February 23, 2010

LOST S6E4: The Substitute

Filed under: Lost — DB @ 2:32 pm

As the episode began, I thought for a moment that I had mistakenly tuned into Desperate Housewives, as a minivan rode down a rather Wisteria looking lane. Turned out this suburban paradise was home to Locke, and in this opening sequence I got answers to some questions I had asked about him after watching the season premiere. Yes, he is still with Helen in this timeline, and no he did not wind up in the wheelchair as a result of an altercation with his father (which we know because Helen suggests they ditch the big to-do and instead have a shotgun wedding with her parents and his father). Helen finds Jack’s business card in Locke’s pocket and says he should take the doctor up on his offer for a free consult.

Locke still works at the box company under the supervision of Randy Nations (who will later be described by Hurley – accurately, I might add – as “a huge douche”). Although this time around, I have to side with Randy. He’s totally within his rights to fire Locke for going to a conference in Australia on the company’s dime and then not attending the conference. The bigger questions here, of course, are A) what the hell kind of conference does someone from a box company need to attend, and B) what the hell kind of conference does someone from a box company need to attend that would be worth the company paying for a trip to Australia? Two of Lost’s questions that I suspect will remain mysteries forever…

After his firing, Locke goes to the parking lot and finds the wheelchair accessible door of his van blocked by a yellow Hummer, which we soon find out is Hurley’s. After venting his frustration, Locke calms down and Hurley introduces himself as the owner of the company. This too is consistent with earlier events. Back in the Season One episode Numbers, Hurley learned from the accountant who was managing his lottery winnings that his growing collection of assets included a box company in Tustin. Also consistent is the yellow Hummer; we saw it when Hurley drove his mother to the house he had bought for her – which was on fire when they arrived.

To make up for the blocked parking space and the firing, Hurley tells Locke to go to a temp agency which he also owns and have them hook him up with a new job. His initial interview there is with some freaky lady who asks him questions about what kind of animal he would describe himself as and whether or not he sees himself as a people person.

There was something odd about this scene, not just because the lady was creepy but because there seemed to be an extended bit of time devoted to her. When Locke asks to see her supervisor, the camera holds on her close-up for an inordinately long time before she says yes and gets up. Unless her appearance is significant and foreshadows something (and I can’t imagine what that would be) then why are we lingering on her?

Wait…I think maybe I just found my answer. Turns out we’ve seen this woman before. In Season Three’s Tricia Tanaka Is Dead, Hurley’s dad takes him to see a psychic who claims she can rid him of his curse. Turns out his dad had paid her off. But guess who the psychic is?

Now that that pointless side trip is over…

I felt better when Rose showed up and announced herself as the office manager. When she hesitates to place Locke in a position at a construction site, calling it “unrealistic,” he asks her what she knows about realistic. She frankly reveals that she has terminal cancer, and that her initial reaction to the news was a refusal to accept it. Eventually she decided to stop the denial and live whatever life she had left. I bring this up because it is yet another plot point that ties to an earlier episode: Season Two’s S.O.S., in which Rose’s cancer is revealed. There is a scene where she and Locke briefly meet at the airport in Sydney, him in his wheelchair. Later on the island, she alludes to him that they’ve both been healed (she explains to Bernard still later that she knows the cancer is gone; she can feel that it’s not in her body).

On a side note, it’s kinda weird that Rose works for Hurley and just happened to be on the same flight from Sydney to Los Angeles with him. Maybe everyone from the temp agency had been to a conference. For temp agency employees. In Australia.

Back at home, just as an Oceanic rep arrives with his suitcase of knives, Locke tells Helen about being fired because he ditched the conference to go on a walkabout. He says they wouldn’t let him go (another of my questions from two weeks ago answered) and that he yelled at them not to tell him what he can’t do. But this time, he acknowledges that they were right – showing an insight that the other Locke didn’t posses (and which the Man in Locke mocked him for when he spoke to Ben in Jacob’s cave). He pulls out Jack’s business card and tells Helen that he doesn’t want her to spend her life waiting for a miracle because there’s no such thing. She assures him that he was the only thing she was ever waiting for was him, but also says, “There are miracles, John.”

