Quite an episode. For fans who feared Lost season 6 wasn't working after last week's show, I think they were more than satisfied by "The Substitute." What does the title mean? Most obviously, Locke became a substitute teacher. But perhaps it also refers to Jacob looking for a substitute. Or Fake Locke being a substitute for the real thing. But more on that later.
First I rewatched last week's episode. As I expected, if you know you're about to watch a new hour immediately after, it plays pretty well. Even the "weak" episodes of Lost tend to be fun if you don't think you'll have to wait a week to see what's next.
Then the network showed promos of the upcoming episode. Hey ABC, you already got me--no need to spoil what's next.
Then the show. If you didn't know already, you soon discovered it was Locke-centric. Just like the first season, the first two regular episodes are Kate and Locke. The first Locke show, "Walkabout," was the hour that turned me, and millions of others, into Lost fans.
Anyway, we're in the alt-timeline, and a truck pulls up at a nice house in a nice suburb. Locke's driving. This looks like the kind of house he used to inspect. Does he live here now? He gets stuck when his wheelchair lift jams. He falls to the lawn and the sprinklers start. And out comes Helen from the house to save him. I guess that's why he seemed to take it pretty well. Before the reset, he'd lost Helen due to his obsession with his dad, and was reduced to calling the phone sex girl "Helen." (When he later returned to the mainland Helen had died.)
Next he's in the tub, while he and Helen discuss their upcoming nuptials. First let me note it's weird seeing either in a warm domestic scene, Terry O'Quinn coming from The Stepfather and Katey Sagal from Married With Children. Anyway, she's sick of planning for the wedding. (Isn't that Boone's business?) She suggests they keep it simple, with her parents and his dad. Now either Locke hasn't told her that his dad is an evil con man responsible for his paralysis, or this timeline is very different indeed.
Then they talk about his conference in Australia. Wait, wasn't it a walkabout? They also talk about his new acquaintance, spinal surgeon Jack Shephard. She thinks it may be destiny that they met at LAX. He's more doubtful. This isn't the man of faith we remember from the island. (Though, to be fair, first season Locke was a pretty sensible guy who wouldn't believe just any mumbo jumbo. But he was healed, which makes you believe in miracles.)
On the island, we get an Evil Dead fly-through to Dharmaville, where Smokey looks at his reflection in the window while Sawyer listens to music inside. Smokey moves on, rematerializes as Flocke, and releases Richard from the bondage he put him in. This is gonna be good.
"Colonel" Locke wheels into work. He still works at the box business, but the place looks nicer, as does his workspace. Is that a photo of himself with his dad? Randy comes up and seems nice for a second. Is alt-Randy a coworker, or even a suck-up? Nope, alt-Randy is as big as jerk as ever. Worse, in fact. He's discovered Locke didn't attend that conference in Australia and fires him.
Flocke talks to a frightened Richard. If you wait long enough on Lost, everyone who seems to have it together will lose it. Flocke wants Richard to work with him, but Richard, scared as he is, is more scared of working with Flocke. What has this guy done (to Richard or in general)? (Or what has Jacob told Richard?) Flocke mentions he became John because John was a "candidate." Richard doesn't know what he means. This is a big deal. Being a candidate means quite a lot, but Richard is unaware. Richard, the trusted advisor. The man who delivers information from Jacob, and those lists. In all the years Richard served Jacob, he was doing it out of blind faith? Jacob apparently runs things so that his people are in the dark. Is this part of the free will kick, or does Jacob just prefer a light touch?
Anyway, Flocke is incensed. If he ran things, he'd be open about how things work. Flocke could be lying, of course, but I'm guessing he's mostly telling the truth. On the other hand, he's trying to talk people into joining him, so, considering he's willing to kill people who get in his way, you think he'd be willing to mislead them.
Flocke promises to tell Richard everything. He also threatens him--people don't usually get a second chance. Richard says no way and Flocke is distracted by an apparition of a young child which only he can see. He moves on and Richard is worried but, I'm guessing relieved. This is obviously not over.
At the statue, Ilana is crying over her dead comrades. Ben comes in and explains what happened--leaving out the minor fact that he, not Flocke, killed Jacob. It's interesting that Ilana seems to know more about Jacob and The Rules than anyone else, but she's not aware that Smokey can't kill Jacob. She collects Jacob's ashes. Considering how important ashes are in general, Jacob must make extra-super ashes. (Are all those ashes we see dead people?) Ilana does at least know where Flocke has gone:"recruiting."
