"What if I told you I was the person who could answer the most important question in the world?" -- Flocke.

And who would that be? Who IS the person who promises to answer the existential questions, the what-is-the-point and why-am-I-here yearnings of the soul? He would have to earn trust, to make a pleasing case. This Devil would not carry a pitchfork and be a scary horned demon. He'd come through on some promises, get you asking questions like, "Is that REALLY a rule? Are we really not supposed to do this? Have we really been told 'what we can't do'?"

It's much more theological musing ahead, as this episode, "The Substitute," was overly ripe with religious dialogue.

THE SUBSTITUTE

Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, put it this way:

"The whole pith and marrow of the religion of Christianity lies in the doctrine of substitution, and I hesitate not to affirm my conviction that a very large proportion of Christians are not Christians at all, for they do not understand the fundamental doctrine of the Christian creed; and alas! there are preachers who do not preach, or even believe, this cardinal truth. They speak of the blood of Jesus in an indistinct kind of way, and descant upon the death of Christ in a hazy style of poetry, but they do not strike this nail on the head, and lay it down that the way of salvation is by Christ's becoming a substitute for guilty man. "This shall make me the more plain and definite. Sin is an accursed thing. God, from the necessity of his holiness, must curse it; he must punish men for committing it; but the Lord's Christ, the glorious Son of the everlasting Father, became a man, and suffered in his own proper person the curse which was due to the sons of men, that so, by a vicarious offering, God having been just in punishing sin, could extend his bounteous mercy towards those who believe in the Substitute." — C. H. Spurgeon, "Christ Made A Curse For Us," May 30, 1869

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Locke was made a substitute only in the new-815 timeline, where he finds some purpose as a substitute teacher. LOST has, since the beginning, been largely about redemption, but all along there was a crucial part (to a Christian understanding, anyway) missing - the atonement through substitution. Now, LOST is not a direct allegory to Christianity, and doesn't even have to be watched this way. There is no 1-to-1 correspondence between any of these characters and Jesus. We don't even know if the Substitute of the title is Dead Locke, who might rise again, or if it is Sawyer, the one who is given the choice to replace Jacob or join the dark side, or if it was Jacob, who died (perhaps that others might live? MIB makes the point of stating that Jacob has been dead one day. Anyone want to wager for three?). The point is that the stakes have been raised in the game that goes on within this show. We've long since left Widmore vs. Ben behind, and even longer back grew out of Jack vs. Locke. We've graduated to Jacob vs. His Nemesis, and are being treated to the playing out of everything we have wanted to see ever since their opening scene in the Season Five finale: are people called and purposed, or an accident? Is there choice or manipulation? Is there progress and learning, or merely continued failure through sinful imperfection?

We're starting to get those answers as LOST would define them. In the end, though, a word of caution - the show is not likely to take a side, or at least a side that you agree with at the deepest core of your beliefs. Like most media, it will leave this open for you to see what you want to see, just as it has done since the beginning by questioning our assumptions and beliefs about black-and-white, duality, good-and-evil, good guys and bad guys. We have rooted for murderers, torturers, and control freaks... why? Why DID we give them the good guy stamp of approval? We have booed protectors, guardians, and those who withhold truths... why? Has anyone on this show actually been truly good, or truly bad? Have any of us? Games like backgammon and chess have been omnipresent since Season One. In those games, neither the black nor the white side is inherently good or bad; they are just sides which are in opposition. They exist in harmony, balance; they exist within Eastern symbols like yin and yang (and on our scales in the cave in this episode).

Shoot, we're even unsure about certain things to do with MIB/Smokey, because a case can be made (and is being made by some bloggers) that he's the good guy at best, misunderstood and unfairly imprisoned at worst. The sympathetic devil figure is not a new archetype in fiction. From Paradise Lost to Star Wars, we can see how some characters we would label as deeply evil were - at least in their own minds - treated unfairly, view the real cruelty as coming from their opposite side, and are very disenfranchised with rules ("Don't tell me what I can't do!" anyone?). In the end, though, love must rule the day (Voldemort's weakness in the Potter books), and motives must be questioned. We have to delve into what these beings possibly prize - selfishness, revenge, death of others, cheating death. Richard Alpert, even given a second chance to follow Smokey, refuses, and is so convinced of both his aims and his power that he tries to "evangelize" Sawywer... and also runs in a beeline the opposite direction when MIB returns.

