LOST Recap: Season 6, Episode 3: “The Substitute”

18 02 2010

So…how did that one grab you?  Not sure about you, but I don’t think the last 2 episodes could be any more disparate.  Last week, we had an episode that appeared to have little to no need for analysis.  To me, most of what you saw was what you got.  But this week couldn’t be more different.  As expected with a Locke-centric episode, the mythology flag was flying high.  But while what we were shown seemed to be a highly important piece of the puzzle, it’s almost as if we need secondary information to understand its full meaning.  To me, it felt like we were given the letter that contained all of our answers, but we need a cipher to unscramble the words properly.  Or that we were given one part of a key, but need the second half in order for it to work in the lock.

In any event, it’s a fun episode to try to get a handle on, even if you can’t quite unearth the full meaning.  I’ll give it my best shot; I’m glad you’re along for the ride!

“The Substitute”

I really like the way the first 3 episodes of the season could be interpreted as an explanation of either the main timeline or alternate timeline action.  It wasn’t obvious to me at first (thanks Dave!), but here’s how it could work:

“LA X”

Main timeline: “X” means not, as in they’re not in LA

Alternate timeline: “X” is a variable, or an alternate reality from what we “know”

“What Kate Does”

Main timeline:  Kate escapes (runs) from the Temple, because it’s her nature to do so

Alternate timeline:  Kate helps Claire through the delivery of Aaron; it’s the action she takes

“The Substitute”

Main timeline: Smokey is representing Locke

Alternate timeline:  Locke takes a job as a substitute teacher

I’m still unsure as to how we’re exactly supposed to interpret the alternate timeline, but these dual titles, as well as one other nugget of info I’ll share later, made this week’s “flash-sideways” much more palatable for me.

Locke gets wet

Lots of little treats for the die-hard LOST fan here, as Locke gets “showered on” similar to what happened to him on-island back in Season 1…Helen returns, and in this world, they’re due to get married next month…and I don’t think I noticed it originally, but it appears as though Locke is wearing the exact same outift he had on when he originally crashed on the island.  I guess that makes sense, and the continuity folks would have a major fit if it wasn’t that way, but it didn’t really hit me until he was getting showered on by the sprinklers.

The Smoke Monster traverses the island

Not sure how many of you noticed this, but during the sequence where we supposedly see things through the Smoke Monsters eyes (somewhat verified when the smokey reflection appears in the Barracks window), the locales quickly shift after a few seconds.  It definitely seems to suggest that the Smoke Monster is not relegated to a linear method of travel…that he can jump or perhaps teleport from one place to the next somehow.  Not sure how, or what it even means, but there is clearly much more to the Smoke Monster than what is on the surface.

“Welcome back, Colonel”

Another nice throwback to Season 1 here, as Locke is back working for the box company, and Randy struts in with his “Colonel” line.  We even get a brief glimpse at some desk photos that include Locke and his dad.  (I wonder how that relationship is going in this timeline?)  And, on top of that, we get confirmation that Locke ditched the overseas seminar to go on his walkabout, just as originally happened.  A couple of things to keep in mind though, if we want to try to piece back things in this timeline, to see if they’ll tell us anything:

First, as evidenced by the fact that Locke has a picture of he and his dad on his desk, things are going relatively well in that relationship.  And by “relatively” well, I mean that for the most part, you’d have to believe that Locke was never forced out of a window 8 stories up by his dad in this timeline.  It’s almost certain that his paralysis happened through some other event.  And, almost as certain, is the idea that Jacob never touched him in this timeline.  That was probably somewhat of a given regardless, but I wanted to point it out.  It also calls attention to Jacob’s role and/or existence in this timeline.  Did he ever touch any of the LOSTies in this timeline?  Is that why the plane didn’t crash?

