'Lost' shows the writing on the wall in 'The Substitute'

yunjin-kim-lost-substitute-320.jpgThe super short version of tonight's episode of " Lost?" Impossibly good. What, you want something more substantial than that in terms of analysis? Fine. I can give you a few more words. A few thousand more, even. But "The Substitute" was so dense with mythology, so rich in character, and so rife with possibility that even that many words won't cover everything. But I'll do the best I can. Let's hop on the back of the Smokey Bullet Train and see where this ride takes us.

4) In Short

"Show me the way to go home
I'm tired and I want to go to bed
I had a little drink about an hour ago
And it went right to my head..."


8) Sideways Timeline

In a nice suburban neighborhood, John Locke drives up to his home. While trying to lower himself via the electrical ramp from his van, it gets stuck. Damn technology. He tries to roll himself off safely on the lawn, and gets a faceful of dirt for his troubles. To make matters worse, the sprinklers start going off. (What, is Sayid about to play through?)

All of a sudden, who comes out the door? Helen? Helen! My "Lost" heart is happy, and not just because this prediction came true. The pair are living together...and engaged. This is perilously close to fanfic, but I'm so giddy I'm letting it slide. Helen's sick of planning their wedding, and suggests a smaller ceremony: the two of them, her parents and his father. Wait, what? Anthony Cooper's invited? I guess this version of Locke still has both kidneys.

While picking up his scattered laundry outside the bathtub, Helen asks him about his conference in Australia. Conference, you say? Hmm. She finds Jack's business card in his pants, and learns about Dr. Shephard's offer for a free consult. "What are the odds of you just running into a spinal surgeon?" she asks him. About as good as one landing on an Island right when the leader of its indigenous people develops a spinal tumor, I suppose. "Maybe it's destiny," she says, and he tentatively agrees. But his eyes betray skepticism when she walks away.

Locke wheels into his familiar desk job at the box company, where once again he's greeted by Randy Nations. Randy's all smiles as he asks about the conference in Australia, but soon reveals that he knows that Locke skipped the entire event. Locke apologizes and tries to get it classified a vacation week, but Randy's having none of it. Randy fires Locke on the spot, proving that he's a jerk in every timeline.

terry-oquinn-lost-s6-320-2.jpgWith his few office possessions in hand, Locke leaves the building only to find another car directly next to his. That car prevents his handicap ramp from coming down. Frustrated, Locke throws his keys, and then starts to hit the adjoining car. When that car's alarm goes off, its owner comes over. It's Hurley! Locke lays into him about his parking job, but soon realizes that he's face to face with the owner of his former company. The two introduce themselves in a friendly manner as Locke confesses that he was just fired by Randy. "Randy Nations?" asks Hurley. "Yea, that guy's a huge douche." No show deploys the word "douche" better than "Lost." Hurley gives Locke a number for a temp agency, and tells him to chin up: things are going to work out.

At the temp agency, the placement officer asks Locke what type of animal he is. But this isn't just any placement officer: it's the woman we "Lost" fans remember as the fake psychic hired by Hurley's father to convince him he wasn't cursed. Oh Sideways Universe, you are so rich and mysterious and force us to look up actors on Lostpedia to keep up with you. Locke's not having the hippie dippie questionnaire, and asks to speak to her manager. Testily, she agrees to do so.

That manager? Rose! Holy crap: Helen AND Rose in the same episode? Is it my birthday? I don't think it's my birthday! She and Locke go over possible job options. He's keen on being a construction site supervisor, a job for which she feels he is not fit. She wants him to look at something more "realistic." When he angrily asks what she would know about a "realistic" job, she confesses that she's terminal with cancer. Oh man, in this timeline too? Sadness. Chastened by the news, and Rose's words about living the life they have left as best they can, Locke seems more willing to accept Rose's suggestions for employment.

