Last week’s “What Kate Did” was a decent enough episode that seemed to exist mainly for the final reveal that Claire is the new Rousseau or whatever, but last night’s “The Substitute” was markedly better for several reasons. For one, it provided definite clues toward some possible answers about big-picture stuff, and it also filled in some missing stuff in the alternate timeline that likely works for the original timeline. Most of all, though, it was a great Locke episode, and that meant it let Terry O’Quinn hold the spotlight as only he can. The minor tweaks in body language between his portrayal of Locke and the Enemy are fantastic, and episodes like this one are a reminder that he’s the strongest part of the show. (By the way, I know that fans and forums have him going by a variety of names —Fake Locke, UnLocke, the Locke-ness Monster, Esau, the Man in Black, etc., etc. — but for now, to keep things relatively simple, I’ll either refer to him as Fake Locke or just the Enemy.) Onward!
The Los Angeles Timeline
Lots of good stuff going on in this one. It kicks off with Locke heading home from the airport in his specially modified van, whose wheelchair ramp sticks halfway down. He throws himself out of it and tries to crawl away when Helen comes running out of the house to help him. Helen! This is definitely the timeline where things are, if not perfect, at least a good deal happier. Instead of being dead from a brain aneurysm and buried in Santa Monica, Helen is in love with Locke and planning to marry him the following month. She thinks it’s a good sign, maybe “destiny,” that Locke met a spinal surgeon on his flight, too. She even jokes about ditching the wedding plans altogether and grabbing her folks and Locke’s dad for a Las Vegas trip, which HOLD THE PHONE. How did Locke wind up in a wheelchair if he’s still apparently on good enough terms with his dad for this to even be a joking option? Is Anthony Cooper not a scheming con man in this timeline? Or did he just stop short of shoving his son out a window? Did he still seduce Sawyer’s mother? Whatever the case, he and Locke are apparently chummy, per this publicity still of Locke’s cubicle wall from ABC:
(Is that beret just drawn on with a Sharpie?)
Locke’s still slaving away at that box company, though, which means dealing with
RAAAAAAAANDY Randy, Hurley’s former boss from Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack. Randy knows Locke didn’t go to a conference in Australia even though he went on the company dime, so he fires Locke on the spot. Outside, it gets worse when Locke sees that a giant Hummer — Hurley’s — is parked too close to his van. He pounds on it and sets off the alarm as Hurley appears, but they actually wind up having a laugh when it’s made clear Locke was just wailing on the owner’s car. Locke says he just got fired by Randy, whom Hurley admits is “a huge douche,” but the fact that Randy’s even working there, and that Hurley knows it, seems to say that Hurley cut the guy some slack after the Chicken Shack fallout. Which of course raises the question: Did the Shack still get hit by a meteor in the non-crash timeline? Or did it close for more generic reasons, allowing Hurley to help Randy out anyway?
Hurley also owns a temp agency and sends Locke there, and Locke winds up interviewing with Lynn (the fake psychic Hurley’s dad hired for him in the original timeline) before talking with Rose, because apparently everyone still knows each other in this world in a huge way. Locke makes a stink about wanting to work a construction job, but Rose tells him she has cancer and has made peace with her own limitations and that Locke should do the same. The look on his face says he’s reluctant to see some of the truth in the moral, but he seems to go for it.
Later, Locke calls Jack’s office only to hang up, telling Helen he doesn’t want to do it. His missing briefcase of crazy knives arrives at home, and he cops to the fact that he was fired for going on a walkabout. He tells Helen he’s been trying to live like the wheelchair’s a temporary thing, which is cheating him out of his real life. Helen’s wonderfully sweet and understanding, and she tears up Jack’s card as a way to show she doesn’t care if Locke never walks again. It’s a nice moment, and good to see Locke finding some happiness.
He becomes a substitute teacher instead — the role is a nice play on what’s happening with his body and the Enemy back in the island timeline — and winds up at a school where I shit you not Ben Linus teaches European history and wears sweater vests. Did Ben ever go to the island, or was he taken off with the other kids in the evacuation shown in last season’s finale? The moment where he and Locke shake hands is jarring and pleasurable, the kind of weird twist only possible this far into a show this convoluted. And that’s Locke’s challenging but happy life away from the island.
The Island Timeline
Things are considerably less fun for the folks still on Craphole Island. The action kicks off with an awesome POV shot of the smoke monster flying through the trees, swinging through the Barracks, and heading back into the jungle and resuming its physical form as the Enemy masquerading as Locke. He picks up a machete and cuts down a giant bag from a tree that turns out to contain a beaten and genuinely scared Richard Alpert. He tells Richard that he wants Richard to come with him, and says he looks like Locke because he knew it was a way to get to Jacob. “John’s a candidate, or at least he was,” the Enemy says, then laughs when Richard doesn’t know what he means. He scorns Richard for following Jacob’s orders blindly but is distracted by the latest creepy thing to appear on the island: a blond boy with bloody arms, standing in a clearing and staring at both men. Richard doesn’t see the kid and says he doesn’t want to be in Fake Locke’s crazy new fun group at all, so they part ways. Apparently the Enemy can’t just take people, but has to persuade them to come along.
