Seth/Chad: How can you not like an episode of Lost that includes James drinking himself to the point of acute ethanol toxicity while listening to the low-fi sounds of Iggy and the Stooges doing "Search and Destroy"? One episode does not redeem a whole season, but as our TV Club editor Juliet Lapidos e-mailed to me three minutes after Episode 4 ended, "Admit that was pretty good."
I admit it. It was pretty good. I always liked Iggy.
Previously on TV Club, I've bellyached about the aperture of Season 6 widening to infinity instead of tightening to a dramatic conclusion. As if they heard my prayers of damnation, Lost creators filled this episode, "The Substitute," with tangible exposition hinting at some sort of resolution. "Smokey" Locke takes James down "Jacob's ladder" (har-har) into the neo-Platonic cave, where the names of the marooned are scrawled on the ceiling next to a number. There he explains that Jacob "pushed" the marooned onto the island because they were "candidates" to take over the stewardship of the island.
Even casual viewers of the show will recognize that the numbers correspond to the "The Numbers"—4 8 15 16 23 42—that Desmond had to punch into the computer terminal in the Swan hatch to prevent the destruction of the island, which are also the numbers Hurley used to win the lottery after hearing them from a mad co-inmate at an asylum, which are also the numbers whose transmission led Danielle Rousseau to the island, and so on (see the Lostpedia entry for the complete numerological exegesis).
Now I assume that at least 75 percent of what Smokey Locke tells James is hooey. As if we need to hear it, we've got a terrified Richard, popping up to warn James not to trust Smokey Locke—to remind us that the apparition using John Locke's physical profile is a murderous, no-good, double-dealing, stone-cold killer. But as the cliché goes, it's always easy to con a con-man, and James seems to be buying Smokey Locke's pitch to join forces and get off the island.
Why a supernatural column of smoke would need the help of a redneck hillbilly grifter to accomplish his ends is beyond me. If Smokey Locke wants everybody dead, as Richard insists, why doesn't he get on with it? I can only assume that having baited James, Smokey will switch him to something more nefarious than mass murder.
The Lost boys avoided many of the overworked themes in their magnum opus. Nobody got shot in the gut for a change. There was only one burial. No tears that I could see. No new characters air-dropping into the narrative. And finally, there was no elaborate and purposeless chase sequence. Smokey Locke's pursuit of the fleet-footed blond youth was mercifully short, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. And the kid's admonishment to Smokey Locke about James—"You know the rules. … You can't kill him"—struck me as an indicator that Lost's creators will be limiting their feral imaginations so that all of us can get off the island for good in 14 more episodes.