Soon we see John is his new temp position: middle school substitute teacher. He seems to like it, and when he heads into the teacher’s lounge for lunch, he exchanges a friendly introduction with the European History teacher: Ben Linus. So it appears that Ben, like his younger colleague Ethan, has a whole other life in this timeline that suggests he was never on the island.


Ben enters Jacob’s chamber and finds Ilana alone crying – probably more over the death of Jacob than the death of her team members (sorry Bram). She asks how they died, and Ben tells her that Locke turned into a pillar of black smoke and killed them all. He lies when he says that this was how Jacob died as well. Whether this is significant or not I don’t know, but Ilana is now under the impression that the Man in Black killed Jacob while in the form of the Smoke Monster. I wondered previously if the Man in Black can harm Jacob when he’s in smoke form. If the answer is no – which it probably isn’t, but if –  Ben’s lie might be a signal to Ilana that something is amiss.

When Ben says that Locke kicked Jacob’s body into the fire and it burned away, Ilana walks to the now-flameless pit, pulls out a sack and fills it with ash. Will these ashes provide the same protection that the ash around Jacob’s cabin provided? That the ash Bram poured around himself or that The Temple inhabitants used around the perimeter provided? The ashes Ilana takes can’t just be Jacob’s, can they? Wasn’t there wood burning in the fire? How exactly do the ashes we’ve seen provide protection against the Man in Black? That’s starting to emerge in importance to me as far as our many, many mysteries go. Is the fire pit the key to the protection? Does anything burned in this location take on a protective quality?

Ben asks llana if she knows why Locke carried Richard out into the jungle. With no tone of doubt, she says it’s because he’s recruiting.

The real Locke is still lying on the beach. I felt a pang of sadness at seeing him lying there with a crab on his head. It scurries away as Frank covers him up and says, “He’s gettin’ pretty ripe.”

When Ilana and Ben emerge, only Sun and Frank are left on the beach. Sun says the others all went to The Temple. “Right now it’s the safest place on the island,” Ilana says. “We should go there too. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

S: What makes you think that I’m going with you?
I:  Because you want to find Jin.
S: What do you know about my husband?!
I:  I know that if he’s on the island and he’s alive, then he’ll be at The Temple.

Why does she think that? It’s a big island, lots of people, lots of places. Why would she assume Jin would have found his way there?

Sun says they have to bury Locke – an especially generous gesture given how anxious she must be to arrive at the place where Jin supposedly is. As they carry Locke’s body across the beach, Ben asks Ilana why she had to bring Locke’s body to the statue.

I:  Because the people there needed to see the face of what they’re up against.
B: And what’s to stop what they’re up against from changing his face?
I:  He can’t, not anymore. He’s stuck this way.

So how much does Ilana know and understand about what’s happening? She seemed unphased upon hearing that a man turned into a giant puff of smoke and killed her comrades. Presumably she knows that the Man in Black and the Smoke Monster are one and the same, and she knows that he can’t change his form again now that he’s picked Locke. Although there must be some way of taking on a new form, however difficult it may be, seeing as he’s done it once (that we know of). We still don’t understand exactly how the Man in Black took over Locke’s body. I’ve speculated that he used Christian Shephard to get Locke off the island so that Locke might be killed and brought back, enabling him to take over the body (though he didn’t really “take over” Locke’s body; he just took on his form). I don’t know how he would have guaranteed Locke being killed off the island, but maybe there was some way he would have been able to arrange it had Ben not stepped in and taken care of it for him. When the Man in Locke first entered Jacob’s chamber and confronted his old nemesis, he said that he had found his loophole and that Jacob had no idea what he – the Man in Black – had to do to get there. At this point, we don’t have any idea either. So why is he stuck in the form of Locke?

