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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lost 6x15: Across the Sea

Undoubtedly, "Across the Sea" will go down as one of Lost's most divisive episodes, inspiring great affection in some, and utter disappointment in others. Where one falls in that spectrum will be determined largely by one's expectations going into the episode and how invested one is in the show's mythology over its characters. Implied by previews to be the long awaited "origin" of Jacob, the Man in Black, and the island, and falling as it does in the season, the last breath before the run up to the finale, this was the episode that was going to finally lay it all out. Or so it seemed.

In fact, the episode was something less than that, but still compelling (and, of course, thought provoking) in its own right. Mythic in scope, starting with the birth of Jacob and ending with the birth of Smokey, "Across the Sea" certainly filled in some blanks, establishing the relationship between Jacob and his brother, the Man in Black, their protection from each other bestowed by their mother, their proclivity for games and the rules governing them, the beginning of the Man in Black's yearning to leave the island, the creation of the (not so frozen) donkey wheel as an apparatus to that end, Jacob's ascension to stewardship of the island, and the revelation of the Adam and Eve skeletons' identity.
 
But, as Jacob's mother said in the episode's opening minutes, every question answered leads to another. And with only two episodes and three and half hours of Lost left, with the culmination of the Sideways plot, the battle against FLocke and the ascension of Jacob's replacement left to cover, it seems clear that "Across the Sea" will stand as the first and final word on the Jacob/Man in Black back story. In a vacuum (and, hopefully, with the benefit of hindsight) this episode was a captivating and intriguing tour de force; in the context of the Lost saga, however, it comes up a short, offering up yet more intrigue and supposition at a time when clarity and definition seem more needed. 


Stuff Worth Mentioning
“Every question I answer will lead to another.” I'm pretty sure that was Darlton, looking us square in the eye, saying "we're not gonna answer everything you may want to know."

Jacob and his brother's "mother" was played by Alison Janney, of West Wing fame. I quite liked her performance.

The two women were speaking Latin at the beginning.

The game played by Jacob and his brother is Senet, an Egyptian game (more Egyptian stuff which predates Jacob and MiB) which predates backgammon. Apparently, no modern players are aware of the original rules.


The Boy in Black told Jacob, "One day you can make up your own game and everyone else will have to follow your rules". Presumably, this is a reference to the rules that are now protecting the candidates, as once Jacob became the protector of the island, he could make his own rules.

The Boy in Black was told he was special, just like Walt and Locke. He could see his dead birth mother, just like Hurley, Sawyer, Desmond, Ben and (presumably) Jack have seen dead people on the island. Apparently, there's a link between being special=seeing dead people=candidacy for the job of protector of the island.

The island dead seem to act on their own/within their own personalities: MiB's birth mother wanted him to know the truth about his origins, and presumably not because of any ulterior agenda.

Jacob and his brother choose sides, just like the Losties chose between the beach and the caves, or Locke and Jack, or Jacob and Smokey.

Mother told the boys "they come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt, and it always ends the same," which is what Man in Black told Jacob in "The Incident." He also shared her low opinions regarding the other tribe he lived with as a means to an end. Interesting that Man in Black adopted his mother's worldview while Jacob, observing from afar, didn't think they were so bad, sparking their philosophical debate over the nature of man, something Jacob has apparently also made part of his game. 

The light=EM energy=the spark inside us all. Extinguish/tamper with the light, extinguish life. Basically, it seems like the Force, if there was a planet somewhere in the Star Wars galaxy that the Force came from.

I wonder if the temple was built around the light source, and the spa of rebirth is directly above it. 

The dagger Man in Black had was the one Dogen gave Sayid and with which Richard attacked Jacob.


Mother seems to have purged the island of the Man in Black's people, just as the Others purged the island of Dharma (presumably when they got too close to the light, just as MiB's people did).


Every time we've seen the Man in Black prior to this episode, he was already Smokey, taking the form of his original body.

I like the idea that Smokey wants to go home to a place he's never actually been, just a place that's not the island.

When FLocke told Desmond about people digging the wells on the island, he was speaking from experience: he was with the people that did it.