Another thing to note is that Locke never had a wedding date set with Helen in the alternate timeline. In other words, coupling Ethan’s appearance last week with Locke & Helen this week (and potentially some other minor plot points I may have missed) we can say that there’s more changed in this timeline than just Oceanic 815 not crashing.  If we’re meant to look for a fundamental fork in the story (and I think we are, based upon the fact that they showed us the island still existed, albeit underwater), then it happened quite a ways further back than here.  Sure, the biggest impact in 2004 was the plane not crashing on the island, but something further upstream has caused this fork.  So far we’ve only seen one major consequence (the plane not crashing), and perhaps a secondary consequence as a result of that (the island sinking).  But what else happened as a result?  And what more may yet happen as a result?  I’m beginning to think that those are the questions that we’re supposed to ask about this timeline that will give us the ultimate meaning regarding it and how it ties into the main timeline.

“You mean you’ve been doing everything he told you all this time, and he never said why?”

Richard, very much not in control of things

Fascinating conversation here between Locke and Richard.  One thing you might be able to take out of this encounter is that the reasons why the Others never shared any over-arcing information with the LOSTies is because they didn’t know any of it.  Richard seems to be pretty high on thr food chain (though perhaps not as high as Dogen or any of the other Leaders of the Others), and he seems to know almost nothing about the grand scheme being played out on the island.  The only thing we know for certain that he knows, is that he absolutely wants nothing to do with Locke/Smokey/MIB.  He has a great fear/respect for whatever he is or represents, and has no intention of following it in any way.  It’ll be interesting to find out exactly what Richard knows, specifically why he’s so afraid of Smokey, and why he doesn’t know more than he does (or lets on in this conversation).

The apparition appears to Locke...but not Richard

But perhaps even more important than the conversation between these two is the appearance of the apparition…a young boy with bloody arms appears to Locke…but not to Richard.  Why is it that Locke can see this apparition, but Richard cannot?  Also, what meaning does this character carry for MIB?  I’ll dive into this a quite a bit more later, but the fact that Richard is unable to see this character seems to be a key piece of information that the writers are trying to share with us.

“Locke kicked him into the fire and he burned away”

Now Ben is an accomplished liar and all, but I think he picked the wrong person to lie to here.  Ilana seems to be one of the few people on the island that is 100% in tune with the parameters of the conflict between Jacob and the Man In Black.  I don’t doubt for a second that she knows that MIB couldn’t kill Jacob directly, and that Ben did the dirty work.  But now is not the time to call him out for it.  No, she needs to get some remnant of Jacob in her possession in order to help play out Jacob’s plan.  She’ll trump Ben when and if the time is right, at some point in the future.  But while she’s there, she’ll go ahead and share what she knows about MIB’s plan: he’s trying to convince people to swing over to his side.

Ilana pockets some of Jacob's ashes

Clearly, we have no idea what Smokey’s plan entails.  We haven’t really even been given a glimpse of that, other than he wants to go home.  But we do know that Ilana is telling the truth, as she always has since she got to the island.  Smokey is not on a killing rampage, as we may have suspected when the Temple dwellers secured their location and sent up a flare.  No, he’s simply trying to get people to go with him.  He clearly needs some help to accomplish his objective, whatever that may be, and he’s willing to go to great lengths to enlist that help.

“Here’s to bein’ dead!”

Locke recruits Sawyer at the Barracks

While the conversation between Locke and Sawyer is very dramatic and compelling, it’s fairly straightforward.  I don’t think I need to decipher much for any of you.  But what I do find worth discussing with you in retrospect is how Smokey came upon Sawyer as his 2nd choice for a recruit: absolute chance.  I’ve written quite a bit about Sawyer’s decline in demeanor over the first few recaps of this season.  So his choices in this episode all make sense to me, and are a natural evolution of the plot.  But the curious piece is that MIB would ever think to recruit Sawyer in the first place.  And really, I think it’s all about luck.  He just happened to be at the Barracks at the time when Smokey was passing through.  Alright, alright, I can hear some of you already saying something like, “Nothing on this island happens by chance!”  And you very well might be right.  And if so, by whose design do you think this meeting took place?  Yeah, me too.  Just wanted to bring that to the forefront as something to keep in mind when I discuss the next scene involving Locke and Sawyer.