Cut to Flocke at Dharmaville marching toward Sawyer's place. He's listening to the Stooges "Search And Destroy." Nice music, even if it didn't fit the theme. Sawyer's on a bender. He was always a dark guy, but now the small hope he used to have has been removed.
He takes Locke's appearance pretty well, because he's past caring. He's been told Locke is dead. Flocke agrees. You have to remember three years ago, Locke saved Sawyer, Juliet and the rest, and Sawyer insisted they stick around until Locke came back. Well, he finally has. Sawyer poors him a drink and continues drinking himself.
Sawyer, with a con man's eye, knows this character isn't John Locke. Flocke, a sort of con man himself, has a come-on--he's the guy who can tell Sawyer why he's on the island. It wasn't a mistake, it was destiny. Sawyer doesn't believe it, but Flocke says he can prove it. Sawyer says he better put some pants on--last time he followed Locke on his own (and ended up killing Locke's father) he forgot to bring shoes. Since Juliet died, Sawyer's been moping around, so this is a good development. He's got a project to keep him busy.
Over at the box factory, Locke is parked in. Of course, if he just parked in the handicap space, he's have plenty of room. We see Locke still has anger problems. The guy who parked him in shows up--Hurley, who owns the company. We've closed the loop they kept open the first season. This is a new Hurley--Huge Reyes, successful businessman and the luckiest guy in the world. Locke mentions Randy, who used to be Hugo's boss at Mr. Cluck's. Locke doesn't want his job back, so Hugo sets him up for another job at his temp agency.
We cut from the nicest guy on the show to the other nicest guy on the show, Lapidus, looking at corpse-Locke, outside the Statue. Jin is there and they're joined by Ben and Ilana. All the Others have scurried off to the Temple, after having seen directly what they're running from. The Temple is the only safe place on the island--sounds sort of like Passover. Ilana wants to go to the Temple, but Sun is looking for Jin. Ilana says he'll be at the Temple. Well, he was there, but last we saw, he was saved by Claire, so who knows? The show has been stringing this reunion along for a couple seasons now.
Flocke leads Sawyer through the jungle and discovers everyone else is at the Temple. Valuable information (if not necessarily correct). Flocke sees the kid again, as does Sawyer--can "candidates" see him? Flocke gives chase. The kid spookily tells him "You know the rules...you can't kill him." Flocke replies "Don't tell me what I can't do!" Fascinating.
I assume this means he can't kill Sawyer. Or presumably any Candidate. (Though would Flocke forget? He knew he couldn't kill Jacob--he worked pretty hard but never forgot that rule.) Meanwhile, the response strongly suggests when he takes over a body, he has parts of the memory and personality. I might add Sawyer just told him he didn't have any fear, unlike the actual Locke. Really? Seemed pretty nervous to me.
The other question. Who is this kid? Some form of Jacob? (Makes sense, since he knows the rules and condescends to Flocke.) Aaron? Young Sawyer? Some child that Blackie had, or killed, back in the day?
While Flocke is gone, scaredy-cat Richard comes out of the forest and warns Sawyer. We need to go to the Temple. (With Jacob gone, will all the Others live in the Temple for the rest of their lives?) He thinks Flocke wants to kill Sawyer--guess he didn't hear the kid. Sawyer knows better, since he'd be dead already if that were true. Richard says don't believe anything he says, he'll kill everyone you care about. We've certainly seen Flocke do damage, and this presages a lot more. Richard leaves just as Flocke returns. Sawyer pretends there's no Richard and Locke pretends there's no kid--they both know better, but they have bigger fish to fry.
AltaLocke is at the job interview. He's getting nowhere in the interview and demands to meet the supervisor. It's Rose! Locke is running into everyone. (Locke sat a few seats directly behind Rose on the flight, but they don't remember each other.) Locke still has impossible dreams, and doesn't want to be told what he can't do. Rose is sensible (as always) and explains to him he's got to be reasonable. They have words and she explains she's got terminal cancer. (Not everyone does better in the alt-timeline.) That shocks some sense into him.
