Feb 18 2010 11:46am

Lost Roundtable: “The Substitute”

Welcome to another of our weekly Lost round table discussions, this time featuring bloggers Bridget McGovern and Rajan Khanna. Theresa DeLucci is currently skipping through time.  Fair warning: spoilers abound below the fold; if you’re cool with that, please join us and chime in with your thoughts, opinions, insanely complex conspiracy theories, rants, and predictions for this final season....

Raj: After last week’s episode, this one was a welcome change. We take a break from the people in the temple (and more importantly, Kate) and get to see Silas, Sun, Ben and the others on their side of the island as well as seeing the Earth-2 Locke. But more importantly, we get some answers. We now know what the numbers mean — they correspond to the people (possibly in addition to some other meaning). And we know that Hurley, Sawyer, Jack and either Sun or Jin (or possibly both) could be Jacob’s successor. Also Locke could have been had he survived.

Speaking of Locke and not surviving, one of my favorite parts of the episode was when Ben showed remorse for killing him. He delighted in making Locke his pawn only to end up being a far bigger pawn with far greater consequences. I realize that I miss having Ben front and center. We need more of him.

I also liked Sawyer’s subtle awareness. After all he’s been through, he knows that Locke isn’t Locke, and he isn’t necessarily phased by what he might be. Sawyer, out of everyone, I think, has shown the most growth as a character and has had, for me, the most fulfilling arc. I think only Hurley has had as significant a journey, though his leadership qualities have only recently come out.

Finally, I think that I’m not convinced that I should be against Silas/Locke. Richard fears him. No one seems to trust him. But there’s something about him that I find sympathetic. I thought Jacob might have been about free will, but now it seem that Silas might be. The question now is: why is he trapped there? Who is he really? And why does Jacob think the island needs protecting? Is it a protector it needs? Or a jailor?

I’m eagerly looking forward to next week....

Bridget: I’m a little bit obsessed with the title of this episode at the moment. Clearly, it refers directly to Locke’s stint as a substitute teacher in the post-LAX reality, but when you start teasing out all of its potential definitions and applications, the word becomes completely overdetermined. I keep coming back to the idea that the concept of substitution, like so many other aspects of the show, may eventually be revealed as hugely meaningful in a way that can only be understood when all of the pieces finally fall into place, but I’m getting really tired of juggling all these variables and ambiguities with so few constants in sight. That said, “The Substitute” finally provided some forward motion in a season that has been drunkenly hopscotching sideways and backwards (not in an uninteresting way—I’ve always considered drunken hopscotch the sport of champions). But it’s the last season, and I’m jonesing for sweet, sweet answers, not more exposition.

Not only did this episode edge us closer to some ultimate explanation of the Numbers, the nature of Jacob and his Adversary, and the reason why the Losties were brought there in the first place, but it felt like it was gathering threads together in really fascinating ways. I can’t help wondering whether Locke’s suitcase full of knives connect back at all to his early interview with Richard in the fourth season episode “Cabin Fever,” in which he chooses a knife over a book of laws and seemingly fails the test. Plus, he appears to be on good terms with his father in this reality, given Helen’s comments and the photograph of father and son in his cubicle…unless he’s still being conned. The reappearance of Helen (yay, Katey Sagal!) and the interlocking encounters with Randy, Hurley, Rose, and Snarky Teacher Ben were all really gratifying.

Ben exists! Aside from opening up a whole new batch of questions and possibilities about this reality, I don’t want to consider a world bereft of Ben Linus’s deadpan bitchery. And yeah, the funeral scene was exquisite, too.

Back on the Island, pairing Smoky Locke with Sawyer was an inspired choice. Raj, I totally see what you’re saying about him—I mean, we don’t really know that he’s evil, or that Jacob is necessarily good. At the same time, I can’t help feeling that there’s something vaguely satanic about Fake Locke’s promises of answers, his attempts to win Richard over to his side by promising to fill in the blanks Jacob left empty—after all, the Tree of Knowledge was the source of the first temptation and original sin, right? I like that Sawyer, even plastered and rocking his face off to The Stooges, is still able to see through the ersatz Locke immediately (and I have to say, “Search and Destroy” was the perfect soundtrack to Sawyer’s grief/rage spiral. Somehow I don’t think Mama Cass or Petula Clark would have cut it this time). The Adversary seems intent on convincing Sawyer that he’s been conned out of his free will by Jacob, but he’s clearly got a vested interest in “recruiting” followers to the dark side; if there’s anyone on that Island steely and shrewd enough to play this crazy game out to the end, it’s the lifelong con man with nothing left to lose.