So... who ultimately will be our Substitute? Will someone accept or "rise up" to take the role? Will there be "bounteous mercy toward those who believe in The Substitute?" Can't wait to find out!

LOS ANGELES

I knew it! Two weeks ago I wrote that this new-815 Locke had a slightly more gentle confidence about him that smacked of Helen's influence. But his lack of a wedding ring had me second guessing myself. Well duh. He's with Helen alright, and they're engaged! Not only that, but the dominoes that fall into place with every revelation are rather astonishing...

Locke and Helen are together, but... because Locke's father is someone they would invite to the wedding probably means he did not have a role in crippling his son, which means it happened some other way, which means Locke and Helen probably didn't meet at an anger management class, but they obviously still met some other way, which yet again scores a point for Destiny. Locke was always destined to end up in that wheelchair. He was always destined to meet Helen. Every detail is not the same, but the major highlights are. Micro vs. Macro. What has me worried, though, is that original-Locke loses Helen. Is that his destiny again, too? Original Locke also got out of that wheelchair (by landing on the island). So is it his destiny this time around as well to walk again? Helen tore up Jack's business card, but something tells me Locke and Jack will cross paths in LA again...

The question of destiny is even put right in our faces. Helen brings up the word about the "odds" of Locke running into a spinal surgeon, and I'm flashed back to old episodes where Locke and Eko once warned not to mistake coincidence for fate, or vice-versa.

Question: Originally, the Walkabout idea was put in Locke's head by Abaddon. Who put it there this time? Did Locke come up with the idea himself? Why? Did he want to prove something to himself so badly he would risk getting fired and burning the vacation time he had saved for his wedding to do it? Secondarily, I wonder now at the role of Abaddon, who we know worked for Widmore -- were they possibly on Jacob's side all along? If it is true that Jacob pre-ordained, pushed, and prodded to get his candidates to the island, and Abaddon had a direct influence in that happening for Locke the first time, might this be true? Further, if you believe the negative biblical implications of the name Abaddon, and this entity is connected to Jacob, is that another notch for the "Jacob ain't all that good" crowd? Also, was Locke's dad ever a con man? Perhaps he never was "Sawyer," which might explain why the new-815 James Ford is such a happy, smiling dude.

This New Locke

  • Still works at the Tustin box company, Hurley still owns it, Randy is still his boss, still a douche, still calls Locke "Colonel," suggesting Locke still enjoys his role-playing war games at lunch. But...
  • He has a sense of adventure and humor. His wheelchair lift sticks, so he goes for it. Bites it on the lawn, sprinklers come on. Was that a smile?
  • Is not afraid of telling a lie, but neither is he afraid of coming clean with the truth, to a jerk boss or to his fiance.
  • Is not afraid of confrontation when someone has parked in his spot.
  • Is not afraid to strike up conversations with creepy history teachers about their choice of hot beverage.
  • Is not afraid to make a decision, or even give up that decision once made (like with the swatches Helen has him examine)
  • (Here's the biggest one) Is not afraid of rules/constraints that are for his own good or simply true. Oh, he screamed at the Walkabout folks just like before to not tell him what he can't do. But between conversations he has with Helen and Rose, he comes to accept things, admits they were right not to let him go. Does this mean he has abandoned his man of faith stance? Is the suggestion that Locke and Rose find happiness in accepting the way things are a slap in the face of faith and belief (Rose used the words "denial"). Or is it just that faith truly is dangerous or full of denial if placed in the wrong things, and rechanneling to the right things is what brings us to contentment? Locke lets Rose help him get past this and find purpose through "finding you a job you CAN do." And the way Locke performs as a substitute teacher suggests he has found that path. "I don't want you to spend your life waiting for a miracle Helen, because there's no such thing." There are miracles John - and the only thing I was ever waiting for was you. Tears up Jack's card.

