OK, now that was more like it! After last week's a bit disappointing "What Kate Does," Lost was clicking on all cylinders with this Locke-centric episode. True, we did only get one half of the characters in the episode (no Temple folks, or Jin and Claire), but what we did receive was a heaping helping of answers to big questions. Well, perhaps the answers are not to be believed, but they were answers nonetheless. I think we were supposed to be left with two main questions after the episode: 1) Is Smokey telling the truth about the nature of the Island and Jacob's attempts to "protect" it?; and 2) Why isn't Kate's name on the wall? Intriguing stuff. Here are my thoughts on "The Substitute":
*Wow, was that weird seeing a happy Locke in the Sideways timeline? Despite his paralysis and getting fired from his job, Locke was a rather content individual. Yes, he did get angry when his wheelchair lift didn't work, or when Hurley's car was parked too close to his, but these seemed to be passing aggravations, not the bitter hatred of the world orginal 2004 Locke experienced. Look no further than his laughter when, face down on the lawn, the sprinklers turned on. He did experience mounting anger about his situation (should he see Dr. Shephard about his paralysis?), but I felt this was more for Helen's sake. He wanted to be perfect for her; however, with a little help from Rose and Helen's kind words, Locke realized that he has challenges, but is comfortable in who he is. He is not a cosmic joke.
*This stands in stark contrast to Smokey's declaration that Jacob's recruiting of people to replace him as protector of the Island is a joke. When he siad this, I immediately thought about Locke: Original Recipe's conversion from faithful button-pusher to button-denier in Season 2. Then, too, Locke ended up believing the button was pointless -- nothing more than a joke being played by the Dharma folks who were observing them like rats in a maze. This all plays into the ideas of fate and free will, but I couldn't help make the connection between the Swan station, Smokey's explanation of Jacob's machinations and Sideways Locke's happiness.
*As usual for this season already, there was some really strong work being done by Josh Holloway and Terry O'Quinn. I was right in thinking Smokey was going to approach Sawyer to follow him, but I may have been wrong in choosing a reason. I don't think Smokey wanted to play on Sawyer's despair, because he seemed genuinely surprised to see Sawyer in such a state. I think, rather, Smokey just wants to grab whomever hasn't been crossed out on Jacob's wall. As Smokey doesn't know which Kwon was targeted by Jacob, the easiest person to get to is Sawyer. I enjoyed the repurposing of Of Mice and Men here, as once again Sawyer was being led to an unknown destination by someone he didn't trust. These echoes to previous points in the series provide a nice reflection on why we enjoyed the series so much. Lastly on Sawyer, do you really think he is "ready to go home?" I think, at this point, sure; Sawyer has aligned himself with Smokey, but something will change. I just can't fathom a situation where Sawyer doesn't end up sacrificing himself for his friends. As he detailed to Smokey earlier in the episode, there have been a number of times he was supposed to get off the Island, but was ultimately prevented from leaving (raft blown up, submarine exploded, jumped off the helicopter, etc.). Unfortunately for Mr. Ford, I think something will prevent his leaving again.
*Jacob's cave. Well, I think we're going to need more information before we can make any kind of definitive statements on what the names and numbers really mean. Does Jacob really "have a thing for numbers" or do the Numbers have a more significant meaning? Why wasn't Kate's name on the wall, or is she number 108 and we just didn't see it? Was Jacob really trying to find a replacement for himself or is there something more to it? How does one of the candidates get the job? I mean, people have been crossed off the list for various reasons: Locke was murdered by Ben, Charlie sacrificed himself for his friends, and poor Gary Troup was sucked into the plane's engine when the plane first crashed. Does the winning candidate just have to outlive everybody else? Seems a rather random way to select a successor to such an important job. Regardless, my interest was mightily piqued, so I look forward to more on this in the coming weeks.
*I guess I need to talk about the blonde boy with bloody hands that appeared to Smokey in the jungle. To be honest, I have no idea who or what that was. I thought it was maybe a vision of Smokey as a young kid or something, but then I got a different thought. I know it's been floating around the internet for the last couple days, but you'll have to believe me that at the time, I thought that maybe the kid is some time-travelling version of Aaron. I'm not sure how or why, but that's the vibe I was getting. How that fits into the bloody hands? No idea. Why Sawyer can see him? Not a clue. I assume this kid's existence and why he knows the rules will be explained soon. Further, I expect the creation of the rules and what they are will be explained soon too (at least, I hope so!). To me, the most important thing about the whole blonde boy encounter though, was Smokey's use of "Don't tell me what I can't do!" I am very intrigued by the idea that Locke is still in there somewhere. Locke may be resurrected, but that may be a road too far. However, as Helen said, "There are miracles, John."
*Biggest change for Sideways Locke? He is friendly with his father. Between Helen wanting to invite Locke's dad to their elopement, and the picture of Locke and Cooper in Locke's cubicle, it is clear Locke's father didn't cause Locke's paralysis. I wonder how that happen, and whether we'll see it.
*I loved seeing Richard scared. It was fantastic to see the guy who's usually completely in charge, literally running for his life. I was wondering why Smokey didn't just kill Richard when Richard refused to go with him. Perhaps it's against the rules -- you can't kill the consigliarie?
*How come Smokey didn't turn into the smoke when he chased after the blonde boy? Were his shape-shifting powers dampened somehow?
*Back to Richard. How come he didn't know about Jacob looking for candidates? How come Ilana does? Why and when did Richard side with Jacob in the first place?
*Ben's eulogy was perfect. Real emotion at seeing the death of his, perhaps, greatest adversary, but the continued archness in admitting his part in the murder.
*Speaking of Ben, of course he bitches about the coffee! Ben is a nerdy European History teacher? Awesome.
*I expect Boone to help Locke and Helen with their wedding.
*Did you catch Helen's t-shirt? "Peace & Karma." Nice.
That's it, folks. Again, I thought this was a very strong episode, and really has the season moving forward at a fast clip. Yes, more questions were asked, but they accompanied big reveals about major mysteries. I expect, as we move forward from here, the hits will keep on coming. Please leave any thoughts, theories or comments below. Remember to check out the other fabulous reviewers for more info on "The Substitute" (Doc Arzt, Doc Jensen, Jay and Jack, Erika Olson). I'll be back Tuesday morning with a preview of this week's episode, the Jack-centric "Lighthouse." I'm off to put on some pants and make a gentleman's drink.