Finally, some questions: Are we all assuming that the blond kid in the jungle was a manifestation of Jacob? And why can Sawyer see him, but Richard can’t? Also, what’s the deal with the names: Locke (4), Reyes (8), Ford (15), Jarrah (16), Shephard (23), and Kwon (42)? Most of the other discernible, crossed-out names were unfamiliar (O’Toole, Mattingly, Jones, Grant, etc.), although “Goodspeed” was prominent in several shots, so clearly Horace was a candidate at some point. I wonder about Richard Alpert, Charles Widmore, and Ben Linus—whether they fit into Jacob’s plan, and how—not to mention Kate, who was touched by Jacob but seems to have been left off this particular list. Thoughts? Comments? Crackpot theories? Really, I think we can all start going to town at this point….

Elizabeth Gingles
1. Spera
Maybe women are exempt thus leaving Kate and Sun out.
Phoebe North
2. Phoebe North
Kwan could also refer to Ji Yeon! There's also a chance that the blond boy could be a manifestation of Aaron (much as Walt appeared, aged, on the island).

Loved this episode. Finally some meat!
Rajan Khanna
3. rajanyk
Genderfail for the island?

One thing that occurred to me is that Goodspeed might have referred to Ethan rather than Horace. After all, they went through all the trouble of mentioning his name last episode.

I immediately thought Jacob when I saw the blonde kid, but then I also thought Aaron. He's too old, obviously, but with all the time hijinks, I thought it might work. Plus, Jacob's dead, right? Maybe this is some Walt-like manifestation? Just a thought.

As for Sawyer seeing him, he also saw Kate's horse, didn't he? Maybe it's part of being a candidate?
Rajan Khanna
4. rajanyk
@2 We're on the same wavelength, it seems. I was writing as your were posting.
Phoebe North
5. Tim Schleining
Can't claim credit for this as I read it elsewhere, however Shepherd could refer to Christian. It's a stretch, but if Christian is still in play, his name wouldn't be crossed out. Then both Jack and Kate would be absent from the wall.

I had been thinking that Christian was Nemesis, but the way he appeared to Michael before he died seems very unlike his behavior as Locke.

And now for something completely different: I observed some similarities between the Swan station's mission statement and Nemesis's revelations to Sawyer. Two people assigned to a job to protect something; and in this job for a duration of some length, to be replaced by two new people. (Desmond: "Are you him?" vs. these candidates.) Finally, the purpose of the mission is called into question. Does pushing the button really do anything, or is it a mind game? Is protecting the island a waste of time?

The original Locke had faith in the button. Nemesis in Locke form falls on the other side of the argument with respect to protecting the island.
Rajan Khanna
6. rajanyk
@5 (Hi, Tim!) I thought about the Shephard thing as well, though with the idea of even including Claire or Aaron in that as they could be considered Shephards. But the one thing that trips me up is that they deliberately showed Jacob touching Jack in the flashback, which I think means it has to be Jack.

Then again, he also touched Kate.

Unless Jack and Kate got secretly married...
Rajan Khanna
7. rajanyk
Sorry - just another thought - what if MIB/Silas/Evil Locke is actually trapped because he is the protector of the island (thus the smoke monster). He was human once, a candidate, and when he accepted the role, it kept him stuck on the island. Now he needs to find someone else to take on that role so that he can leave. That could be his reason for reaching out to Sawyer, another candidate.

Problem with that theory is that it's hard to believe that no one would have taken on that role before. Locke (the real Locke) certainly would have.
Elizabeth Gingles
8. Spera
What if there is a time frame in which Jacob has to a receive a successor after his death or the island disapears/sinks/loses power?
Phoebe North
9. ssgorik
I was looking on wikipedia at the hebrew alphabet and their numerical values and I'm pretty sure that's where this all comes from.

The best example of this is Hurley who is 8. 8 is Chet and is basically the equivalent of LOL in chatrooms. Hurley is the "haha" guy. 42 Kwon is Jin because 40 is Mem (there is no strict 42) which means water and considering Jin's fisherman backstory it fits well. Though, before seeing this stuff I assumed it would be Sun so she'd maybe have something to do this season in connection with it.