Other Cool Stuff

Hurley really is the "luckiest guy in the world." Even a lowered handicapp access lift won't dent his Hummer door.

As suspected a couple weeks ago, Rose does have cancer... she's just not afraid of it (I like these new less-afraid Losties).

Locke's alarm clock makes the same sound as the Hatch warning alarm.

Helen's shirt reads, "Peace & Karma," which are most definitely the vibes you get around this new Locke. Maybe telling the truth to Randy but getting fired anyway gave Locke good karma that kept his lift from denting Hurley's Hummer, which would have been bad karma, preventing Hurley from helping him, which would have prevented Rose from helping him, preventing him from finding purpose in a new job?

You had to laugh out loud at anal and uptight European History teacher Bejamin Linus. His presence was the one thing that truly surprised me this episode. I was operating under the assumption he died when the island sank. Obviously that's not the case. What led him to European History? I mean, Ethan still fulfilled his destiny of becoming a doctor. So why teaching for Ben? I like to think he gravitated to European History to appease his Machiavellian and Napoleonic tendencies, and as a nod to the show's Christo-religious and existentialist themes.

The LA sequences end with what's a pretty happy Locke - one we could conceviably see no more of and not worry about how things work out for him. He's happy in his job, he's able to meet and communicate with people, he's not emotionally handicapped, and he's in a fantastic relationship. Can't we just leave it here? Thinking back to last week, the same might apply to Kate. If we left her story there, we pretty much know - she's gonna make it after all. She'll be like a heroine in a bad TV show, on the run from the law but stopping to help people she meets along her journeys. Is it this sort of ending that LOST is setting us up for with each of our beloved characters in the new-815 timeline?

ISLAND: FLOCKE & SAWYER

How cool was it to get a Smokey's-Eye View of things! Interesting white flash as he turns back into shape of Locke.

This line to Richard struck me as odd: "I'm sorry I hit you in the throat and dragged you off the beach but I had to do SOMETHING." First, the apology was odd considering the immediate glee he seemed to have taken when he demobilized Richard. Second, what did he have to do? Something? Why? Why that?

MIB says he wants what he's always wanted - for Richard to come with him. What does this mean? To serve him, follow him? Accompany him? To a specific destination, or just as a general rule?

He tells Richard he looks like Locke because "he'd get me access to Jacob, because John's a candidate... or at least he was." Richard is freaky confused. Flocke apologizes yet again, says he never would have kept Richard "in the dark" (key phrase?) like this. This guy despises one thing - people who follow blindly without knowing or needing to know why. Basically, he hates faith, probably not making distinctions between blind faith, misplaced faith, and true faith. But what was good about Locke - as Ben tells us - is he was a man of faith, a true believer. In a way, MIB sets "respect" in opposition to "faith" similar to how parts of our LA story set "denial" in the same ballpark as "faith."

Richard, and this is probably a key to helping us decide which side to believe (if any), is wise enough to know that the promise of being told every little thing is not the secret to life. If knowing everything were so great, wouldn't this Flocke guy who claims to know all the secrets be, I dunno, happier? Less menacing?

Sawyer cites plane, raft, helicopter as the reasons for being marooned on the island. Not so, says Flocke. That's only how, not why. It's an interesting point to consider. How many times might we mistake method for reason?

Flocke asks James lots of questions, about his friends, where they are, why he isn't with them. He's got an agenda. He's scouting, separating, seeking, twisting...

Jacob?

Flocke sees a boy in old ragged Others-y clothing with arms outstretched. Richard can not see him. We can assume Richard has seen Jacob in the past, crediting him for being the reason Richard doesn't age, but perhaps he was never touched? Later, Sawyer can see him.

I'm aware of the speculation that this boy is Aaron or someone other than Jacob. Not buying it. First, he's recognized by MIB. He's clothes scream of being an Other. MIB is not all that suprised to see him, even having killed him. But mostly, it's his looks and his words, the only ones of which are: "You know the rules. You can't kill him." It's an interchange that hit me as if it had been lifted out of the Book of Job when God says to Satan (and I'm paraphrasing): "Sure, you can take this guy's family, health, wealth... but don't kill him!"