Back on the trail, Sawyer, the reader, brings up Steinbeck, who's too modern for Flocke. Sawyer obviously loves Of Mice And Men, since he also brought it up to Ben back on Hyrda island. Ben knew it too--better than Sawyer. (Sawyer is sort of a mix of Lenny and George.) Now Sawyer pulls a gun on Flocke. Flocke isn't scared, nor are we. You almost wish Sawyer would shoot so we can see the bullet bounce off him.
Then Flocke reveals something pretty significant. Earlier Ben asked "what are you" and Flocke replied "I'm a who, not a what." When James asks the same question, Flocke gets more specific. He used to be a regular man, a long, long time ago. He's trapped now. This episode is like all the Jacob reveal episodes--we're pulling the curtain back a bit, but there's still so much we don't know.
Flocke almost sounds sympathetic. Is he trying to fool Sawyer? I'd guess he's telling the truth, but what sort of deal is this? Were both he and Jacob regular guys who were recruited to whatever it is they are on this island? Or did this just happen to Smokey? Does he not want to be Smokey? How is he trapped? Can he help judging people? What will he do when he's not trapped? Did the island make them the way they are, or were they this way already? Is the island magic, or are they magic? Are there even bigger figures behind Jacob and Smokey who made them this way?
Back at the beach, Ilana and the group are carrying Locke to his burial. Ilana explains Smokey is stuck in Locke. Okay, she oughta know, but why? I mean Smokey did materialize as Alex in-between his apperances as Locke, so isn't this a new rule? Once he takes on a body for a while is he then stuck (until the body dies)? Once he's confronted with the actual corpse? If Jacob is killed he's stuck? I can see why the writers have the rule--otherwise we'd just wonder why he wouldn't take over other bodies to get what he wants (and Terry O'Quinn would have a lot less work). Still the rules seem very odd.
The group comes to the original Lostaways' cemetery. I hope it's on the way to the Temple, since, based on "The Incident," this is a bit of a hike. None of them will give a eulogy (which makes sense) until Ben, who's actually closer to Locke than anyone, speaks up. Last time he left him, he apologized for making Locke's life so misrable. Now he admits Locke was a better man than he, and he's sorry he murdered him. I guess he figures he'll never go back to the mainland, since he'd be up on charges.
Speaking of the mainland, Locke wakes up and prepares for the day. He looks in the mirror. Just like alt-Jack and alt-Kate did in their episodes. Is this a theme? The alt-world is a mirror to the Island world, (though these aren't flashbacks--both worlds are equally real as far as we know). He considers calling Jack but doesn't. He keeps meeting everyone else from his Island life, but won't meet the main guy who offered a free consult.
His lost bags with his boar-hunting knives show up and he explains everything to Helen. He was fired. He tried, but failed, to go on a walkabout (so he lied to Boone about this). His description of how they refused him sounds just like the one in "Walkabout." Except in this timeline he realizes he's been foolish--in fact, they can tell him what to do. Time to cast aside dreams, even if Helen still believes in them. He'll never walk. But Helen knows they still found each other, which is the true miracle.
Now that we've seen the Temple, you may have figured we've gotten the full tour, but there are still some out-of-the-way spots that only the locals know about. Flocke leads Sawyer to the cliffs. There's a hole in the side, not easily accessible. They gotta climb down some ladders. Hmm, two parallel ladders, where you switch from one to the other--sorta like two alternate timelines. (Jacob's Ladder?)
After some action, they make it. We see a white and black rock on a scale. An "inside joke," Flocke notes.
They go deeper in and written on the walls and ceilings are names, most crossed off. This is "why you're all here."
Back in the other timeline, Locke is helping out with girls' gym class. Next he's teaching a class in the human reproductive system. Teenage Locke refused to go to a science camp (backed by the Others) and wanted to be a sports star. Where, he's getting both now. So this is his new temp job as a substitute.
In the teachers' lounge, who should we see but a whiny Ben Linus! He teaches European history. Is this the same Ben Linus who learned Egyptian history on the island? Seems to be a new Linus completely. Either way, who cares--the Odd Couple are back together. (And did I see Harper in the lounge too? Have all the Others relocated here?)
Back at the cliffs, Sawyer looks at all the names. I didn't stop to read them, but I have no doubt there are already numerous websites that list every one. Flocke explains Jacob wrote the names. (As each name is mentioned we get unnecessary--for fans--flashbacks of Jacob meeting them.) The names not crossed out have particular numbers attached. Not just any numbers, THE NUMBERS. These names are Shephard, Reyes, Jarrah, Kwon (could be Sun, Jin, or maybe both--he touched them at the same time), Locke and, of course, Ford. Flocke crosses off Locke.