Here's the link:
Eugene Myers
10. ecmyers
Great theorizing as always, guys! I'm loving the show so far this season (and your roundtables), and I'm encouraged that there do seem to be answers ahead. They even may actually make sense, in the island-logic kind of way. I can't wait to find out how much of this stuff was planned out from the very beginning. I'm looking forward to revisiting the whole series when it's all over.
Dave Thompson
11. DKT
There's an interesting read at EW, part of which says that as soon as Sawyer saw the kid, saw UnLocke disappear into the jungle chasing him, and finally come back alone (after Sawyer met with Alpert, of course), Sawyer began to launch into the most dangerous long con of his career: to figure out a way to kill this thing wearing Locke.

Of course, I really like this theory :)

For me, this was the best episode of the season thus far! (And I was content with what had come before.)
12. rogerothornhill
The payoff episode is clearly the upcoming Alpert episode, since Richard was probably a slave on the ship that we saw arriving at the end of last season. He clearly made some kind of choice, possibly one that led to Smokey being unfixed in form from then to now, from Welliver to O'Quinn.

I'm getting this funny feeling that the last scene of the show is Jacob in Jack form and Smokey in Locke form on the beach, waiting for the arrival of . . . what? another plane? a space ship? It can only end once; everything else is progress.
Phoebe North
14. Alfvaen
Let's see if I can post this without it getting swallowed up by the spam detectors this time:

It's the blog of a guy who (allegedly) has never seen Lost before, and is now watching the last season and posting what he thinks happened. It's amusing to see what he comes with without having five prior seasons of context.

Apart from that...I thought the kid looked more like Jacob than Aaron, but ICOCBW. I'm not sure that Ben was expressing remorse over killing John, as much as it was regret, because it hadn't been as good an idea as it seemed at the time.
Bridget McGovern
15. BMcGovern
@ssgorik (9) Cool...gematria is always interesting. I've been poring over all the Numbers-related info on Lostpedia this week, just as a refresher. David Fury, the writer who came up with the numbers, has talked about why he chose these specifically (e.g. 42 is a reference to Hitchhiker's Guide)--not that his reasons invalidate other interpretations, or explain why which individuals are paired with which digits...

Similarly intriguing is the fact that nearly all the names of the remaining candidates begin with the letter "J," pointed out by the guys at Project Rungay: "With the exception of Hugo Reyes, the remaining names on Jacob's list are John (since crossed out), Jack, James, Jin, and Jarrah." Clearly, this requires some finagling, like dropping Sun out of the equation, but it's definitely interesting to note.

@ecmyers I'm with you, Eugene--I just did a massive rewatch over the holidays, but I have a feeling I'll need another one by the end of May :)
Phoebe North
16. asotir
I'm amazed the phrase 'Jacob's Ladder' did not turn up in the roundtable. By Godfrey, Lost better not turn out to be some Christian allegory!

Another question unasked: Why is Smoke Monster/Locke2 unable to leave? And why can he leave if Richard or Sawyer (or anybody?) agrees to go with him?

What if the island is SM's prison? What if Jacob was the jailer?

I don't believe SM could be good. It would be a real twist to have Jacob bad and SM good.

If we go back to Biblical allegory, maybe the Island is the World's Navel, aka Eden?

I'm also agreeing a strong potential for Blonde Boy to be Aaron. I vote for Aaron to be the next jailer. About Aaron, another question: Is he the ONLY person ever born on the island? Remember that the leader in the Temple claims that 'everyone' was brought to the Island. Aaron was not, unless you say he was carried in Clare's womb.

Got to disagree about Sawyer's subtlety in seeing through Locke 2. Sawyer lived as a con man, so I imagine he would see through other cons with crystal clarity, drunk or not. I didn't believe he would be so gullible to just go wandering off with Locke 2; nor that he would say he would go with Locke 2 off the Island.

In fact, if it doesn't turn out to be Aaron, I'd vote for Sawyer to be the next Jacob. It might be the reason why he saw the Blonde Boy (who maybe is not Aaron but an angel of the Lord).
Phoebe North
17. ssgorik
I'd laugh my ass off if the smoke monster's name ends up being Esau.

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