There’s also some action with the group left at the statue. Ben tells Ilana that Locke turned into the smoke monster and killed her friends, and he also blames the death of Jacob on the Enemy, too. It seems that no matter what changes might come in this ep, Ben wants no part of the penance for hurting Jacob. Ilana takes some of the fire pit’s ash as she tells Ben that Fake Locke made off with Richard because he’s “recruiting.” Ilana and Ben emerge to find that everyone’s made for the Temple except for them, Frank, and Sun, and of course the corpse of John Locke. Sun insists they bury him, so everyone sets out for the makeshift cemetery where Boone, Shannon, and some of the other survivors are buried. As they walk, Ilana tells Ben she brought the body so people would know what they’re up against, and when Ben suggests that the Enemy just change appearance again, Ilana counters that “he’s stuck this way.” They dig a hole and place Locke in it, and Ben actually steps up with a eulogy that appears to be somewhat heartfelt: “John Locke was a believer. He was a man of faith. He was a much better man than I will ever be, and I’m very sorry I murdered him.” Are we seeing an actual change in Ben? It’s amazing to think back to his Henry Gale days, when he was at the height of his ego and power, and look at how beaten and tired he’s become. Everybody takes the news of the killing in stride, and Frank just shrugs and mutters, “This is the weirdest damn funeral I’ve ever been to.” They toss in the dirt and move on.
Meanwhile, the Enemy heads to the Barracks for his next recruitment target: Sawyer, who’s drunk in his old house and listening to Iggy Pop sing “Search and Destroy.” Sawyer sets them up some whisky even as he asks who Fake Locke is, knowing he’s not the real John Locke because “Locke was scared, even when he was pretending he wasn’t.” The Enemy says he can tell Sawyer why Sawyer is on the island, and since it beats getting drunk alone, Sawyer goes for it. They head into the jungle when Fake Locke sees the creepy boy again, as does Sawyer. Fake Locke bolts after him (why not just become the smoke monster?) but eventually falls and looks up to see the boy standing above him. “You know the rules,” the boy says. “You can’t kill him.” The boy, who looks a lot like Jacob, turns and walks away as the Enemy yells, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” It’s a nice callback since he’s got Locke’s memories and is being thwarted all over again in his own pursuits.
While Sawyer’s waiting for Fake Locke to come back, Richard shows up and tries to get Sawyer to join him on a run to the Temple. Sawyer blows him off as Fake Locke appears, and there’s a good moment where they both blatantly lie — and let the other know it — about what they’ve been up to. They head off marching again, and Sawyer pulls a gun on the Enemy but is talked down by the Enemy’s personal story. He says he’s “trapped,” and that before he was trapped he was a normal man who knew love and betrayal and all that good stuff. Sawyer decides to trust him a bit longer, and they eventually make it to a cliff with a series of adjacent ladders, some wood and some rope, set into the cliff’s side going down. Fake Locke leads the way, and as Sawyer follows, one of the ladders snaps. Sawyer grabs a rope one that then breaks loose and swings him almost to the ocean below, but Fake Locke grabs him and they make it down to a cave set into the stone wall where apparently Jacob used to hang out. (I am here going to willfully ignore the whole Jacob’s Ladder thing, which I get but is too punny/on-the-nose to talk about for a while. I mean, come on.)
In the cave is a scale balanced by one white rock and one black, and Fake Locke chucks the white one into the water and calls it an “inside joke.” He leads Sawyer back into a cavernous room and says, “That is why you’re all here.” He hands Sawyer a torch, and Sawyer turns to see the names of everyone from Oceanic 815 written haphazardly in chalk along the cave walls and ceiling. Each name is paired with a number, and some of them are paired with one of the Numbers. Those with normal numbers are all crossed out, but the ones next to Numbers aren’t. They are:
4 — Locke
8 — Reyes
15 — Ford
16 — Jarrah
23 — Shephard
42 — Kwon
The Enemy explains that Jacob, who “had a thing for numbers,” wrote all these names and is the one responsible for bringing everyone to the island by intervening in their lives and directing their choices so they’d reach the island, thus robbing them of free will. This announcement is intercut with brief flashes of Jacob visiting the survivors pre-crash in last season’s finale. Fake Locke says that the names are people Jacob considered candidates to take over as “protector” of the island, a role the Enemy says is a joke because “it’s just a damn island” and doesn’t need protection. He lays out three options for Sawyer: (1) Do nothing and see how everything plays out, even if it means getting crossed out (and here he reaches up and draws a line through Locke’s name), (2) accept his role as protector, which is needless, or (3) get the hell out of there with the Enemy, since it apparently needs to be done “together.” When asked if he’s ready to go home, Sawyer thinks for a moment before responding, “Hell yes.”
And that’s that. A fun, interesting episode, and a great showcase for Locke/O’Quinn. We got to see, if not what the Numbers are and how they work, at least that they’re important and have been used by Jacob for a while. The Numbers assigned to the candidates aren’t their Oceanic seat assignments, either. Whether Kwon refers to Sun or Jin, though, is still uncertain, and it’s interesting to note that Kate isn’t on the list. Also, how much of the Enemy’s story is true and how much is just self-serving is up for debate, too, which is one of the great things about the show. The battle between good and evil gets blurry, because the best bad guys always believe they’re the good guy. Also, what’s up with that creepy blond kid and his rules for the Enemy? Do those rules have to do with why Ben couldn’t kill Widmore when he visited him? (And is the kid even the same one with bloody arms that Fake Locke saw but Richard couldn’t see? Sure, they look alike, but this is “Lost,” and I stopped taking things for granted when Walt IMd Michael.) And why is the Enemy stuck looking like Locke? Does it have to do with when/how Locke was buried, the fact that Locke was killed by Ben, or some other reason? Have at it.