Getting Lost: The Substitute

It’s time for another installment of “Getting Lost,” where John S takes you through all the salient questions from last night’s episode of Lost:

Hey! A Locke episode! Yeah, after an episode that left him out completely, we get an episode totally centered on John Locke, who I’ve already called the show’s most important character.

And were you super thrilled with this episode? It was a pretty good, wasn’t it?

Well, it still had those dumb alternate timeline storylines… Well, here’s the thing with those. People have complained that the 2004 stories are pointless, or a distraction from the on-Island stories that people care about. There is definitely some validity to that when we have to watch a whole episode of Kate trying to run away from US Marshal Edward Mars again. But this episode worked the John Locke storyline in pretty seamlessly, in a way that actually added to the on-Island story.

The central question of Locke’s character was raised by Jack in last season’s great episode, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”: Is Locke actually special, or is he “just a sad old man who crashed on an island”? We’ve heard time and again that Locke is “special” and “important,” and he himself certainly bought into it. As Ben said in last night’s episode, John Locke was “a believer.”

But at the same time, there was always a vulnerability about Locke that made him so sympathetic. As Sawyer put it in “The Substitute,” “Locke was scared, even when he was trying to pretend that he wasn’t” (I thought it was a great detail that Sawyer, even drunk on whiskey, realized more or less immediately that Locke 2.0 wasn’t the real Locke; Sawyer has turned into the smartest person on the Island). Locke was always ready, often too ready, to be believe that his faith has been misplaced—to believe that he’s merely a sad old man who crashed on an island.

The alternate storyline in “The Substitute,” however, explored what the life of John Locke as not a sad old man who crashed on an island, but as a relatively happy if critically disabled man who lives in California. In this scenario, Locke is still in a wheelchair, he still has a terrible job, and he still can’t go on his Walkabout, but he’s also still with Helen, who still loves him, he actually has a solid relationship with his father (since Helen suggests inviting him to the wedding), and he seems to make peace with his paralysis by the end of the episode. Terry O’Quinn actually did a great job (as usual) playing a Locke without the self-loathing. Notice how when Locke falls out of his wheelchair onto the lawn, Locke almost laughs to himself, whereas an earlier incarnation of Locke would have had resorted to rage and yelling, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”

Sure, the new Locke suffers setbacks, like getting fired and not being able to work in construction, but it’s nothing your average guy with a handicap might face; he is still capable of a happy life.

I’m sorry. I’m going to have to call bullshit on that. Everybody knows that Locke can’t happy off the Island. Locke was MEANT to crash. He’s important and special and chosen. That’s what makes him compelling! That used to be true, but look where that thinking got him: dead. What if the only reason people think Locke is special is because he’s being used by the Man in Black to perform whatever deed the Man in Black (I really hope he gets a name soon) is ultimately going to perform. In other words, what if Locke himself is not special or important, only the visage he happens to have? We already know that the reasons Richard and Charles Widmore think he is so special have a lot to do with time-travel—something he didn’t intend and which didn’t apply specifically to him. In other words, there is no real evidence to suggest that Locke is special, only that people think he is.

Well, what if he ends up being the candidate Jacob was looking for? Well, that doesn’t seem likely, given his death, and the fact that Locke 2.0 crossed off Locke’s name.

That one scene, though, may have provided more meaningful answers than any other scene in the show’s history. Here are some of the huuuuuge questions it potentially answered:

What was the deal with all those lists Jacob was making? He was looking for a candidate to replace him.

Why are certain people “chosen” to be on the Island? They are candidates, to be whittled down gradually and “crossed off” the lists.

What is Jacob’s role on the Island? He protects it.

From what? From “nothing… It’s just an island.”

What’s the deal with the numbers? Jacob likes numbers (this one may not be particularly satisfying).

Are there still big questions remaining?* Of course. Did we get a particularly one-sided view? Of course. But getting so many answers all at once from one source was borderline shocking on this show. That’s just how the Man in Black rolls, though. As he told Richard, “I would never have kept you in the dark like that. I respect you.” The Man in Black is not one for secrets.

