Hello, Dr. Nick! – The "Substitute" teacher connects the dots and leads us to. . .Jacob's Ladder

By NICK GORINI

I love puzzles. Sudokus, crosswords, word jumbles, even those maddening 5000-piece jigsaw puzzles picturing some blurry German castle. There’s something about the List-maker, the Completist in me. I appreciate the structure that can be built from what at first appears to be senseless and chaotic.

My favorite moment when putting a puzzle together isn’t starting the task, and it isn’t completing it, either. When solving a puzzle, the moment I get my “runner’s high”, when I get those little knots in my stomach, is when I can see the solution appearing before me. I’m not done yet, and I may have a long way to go, but that instant when I can forecast how the pieces come together, and I start moving very, very quickly to the finish line – that’s my favorite moment.

And that’s the feeling I had watching this week’s episode of Lost.

“And I’ve been Locked out, and I’ve been Locked in. But I always seem to come back again.”

What is about the Locke episodes that are almost always so adept at combining all the disparate elements of this show into a most magical elixir? A pinch of action, a teaspoon of mystery, one cup of mythology and whole pile of character development. The perfect cocktail – do you prefer your Locke shaken, like the Locke of old? Or perhaps you like your Locke stirred, like the winding, whirling-dervish of a devil now inhabiting our dearly-departed hero?

THE SIDE TIMELINE:
We open on the serene, bland suburbs that Locke serviced in one of his many previous job forays (looked an awful lot like Nadia’s old neighborhood, didn’t it?). Locke as Job continues, as he struggles getting out of his handicap van, tries to go all Evel Knieval popping a wheelie off the platform, and lands face first in his lawn. Before he can get too pissed, the sprinklers come on, drenching him in shame… Er, no wait: this isn’t quite the same Locke. Sure he’s prideful and stubborn, but this time he laughs. Laughs out loud at his predicament. I am sure it is laughter twinged with some level of pain, but here’s a guy who’s coping.

Then Peg Bundy comes hopping out of the house! I mean, Helen comes hopping out of the house! She’s back! Locke’s lost love (truly lost – if you remember that upon returning to the island, he was told she had died of a brain tumor) is living with him. This is great for two reasons: We’re happy for our beloved Locke, but we’re also happy because this romance was real – well-written and well-played. Helen and Locke, who originally met in an anger management class, seemed like real people, meeting in a real place, having a real relationship, on a show that can also indulge in some extreme existential fantasy.

Well, turns out they’re getting married. She even suggests they elope, and that dear old Daddy Locke should come along. WHAA? Can I get a HUHH? So who or what crippled Locke? Time will tell. I did dig that Helen’s shirt said something about Kharma on it, I believe. Also of note – Locke lies to Helen when asked about his trip. This Locke is a better man than the original, but not without flaws. Like all of us, dark impulses nibble away at our corners.

They have a brief discussion about his airport encounter with the friendly spinal surgeon, and how destiny may be telling him it’s time for a visit. Locke downplays the encounter, and we move on.

Back at Locke’s office cubical, we get a glimpse of a happy, less-follicularly-challenged Locke and his dear old bastard, I mean dad. Still not buying it – maybe this jerk just hasn’t sucked out his illegitimate son’s kidney yet.

Fate’s pain, isn’t it? I mean, here’s new Locke, still wheelchair-bound, and still working for that petty tyrant Randy. Still considered a nerd for playing Axis and Allies on his lunch break (“Hey Colonel!”), Randy paws at mousy Locke like fat, lazy cat until goes in for the kill. He knows Locke went on his thwarted Australian walkabout on the company dime. You’re fired, dude. Side note: Side timeline = No Abbadon. So, who convinced Locke to go on this trip?

Locke wheels himself and his box of belongings (including a polar bear statue, if memory serves) out to the parking lot, but there’s a problem. Prideful Locke doesn’t use handicap parking because he doesn’t have to and thus, his van is wedged against an obnoxious yellow hummer owned by Locke’s boss, Hurley! Aha! Now, as much as I like Hurley, I don’t like big, gas-guzzling hummers. So I now like Hurley a little less. Just a little. I bet he still eats hot pockets.

Follow the jump to get to gym class and then Jacob’s Ladder…

After some arguing, Locke tells Hurley he’s been fired. Hurley gives Locke the number for a temp agency he owns and reassures Locke in a Jacob-like manner (Hmmm) that everything is going to be okay. Give them a call, dude. I’ll set you up with a job.

At the temp agency, Locke is at first interviewed by another familiar face – the psychic Hurley visited back in Season 3. Man, Hurley will hire ANYBODY. Anyhow, after a few goofy questions, Locke asks to speak to a supervisor, and.. walks… Rose!

Lovely Rose. She tries to steer Locke to jobs that suit someone in his condition, but Locke’s pride and anger swell, and he demands a job managing a construction site. He wants to prove he can do anything. When Rose calmly tries to set him straight, telling him to focus on something “realistic”, Locke growls at her: “What do you know about ‘Realistic’?”