Getting back to Ilana, she also knows that The Temple is the one safe haven left on the island. And she knows about Jin, which means she probably has information about some of the others too. Sayid, for example, who she “escorted” onto Ajira 316…

The group comes back upon the old 815 camp, and they bury Locke where some of the other island bodies are buried (I think the makeshift cemetery is home to Libby, Ana Lucia, Boone and Shannon). The skeleton of Eko’s unfinished church is nearby. When Ilana asks if anybody wants to say something about Locke, Ben finally steps forward. “I knew him. John Locke was a…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.” This is one of the few things Ben has ever said on the show where I actually believed him. I think his growing understanding and remorse, as well as being thrown into the position of not knowing what the hell is going on – a position to which he is unaccustomed – will continue to fuel him toward a sacrifice he will ultimately make.
Ben’s brief eulogy is touching, and as much as I love all things Frank Lapidus (seriously, how much does that guy rule?), I sort of wish the scene hadn’t ended with a joke. (Frank’s line, a runner-up for the episode’s best: “This is the weirdest damn funeral I’ve ever been to.”)

With the arrival of Season Six and the revelation of the Man in Locke as the Smoke Monster comes a brilliant new device I hope we’ll get more of: SmokeyCam! I loved watching the Smoke Monster’s POV as he barreled around the island, stopping right outside Sawyer’s house (his billowing reflection visible in the window) and then retreating…the crazy sound effects – something mechanical as well as what sounds like an animal’s cry – on full audio display. That’s such a cool sound effect. What the hell is it?

After locating Sawyer, Smokey retreats back to the jungle and unties a sack from a tree which contains Richard. (That cracked me up. He had poor Richard strung up in a sack in a tree.) The Man in Locke tells him it’s time to talk.

R: What do you want?
L: What I’ve always wanted. For you to come with me.
R: Why do you look like John Locke?
L: I knew he’d get me access to Jacob. Because John’s a candidate. Or at least he was a candidate.
R: What do you mean? What do you mean a candidate?
L: Didn’t Jacob tell you any of this?
R: Any of what?
L: Oh Richard…I’m sorry. You mean you’ve been doing everything he told you all this time and he never said why? I would never have done that to you, I would never have kept you in the dark.
R: And what would you have done?
L: I would have treated you with respect. Come with me and I promise I’ll tell you everything.
R: No.
L: Are you sure about that, Richard? Because people seldom get a second chance.
R: I’m not going anywhere with you.

Man in Locke stops short when he looks past Richard and sees a boy standing there, looking all Children of the Corn. Dressed in Others garb, he is standing Christ-like with bloody arms and palms facing outward. Richard turns to see what Man in Locke is looking at, but the boy is either gone or invisible to Richard. This creepy moppet’s appearance is among the biggest WTF moments of the new season, and the fact that it seems to scare the Man in Locke fascinates me.

But he’s not the only one who’s frightened. Richard is still completely unnerved by the Man in Black’s presence (and especially in this new form). He also looks genuinely bewildered by the talk of candidates. Is it true that he has had no idea what Jacob was up to for all these many years? I also wondered if there’s any particular reason that the Man in Black has always wanted Richard to come with him, or if his desire for Richard’s allegiance is just part of an attempt to win followers.

Of course, the Man in Locke’s line that “people seldom get a second chance” carries a nice irony since he himself seems to be enjoying exactly that. And most of the 815ers seem to be as well, thanks to the alternate timeline (although since we don’t understand the nature of that yet, we can’t really say if it’s a second chance).

