I loved the episode ab aeterno (trans: since the beginning or for long ages) - Richard's story. It featured a wonderful performance by actor Nestor Carbonell and a well-written backstory that featured Richard as Ricardo, a kind-hearted man from 1867 - a deeply-grieving widower who had been wrongly convicted for murder while struggling with a greedy doctor for medicine that could have saved his sick wife.
Ricardo is himself saved by an ancestor of Whitmore and chained to the below-decks of the same shipwrecked wooden sailing ship Black Rock we've seen before (remember the Richard/Jack dynamite scene from last ep?). A storm hits, which we find out later was Jacob causing this ship sailing to the New World to wreck on the statue of Taweret, and thus strand Richard on the island. Everybody dies eventually but Ricardo (before he had good English) and TOSM (The Original Smoke Monster) face off - TOSM makes a couple really cool appearances where he viciously murders everyone except Ricardo (TOSM even has sparks at his tip) before Man-In-Black appears (Smoke Monster's human form) to Ricardo. A struggle ensues for Ricardo's soul. Ricardo had a vision of his wife before meeting MIB - was it an hallucination? Was it MIB manipulating/tormenting him?
Ricardo's offered a Faustian bargain by MIB and accepts, he will stab Jacob - whom he does not yet know (then living below the foot of the statue) with the silver ceremonial dagger so he can be with his wife again - but Jacob sees him coming, bests him, and offers him another deal - be the person who vets new arrivals for me, he tells him - help sort out who is ultimately good and who is evil at their core. So, in essence, we have Richard as Tattoo to Jacob's Mr. Roarke.
Up to this point Carbonell transcended the script with his performance, then the writers gave him a line which served the plot but was at odds with what we were seeing. Jacob tells him, no, I can't bring your wife back and I can't absolve you of your sins (Ricardo was devout) ... then the poor forlorn fellow who seemed devastated, hopeless, and ready to die moments earlier to be with his wife says "I want to live forever" W-T-F ?? [see comments for another take on this]
Jacob and MIB have another little chat - this time on a mountainside looking over a valley, not the beach (but here's the old pic) and Jacob gives MIB the bottle of wine he had used earlier as an example to Ricardo "Evil is like the wine in this bottle - the cork is the island, holding it here." Of course MIB smashes the bottle. Also White Rock appeared (prior to its scale days) - when Ricardo had returned to MIB after failing to kill Jacob - Jacob asked him to deliver it - clearly signaling to MIB that Jacob considered Richard in the white camp at that moment - or it's simply their in-joke - a Black Rock smashes Jacob's temple, so Jacob will turn this agent of destruction - Ricardo - into a white rock of goodness.
So the sci-fi time-travel elements of LOST fade further into the distance as we get a redux of the LEXX season 3 story arc (Fire and Water) and the end of BSG (angels, and god did it) - a showdown between good and evil as what underlies all phenomena on the island and in their lives leading up to the island.
Touching scene at the end where Hurley shows up when Richard/Ricardo has had enough (in his time-frame he's walked from the dynamite scene in the Black Rock last ep) and shouts to the air for the MIB/TOSM to honor his deal - which was an offer forever.
Hurley it seems can talk to more than just Jacob - now the dead wife, Isabella (sporting spiffy modern clothes) appears to Hurley (and eventually to Richard) and the love-through-time couple have their touching reunion - We are already together she tells him.
Hurley regularly communicating with Jacob, and now other spirits too, would lead you to believe that he is the clear front-runner to replace Jacob, as he is clearly the most pure-of-heart. But we were left with a shot of MIB/Locke standing a ways away watching the love reunion so maybe it was MIB appearing as Isabella to both Hurley and Ricardo, and it was all a perverse manipulation.
If the writers intend one last sojourn to evil before their grand finale then it was a fake-out - but so far it seems pretty straightforward - a march toward redemption for most of our star characters.
Over at at-largely, Larissa has another similar but much more complex reading of the situation