Shannon sang the French version of "Across the Sea" in a season one episode.

Once upon a time, Darlton said that the revelation of the identity of Adam and Eve would prove they've had the main narrative planned from the start. Dr. Bitz and I agreed that, regardless of whether or not they had planned the whole thing out from the beginning, there was simply no revelation that could ever prove such a thing, and they were foolish for saying so. Now that we know who Adam and Eve were, it seems Dr. Bitz was right.

In many ways, this episode was microcosm of Lost itself, showcasing recurring themes and events: shipwrecks, island births, parental issues, playing games, choosing sides, outsider "Others", exploration spurned on by the island's unique properties, science vs. faith, murder spurned on by rage and a desire for vengeance.

This is the only episode of Lost to contain no flashbacks, no flashforwards, no flash sideways and no framing sequence of any kind.

Mrs. Teebore found the Man in Black to be quite palatable. 


Questions Answered
The island resides over energy that is the source of everything on the island, energy which resides, in small portions, within everyone. People are drawn to that energy, and in their desire to understand/control/manipulate it, they run the risk of extinguishing the light on the island, and thus everywhere, and ending existence. So a person is tasked with protecting the energy until they find a replacement and granted certain powers on the island to those ends. 

Jacob was appointed protector of the island by the woman who raised him, who was the protector before him. Presumably her power and knowledge came from the person who preceded/appointed her, and so on.


When Locke said that he looked into the eye of the island and it was beautiful, most likely he saw the light of the island's energy.

The Man in Black is Jacob's twin brother.

The Man in Black did have a crazy mother, as he once told Kate.

The protection that prevents Jacob and his brother from killing each other (requiring Smokey to find a loophole to kill Jacob) was bestowed upon them by their mother while she was in charge of protecting the island. 

Jacob is not a very good liar, which is, presumably, why he keeps to himself and offers up such little information.

Home, for the Man in Black, means nothing more than "off the island", somewhere across the sea.

The Man in Black became Smokey when Jacob sent him into the source of the island's energy.


The young boy taunting FLocke throughout the season was Jacob's ghost.

Man in Black and his people conceived of the frozen donkey wheel as a way to harness the island's energy and leave. Presumably, Smokey or people allied with him re-dug the well and completed construction of it after the Man in Black's transformation.


The Others speak Latin because it's Jacob's native tongue. 

The Adam and Eve skeletons are the bodies of the Man in Black and his mother.

Questions Asked
They probably won't get answered and we probably don't really need to know, but the questions are worth asking: where did Jacob's mother get her power/knowledge from? Who appointed her protector of the island? Was she a Smokey (she sure seemed to kill the hell out of that village)?

Did going into the light cave transform Man in Black into Smokey, or did Man in Black die before going into the cave, and upon entering it, he released Smokey, who took the form and memories of Man in Black? Personally, I'm leaning towards the former as it seems the simpler explanation, but there's something to be said for the second option, especially as it pertains to Jacob's role on the island (now he has to safeguard the energy, and the world from the evil his act of vengeance released).

So does the Dogen Dagger work because it killed Mother? And because she was killed without a word, that's why you can't speak before stabbing Jacob/MiB? Or did MiB just tell Richard that story because he wanted him to kill Jacob before Jacob could convince him otherwise, and Richard later passed the story and the dagger down to the Others?

Apparently, the script for this episode references the events as taking place two thousand years ago, and MiB's people seemed Roman enough. Were the Egyptian ruins in place yet? How about the statue? I assumed this would be the episode where we learned who built the ruins/temple/statute; did this story take place before that, or after that?

Next Week: Why They Died
Lost's final penultimate episode and, presumably, some forward motion on the whole Sideways reality thing.

11 comments:

  1. i was not a fan of this episode. I felt like all the questions i had pertaining to jacob they just transferred to his mother and therefore will never be answered.

    i think if this episode had aired 5 or 6 episodes earlier it would have been more tolerable, but this late in the game, i really have stopped caring about this stuff. I want to know what's going to happen in the sideways verse and what's going to happen with the surviving losties. It was their story from the beginning, anyway.