Man in Locke leaves Richard, promising to see him sooner than he thinks, and returns to Sawyer’s, this time in human form. Sawyer is just beginning a new stage of mourning: severe intoxication. The house is a mess, music is blaring and he’s sitting in the bedroom in boxers and a wifebeater, drinking whiskey from the bottle (sounds like my typical Wednesday night). Locke walks into the room, and Sawyer slowly takes in his visitor. Luckily he’s not too drunk yet, though he must think he is. “I thought you were dead,” he says.

“I am,” Locke answers.

When Sawyer tells him to get out of his house and Locke counters that it’s not his house but just the place where he lived for a while, Sawyer seems to take him in more fully.

S: Who are you? Cause you sure as hell ain’t John Locke.
L: What makes you say that?
S: Cause Locke was scared. Even when he was pretending he wasn’t. But you? You ain’t scared.
L: What if I told you I was the person who could answer the most important question in the world?
S: And what question is that?
L: Why are you on this island?
S: I’m on this island because my plane crashed. Cause my raft blew up. Cause the helicopter I was on was ridin’ one
too heavy.
L: That’s not why you’re here. And if you come with me, I can prove it.

So they head off into the jungle, and while making their way, Sawyer sees the boy from earlier standing beyond the Man in Locke. This time the boy’s arms are by his side and don’t appear to be bleeding. Man in Locke is surprised that Sawyer can see him. He runs after him and trips on the way (why doesn’t he just turn into Smokey?). When he looks up, the barefoot, blonde boy is standing right above him, staring down at him with contempt.

“You know the rules,” the boy says. “You can’t kill him.”

The Man in Locke gets to his knees and borrows his physical predecessor’s common refrain: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.”

The boy shakes his head dismissively and walks away. Locke repeats himself, yelling this time.

So who’s the kid? Well I had no idea upon watching the show, but a number of friends have suggested with confidence that it’s young Jacob…though they all admit they don’t know why or how that makes sense. I confess that this possibility didn’t even enter my mind, but it certainly seems to make sense. Well…okay, it makes sense in Lost-world. He does look sort of like Jacob (actually I’d say he looks more like a young David Marcus, who you Trekkies know as the son of one James T. Kirk. But I digress…).

More importantly, he and the Man in Locke recognize each other and speak to each other with common understanding. But if this is Jacob, who is the “him” he refers to? Is he saying that he himself can’t be killed by the Man in Black? If so, why does he say “him” instead of “me?” When Man in Locke and Ben first entered Jacob’s chamber, even Jacob acknowledged that the Man in Black had found his loophole. So could the boy be referring to someone else that the Man in Locke intends to kill? Again with these rules and who can and can’t be killed. According to Ben, Charles Widmore broke the rules when he repeatedly left the island and had a daughter with an outsider, and when Keamy killed Alex. Upon visiting Widmore on the mainland, Ben says they both know he can’t kill Widmore. So many unexplained rules…

Is the boy even real? If he is Jacob, will he re-grow at an accelerated rate? Reader Nic A. pointed to (if I might make another Star Trek reference) Spock’s resurrection and rapid growth from boy to man in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. What does the boy’s presence mean for the Man in Locke’s plans? Whatever it means, Man in Locke doesn’t seem too concerned about it when he returns to Sawyer, even playing dumb when Sawyer asks if he caught up with the kid. “What kid?” he asks.

But before that happens, while Sawyer is alone, Richard runs out of the jungle in a panic.

Richard runs off as the Man in Locke returns. He and Sawyer continue their trek through the jungle, but now Sawyer is thrown off by Richard’s warning. He soon pulls a gun on Locke and asks what would happen if he pulled the trigger. Cool as can be, Locke asks, “Why don’t we find out?”

S: What are you?
L: What I am is trapped. And I’ve been trapped for so long that I don’t even remember what it feels like to be free. Maybe you can understand that. But before I was trapped I was a man, James, just like you.
S: I have a hard time believin’ that.
L: You can believe whatever you want, that’s the truth. I know what it’s like to feel joy, to feel pain, anger, fear, to experience betrayal. I know what it’s like to lose someone you love. You wanna shoot me, shoot me…but you are so close James, it would be such a shame to turn back now.