This is it, the ultimate Jacob's list. Flocke assures Sawyer this means Jacob met him. According to Flocke, Jacob manipulates you and forces you into choices you think are your own. We know Jacob believes in free will, but Blackie's pretty accurate in seeing how all these people on Jacob's list end up at the island. Pretty big coincidence if it's all free will. (Speaking of manipulation, did Jacob work it so that Hugo would pick the numbers and win the lotter, which set many things in motion?)
But this is a general argument about free will. How much manipulation can there be before it's not free will any more. And, couldn't someone who's subtle enough know what we'd do every step of the way, and also know that the slightest touch in one direction would set us off on a path that we think we determined, but didn't?
These names we've gotten to know so well (it was interesting at first how the Others used last names we weren't used to--they also had impressive dossiers--at first I thought it might be for all the survivors, but now I bet not) are "candidates." I'm guessing all the crossed out names were candidates, too. They've all been nominated to take over as protector of the island. Since Jacob was there until recently, I assume no one ever got to replace him. And I assume Blackie was the one who stopped them, even though he wasn't allowed to kill them directly. (The whole names-on-the-wall thing could also be a fancy con by Blackie, but somehow I doubt it.) Jacob said things keep on going, but there's progress, and an end does come.
Flocke says Sawyer has three choices--so he believes in free will too, I guess. Up to a point. First, he can do nothing. Eventually I guess he'll die (be killed?) and be crossed out. Second, he can become the new Jacob and protect the island. From what? Nothing, according to Flocke. Flocke, channeling the old Jack Shephard, says it's just a damn island, no big deal, let it alone and forget about it. I'd have serious doubts (as should Sawyer) even if I hadn't seen all the miraculous things the island, or those on it, can do. Third choice--let's leave. Together. While I think Sawyer might just about be able to get off the island this time without anyone stopping him, I think we see that Flocke needs help. How much help?
Flocke has recruited well. He's picked the guy who's the most cynical, who's got nothing to lose, and who's always been the least interested in island mythology. "Hell, yes."
The episode was so riveting you don't realize until after how much they didn't have. No Jack, Sayid, Miles, Claire, Jin, Kate, Dogen, Lennon. Nothing at the Temple. We'll just have to let the infected and uninfected stew in their juices one more week.
The list leaves a lot of questions. Is this the only list Jacob ever truly made, and everything after that is a subset? Does he add on to the list regularly, or did he create it a long time ago? Does this list include all the Others, some of the Others, or none of the Others? Is everyone on the list a potential candidate? Can you be crossed off the list but still be alive? Did only Jacob and Blackie know about the list? Seems doubtful with those ladders. Who, aside from Jacob and Blackie, was able to refer to the list?
Do the numbers of the Lostaways have any special significance, or did Jacob just have a thing about numbers, and so used them once these specific candidates got to the island. What does it mean to be a candidate anyway? Does this means you're off limits to Others, as well as Blackie? Does anyone ever "break the rules" and kill a candidate? Who (or what) enforces the rules?
Are the people on the list, or even just the ones not crossed off, anything special? In other words, does Jacob sense anything about them, or does he pick people and touch them and then they become special?
Is this just the same thing over and over, with many drawn to the island, and all end up being crossed off? Or is there something special about the Losties, and the Incident? (There is something special we know of--thanks to them, Jacob is dead. It doesn't seem to have happened before, though we can't be sure.)
And then, of course, why is Kate not on the list? (Was this mentioned in an earlier episode?) Did we just not see her name? I mean, Jacob went to the trouble of meeting her years ago, and touching her. Did he realize something was wrong with her? Did he visit her knowing she wasn't list material? (She might have gone wrong personally, but half the people on that list have killed or seriously injured others.)
If she's not on the list, it means she's in trouble. She left the Temple, but she better get back soon. The Monster is free to kill her, and he likes killing. He's left her alone so far, but now he may have a good reason to threaten her--just as Ben manipulated the Losties with Kate, so can Smokey.
The other big question, nowhere near answered yet, is how the two timelines affect each other, and how might they merge. So far they seem to be on two separate tracks, but that's the way it looked last season before everyone got together.
So, in other words, just another Lost. A few answer, a hundred new questions. Sooner or later, that ratio has to change.