    And the MiB's name better be the most amazing reveal ever...

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  2. BrotherofTeeboreMay 13, 2010 at 11:19 PM

    As you already know I couldn't stand this episode and won't get into it again. I will probably use this episode as evidence of "too little, too late" in future television series discussion. I will reserve final judgment until the end.

    Considering I care nothing for the Losties at this point, the mythology is the only thing keeping me going and now that has essentially failed me. Lost, as a whole, now feels like a some bad decision that I feel compelled to see through to the end.

    Not that this has any real context to you, but I thought I would mention that my friend Fran, who has a "Lost can do no wrong" attitude hated this episode. Probably the only thing me and her have ever seen eye-to-eye on in regards to Lost.

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  3. @Falen: i think if this episode had aired 5 or 6 episodes earlier it would have been more tolerable

    Yeah, there's been some discussion online about that, too. I definitely questioned its placement in the season. It definitely seems like it would have been better served at least before the "Smokey IS the bad guy, for serious this time" reveal that came in the last two episodes.

    That way we sympathize with and question his role as the bad guy even more right up until Frank, Sayid Sun and Jin are dead.

    So it'd be "aw, he's not so bad a guy after all...oh yes he is!" instead of "maybe he's not so bad...no, he is...but he's got his reasons, I guess...", which we got instead.

    FWIW Darlton said they thought this was the right place for the ep, to allow some breathing room after the deaths in the previous episode, or something. So it becomes a difference of opinion: a lot of people think it killed the momentum, they think the momentum needed slowing...

    And the MiB's name better be the most amazing reveal ever...

    I don't think we're ever going to find out what his name is. Apparently, they have a reason for why that is, but they won't explain it, because they're being douche-y about it.

    Frankly, at this point, I'd rather he go unnamed, because there is simply no name that would be worth all the obfuscation. It'd be the Adam and Even skeletons all over again.

    Humorously, I've heard some people wondering if MiB's name isn't Esau, and the producers didn't think we'd make that connection, so when everyone started calling him that approximately 13 seconds after "The Incident" finished, they said "nuts" and just decided to never name him officially.

    But I've read nothing to support that idea, it's just kinda funny.

    @BrotherofTeebore: You know how I know how much you didn't like this episode? You disliked it enough to leave a comment. :)

    Considering I care nothing for the Losties at this point, the mythology is the only thing keeping me going and now that has essentially failed me.

    I feel your pain. I care a little bit more about the Losties than you do (well, about Desmond, at least, a little about Sawyer, and Ben, if he'd ever do anything cool again, though they have done a good job this season of making me give two farts about Jack for the first time ever) but I've always cared more about the mythology and how the characters fit into it than I ever have about the characters in and of themselves.

    And if there's one thing Darlton has made perfectly clear in interviews, it that's they care WAY more about the characters than the mythology. So it definitely seems like the more interested one is in the mythology of the show, the more disappointed they'll be by the end.

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  4. yeah i found this episode pretty meh- i didn't really get anything out of it that was worth delaying the main plot lines

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  5. Teebore, you such a softy. This episode was a failure, plain and simple (as we already discussed at length).

    To sum it up, the answers we did get about the island and it's background in that episode could have been given to us in about a 15 minute span. So the rest of the episode was just about Jacob and his brother, two characters whom we only care about because they can provide answers.

    So, Entire episode dedicated to characters whom we only care about because they can provide answers + Very few answers = Unhappy Dr. Bitz

    It's sad, because the writers are going to point to this episode and the negative reaction to it to show how people really just care about the characters and aren't interested in answers or mythology. They're wrong, of course, the problem with this episode was that didn't provide enough answers.

    I didn't even mind its placement, but it really should have shown us from the birth of the brothers up until the Black Rock arrives and gotten way more into the nature of Smokey.

    I have a feeling this whole series is going to leave me with one big question that dwarfs all other questions.

    Why write a show filled with mysteries if you don't want to answer them?

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  6. @Dr. Bitz: Teebore, you such a softy.

    I know, I know...

    So the rest of the episode was just about Jacob and his brother, two characters whom we only care about because they can provide answers.

