The promise of answers to "the most important question in the world" was dangled in front of Sawyer -- and us viewers -- in this episode like an aged bottle of Jack Daniels. We wound getting a sip or two, but hardly the snoot-full we were hoping for.
"The Substitute," the third hour on our march to the series finale, spent a good deal of time pointing out the parallels in the lives of Original Locke (O'Locke) and Sawyer, and showing that O'Locke is a key (perhaps the key) pinball that bounces off the other characters in the no-crash 2004 scenario: Jack, Boone, Rose, Hurley and Ben "European history" Linus, for starters.
In the episode penned by Elizabeth Sarnoff and Melinda Hsu Taylor and nicely helmed by Tucker Gates, Fake Locke (F'Locke) is described by Ilana as being on a "recruiting" mission in the wake of Jacob's death. Richard flatly turns him down, but F'Locke finds a slightly reluctant recruit in a whiskey-addled Sawyer, who's drowning his sorrows at his old house in New Otherton, listening to '70s hard rock. (I recognized the sound but can't quite place the band. Aerosmith? Thin Lizzy? Thanks commentors, tune is "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges from "Raw Power.")
After a classic-"Lost" tromp through the verdant jungle, in which we encounter a frantic Richard Alpert and a stern young boy (Jacob reincarnate?), F'Locke and Sawyer get to cave area in the cliffs where we get some tantalizing clues (our Oceanic 815 heroes all have assigned numbers from The Numbers! The Scales of Good and Evil!) but no real clarity to speak of. Other than that Jacob was a numbers nut, per F'Locke.
The flash-sideways segments were all O'Locke, all the time. Nice to see Katey Sagal again in her role as girlfriend Helen. It was all the talk of O'Locke and Helen prepping for their wedding that made me think of the parallels to Sawyer-Juliet. Two men, both of whom have known betrayal, fear, anger, disappointment, etc., as F'Locke puts it to Sawyer at one point in their journey to the cliffs. Obviously, things are going to go awry for O'Locke and Helen.
The other parallels between O'Locke and Sawyer we already knew -- the daddy issues, the anger at being a
social outcast, the restless search for a vengeance/redemption, the unstoppable drive when they want something bad enough, etc. F'Locke told Sawyer that he and others had been manipulated by Jacob at a moment in their lives when they were "miserable and vulnerable," which is exactly what F'Locke is doing to Sawyer at that moment. In the sideways flashes, we're reminded of the fury that drives wheelchair-bound O'Locke, and we're reminded more than once and in more than one setting of his famous pronouncement: "Don't you ever tell me what I can't do!"
All of these character traits come into play in the closing scene where F'Locke lays out Sawyer's three options:
1) To stay on the sidelines and observe "how this all plays out." 2) "To accept the job and become the new Jacob," which F'Locke immediately pooh-poohs because after all it "it's just a damn island." 3) "We just get the hell off this island and we never look back." Why am I having trouble believing him on No. 3?
But then I remembered that last season as Sawyer, Juliet, Faraday, Charlotte et al were dealing with time travel sickness, O'Locke and Sawyer did forge an alliance and Sawyer believed that O'Locke sacrificed himself to stop the madness for the others -- even if the skipping record did wind up stopping in 1974 Dharma-ville.
I liked the callout to the scene pilot episode when O'Locke finds his legs right after the crash as the rain hits in the "Substitute" scene where he falls off the van's malfunctioning chair-lift onto his lawn and the sprinklers go off.
There was great deadpan humor in this seg, thanks to the skill of Terry O'Quinn and Josh Holloway. Holloway played his first 2007 encounter with F'Locke just right. It undoubtedly helped that he was supposed to be sloshed at the time.
"Here's to being dead," Sawyer says with his season-one malevolent grin.
"I guess I better put some pants on," Sawyer says after a the "why are you on this island" exchange.
Later, F'Locke's speech about "What I am is trapped. I've been trapped for so long I don't remember what it is like to be free" could also be Sawyer's words about his life, before and after the Oceanic 815 crash.
Loved the bit where F'Locke picks the white rock off the scale and pitches it into the ocean just as they enter to the cave. "Inside joke," he explains to a puzzled Sawyer. It was a perfect unexpected bit of comedy to actually build on the mounting tension from the descent scene before on the build up to entering the cave.
The other big plot development was Ilana signaling to Sun that she knows who she's looking for and that she aims to help her find Jin. That was certainly more clear than what Ilana intends to do with the handfuls of Jacob ashes that she pulled from the fire pit in the cave in the base of the statue. Interesting that in our brief scenes with Ilana, Sun, Lapidus and Ben, Ben lies to Ilana about who killed Jacob (he's at least culpable for the stabbing, even if F'Locke did push him into the fire) but confessed about murdering O'Locke. Which prompts Lapidus to offer another fine moment of comic relief: "This is the weirdest darn funeral I've ever been to."
I never in a million years saw the explanation for the title of this seg coming. O'Locke a substitute high school teacher in the school where Ben lords over the coffee maker?
In thinking about this episode my mind keeps going back to the speeches from Jacob and Titus Welliver's Man in Black character at the start of the season five finale.
Blackie: "They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same."
Jacob: "It only ends once. Anything that happens before that...it's just progress."
** Was it real significance or decoy significance that Sawyer also saw the boy in the jungle when F'Locke saw him the second time? Would anyone have also seen him or does Sawyer, as a "candidate," have special Enhanced Jungle Spirit Vision? The boy's warning to Locke "You know the rules. You can't kill him" sure sounded like Ben-Widmore sparring from seasons four and five. Seems like we're due for a visit with Chuck soon, no?
** Former O'Locke boss Randy Nations, "a huge douche"? Hope he's no relation to "Lost" Bible keeper and co-producer Gregg Nations.
** Helen's T-shirt read "Lace and Karma," right? ("Peace and Karma" -- thanks readers.)
** Helen's urging O'Locke to see Jack for his free consult reminded me of Ben's observation about how having a spinal surgeon "fall out of the sky" just after he learned he had a tumor was "proof of God." Helen tweaks O'Locke with the observation: "What are the odds of you running into a spinal surgeon? Who knows? Maybe it's destiny."
On second viewing:
** I missed the whole significance of F'Locke's needing some sort of partner to take his leave of the island. What's that all about??
** Meant to mention how great it was to see the POV of Smokey, aka F'Locke, swooping through the jungle to New Otherton.