Sometime later, Locke's alarm goes off, and boy if it doesn't sound like the warning signal for the Swan station when the button doesn't get pushed in time. That alarm clock must have been built in one of Widmore's factories. He drags his unwilling body out of bed, and tries to go about his morning routine. But his heart's just not in it. Finding Jack's card, he dials it, only to hang up almost instantly. Helen overhears him talking on the phone, however, and he confesses that he was calling Jack's office. He also confesses that he got fired just as an Oceanic employee shows up with Locke's lost luggage. OK, It's about to get misty in here. Strap in.

Locke tells Helen that he lied about the conference, and asks her to open the case that just arrived. Inside are the familiar batch of knives that proved so useful in the other timeline. He tells her about the walkabout, and that they forbade him from going on it. "I'm sick of imagining what my life would be like out of this chair, Helen. What it would be like to walk down the aisle with you. 'Cuz it's not gonna happen. So if you need me to see more doctors, to have more consults, to get out of this chair...I don't blame you. But I don't want you to spend your life waiting for a miracle, Helen. Because there's no...such...thing." (OK, kids: your assignment is to compare and contrast this speech with the one he gave Jack above the Orchid, where he described the Island as a place where miracles happen. Go!)

Helen, wearing her "Peace & Karma" long-sleeved T-shirt, bends down to meet John's line of sight. "There are miracles, John. And the only thing I was ever waiting for was you." She tears up Jack's card, and kisses him. OK, I should be annoyed that she just delayed Locke's eventual rendezvous with Jack, but I'm too busy crying. Stop looking at me that way. Yes, I cried at "The Notebook" as well, thanks for asking! Oh, you didn't ask? Nevermind. Moving on.

Later on, Locke is coaching a high school girl's volleyball team. Apparently Rose thinks that's realistic. Seems he's teaching biology, which will make his high school guidance counselor from the other timeline extremely pleased. As he wheels along the outside of the school, he grabs an African-American student by the arm and asks him where the faculty lounge is. Damn you, "Lost," for making me think for a split second that was Walt. Locke arrives at the lounge, and...wait, is this the faculty lounge or New Otherton? Because that looks like Harper doing the crossword puzzle. And that dorky guy going on and on about changing coffee filters? Benjamin Freakin' Linus. My mind, so 'splodey. Let's move to the Island and see if things are less mind-bended and show-altering there.

15) Island Timeline

When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight on the Island, don't use Fed-Ex: use Smokey! He's haulin' through the jungle at top speed towards the Barracks, where he gets a glimpse through Sawyer's window. He then doubles back to where he has tied up a worse-for-the-wear Richard Alpert, hanging in a bag in mid-air. Richard's having a bad day, people. "Alright, Richard," Smocke says. "Time to talk."

nestor-carbonell-lost-s6-320.jpgSmocke tells Richard that he assumed Locke's guise since he was one of Jacob's candidates. The word "candidate" confuses Richard, and said confusion delights Smocke. Poor Richard. So pretty, and so dumb. "I would never have kept you in the dark," Smocke says. "I would have treated you with respect." He asks Richard to come with him, but Richard refuses. Just as Smocke seems ready to pounce, he catches something to his left. There, in a bright pin of light, stands...Peter Pan! OK, it's not Peter Pan, but that was my first thought. My second thought? "Peter's arms are way bloody." Smocke seems spooked by this visitation, a visitation that Alpert cannot see.  

Back at the statue, Ben slowly walks into the room to find Ilana crying. She asks him to relay what happened to her cohorts. Ben tells her that Locke transformed into the monster and killed them. "Did he kill Jacob as well?" she asks. "Yes," he says, thinking that sounds like a mighty fine explanation for the time being. He tells her that Jacob burned up in the fire, which prompts her to grab some of the ash in the fire pit and put it into her bag. That Ilana, she's so green: recycling Jacob for later use! (More on this ash in "Mythology" below.)

At the Barracks, Smocke visits Sawyer. The latter is blaring The Stooges' "Search and Destroy," two of Smocke's most favorite things to do! I smell a bromance! Sawyer's alone, drunk, and looking like a fool with his pants on the ground. Millions of fans simultaneously rubbed their hands together and said, "Peeeerrrffect.," upon seeing this.