    I still think that's a spot on characterization of Jacob and MiB's appeal. I love it.

    I will say that one place this episode did succeed, for me, was to give me a sense of MiB as a character and not just an impersonation of Locke. As a result, now I do kinda care about him as something more than a conduit for answers/a mustache-twirling villain, at least a little.

    They're wrong, of course, the problem with this episode was that didn't provide enough answers.

    Exactly. On both counts.

    it really should have shown us from the birth of the brothers up until the Black Rock arrives and gotten way more into the nature of Smokey.

    Agreed. For all the complaints I've seen that there are still tons of questions about the mother and the light and all that, I feel satisfied with most of that (the story starts with Jacob so the pre-Jacob mother stuff is irrelevant, the light is the EM energy that ancient people didn't have a better word for).

    Where the episode comes up short, answer-wise, for me, is Smokey and his nature. The story even seems to stop before we get to the character stuff the writers like more than the mythology: how did Jacob feel when he learned his brother was still alive? How did that change their relationship? How is keeping Smokey on the island related to guarding the light? How does Jacob feel about transforming his brother into a monster?

    Those questions seem pretty important to the final culmination of the show's plot, and they seem like they'd be pretty important to the precious characters Darlton values so much over the mythology, and this seemed like the place to cover that ground.

    I dunno, they've said they'll be touching a bit more on some of the Smokey stuff before the end, but I'm at a point where I highly doubt whatever they say will be enough.

    Why write a show filled with mysteries if you don't want to answer them?

    Honestly? I (sadly) think the answer is they used the mysteries to keep an audience engaged in the story in a way they wouldn't have if it was just about a bunch of people doin' stuff.

    (Of course, the other answer is that the mystery stuff only mattered to them as a way to see how the characters reacted to it; it was a means to an end. They didn't care about paying off the mysteries, they just cared about having the characters REACT to it).

    I mean, we've always kinda assumed that they kept the first season more character-driven so as not to drive away a non sci-fi audience and because they weren't sure if the show would last, so they didn't want to setup too much mythology and never pay it off.

    Now I'm wondering if the first season isn't the closest to Darlton's ultimate vision for the show (character drama against a unique backdrop) and once it was clear the show was going to stick around, they shrugged and said "well, people'll stick around for a season of this character stuff, but we'll need something more to keep them engaged longer" and ramped up the mythology stuff to that end.

    Now that it's coming to an end, they don't need us to stick around any longer, so they're paying lip service to the mythology and focusing once more on what they've always cared about: the character stuff.

    And now they're angry that a large portion of the fans embraced the means-to-an-end mythology stuff more than what they cared about all along, the characters.

    So a lot of fans are angry that it's becoming clear that the mythology isn't as important to Darlton as it is to them, while Darlton is mad that the fans embraced the mythology more than the characters.

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  7. I enjoyed it because it was Lost. But yes, I was left with too many questions.

    I'm going to have to convince myself that the series finale was premature and the show had been canceled. Otherwise, I'm going to be so mad for spending six years on the show. *sigh*

    BUT I'm used to disappointment as I am a huge fan of many shows that were canceled before their time and before questions were answered.

    So all in all, I'm just in this for the ride. I have now excepted I will be left feeling incomplete and teased but at least, the emotional roller coaster will be over.

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  8. I think Senet is meant to invoke Mack Sennett, slapstick-comedy film director of the early 20th century, and thus lead us to "Mack the Knife" — a.k.a. Mackie Messer of The Threepenny Opera. Obviously this means that there are three separate universes at work in Lost, each with their own Penny. I shall now take to calling the knife used by Jacob's brother (and later Dogen) "Mack".

    8^)

    Teebore: ... it seems like the Force, if there was a planet somewhere in the Star Wars galaxy that the Force came from.

    Or the Source, from Jack Kirby's New Gods saga — which is even a word used to describe it in the episode.

    Teebore: Every time we've seen the Man in Black prior to this episode, he was already Smokey, taking the form of his original body.