When MIB comes back with his Lockian yell, "Don't tell me what I can't do!" Kid Jacob shakes his head, and walks off, like this cat'll never learn.

Jacob is dead, but we know that candidates like Hurley and Sawyer can still see him. He can apparently appear as he did from any point in his past - as a child, or as Hurley knew him from the taxicab. His body is gone, we don't know where. Has it been reduced to the white ash which Ilana scoops up from the fire pit? Will he rise again? Has he claimed Sayid?

Flocke

Immediately after we learn from Ilana that Flock is "recruiting," we see him go to awyer, who is drunk and listening to Iggy Pop's Search & Destroy (thanks to co-worker Kelly Good for doing this bit of research for me). I'm taking it as another clue. This searcher is also the destroyer (was also fun to see our old motif of a spinning record again. Come to think of it Sawyer, also mentioned the words "time travel," and we did see what appeared to be a time-skipping Kid Jacob running around. Are all these instances there to suggest how it is that Jacob might be appearing now? He continues to have control over time (this would score one for those who think he is the God/Christ character, the Creator/Architect/Watchmaker of the universe), and can jump from groove to groove on the spinning record?).

Flocke actually goes out of his way to lecture James on this never being his house. He "just lived here for a while." He's rather possessive of this place he disdains so much and refers to as a prison. Yet it's HIS. With every phrase now this character strikes me as more and more like the Dev-il. He's e-vil. By contrast, it seems like a God-type might say, "This IS your home. I made it for you. Enjoy it, subdue it, be fruitful and multiply."

Sawyer knew instantly that this guy isn't Locke, "because Locke was scared." Apparently, Sawyer isn't scared either of hanging out with an entity who is "dead... or time-travelin'... or the Ghost of Christmas past."

Flocke does admit he reads books. But Steinbeck was "after his time." He, like Richard and Jacob, are way old. Perhaps ancient. Safe to assume that he and Jacob at least date to the days of the ancient Egyptians from things we've seen associated with them.

Good thing Sawyer doesn't shoot him! Flocke almost dares him to. I was kinda wanting to see it all go down, too, even though I love Sawyer. Admit it, you were too.

When Ben asked what Smokey was, he said he was a who. When Sawyer asks what he is, he says "trapped." Very Devil-like. "I don't even remember what it feels like to be free." Is this why he begrudges the humans and their free will?

Says he used to be a man pre-trapping, just like you. Joy, pain, anger, fear, betrayal. To lose someone you love. He's pushing all the right buttons with Sawyer, whether he's telling the truth about his history or lying. I just so don't want to see Sawyer join up with the Dark Side.

Flocke promises to see Richard "sooner than you think." Meaning? What was this line here for? Suggestion that an attack on the Temple is imminent?

Richard & Sawyer

Richard can't believe Sawyer would be hanging with Flocke if he knows it's not really Locke. Richard will help Sawyer escape to the Temple, but Sawyer says he's "been there, done that." As in, religion? Goodness? Church? The God Side?

For him, in his grief, all he wants now is answers. He knows this guy has promised them, and has not killed him yet. Sawyer's trust is growing. And the creepy vibe of Anakin Skywalker Syndrome burns through my stomach. It doesn't matter that Richard says this guy wants everyone dead, and he won't stop until that happens.

It's amusing to me how MIB tells Sawyer that yeah, he definitely met Jacob once, probably when he was at a low point, and vulnerable. Dude? You just came to James at the same sorta time, doing your own recruiting in the same manipulative way, probably even worse because your only purpose for him involves selfish motives...

BEN, ILANA, SUN, & LAPIDUS

Ilana cries over Bram's death. Were they perhaps married? Engaged?

She says the words, "Try me," to Ben when he isn't sure she'll believe his story about what happened. This line has been used so many times now I've lost count. After a while one wonders: is every charcter being tried? Tested? Put through trials? Judged?

