Lost – The Substitute
Hey, that was pretty fun! Although there were a few complaints from my weekly peanut gallery that some scenes in “The Substitute” were unnecessary filler (particularly the excessively long ladder scene), “The Substitute” was without doubt a more satisfying episode then last week. This was in part because the flash-sideways sequences were meaningful additions to the story of John Locke, whereas last week’s “What Kate Does” never gave us anything new about Kate’s character. In the alt-universe, Locke is a significantly different person than we came to know on the island: he’s still in a wheelchair, he struggles with life but has a strong relationship with Helen, and tearing up Jack’s business card is a huge step in the opposite direction than the one Locke takes on the island. Where island-John Locke was led down a rabbit hole and continually goaded to search for deeper meaning, alt-Locke refuses to fall farther down that abyss and chooses to be happy with himself.
And again unlike “What Kate Does,” that storyline gives us meaningful, rewarding narrative echoes in the main timeline. While I’m certainly still waiting for the two narratives to connect, it was enough for now that alt-John Locke shows us how awful the island has actually been for that character. When the plane crashes, he follows a crazy wild goose chase until being murdered (and then hilariously eulogized) by Ben. When the plane doesn’t crash, he’s paralyzed, but he can be happy.
“The Substitute” also capitalized heavily on our powerful audience love of twisty, surprising character connections, in a way Lost used to do often in season one and hasn’t done much of since. Locke sits down at the temp agency, and it’s Rose! One I didn’t initially catch while watching the episode – we’ve known for a while that Hurley owns the box company Locke works from, but I hadn’t realized that Locke’s obnoxious boss is Hurley’s former obnoxious boss at Mr. Cluck’s, Randy Nations. No doubt Hurley hooked him up with a new position after Mr. Cluck’s burned down, although I wonder how it burned down if Hurley’s actually super lucky in this timeline? And of course, Benjamin Linus as the world’s creepiest European History teacher. I would so take that class.
Back on the island, the entire episode built up to that fabulous, exciting final scene, where the caveman drawings turn out to be Jacob’s list of candidates, and the remaining candidates are the infamous island numbers of Hurley’s nightmares. The relationship between Jacob, SmokeyLocke, and the candidates becomes ever-so-slightly clearer with the knowledge that Jacob sees himself as the island’s protector (from what Smokey claims is a nonexistent threat), and the people on his numbered list are possible replacements – or substitutes – for Jacob’s role. Grief-stricken and angry, Sawyer ignores the fact that Smokey hurls the white rock into the ocean and declares himself Team Black Rock, on a Wizard of Oz homeward bound mission. Poor Sawyer. You’re clearly well read, but not sensitive enough to the incredibly obvious black vs. white symbolism that you can pick the right side of this battle.
It’s nice to come away from an episode with new questions that I care about rather than just the heavily repeating drumbeat of “what does it all mean?!” Why isn’t Kate a candidate? She’s certainly the only major Lostie whose name isn’t on the list and who hasn’t already been claimed in some way (as Claire has). As a corollary, why are all the candidates men, excepting the possibility that Kwon refers to Sun? In what way is Smokey so irrevocably trapped on the island, and how is Sawyer going to help him get off? And finally, what is with Child of the Corn over here?!
Thanks, Carlton Cuse/Jacob and Damon Lindelof/Smokey/Man in Black (or possibly vice versa). With episodes like this one, it’s starting to feel safer to sit back and let TPTB spin everything out as they see fit.