Locke leaves the box company and bumps into…

Hurley throws Locke a bone

Hurley!  It seems as though the writers went out of their way much more in this episode to hit us with at least one major surprise or throwback in each of the flash-sideways scenes.  While I’m still much more interested in what’s going on on-island than any of the flash-sideways scenes, it didn’t as much like an interruption this week as it did last week.  I hope they’re able to continue that trend into next week.

“The kid?  Hell yeah, I can see him.”

So many things happen in this scene alone that I feel like I could write a normal length entry just on all of the things that we might be able to learn from it.  But in the interest of not writing more than you can digest in a sitting, I’ll do my best to give you what I thought was relevant as succinctly as possible.

First of all, note that Sawyer can see the apparition, whereas Richard could not.  It may be interesting to come up with some sort of list of every person we know that’s seen an apparition, and see if there’s some commonality.  (I may do this over the weekend or something, but in the interest of posting this in somewhat of a timely fashion, not now.)  Off the top of my head, I think it’s something like Jack (Christian), Kate (horse), Sawyer (boar and kid), Hurley (Dave, Christian, numerous others), Eko (his brother and those that he killed), Ben (his mother and his daughter), Sayid (his cat), and of course, Locke (Christian).  If I left anyone obvious out, please feel free to let me know in the comments.  In any event, there doesn’t seem to be a specific pattern emerging for me.  It’s not the 815ers (Ben’s on the list), it’s not just those touched by Jacob, and it’s not the people etched on the cave wall later in this episode.  There’s something more to it, but the fact that we’re shown that Richard can’t see it makes me believe that it’s greatly significant.  I hate unearthing a piece of the puzzle without being able to tell you how it fits in the overall scheme, but this is part of what I referred to in my opening.  I think it’s important, but we just don’t have enough info to go on right now.  Maybe one of you has a theory?  I’d love to read about it in the comments.

The boy apparition makes it clear that Locke can't kill Sawyer

The second thing to contemplate in this scene is who this apparition really is.  It’s clear from the dialog that who MIB sees and who Sawyer sees are completely different.  We seem to be given the Sawyer perspective, as we see a kid, just like Sawyer says he sees.  But MIB seems to be seeing someone else, and your guess probably aligns with mine: Jacob.  And if you follow my logic from earlier, it probably makes perfect sense.  Jacob has a plan that he set in motion, and he likely is very aware that Sawyer would be in an emotional state in which he could be swayed by MIB.  I might even go as far as to say that it’s part of Jacob’s plan.  Now I may be getting ahead of myself here with this, but I think it’s a reasonable conclusion.  But just to be clear, I wanted to take a quick couple of sentences to say that there’s nothing that we can point to that absolutely confirms this.  There may be a secondary twist to this that we just don’t have all the pieces to yet.

In any event, regardless of who it is, we can still make some further logical assumptions, and ones that may shatter some things that some folks had taken for granted to be true.

First, we have now seen at least one instance in which Smokey and an apparition have appeared in the same time and place.  I know that in some circles, it was seen as a matter of fact that the apparition of Ben’s daughter that appeared to Ben immediately after he was “judged” by Smokey was in fact Smokey himself.  I think that there’s now at least a reasonable argument against that being the case.  And if you take it one step further, and think that perhaps it was Jacob that was appearing as these apparitions, then it appears as though he was in the plot for his own demise.  Perhaps he felt as though the only way he could expedite his plan was to allow his own death, and make Smokey think that he had the upper hand.  Regardless, any assumptions made due to the idea that Smokey and the apparitions were one in the same needs to be re-thought.  The basis for those assumptions is now longer bullet-proof, and what we think we may know as a result is also now subject to revision.