    I know for a fact that not everybody gets that. Not just disagreeing with Smokey having the actual essence of MIB, I mean, but his prior appearances onscreen being post-Smokification; my sister had thought that when we saw him talk to Jacob in "The Incident" and later in "Ab Aeterno" it must've been before his body was laid to rest, but that can't be the case.

    Teebore: I like the idea that Smokey wants to go home to a place he's never actually been, just a place that's not the island.

    We both touched on this, independently, over at Nikki's, but beyond the... well, not irony, really, but strangeness of that fact (not that it isn't understandable), until now I never really thought about how unable to grasp the vastness of land and civilization Man in Black must've been before he became Smokey, even after all he discussed with the villagers on the Island, and how overwhelming it must've been the first time he was able to absorb someone else's memories after taking their form once he was Smokey.

    Teebore: Once upon a time, Darlton said that the revelation of the identity of Adam and Eve would prove they've had the main narrative planned from the start. Dr. Bitz and I agreed that, regardless of whether or not they had planned the whole thing out from the beginning, there was simply no revelation that could ever prove such a thing, and they were foolish for saying so.

    You're absolutely right. I guess if there had been a little bit more evidence of some sort on the bodies to call back to, there could've at least been some proof that they had Adam and Eve's identities planned from their first appearance. But how would that serve as proof of the overarching story? Plus with continuity errors like the erroneous information on the obit scrap that Jack had referring him to what ended up being Jeremy Bentham, not to mention the whole mess made of that supposedly ultra-important alias, we can't always trust in-story hints anyway.

    Teebore: Did going into the light cave transform Man in Black into Smokey, or did Man in Black die before going into the cave, and upon entering it, he released Smokey, who took the form and memories of Man in Black? ...

    I don't think MIB's transformation into, or possibly absorption by, Smokey, is mutually exclusive with Smokey being representative of an ancient evil that Jacob needs to keep in check on the Island having been responsible for its loosing (per your parenthetical remarks). And I hold to Jacob not having actually killed MIB before he drifted into the cave, because I believe their inability to off one another is/was for real.

    Great writeup!

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  9. Falen: this late in the game, i really have stopped caring about this stuff. I want to know what's going to happen in the sideways verse and what's going to happen with the surviving losties.

    BrotherofTeebore: Considering I care nothing for the Losties at this point, the mythology is the only thing keeping me going and now that has essentially failed me.

    Ha! Two sides... 8^)

    Teebore: It definitely seems like it would have been better served at least before the "Smokey IS the bad guy, for serious this time" reveal that came in the last two episodes.

    I don't read much in the way of outside interviews or listen to the podcasts, but sometimes I see something or hear about it from friends or in message threads, and I couldn't escape hearing that "Darlton" gave us the submarine deaths in part to reveal the true depths of MIB / Smokey Locke's evil — not just desperation, but evil. And then they run this chapter?

    Teebore: @BrotherofTeebore: You know how I know how much you didn't like this episode?

    I wanna see you guys go all Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen on this. (Of course, if you haven't seen The 40-Year-Old Virgin and, ideally, the bonus feature on the scene to which I'm alluding: Never mind.)

    Dr. Bitz: I didn't even mind its placement, but it really should have shown us from the birth of the brothers up until the Black Rock arrives and gotten way more into the nature of Smokey.

    Exactamundo! Ditto also to Teebore's reply to you on this, which I think we've also agreed upon over at Nik at Nite.

    Teebore: So a lot of fans are angry that it's becoming clear that the mythology isn't as important to Darlton as it is to them, while Darlton is mad that the fans embraced the mythology more than the characters.

    Your whole lead-up to this was very insightful and, probably, frustratingly close to the truth. The mythology is inextricably tied to the characters, though, since it's the entire framework of the story; even the most seemingly ordinary interpersonal details of their lives seem to be bound up in their strange connection to one another and to the Island. Not only do we deserve to know a good deal about what's going on, anyone who cares about the characters wants them to know why they have that strange connection, for what purpose they've been put through this ordeal, and ideally even how it's all possible.

    VW: hawnis — Goldie's Facebook setting.

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  10. @Blam: I shall now take to calling the knife used by Jacob's brother (and later Dogen) "Mack".

