Jack, I'm usually about 15 to16 times more pleased with any given episode than you are. Thus I thought "The Substitute" was even more fun than all those days we've spent getting drunk and listening to your old '70s rock vinyls. Frank said it best last night: Lost's final season is turning into the "weirdest funeral that I've ever been to." If "The Substitute" is any indication, the eulogies in particular promise great entertainment.
It got off to a roller-coaster start with the return of Smokevision—Lost's greatest contribution to the field of cinematography. It crested with the cheap-but-delectable reveal that an island-less Ben is nothing but a control freak in the most uncontrollable setting imaginable. And finally, the evening ended by propelling us into the next half-dozen episodes. Once again we have characters splintering into different factions, and Smokey looks to have found a henchman. In a twisted version of Locke and Sawyer's traipse through the jungle to go kill Locke's father, Sawyer is once again helping Locke—or at least Locke's body—get the freedom he craves.
There was so much packed into this episode it's best to break it down bullet-by-bullet. I'm sorry to report I have more questions than answers. Gentlemen, care to rappel into the depths with me?
- Locke's daddy issues, resolved or displaced? If the rest of the off-island stories are this good, the alternate-timeline experiment will be a success. Here Locke still struggles with his disability and taking orders; he still has the same cubicle job with the same douchebag boss; he still plays the same war games at lunch break, presumably for the same escapist thrill it provided him from the same incurable paralysis. (Locke's boss calls him Colonel, which was also Locke's derogatory nickname in Season 1.) And yet things are different, which makes new-Locke's similarities to old-Locke all the more poignant. He's engaged to Helen, the woman who wouldn't stay with him after he helped his dad run a scam. His father, it seems, is also back in the picture, as Helen mentions they've invited him to the wedding. (And there's a picture of him and John in John's cubicle.) Presumably Locke isn't going to invite a guy who shoved him out a window, so we must assume that this time Locke is paralyzed from a different incident. This raises a question I have a feeling we'll be asking some version of quite a bit this season: Is it Locke's destiny to be paralyzed? And if so, is it predetermined how that injury will shape his personality? We know the universe course-corrects, but at some point free will also must come into play.
- The only way to change a scale's reading is to drop a stone. We had our most explicit confirmation yet that all the black-white juxtaposition in Lost was a proxy for the Smokey-Jacob battle. When Smokey Locke tosses that white stone in the ocean, it's an attempt not just to change the balance of power, but to tie up several loose ends from Season 1. This week's Slate V installment of "Previously on Lost" covers this in depth, so you should watch that for further explanation. Suffice to say Season 1 is going to make a lot more sense during your next DVD marathon.
- On substitutes and replacements. Smokey's lecture about Jacob wanting to find a substitute to protect the island was reminiscent of Desmond's obsession with finding a replacement to push the button. It's unclear if either man's cause is actually valid—does the island need a protector? Does the button need pushing? —but they can't stop obsessing for fear of what might happen if they do. They're looking for a way out, for someone else to shoulder the burden.
- Jacob doesn't need Kate on that wall. Missing from that rock/chalkboard was the last name Austen. And yet we know Jacob touched Kate—as he did Hurley, Sawyer, Jack, and the others. So what did Jacob want with Kate? Lost TV Club Theory No. 5! Kate was never a "candidate" to do whatever it is that candidates eventually do. Rather, she was a pawn needed to help Jacob judge Jack and Sawyer. Maybe there's room enough for only one alpha male in the candidate lineup, and Jacob wanted to see how each would respond to Kate's freckled charms.
- When were the numbers assigned? Remember that Sayid and Hurley were touched after the original Oceanic plane crashed. So were they not in the running before their initial stay on the island and somehow earned a place on the scoreboard through good behavior? Are they, as a friend of mine believes, "substitutes" for two candidates who didn't make the cut after the first 100 days on the island, Kate perhaps included? Note that the numbers don't seem to have been assigned based on the order that Jacob first touched the candidates.
- That nice-looking young boy with the little vest. Let's assume that Sawyer can see him but Richard can't because only candidates can see apparitions. But setting that assumption aside—the boy's reference to "the rules" implies that somebody, somewhere is watching this power struggle. Unless of course he's a young version of Jacob (blond hair, good jawline) somehow come back from the past to remind Smokey of the rules that they made up themselves. And why was he bloodied in one apparition but clean in the other? My guess: He paid a visit to the temple's fountain of youth.
Many questions, but unlike in the past, I actually feel like they have answers. Seth, are you feeling the same, or are you dismayed by the absence of potential zombies this week?
Zombies or no zombies, I'm ready to renew my vows. But maybe it's just because 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 made an appearance last night. Like Jacob, I have a thing for numbers.