Lost: The Substitute

Continuing with the season six catch-up this week, and a very, very good episode of Lost which gave plenty of clues to the endgame of the series, plus some quality time with one of the show’s greatest characters.

The Substitute begins with a smoke monster’s eye view, as our nameless antagonist (if he, indeed, is the bad guy) roams the island and transforms back into the image of John Locke. He cuts down a very scared looking Richard Alpert who was tied up in a tree. Ricard asks why he took Locke’s form, and is told that it’s because he’d be able to get close to Jacob because he’s a “candidate”. He tells Richard to come with him, but Richard declines and runs away while the Man in Black sees a boy with bloody arms, who looks like he might be a young Jacob.

He returns to the Barracks to find a drunk Sawyer listening to Iggy Pop in his pants. After the trauma of losing Juliet, Sawyer no longer cares what sorts of weirdness the island might throw at him. He’s even nonplussed to see the apparently dead John Locke standing in front of him, noting that he’s not the real Locke who, even when putting on a brave front, was always scared. The Man in Black tells him that he’ll answer the most important question of all, why he’s on the island, if he follows him. Sawyer decides to put some trousers on.

As they walk through the jungle, both of them see the boy. The Man in Black chases they boy, who says “You know the rules, you can’t kill him”. The typically John Lock response follows: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” While this is happening, a disarmingly freaked out and frantic Richard Alpert pops up and tells Sawyer to run away, but he has other ideas. So, they continue on their way, and Sawyer talks about how his favourite book is Of Mice and Men, which the Man in Black says was a little after his time. Sawyer then pulls a gun on him, ready to shoot him in the back of the head in the same way that George kills Lenny in the book (sorry, spoiler alert!). The Man in Black says that he was “once was a man” who loved and lost, but is now trapped on the island. They keep walking.

Back at the four toed statue, Ilana cries over Jacob’s death, something Ben falsely accuses the Man in Black of committing. She fills a bag with Jacob’s ashes, and mentions that the Man in Black is now “recruiting”. They, along with Frank and Sun, bury Locke’s body in the beach camp graveyard, beside Scott, Boone, Shannon, Ana-Lucia, Libby, Nicki and Paulo. Ben elects to say a few words, mentioning what a great man John was, and how sorry he was that he murdered him. As Frank Lapidus put it, “weirdest damn funeral I’ve ever been to”. Like pretty much everyone on the island, they head towards the Temple, which looks to be the place where it’s all going to go down.

Flashing sideways to 2004, we find the real John Locke enjoying a very different life to the one we knew. The difference seems to be that he has a good relationship with his father (note the photo on John’s desk, above). This also means that without his damaging obsession over what his dad did to him, Helen is still with him and they are about to get married. Back at the box company, his boss Randy Nations (always good to see him again) fires him for not going to the conference he was supposed to attend in Sydney and instead trying and, it is established here, failing to go on a walkabout. He clears his desk and brings his things to his car, Hurley, who of course owns the box company, gives him the number of a temping agency he owns. When he gets there, he’s interviewed by the same woman who was the fortune teller Hurley was sent to visit by his father in an old flashback episode. Locke gets agitated by the interview questions such as “what kind of animal would you be?”, so calls for the supervisor, who is Rose, who says she’ll get him a job. Back at home, he contemplates Jack’s offer of a free consultation, but unlike the Locke we knew before, he has started come to terms with his disability and would rather move on with his life than spend it clinging on to the hope of walking again. Life is good for him with Helen, who even accepts his walkabout when the knives arrive from Oceanic. He starts his new job, as a substitute teacher. There, in the school staff room, he meets an affable history teacher called Ben Linus.

Back, on the island, the Man in Black leads Sawyer down a rickety series of ladders (Jacob’s ladders?) down the face of a very tall cliff. Sawyer nearly falls but is rescued by the Man, who takes him down to a cave where there is a black and a white stone in some scales. Calling it an “in-joke”, he picks up the white stone, representing Jacob, and tosses it into the ocean. Deeper into the cave, they found a chamber with hundreds of names, each with a different number, written all over the ceilings and walls. These were the names of potential candidates to take over Jacob’s job, people he once met and pushed in a small way towards the island. Most of them were crossed out, but six familiar names and familiar numbers were not:

4 – LOCKE
8 – REYES
15 – FORD
16 – JARRAH
23 – SHEPHARD
42 – KWON

The Man in Black crosses out Locke’s name, and tells Sawyer that, as a candidate, he has three choices. He can do nothing, see what happened, but maybe his name will be crossed out too. He can take over Jacob’s job and protect the island, which he calls laughable, saying that the real joke is that there’s nothing to protect it from, it’s just an island. Or he can join him in getting off the island and never looking back.

He asks Sawyer if he’s ready to go home. The answer: “Hell yes.”

This episode was a fantastic showcase for Terry O’Quinn’s acting talents, as both the sinister, mysterious human form of the Smoke Monster, and the stoic, battling John Locke. It was also a very revealing episode, giving the sense that we’ll be getting those answers we’ve been waiting for on the biggest mysteries such as the numbers.

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