    Ha! I love it.

    Or the Source, from Jack Kirby's New Gods saga — which is even a word used to describe it in the episode.

    Jacob=High Father, MiB=Darkseid, then? ;)

    how overwhelming it must've been the first time he was able to absorb someone else's memories after taking their form once he was Smokey.

    Great point! I can only imagine how his mind must have spun when introduced to some of the more modern elements of society. No wonder he has an aversion to (though not an outright ignorance of) technology, as we define it.

    Plus with continuity errors like the erroneous information on the obit scrap that Jack had referring him to what ended up being Jeremy Bentham, not to mention the whole mess made of that supposedly ultra-important alias, we can't always trust in-story hints anyway.

    Oh, don't even get me started on the Bentham business. That's always going to bug the crap out of me.

    One of the things that's been bugging me about Darlton lately is this recent dismal on their part of the mystery elements of the show.

    One of the great and enticing things about Lost from almost the very beginning of the show was the mystery element. Obviously, fans took to puzzling out what was going on with gusto, and through the years, there has been an implication, either through the show itself or via interviews, that the creators were playing fair with the audience in that regard.

    Now, as the end draws near, it's become clear they weren't playing fair. Things we thought were clues were production errors (it happens; it's TV, and plenty of shows had worse), things we thought were mysteries, never were (here, there's some blame on the audience, but at the same time, Darlton never attempted to reign in the exponentially growing list of mysteries to be addressed, until now), and the implication, inherent in all mysteries, that eventually, our theorizing would end and we'd get to THE ANSWER, was wrong.

    I mean, half the fun of any whodunit (and as much as Darlton may be protest this now, Lost has long operated as one of fiction's great whodunits) is trying to figure it out yourself, but the other half is in finding out if your deductions were correct.

    Yes, whodunits (at least, the good ones) also have compelling characters and reasons to follow the story beyond JUST figuring out the mystery, but at their end, the mystery stands solved.

    Now, it seems like in the 11th hour, instead of paying off their mysteries, Darlton is trying to claim they've never been writing a whodunit at all, and we were just wrong to ever think so.

    I mean, I like Sherlock Holmes stories because Holmes is one of fiction's greatest characters, but I'd like them a whole lot less if Holmes never actually solved the mystery and the reader was just left to debate with other readers whether the conclusions we drew were the same as Holmes'.

    There's leaving things open to interpretation, and then there's Choose Your Own Adventure books.

    Great writeup!

    Thanks! This was honestly one of the hardest Lost writeups I've ever done. I always try to remain somewhat removed, to keep them from devolving into a series of "I liked this, this was great, I didn't like when this happened" posts, but this one was tough. In large part, because I was (and still am) very conflicted on the episode, with parts I liked, parts I loathed, and parts I won't really know how I feel about until the show is over.

    Thus, I didn't want to be too harsh or too apologetic, as I was really feeling both.

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  11. cont...

    Ha! Two sides...

    Indeed. And in that, I think, we find the problem with the episode. It's not, as Darlton seems to insist, because it was a mythology episode (thus proving people really don't want mythology episodes) or because the answers given were different than people had theorized, but because, as Dr. Bitz so astutely pointed out, the episode fell somewhere in between what the Character people and the Mythology people want, not giving enough answers for the later, while abandoning the characters we actually care about, giving the former little to enjoy.

    In the end, neither was left happy.

    And then they run this chapter?

    It does seem counter-intuitive, doesn't it?

    Of course, if you haven't seen The 40-Year-Old Virgin and, ideally, the bonus feature on the scene to which I'm alluding: Never mind.

    Oh, no worries, we're big 40 Year Old Virgin fans around these parts. Fo' sho.

    Not only do we deserve to know a good deal about what's going on, anyone who cares about the characters wants them to know why they have that strange connection, for what purpose they've been put through this ordeal, and ideally even how it's all possible.

    Very well said. It's really about mythology AND character, and while there are certainly fans of one over the other, it seems like, of late, Darlton is trying to say it's really always JUST been about character, and we've been wrong to expect concrete answers to most of the mysteries.

    And that's just plain wrong.

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