Ben still lies about who killed Jacob. It's either self preservation, or he actually has shifted the blame to MIB for having tricked/used him. Explains that Jacob's body "burned away" in the fire. Ilana collects the ash - yet another instance of ash. Is Jacob some kind of phoenix?

Sun seems to know Ilana is sad. Ilana knows Sun wants to find Jin. This has not been broached before. But she knows who Sun is.

Smart question from Ben about why Flocke mightn't change his face. Ilana says he can't - not anymore. He's stuck this way now. No more Christian Shephard, or other characters, then? What would make him stuck this way? The loophole he used?

Question going back to Season Five: if Smokey/MIB was Christian, how was Christian appearing to Sun & Lapidus at the barracks before Flocke & Ben ever arrived over at the main island? Can he be in multiple places at once? Or does this mean that Christian has truly been used of Jacob?

Good to see Ye Olde Lostie Graveyard! With a fresh spot for John Locke, who died in LA and traveled all the way back just to be buried here.

Ilana knows about recruiting, and the battle, and specific details about shape-shifting. She's seriously schooled in some Jacobean lore of which we know not.

GREAT eulogy by Ben. Did you think he was going to dis John when he paused? "John Locke was a... believer, a man of faith, a much better man that I will ever be."

Frank wasn't given much to do here, but he can still deliver the amazing one-liner: "Sigh... weirdest damn funeral I've ever been to." Can't shake the feeling he's not extraneous, though. He's got something to do here that has yet to be revealed. Don't forget that Ilana once pegged him as a possible "candidate" - the word which we are just now coming to understand the meaning of...

Climbing Jacob's Ladder (this was no Stairway to Heaven, though, this one goes DOWN)

Fantastic cinematic shot of the image of the scales - balanced by black and white - with Flocke and Sawyer standing in the cave entry, one on each side of the scales. When Flocke throws the white stone into the ocean, the scales tip... imbalance alert! You've got to have both! We've got to be able to make a choice! All of one side leaves a meaningless existence, something MIB has failed to realize he himself has!

In the cave we learn that Jacob "had a thing for numbers." I tried to make out several of the crossed-out names, but after several failed attempts, decided those names were not the point our producers want us to get. We are treated to flashbacks involving the Touch of Jacob with: 23-Shephard. 8-Reyes. 16-Jarrah. 42-Kwon (both of them?). 4-Locke. "Last but not least" - 15-Ford. Last but not least? What about Kate Austen? Granted, there isn't a number for her (except maybe 108), but she also doesn't get a flashback, even though she was one of the first Jacob visited on the mainland. Is this because she is also the only one Jacob charged to "be good," back when he first met her? Did she fail to live up to that command, thereby losing her candidacy but not the fact she was touched and thereby brought here to the island? Does it mean Kate will die? I actually have a theory that I hope is true - Kate is not listed specifically just as Sun is not listed specifically. Perhaps Sun is listed in conjunction with her husband. Might it have been Kate's destiny to end up either a "Ford" or a "Shephard"? Might she be listed there the same as Sun may be, under her "husband's" name? The island (or whomever) sure gave her ample opportunity to build a life with either Sawyer or Jack. For the record, I think I'm probably way off, but I'm hoping I'm not.

I noticed that with so many names, this candidacy business must have been going on for centuries, involvign the Black Rock, the Besixdouze, and other vessels that Jacob brought here. He filled up so much space that he had to start writing on the ceiling. Did you catch that Jack's is the only name from our group written on the wall rather than the ceiling? If you've followed my Season 1-5 recaps you know that I've long speculated that the 815 crash was not Jack's first time on the island. I built this belief because I believe the very first image we ever saw of him waking up in the jungle away from the 815 crash site looks like he was "flashed" to that spot, exactly in the manner which he "flashed" to that spot during the Ajira crash. From the Ajira crash it seems like "flashing in" rather than crashing is only granted to those who have been to the island before (though Sun was, for reasons we still don't know, left out). Jack's name being on the wall rather than the ceiling suggests to me his name was written at an earlier date than everyone else's.