Sawyer moves from the bedroom to the kitchen and pours them both approximately a quart of whiskey. "Here's to being dead!" Sawyer says. Smocke thinks that Sawyer's taking his appearance rather well. Sawyer's pretty much beyond surprise at this point, with recent events dulling his capacity for shock. But through the drunken, grinning haze, Sawyer tells Smocke to his face that he knows for a fact that he's not John Locke. Hell yea. James Ford FTW.

"Locke was always scared, even when he pretended that he wasn't," Sawyer confesses. That's how he knows what he sees before him isn't the Locke of old. Smocke claims that he can answer the most important question of all: why Sawyer is on the Island. Sawyer points out all the logistical reasons why he's on the Island, but Smocke insists that he's missing the point: those are the "how," not the "why," of why he's on the Island. They are the explanation, but they are NOT the reason. Smocke wants Sawyer to follow him so he can learn the true reason. "Well, I guess I better put some pants on," says Sawyer. Um, yes, that would be preferable, James.

On the beach, Lapidus covers up Locke's decomposing body as a spider crawls over his bald, dead head. Altogether now: ewwww. Sun tells Ilana that the Others went to the Temple, a place Ilana agrees is the safest place at this point. When Sun questions why she should accompany Ilana to the Temple, Ilana suggests that if Jin were on the island, he would be there. (Option #2? In a bear trap with Creepy Claire bearing down on him. Shoulda picked Door #2, Ilana.) Sun agrees to go, but insists they bury Locke first.

In the jungle, Smocke sees Peter Pan again. He's shocked to learn Sawyer can see him as well. Smocke gives fervent chase into the jungle, eventually tripping on a branch. Why didn't he take the form of the monster? Much less chance of trippage. Anyways, when he looks up, Peter Pan is there. "You know the rules," the child says. "You can't kill him." Smocke channels the spirit of the body he's impersonating and says, "Don't tell me what I can't do!" Genius! As Peter Pan walks away, Smocke shouts the phrase again. I love this episode more than Tila Tequila loves oversharing on Twitter.

josh-holloway-lost-s6-320-3.jpgA bit behind, Sawyer shouts out for Smocke. Out of the jungle pops Richard, who desperately tries to get Sawyer to return to the Temple. He tells Sawyer that not only will Smocke not provide the answers he promises, but he'll kill both Sawyer and all of his friends. Sawyer's not really buying what Richard's selling, forcing Richard back into hiding as Smocke returns. "Ever catch up with the kid? Sawyer asks. "What kid?" Smocke replies. Oh, so THAT'S how it's playing it. Real mature, Man in Black. Unreal.

As the two walk on, Sawyer waxes poetical about his favorite novel: "Of Mice and Men." Hey, we're back in "Every Man for Himself" territory here. The point of his story is to get the drop on Smocke, allowing him to point a gun at the back of Smocke's head. Sawyer asks him point blank what he is. "What I am...is trapped," Smocke replies. "And I've been trapped for so long that I no longer know what it feels like to be free." (Essentially, this is Smocke's Shylock speech: if you prick a smoke monster, does he not bleed?) "Before I was trapped, I was a man, just like you. 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. If you wanna shoot me, shoot me. But you're so close, James. It would be a shame to turn back now." Well, hot damn. The devil beguiles by telling the truth as much as telling lies.

Ben and Ilana discuss Smocke as they carry Locke's body on the beach. Ben worries that Smocke will simply take on a new guise now that his true nature is revealed; Ilana insists that he's now frozen this way. OK, duly noted. No shape-shifting Big Bad. This isn't Season 7 of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Whew. The pair walk up the hill with Sun and Lapidus to find the Lostaway gravesite. Hi Libby, Nikki, Paolo, Scott/Steve, and others. Nice to "see" you again. After lowering Locke into a freshly made grave, Ilana asks if anyone has something to say. Awkward. "Didn't anyone know him?" she asks. "Alright, I knew him," says Ben. More awkward! "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." The other three try not to indicate they heard that last part, with Frank muttering, "Weirdest damn funeral I've ever been to." I want a cigarette at this point, and we haven't even gotten to the REALLY good stuff yet.