Finally, I want to touch on the last line of the scene.  After the apparition tells MIB that he “can’t kill him” (likely referring to Sawyer), he responds by yelling, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”  The obvious reference here is to Locke’s experience off-island in Season 1, where he is told that he can’t go on the walkabout because of his disability.  It’s a nice mirror, and also provides a link to last episode, where Kate’s off-island experience of helping Claire in childbirth in the alternate timeline mirrored her on-island experience in the main timeline back in Season 1.  But you probably caught that when you first watched the episode.  What I’m even more interested in, is whether or not Locke’s line is of any significance regarding the John Locke we’ve known from the start of the show.  I know that large chunks of evidence are mounting against any kind of comeback for the original John Locke, especially with his burial in this episode.  But I’m having a really hard time digesting that (I know, I know, I’m in denial), and I’m wondering if perhaps this scene is a sign of the possibility of Locke coming back.  After all, we know next to nothing of just how Smokey got possession of this body.  But what we do know is that he’s somehow retained all of Locke’s memories somehow.  Is it also possible that his mannerisms, habits, and favorite lines are also lodged in there somewhere?  And if they are, is it unreasonable to think that somehow they could once again rise to the surface and take control of this body if somehow Smokey was removed from it?  Perhaps I’m reaching for straws here, but I think it’s something at least worth filing away and keeping an eye on as things progress. 

In any event, this was an absolutely masterful scene, providing so many key pieces of information in such a short timeframe that it would be easy to miss one or two pieces while locking on one of the others that provided more pertinence to whatever theory you may have carried into it.  I hope I covered the main areas of significance, but if any of you have more that you’d like to share with me and the other readers, please post in the comments!

“What kind of animal would you describe yourself as?”

More humor and reference to seasons past, with the big surprise coming in the form of Rose as the office supervisor of the temp agency.  And I suppose that here (and the subsequent flash-sideways scene with Helen) is where we get our first true meaningful digression from the main timeline with respect to the mindset of our characters, specifically Rose and Locke.  In the main timeline, Rose and Locke use the island as a sort or launch pad to something else.  They are both healed, and neither has any desire to return to the mainland.  Locke makes this abundantly clear by thwarting efforts to leave the island (breaking the transceiver, destroying the raft, blowing up the sub), but Rose also expressed a desire to stay in the Rose/Bernard centric episode “SOS” a few seasons back.

Rose helps Locke reach a level of acceptance

But in this timeline, Rose takes a different approach, and Locke seems to follow suit: instead of trying to rise above their situation, or trying to be more than what they really are, they come to grips with who they are…they accept themselves, and presumably go on to live happy lives.  What fascinates me about this is what the writers might be trying to tell us.  Are they asking us to decide which is more “heroic”: accepting who you are, or fighting to rise above expectations?  If that’s part of what this alternate timeline is about, I’m very curious to see how it works out.  It doesn’t necessarily apply to all of the characters, so I’ll be interested to see if it plays out any further in the episodes to come.  But this is the first time in which the contrast between the two timelines gave me pause to think about which one I think is better for our characters, especially as it relates to Rose and Locke.

“Wonderin’ what would happen to you if I put a bullet in your head.”

I find this scene to be interesting on two levels.  First, it appears as though Sawyer’s come back from being checked out.  Yeah, he still wants off the island, but he’s not willing to be gamed, even after everything that’s happened to him.  He’s distracted enough by this situation to at least momentarily get his head back in the game and try to take control.

Sawyer wants to know what he's dealing with

But at the same time, I think he’s truly surprised by what transpired.  I think that he took Richard’s words to heart, and was unsure of just what he was dealing with.  I think he was fully prepared to pull the trigger and see what might happen.  But I also think that he could see the complete lack of fear in Locke’s eyes.  This was a man that really couldn’t care less if you shot him between the eyes.  Sawyer probably came to the realization that his gun was not going to do any harm, and quickly changed his mind.  I think that perhaps what Locke said to him in the speech about being so close to the answers may have been less important than the look in his eye when he stared down the barrel of Sawyer’s gun.