Flocke tells Sawyer that Jacob comes to people when they are miserable and vulnerable. This can, of course, be a good thing, ala Jesus "meeting you where you are." But he cites it as a bad thing - pulling your strings like you are a puppet. As a result, your choices weren't choices at all. You were being pushed, and what's worse, you were being pushed towards a destiny built on a lie. There's nothing to protect. And we come to the final reason I just don't trust Smokey. This show is not gong to end with the idea that there was nothing special about the island, the game, the "God help us all" quotes about what was at stake all along. There's most definitely something to protect, even if in the end it only ends up being each other.

THEOLOGY

The 3 Choices of Sawyer: Agnostic, True Believer, Nihilist

1) Do nothing, make no commitment, just see how it all plays out, which way the winds blow. I like this method for patience and non-judgmentalism, but you probably end up as nothing more than a name scratched off a list.
2) Accept the job - become the new Jacob - protect the island. Take up the mantle, follow with faith, but risk being the butt of the joke that there was never anything to protect it from. Thing is, even if that's the case, there can still be worth in having lived righteously.
3) We just go. Say the hell with all of it. We do this together. We essentially pretend none of what we see exists, because we want to deny all of it it makes us so mad and miserable, but don't realize that our destination is unknown (we don't care, so long as it's not here) and there could be consequences. This path frees you from guilt and misery, and would appear to put you in control. The downside is being unsure of the illuison, and the potentially devastating consequences not just for you but for others.

If these are the true choices, which, at your deepest, most honest level, are you comfortable choosing?

The metaphor being used is that The Island is as The Earth - is it special? Or just a a blue island in the ocean of space? Are there forces vying for spiritual control of it, or nothing at all out there? In the end, you can only believe and choose, and you must believe and choose. From there, your path is laid before you, as it would appear it now is for Sawyer. What ultimately will save him? I believe the same thing that saves us all, and would seem to suggest there IS meaning - love. His capacity to love, and that he is loved by others.

REFLECTIONS / MIRRORING

  • Smokey reflected in window outside Sawyer's barracks house.
  • Sawyer walking with Locke to a big reveal talking about Of Mice & Men mirrors the same when Ben revealed he was on Hydra Island and had nowhere to run.
  • Locke looking in a mirror when he decides to call Jack's number.

Other cool quotes and observations

"I met him at Lost luggage... he lost something, too." -- Locke, to Helen, about Jack

"I got past the denial part, and I got back to living whatever life I've got left." -- Rose. Good advice, which helps Locke

Flocke: That doesn't sound like a happy ending.
Sawyer: It ain't.
Something tells me these two aren't headed for a happy ending, either. But it's clear Flocke is seeking one of his own. He's probably just as blind, though, as those who he thinks follow others out of blind faith. Blind hate and ambition are just as damaging.

Black-and-white: The stones on the scales; there does appear to be light ash and dark ash in the fire pit. Ilana collects some of the lighter-colored ash; Locke's coffee mug is black and white, with a tan or grey divide in the middle. On the bathroom door behind Helen is a white cross.

The Numbers: 823 - crate Locke was in; 15 after 6 Locke wakes up; 4 chapter Locke teaches, on human reproduction. Over his right shoulder are 4 stages of the lifecycle: conception, growth, development, labor. This is about embryos, but applies to our story and humanity as well.

How is it that Rose did not recognize Hugo, her boss, sitting so near to her on the plane?

Things Learned from Last Week's Pop-Up Re-run:

Kate recognizes Jack "because she bumped into him on the plane." Really? That's all? I didn't like this pop-up. I still don't buy it. No, she is having a deja vu memory of knowing him from somewhere! Right?

The French team got their infection from contact with the smoke monster. Okay, so that's confirmed. Can rule out the Others having been the carriers.

Mrs. Baskin changes her mind, just as Claire is the one who backed out in original timeline. Another mirroring example of same-but-different.

Ethan did change his last name to Rom after joining the Others.

The darkness growing in Sayid is paralleled to the rules of backgammon as explained by Locke in the Pilot episode. One side dark, one side light. Awesome.