By Jeff Jensen
Updated March 23, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

It began in the darkest of night, on the shores of a place Richard Alpert called Hell. It ended in daylight, in a lush Edenesque patch of The Island, with the ageless enigma standing underneath the kind of massive tree that can only exist in a land of fantasy or myth, trembling with much fear and a glimmer of hope. In between, we got a story that asked questions that we’ve been asking ab aeterno—”since the beginning.” What is good? What is evil? How do we know the difference? Who knows what is truly best for us? Who should we trust? How do we make moral choices amid such ambiguity? Why must we figure this stuff out on our own? Why don’t the gods of the universe play straight with us? How the flaming hell are we supposed to live like this?

“Ab Aeterno” was a heavy, heady, and surprisingly emotional hour of TV, suffused with Biblical subtext, scribbled with subtitles, and stuffed with answers for the show’s Island mythology, albeit in a fabulistic form requiring careful interpretation and a clarification or two. Or more. In addition to getting a story that revealed how Richard Alpert got to The Island, we got a story that revealed the nature of the relationship between Jacob and The Man In Black, at least as it existed prior to Jacob’s death last season. Indeed, we got the sense that the battle these two angelic/demonic/whatchamacallum entities waged over Alpert’s soul was actually the first phase of Man In Black’s 240 years-in-the-making Smoke-man from Alcatraz escape plan. The episode used a corked bottle of wine as a symbol for Lost cosmology, with The Island playing the role of the stopper that kept something toxic from spilling out and corrupting us all. Of course, that was Jacob’s interpretation. Did you believe him?

“Ab Aeterno” was a big winner in my book. It was definitely the most unusual episode Lost has given us this season. It was technically a flashback story, thanks to the Island-set framing device, but most of it was told in linear fashion. It was definitely not a Sideways episode. (I will pause a microsecond to allow the silly haters to cheer.) It was also the ninth hour of Lost’s 18-hour final season. We’re halfway to the finish, and the castaways are halfway to home or oblivion. Which one will it be? Right now, I guess it depends on how you view the jug. But let’s crack it open and see if we find clarity. I’ll be back tomorrow morning with full analysis–and I promise a minimum of drunken theorizing this week. (UPDATE: Doc Jensen’s recap of “Ab Aeterno” is now live.) Besides, I saved all my intoxicated crazyiness for this week’s Totally Lost, in which Dan and I welcome Rebecca Mader, aka Charlotte Lewis, to our little sandbox for an interview, plus some fun and games. And beer.