Smocke takes Sawyer to a cliff face, where a series of ridiculously dangerous sets of bamboo ladders lead down to...well, you'll see. Smocke goes first, expertly navigating the elaborate set-up. Sawyer manages to hit every weak spot on the ladder, and nearly falls into the water below. Finally, he grabs Smocke's hand and the two enter a small cave in the side of the mountain. Inside the cave? A small table, upon which a scale rests. On one side? A white stone. The other? A black one. Backgammon, anyone? Adam and Eve, anyone? Smocke tosses the white one into the ocean ("Inside joke!" he says), tipping the balance of the scale. Sawyer's unimpressed, wondering if that's what Smocke brought him all the way for. Smocke insists there's more to see, lights a torch, and takes Sawyer into the Cave of Numerology.

Along the walls of the Cave of Numerology: a host of names, each assigned a number. Many of the names have been scribbled out (including "Littleton"), but familiar ones still can be read, along with familiar numbers. As Sawyer passes his torch over the names, we see glimpses of each time Jacob touched that person. Jack=23. Hurley=8. Sayid=16. Jin or Sun or Both=42. Locke=4. Sawyer=15. Apparently, Jacob hated "What Kate Does" as much as most of you and decided not to give her a Number.

Sawyer wonders why he's on the list; after all, he never even met the guy. Smocke insists that he did, and probably in a moment of great despair. By doing so, in Smocke's mind, Jacob's took away Sawyer's free will and led him inexorably to the Island. Why? "Because you're a candidate," Smocke says. What's a candidate? Someone who can protect the Island in Jacob's absence. Smocke says Sawyer has three options: 1) do nothing, see how it plays out, 2) assume the mantle of Island protector, or 3) walk away, with Smocke in tow. Sawyer thinks Plan C sounds pretty good. So I guess The Man in Black's "home" is off the Island. God help us all.

16) The Moment

I only get to pick one? I hate my job. Oh wait, these are my rules. Hard to not pick the reveal of The Cave of Numerology, with Ben's eulogy a very close second.

23) The Mythology

Part of the problem is getting these recaps out the night the show airs is that I don't have enough time to fully digest the implications of what I just saw. With episodes like tonight, the show just throws so much at you that absorbing it all is simply impossible. So I will do my best here, but be gentle.

The Numbers revealed! And oh boy, was that some sweet, sweet answering. For years, the only explanation of The Numbers came from a non-canon alternative reality game, which posited that they came from something called The Valenzetti Equation. The equation predicted the end of the world, and featured The Numbers as core values that the Dharma Initiative were trying to change to prolong human life. Instead? The Numbers are like soylent green: they are PEOPLE! All of those names crossed out in the Cave had a value, and for whatever reason they didn't exactly make the cut as candidates. Killed by The Man in Black? Snuffed out by their own weaknesses and frailties? Probably a combination of both, casualties of Jacob's search for progress.

The Man in Black wants to leave the Island! Think that's pretty safe to say now. And it's safe to say that just as he needed Ben to kill Jacob, he needs a candidate to help him leave the Island. Jacob's touch afforded Sawyer and Company a sort of Golden Ticket, if you will, off the Island. I loved Smocke's speech about the life he can barely remember: it sounded almost like Frodo unable to remember the taste of water while suffering upon Mt. Doom. I'm not ready to call Smocke "the good guy" here, as many other are. But he's certainly more relatable as this point. Much better to have a villain with whom we can empathize rather than some madman in search of nothing but power for power's sake. And who was the love that he lost, hmmm?

Jacob's dead, but like Charlie, he's also here! Least, that's my take on the identity of Peter Pan. The other compelling candidate, to borrow a word from tonight's episode? Aaron. How? Beats me. But Smocke would only be scared of these two people. He'd fear Jacob due to his nemesis somehow returning, but he also feared Aaron enough to separate him from Claire to ensure he was sent off-Island as part of his long con to find the loophole. Maybe if we all clap really hard enough, Tinkerbell will live and tell which one Peter Pan really is!