However, just to quickly touch on what Locke says: I’m inclined to believe him.  While the Temple-dwellers have already proven that they will flat-out lie to achieve their goals (the pill is medicine until Jack tries to swallow it; then it’s poison), Smokey as Locke seems to have at least partial truth in what he says.  At least to me, it’s becoming murkier and murkier each week as to who we ought to be rooting for here.  If what MIB is saying is true, and that Jacob has trapped him in the island for centuries, then you have to starting thinking that perhaps MIB is the guy you want to win.  And if Jacob’s people have been lying, withholding information, and/or playing their followers like puppets, then that’s another reason to root against them.  And if by some chance MIB is telling the truth at the end of the episode, and Jacob has manipulated our LOSTies to come to the island under the pretense of free will, then that’s the worst transgression of all.  I guess what I’m saying is that I think that MIB is at least giving us partial truths (perhaps not all of it), and that I’m not at all sold on the idea that Jacob is the “good guy” in all of this.

“He can’t, not anymore.  He’s stuck this way.”

Wow, Ilana sure does know a ton about what’s going on, doesn’t she?  Two obvious questions are, how in the heck does she know that?  Was it something that Jacob told her prior to her arrival, or did she realize that once she got to the island?  Secondly, why is Smokey stuck in that form?  Why would he be able to morph into Locke, but then never change at a later time?  Did he know that he’s have that limitation?  If so, then he must have been extremely calculated about it.  Perhaps he’s making a last-ditch play to achieve his goal.  Even the smallest bits of information around this subject would be fascinating to learn.

Locke takes a dirt nap as Ben gives the eulogy

Locke's body is placed in his grave

I know I stated this earlier, but as a big fan of the John Locke character, I had a hard time watching this scene.  As dirt rained down on Locke’s body, I couldn’t help but to think about Walt’s dream, where Locke is on the island in a suit, and everyone is trying to kill him.  As long as Locke’s body was out in the open, I believed that he could come back and fulfill that dream.  It all seems so impossible now.  But I’ll continue to hold out hope that we’ll see the original Locke again, despite the evidence mounting against it.  That’s what faith is, right?  (Or is that what delusion is?)

“I sat there yelling at them, shouting at them that they couldn’t tell me what I can’t do!  But they were right.”

Very interesting dovetail here with John Locke in the alternate timeline, and John Locke in the main timeline.  While MIB chose Locke’s form for what access it would grant him (specifically Jacob’s dwelling), he may as well have chosen him for having a mirrored soul.  In other words, not only does MIB look like Locke, but he has the same desire to break the bonds of physical constraint that he had.  It’s thoroughly ironic, based upon the mocking that MIB has done about Locke’s blind following, and how quickly he has dismissed Locke as a threat.  But perhaps what will be the biggest twist of all is that MIB will be done in for the same blind desire to break his chains as Locke had regarding his wheelchair.  Perhaps MIB will be blind to the fact that he’s not in charge (even though he thinks he is) until it’s too late to switch gears and save himself from his own demise…

Helen shares with Locke that she believes in miracles

By the way, it wasn’t lost on me that Helen told Locke that “miracles do happen”…keep giving me those little nuggets of hope for Locke’s return Damon and Carlton, it’s just what I need to continue with my crazy theories…

“Why are all the names crossed out?”

Sayid is on the list

While we’re certainly not getting the full story here from MIB, I am inclined to believe that these names were etched in the cave by Jacob.  Perhaps Jacob’s also the one crossing them out as they no longer are “candidates”, perhaps MIB is doing that himself, as he did with Locke’s name.  But what I think is more interesting to note is whose name is not readily seen.  I think we’re intentionally left to wonder why Kate is not on the list.  Of course, Kate was not on the list earlier in the series, when Locke evacuated the Barracks with the rest of the Others, but left Kate behind.  Obviously, we’d all like to have a better understanding of how that list was generated in the first place, but my guess is that isn’t coming for awhile.

