The fine writers of “Lost” know a thing or two about telling a tragic tale of woe and despair. In the flashback days of seasons yore, little by little viewers learned nearly every island character had a history that either involved murder, abuse, deception or a frightening cocktail of all three with a bad dad thrown in for good measure.
Sawyer, who lost both of his parents after a con man’s actions drove his father to murder-suicide, had one heck of a backstory. The again, Locke, who’s father was the aforementioned con man, as well as a kidney-thief and window-pusher, may have had him and everyone else beat.
It seems the writers saved their most brutal backstory for tall, dark and handsome mystery man Richard Alpert. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it made for one the best “Lost” nights in a long time.
Taking a well-earned break from the sideways action, we joined Richards’ (or at the time, Ricardo’s) past during one of its many low points — his wife’s deathbed. Yes, long before his single days on the island, the long-eyelashed Other was wed to Isabella, a beautiful but very ill woman.
Poor Richard scraped together a handful of coins and his bride’s gold cross, but it just wasn’t enough to pay off a greedy doctor who had the cure in hand. With no health care reform on the horizon in the 19th century, our desperate hero lashed out at the medicine man, accidentally inflicting a fatal wound with one grand gesticulation. At least he walked away with the medication.
Not that it did Isabella any good. It seems she gave up the ghost moments before Richard returned. The man barely had time to let out a painful sob before the authorities came to lock him up for his earlier desperate measures.
Think that’s bad? That’s nothing.
A priest paid Prisoner Alpert a visit and explained there was no time for him to do penance for his sin before he’d hang from the gallows, so Richard couldn’t avoid a one-way ticket to hell. Whether the man of the cloth meant his later action as a way out of that fate or further punishment remains uncertain, but before the rope took Richard, the priest swapped his jail cell for a spot on the slave ship the Black Rock.
Of course, as one might expect, the life of a chained ship slave was hardly an improvement. Not that Richard had much time to contemplate that. His first time at sea saw the vessel shipwrecked on an island. The island.
As if to illustrate just how much worse the soon-to-be ageless man’s life could still get, he was forced to look on as his fellow surviving slaves gave up their survivor status one by one. Seems the few living officers left didn’t want to compete with the below decks’ crowd for sustenance, so one of their ranks stabbed each man in the stomach until he came to Richard. He would have given Richard the kebab treatment, too, had an angry plume of smoke not swooped in and killed the officer and his pals.
A parched and starving Richard remained chained to the ship, even as his wife paid him a final visit. Well, it wasn’t really his wife, but faux Isabella informed Richard they were both dead and now residents of hell all the same. She couldn’t tell him much more than that, as the smoke overtook her. Yes, once again he lost his beloved. Or so he thought.
Thank goodness a friendly face came to save Richard. Too bad it was the face of the Man in Black (the old-timey, pre-Locke version). He presented himself as just another resident of hell, tormented by the devil, desperate for a way out. He even set Richard free from his chains — with one catch. He wanted Richard to kill the devil, otherwise known as Jacob, so the Man in Black could be set free.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Richard didn’t kill Jacob or that Jacob isn’t the devil. Well, given the info-bomb Jacob was about to drop, he wasn’t exactly a good guy, either.
Jacob explained that he was the reason Richard’s ship crashed on the island, which means he’s also the reason so many lost their lives — but he sort of glosses over that part. Besides, he’s done it before. Why? He and his archenemies have an ongoing challenge of sorts. The Man in Black believes “everyone is corruptible, because it is in their nature to sin.” Jacob disagrees, so they play out their theories with real, live puppets.
Oh, and as for this whole mystery island place, it’s not hell. It’s a “cork.” Employing a bit of metaphor, but who really knows just how much, Jacob held up a wine bottle and explained the reveal. The island is the cork that holds the evil juice inside the bottle. Ooh.
Now that Richard was stuck in the middle of Jacob and MiB’s little morality play (in a bottle), Jacob offered him the job as his personal assistant. In exchange, he’d give Richard whatever he wanted. Except for Isabella, because he couldn’t bring her back from the grave, or absolution, as that’s also outside of Jacob’s skill set. He could, however, make sure that Richard avoided ever going to hell by making sure he’d live forever. And so it was.
That’s the tragic tale of Richard Alpert or part of it, only made slightly easier to bear by a future footnote. When an emotionally worn Richard briefly considered switching sides to Team Smokey, Hurley channeled the ghost of Isabella and gave the Other man, who still dearly missed his wife, a message of hope from her: “We are already together.”