinguishing it when he “fed” his brother to the cave. And as soon as the Light was out, the evil that is the smoke monster was released to roam free. But it is still confined to the island…
Now I’m going to get a little headier than I usually do, so bare with me for a moment. I think we have to assume that the Light that held the black smoke prisoner wasn’t the only source of Light on the island. And I think the Light is sourced by all of the electromagnetic pockets of energy all over the island. I’ve theorized before that the magnetic energy pockets are what keep MiB from being able to leave the island, and this episode appears to have proven me right. Even though Mother treated the Light in the cave as if it was the only source of Light, we know that after that Light was put out by the smoke monster being set free, other sources of Light continued across the island — such as the one behind the frozen wheel. We clearly saw that same shade of bright yellow/golden Light when both Ben and Locke turned the wheel. And we’re meant to gather from all of these wells we’ve been seeing this season that each one marks the location of an electromagnetic pocket. Following this logic, anywhere we see the Light, we are seeing an electromagnetic pocket. (Maybe we’re just seeing different parts or branches of one single pocket that’s deeper below the surface than anything else. Meaning that all of the Light really is the same.)
Mother’s words and reverence suggested a spiritual connotation to the Light, which it may have, and which many viewers will no doubt intuit. The line about “a little bit of this very same Light is inside every man” is a clear reference to the supernatural, the divine, the spark of the soul, life itself. Yet Mother’s note of how men always want more of it is a reference to power. The Light is not a representation of any one spiritual concept or idea. It’s meant to refer to pretty much every positive, mystical/spiritual idea there is, crossing borders of every religion, so that the viewer can assign to the Light whatever connotation he or she wants.
I think this was inserted into the episode as a reinforcement of the science vs. faith theme that Lost has always played off of. The history of mankind has shown that science and faith are unhappy bedfellows, but my feeling is that Lost is trying to tell us that they don’t have to be. Lost is suggesting that these two points of view — science and faith — are observing the exact same things through different lenses.
And maybe there’s validity to both.