Instead, we’re left with Sawyer and MIB joining into an alliance that none of the readers of this blog should be too surprised at seeing.  What happens next with these two, especially regarding how MIB might use Sawyer as a way of manipulating the rest of the LOSTies, should be absolutely fascinating.  But one thing to keep in mind as that unfolds: Sawyer is a master con artist.  If anyone can turn the tables on MIB, it’s Sawyer.  Even though he appeared to check out a few episodes back, don’t be surprised to see Sawyer make a play in the overall scheme at just the right moment…

Post-episode questions:

1. What’s the story behind the apparitions?  Why can some people see them while others cannot?

2. How does Ilana know so much, and what is her plan?  Why did she grab Jacob’s ashes from his dwelling?

3. What is MIB’s true plan going forward?  We know it’s not as simple as just deciding to leave the island…

4. Why is Richard so mortally afraid of Smokey?  Is there something more to his power than what we’ve seen?

5. Is Locke really dead?  Is there any chance that his subconscious is living within the body MIB is currently controlling?

Wow, that was a long one!  That was twice as much as I typically write for a single episode, and I’m feeling like I still may have missed a few things here and there.  I’d love for any of you to hop into the discussion and let me know what you think!  Either way, I hope you enjoyed the episode as much as I did…talk to you all again next week!

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6 responses

18 02 2010
Robert Bonamico

After reading the entire blog on this episode(and I might add, Paul-well done), there is one thing that comes to mind: MIB’s Plan. Richard did indicate that MIB wanted to kill everyone. MIB divulges that he is trapped on the Island, and has been for a long time. Rewind back to the Season 5 Finale, and the introduction to Jacob and MIB:The argument is over whether or not humanity even has a chance. It seems apparent that MIB despises humanity. Now, MIB is trying to convince Sawyer that together, they can leave the Island. Now what exactly would the Smoke Monster do in Civilization? Wreak havoc? MIB has been trapped there because his power is too great for the rest of the world. It seems odd that Jacob can leave the Island, yet MIB is trapped. The 3rd choice(leave the Island) appears to be the only option that benefits MIB. The other 2 share a common thread:staying on the Island. My guess:MIB wants the Island to himself. No man is an Island,but a smoke monster? well…..

18 02 2010
hablodepablo

Very interesting feedback, Robert. While it does seem very counter-intuitive that MIB hates humanity yet also wants to leave the island, I think perhaps we’re taking a leap of faith to say that he’d do something in civilization. It’s certainly possible that he would; perhaps the alternate timeline is showing us what might happen if MIB gets off the island, and what the consequences are. However, MIB has clearly stated on more than one occasion that he wants to go home. Perhaps “home” is not necessarily someplace on earth. What we’ve seen from him so far is certainly other-worldly…would any other explanation make less sense than the idea that MIB is an alien? Just food for though…

18 02 2010
Robert Bonamico

Haha-Maybe MIB eventually becomes Paralyzed John Locke in the alternate timeline? He does seem much more confident as that John Locke. A price that must be paid for taking on human form and escaping the confines of the Island….I think I just went cross eyed 🙂

20 02 2010
mmert99

It seems as though there are some mirror image/inverse qualities to the two universes. I like your nod to the substitute teacher idea. I think there is something significant to that. Might I suggest that, in much the same way Locke has been substituted by something else on the island, Locke is literally substituting for someone else as a teacher in LA. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person he is substituting for turns out to be significant in later episodes. Of course, with this show, I’m more often wrong than right.

20 02 2010
hablodepablo

Hi Mert, thanks for stopping by! Great observation you have there. I’ve been so focused on what the alternate timeline might mean to the main timeline that I haven’t stopped to take a look at the reverse. Doing so will probably give us some greater insight to the overall picture. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, as I’m sure we’ll be back to the school soon enough, with Mr. Benjamin Linus working there as well.

I look forward to you sharing even more of your observations in the future!

25 02 2010
todash

….haven’t read all your post, but I’ll add this….

I think 2nd time line starts when the bomb goes off in 1970’s….so the lives of the LOSTies and Others would have been changed from that time….that’s is why Jack has a son…..the ‘Others’…(Dogan) appear to have normal lives.

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