Jacob is dust in the wind, and dust in Ilana's pocket! OK, "The Dark Tower" fans, feast on this. We've long thought about how this show might be looking at the final iteration of a war that's been brewing for not just hundreds of years, but thousands. Like Jacob's tapestry, these tales take time to weave. Our understanding of what Jacob and The Man in Black are is still limited at best. We think they have been there all along, but what "being there" means is still in question. Is all the ash we've seen to date---outside the cabin, at the Temple, in Bram's pocket---the accumulated remnants of Jacob's continual cycle of death and rebirth as the morality play upon the Island keeps playing in perpetual repertory? Do the markings in the Cave of Numerology represent candidates who failed, or simply candidates that served a purpose on the path towards progress?

The Lostaways are not the only ones that find themselves strangely drawn to each other in the sideways universe! Loved, loved, loved seeing Harper in the faculty lounge. I missed it the first time through, and cackled at the thought of a high school entirely staffed with people who are Others in the Island timeline. Man, I'd hate to see the kind of videos they show in THAT school. Forget "The Miracle of Life": 4th period would entail seeing that creepy Room 23 video over and over again until the kids were brainwashed into helping raise money for the school dance.

There's obviously much more, but I'm well over 3,000 words at this point. Time to start winding things down. I'll have much, much more over on the "Lost" blog later in the week.

42) Random Thoughts

I hate making snap judgments on the overall quality of a particular episode in the overall scheme of things. But I can't see how this doesn't alter my current Top 10 list of all-time episodes. It took the mythology WTF-ness of "LA X" and combined it with the more heartfelt, emotional character moments of "What Kate Does" and made for one amazing, near-flawless episode.

It's interesting that for all the things that change, certain things stay stubbornly the same. Rose's cancer and Locke's paralysis stand out the most to me. But what are we to make of Locke's father being invited to their wedding? Does that mean Anthony Cooper didn't push Locke out of a window? Is Cooper even in the picture at this point? The mind, how it boggles.

Does The Man in Black discount Ji Yeon as #42? Because I don't.

If the idea that simple numbers can have a quasi-magical quality when assigned to proper people, remember that the fact that numbers can accurately describe most phenomena in the physical universe is in and of itself astonishing. So if numbers can accurately predict the path of a comet or the proper combination of atoms to form basic building blocks of human life, why can't they predict the kind of people that can advance humanity to the next stage?

Nothing involving anyone at the Temple this week. Can't say I missed them for a single second, whereas last week I was dying for more Smocke/Ben/Richard.

I'm liking Sawyer-as-Anakin with Smocke-as-Emperor, even if I saw it coming. Smocke knows he can't con a con man, and so uses what amount to enough truth (while lying by omission) in order to get what he wants. Interesting to see how Dogen used almost the same technique to get Jack to provide Sayid with the poison pill last week.

108) In Summary

Brilliant. Just brilliant. This is the kind of episode that "Lost" fans wanted in the final season: forward momentum, answers that satisfied, and new possibilities (as opposed to new questions) raised. The only downside? How are they gonna top THIS??? I fear we've hit this season's "Jughead": Season 5's third episode that raised the bar so ridiculously high that I'm not sure anything else last season matched its mythological expanse and emotional richness. Not every episode has to merge both, but when it does, "Lost" transforms from merely a great show into a one-of-a-kind entertainment that we're all going to miss come the final curtain this Spring.

But enough about my thoughts: what did you think of tonight's episode? Leave your comments below!



Ryan writes about "Lost" over at Zap2it's Guide to Lost. He invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It's Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to subscribe to the Zap2It's Guide to Lost Twitter feed and Zap2it's main feed for all the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.

Related:

'Lost': Talking numbers, Smocke and more on 'Instant Dharma'
Zap2it's Guide to 'Lost'
 

Photo credit: ABC