Sawyer relents and they press on.

They arrive at a cliff face overlooking the ocean. A number of ladders descend to a cave opening. Man in Locke goes first, and as Sawyer follows, his ladder snaps and falls. The Man in Locke saves him and they make their way down to the cave. A scale sits on a table, holding fist-sized rocks – one dark, one light. The dark one seems to be slightly heavier. Locke picks up the light one and throws it into the ocean, telling Sawyer it’s an “inside joke.”

He leads Sawyer further into the cave and makes his revelation: names, scrawled in white all over the cave walls and ceiling, each preceded by a number and almost all of them crossed out. “That’s why you’re here,” he tells Sawyer. “That’s why you’re all here.”

Of all the names I could discern which were crossed out, the only one I recognized was Littleton (Claire). I didn’t see Cortez (Ana Lucia), Carlyle (Boone), Rutherford (Shannon), Dawson (Michael), Pace (Charlie) or Smith (Libby). I think I saw Goodspeed (Horace?), but didn’t notice any other names of people from the Dharma Initiative, the freighter or the Others. The only other names I could make out – and I didn’t recognize any of them – were Mattingley, Troupe, O’Toole and Sullivan.

But of course there were those names which were not yet crossed out, as Sawyer and Man in Locke discuss:

The absence of Kate’s name among the un-crossed out strikes me as quite conspicuous, as I assumed that the list hidden in Jacob’s ankh – which Dogen found when Jack and Co. arrived at The Temple with a dying Sayid – would correspond to the names remaining on the wall. So has she been crossed out? She must have been on there to begin with, right?

And the questions keep coming. Why did Jacob choose these people as potential candidates? What happens when someone’s name is crossed off? Claire’s name is struck out, but we don’t know how long ago that happened. She appears to be alive, but we also don’t know yet what her story is, so we can not be sure how long one can survive on the island after being crossed off. We don’t even know if being crossed off means that person is going to die (though Man in Locke refers to the names in the cave as “people whose lives he [Jacob] wasted.” And then there’s the fact that Locke had not yet been crossed off; his surrogate does that now.

Why did Jacob decide these people weren’t candidates? Is this list related to the lists that I assume have been handed down from Jacob to Richard to Ben? What about the list that Michael was given, instructing him to bring Hurley, Sawyer, Jack and Kate to the Others? Is everybody from Flight 815, or at least all those who survived the crash, on the island because of Jacob? What about the Ajira passengers?

What does it mean, if anything, that Hurley and Sayid were selected by Jacob after coming back from the island? Did they just happen to be on the plane and survive, only being identified as candidates later and prompting Jacob to lure them back to the island? Does the Man in Black have a place like this, where he has been scoring names, perhaps with a dark rock?

Okay, enough of me talking at you. It’s time to let the people speak, and I have a question to pose. I think we all assume that in this great duel of the fates for the island, Jacob is the good guy and the Man in Black is the bad guy. But what if we’re wrong?

What if Jacob is the selfish manipulator and the Man in Black is the one trying to save everyone? What if everybody who’s been doing Jacob’s bidding – Richard, Dogen, Ilana, Ben, etc. – have all been misled and misguided? I know some fans out there on the internets have mentioned this possibility. Considering that Jacob has been represented as “white” and the Man in Black, well, there it is, it would be a bold move to subvert a lifetime of cultural conditioning as to what those two colors represent. Or at the very least, it would muddy that viewpoint enough to show that we all have the capacity for both sides – something Lost‘s producers have always aimed to explore.

The show has provided clues that could suggest either outcome. In this episode, Richard told Sawyer that the Man in Locke is “not gonna tell you anything. He’s gonna kill you.” But the Man in Locke shows Sawyer exactly what he promises. And not only does he not kill him, he saves his life. He then talks about Jacob’s belief that that the island needs protecting and refers to all the names in the cave as lives Jacob has wasted. On the other hand, the way Man in Locke talked to Ben after Jacob’s death showed him to regard the castaways’ pre-island lives as pathetic and miserable. He seems to have a healthy contempt for them.