*We also found out a few more big things in this episode. Namely, we learned that Locke 2.0 cannot take any other forms now, according to Ilana, and that Locke 2.0 sees hallucinations (they be hallucinations, since Locke was surprised that Sawyer saw them too) of a child. According to this child, though, one of the “rules” is that Locke 2.0 “can’t kill him.” No word yet on who “him” is.

Oh please. You’re not actually taking his SIDE in all this, are you? Look, there’s a lot of validity in what Locke 2.0/Man in Black is saying. Jacob does manipulate people, particularly when they are feeling weak and vulnerable. His disciples, like Ben and Locke, have never met him. Richard has, but has never known what his bidding has been for. The Man in Black meets these people and, within minutes, explains his motives.

I had a high school teacher who used to frame religion in terms of a political system. In this system, “God” was merely a despot—someone who spreads propaganda supporting his image and convincing people to love and fear and obey him without ever actually doing anything substantive or justifying himself to people. Meanwhile, Satan is a freedom fighter who simply wants people to act for themselves, without rules.* This comes to mind in the whole “Jacob/Man in Black” conflict. We’ve never really seen Jacob do anything benevolent, we’ve just heard that he’s a magical figure. There’s no real difference between Jacob and the Man in Black, but at least the Man in Black is honest and lets people make their own decisions. Yes, we’ve seen the Smoke Monster kill people, but who knows how many deaths Jacob is responsible for?

*I went to a public school.

Come on, Jacob has protected the Island! And Richard told Sawyer that Locke 2.0 planned to kill them all! Of course Richard would say that—he’s bought into all of Jacob’s propaganda. And what is Jacob protecting the Island from? This is how despots operate: They create bogus threats and ask you to do outlandish things to prevent them.

Look, John, you’re pro-Man in Black, anti-Jacob agenda has been clear for quite some time now! Hey, I’m not sold on anything yet. I just think we should hear the Man in Black out. Jacob will get his day in court too, and hopefully soon, so Mark Pellegrino can come back.

Any predictions for next week? I’m guessing next week’s episode will be a Jack story. The last two seasons have had Locke’s story follow Jack’s, and last year’s pair of episodes “316”/”The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” were very much intertwined, so I think the producers will stick with that parallelism. I’m predicting we get some more information on the Claire front (Lost has an annoying habit of introducing a cliffhanger and then going in an entirely different direction with the next episode), and that Jin and Sun will be reunited.

Any other thoughts on this week’s episode? Yes: Anytime you have a seen with Terry O’Quinn (whichever version of Locke he’s playing) and Sawyer, good things will probably happen.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by lonnieg on February 17, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    John…what if the producers of lost color coated Jacob (white) and the man in black (…black) purposely to distort our perception of them! Your argument is very persuasive. Although, if you’re on a tropical island, you probably wouldn’t want to wear black all the time….probably gets hot.


  2. […] reacted so strongly. Finding out you’ve been spied on since you were a kid is fucking creepy and, as I pointed out last week, […]


  3. […] S has been enjoying, and recapping, the final season of Lost over the last few weeks. Hopefully, he’s been able […]


  4. […] event. From the very beginning, Locke, now firmly established in his role as the substitute first introduced in “The Substitute,” pretty obviously makes the connection between the school and the Island: First he tells Ben that he […]


  5. […] Season Four, the season that revolved around rescue, was the season that brought the Jack/Locke tensions to a head. After all, their differences were primarily about whether to leave or stay on the Island, so when rescue comes, they can’t both have their way. This is Jack and Locke’s first scene together since the camp split into two factions in the Season Four premiere—the same episode in which Jack held a gun to Locke’s head and pulled the trigger. This time they are more peaceful, but no more agreeable. Locke tries to convince Jack not to leave, but Jack refuses. If he’s going to leave, though, Locke tells him: “You’re going to have to lie…to protect the Island.” Jack’s response—“it’s just an Island”—is eerily reminiscent of Locke 2.0’s speech to Sawyer in “The Substitute.” […]


  6. […] he thought he was talking to John Locke. It’s not all that surprising that Desmond thinks that—not everyone can be as perceptive as Sawyer—but it was still disappointing to hear him say that. For one, I thought we might learn Locke […]


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