So in the spirit of interactivity, and of me finding out if more than three people are reading these things, let me know what you think. Is Jacob the good guy in all of this, with the Man in Black as his murderous enemy? Or are we headed for a flip?

-I’ve noticed that Henry Ian Cusick’s name is still listed among the main cast members. I had read that Desmond would not be a series regular this year, though this suggests otherwise. I wonder why he wasn’t in any of the Lost Supper photos. And speaking of regulars, I’m wondering how Ilana and Frank will factor into the story as we move through the final season. I would think that if they’ve been bumped to regulars this year, there must be some pretty big stuff coming down the pike for them. I can’t wait to find out what.

-You gotta love that Helen was wearing a shirt that says “Peace & Karma.”

-I wanted to circle back to Locke’s conversation with Helen about miracles. While many elements of Locke’s flash-sideways connected to Locke’s original backstory, there were some notable differences (like acknowledging that the walkabout organizers were right to tell him he couldn’t go). Sideways-Locke’s opinions of miracles is another stark contrast to the Locke we’re familiar with. His belief in miracles comes up directly in the Season Four finale, There’s No Place Like Home (Part II). Locke tells Jack he’ll have to lie about everything that happened since they got to the island. He says it’s the only way to protect it. “It’s an island, John. No one needs to protect it!” Jack shoots back.

L: It’s not an island. It’s a place where miracles happen.
J: There’s no such thing as miracles.
L: Well…we’ll just have to see which one of us is right.

Not only does Locke feel differently in the sideways world, but apparently Jack “Nothing is Irreversible” Shephard does too.

-Seeing Locke’s body laying in the ground as Lapidus and Ben threw dirt over him was a final, sad reminder that Locke as we’ve known and loved him for years is no more. We have the sideways Locke and the Man in Locke, but we’d be remiss not to say goodbye to the original Man of Faith. RIP, John.

-Obviously one the Lost’s big themes is destiny vs. free will. Do we control our own fate, or has our course been predetermined? Eloise Hawking believes in destiny, as she told Desmond when they first met, using the example of a man on the street who gets killed in an accident. She says it wouldn’t matter if she had intervened to save him. If it wasn’t one thing today, it would be something else tomorrow. She also sets her own son, our friend Daniel Faraday, on a course that she knows will result in his death.

Faraday, on the other hand, winds up at the opposite end of the spectrum. His whole argument for detonating Jughead is that the past can be changed because people are variables. “We think, we reason, we make choices, we have free will. We can change our destiny,” he tells Jack and Kate. And until we know the meaning of the alternate timeline, we won’t know if he’s right.

But the question raised its head again in this episode, and I was obviously intrigued by the Man in Locke’s assertion that ever since Sawyer’s contact with Jacob, his choices have not been his own. Jacob met Hurley a day before Ajira 316 departed, so his influence in that case is a lot easier to consider than Sawyer’s, or Kate’s, both of whom met Jacob in their childhood. There are a lot of decisions to be made between the age of 10 and…whatever age they are now. I’m left wondering if this is the kind of issue the show would even attempt to resolve, or if in the end we’ll see that neither fate nor destiny control our lives in full, leaving Jacob and the Man in Black – or perhaps their replacements – to play out their game for all eternity. If that mysterious boy on the island is indeed Jacob, maybe that’s why he’s there and that’s what he means about the rules and not being able to kill the unknown “him.” If one is light and the other is dark, then both must exist, always. Like The Joker says to Batman in The Dark Knight, “I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

There you go: destiny.

“Well I guess I’d better put some pants on.” – Sawyer

Tonight’s Episode: Lighthouse

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