BIG SIDE NOTE: Last week, the Stupid Award went to Claire for hopping in a stolen cab with a gun-wielding felon. The week before, Kate got the Stupid Award by waiting for her luggage in baggage claim after beating her federal escort senseless. This week, the Stupid Award goes to Locke for trying to tell an African American woman that she doesn’t understand suffering or repression. So, SO STUPID. Not John Mayer Stupid, but pretty close.

Rose outdoes Locke by telling him about her terminal cancer (remember, the island was the only thing keeping her alive). She tells Locke that she has slowly learned to accept what life gives her, to live the life you have and enjoy it. Good job, Rose!

The next day, we hear Locke’s alarm go off (sounded an awful lot like the hatch. Hmm….), and we watch Locke struggle through his morning routine. He calls Jack’s office, but hangs up before he can make an appointment. Helen nudges gently, and this new and improved Locke tells Helen the truth. He’s been fired, the lost luggage that just arrived is a bunch of knives from his Crocodile Dundee daydreams, etc. It actually ends up being a great speech, because we see what hurts Locke the most: He feels emasculated, and bitter that he can’t walk his future wife down the aisle. He tells Helen to not spend his life with him waiting for a miracle, because miracles don’t happen.

This new Locke is braver than the old Locke, not because he’s fearless. He’s braver because he opened up, and told Helen about his fear. There’s hope for our dear friend yet. They embrace, and we know they’re closer for it.

The next day, we see that Locke has his new temp job. He’s coaching a girls high-school basketball and substitute teaching – Biology! He’s a man of science, now! Teaching female reproduction (aha – I was wondering when the show would get back to Bad dads, and dying moms. Soon, it will be here).

In the teacher’s lounge, we get out biggest reveal: Ben, who got off the island as a child, is now pretending to be C3PO, getting all fussy with R2D2 (or an empty coffee pot, I wasn’t sure). Ben teaches European history, of course. I knew this was coming, and they played this meeting beautifully. I sure hope for this new Ben gets to have the daughter he was robbed of in our old timeline. We shall see.


THE ORIGINAL TIMELINE:

Our first POV (
that’s Point of View) shot through Smokey’s eyes! Nice!! We experience Smokey flying through the forest, checking on sulky Sawyer, and then back to the forest, where Smokey goes back to Locke-mode, grabs a machete and frees Alpert from a hanging makeup bag. ‘Okay Richard, time to talk.’ If it isn’t regarding eyeliner application tips, my guess is that they’re going to talk about the island, and Jacob, and other cool stuff.

Yup. Alpert seems to be more in the dark about what’s going on then we realized. Locke apologizes for the beating and explains that taking Locke’s form was the only way to get to Jacob. Alpert doesn’t understand what this guy’s talking about when he mentions Locke being one of the “Candidates”. I guess Alpert needs a voter registration card or something.

Smokey makes a point to let Alpert know that he would never be coy or keep people in the dark about the big plans, like Jacob did. “I’d treat you with respect.”  He asks Alpert to come with him, but Albert’s reply?

“Never.” And the way he says it, so calmly, you know he means it. Alpert knows what side he’s on, and he accepts whatever this fate provides for him. Smokey sees something over Alpert’s shoulder that spooks him, something Alpert can’t see, and leaves.

We cut to Ilana and Ben beneath the 4-toed statue. Ben, out of habit, or instinct, still lies about killing Jacob. Ilana knows about as much about everything as we do – but she does know something about the damn ash, and grabs Jacob’s from the fire, and puts it in her empty Crown Royal bag. Bottom’s up!

Back at Dharmaville, we see Sawyer drinkin’ whiskey and listening to the Stooges play Smokey’s theme song, ‘Search and Destroy’. A raw scream of a tune about a ‘Forgotten Boy’ who’s looking for some soul salvation. A perfect tune for both Sawyer and Locke, who pops in to say hello. unfazed, Sawyer says, “I thought you were dead.” Smokey’s response: “I am.” Sawyer isn’t bat an eye, and what we’re about to get is yet another awesome Locke and Sawer adventure.

You know, it’s funny – I talk about the best pairings of characters on the show (Locke and Jack, Locke and Ben, Locke and Sawyer, etc.). I finally see the pattern. Terry O’Quinn is just that good of an actor, and Locke is just that good of a character.

Anyway, there’s great stuff here. Watch Smokey as Locke get a nice taste of booze that he hasn’t had in God knows how long. I think Smokey may become too accustomed to his human form. We saw him on the beach last year enjoy the Hell out of a mango. Even Smokey in some way is losing his purity by being a flawed human: His purity of mission, of purpose, of strongly representing the dark in contrast to the light. I’m telling you, Locke’s gone in this timeline, but he’s not really gone. No sir. More on that in a bit.

So Sawyer tells Locke to get out of his house. Locke initially tries to entice ‘The NEW Substitute’ to come with him, because he can answer the biggest questions. Sawyer knows this isn’t the real Locke, though. Mostly because Smokey seems confused at Sawyer’s responses. But, Sawyer agrees to come with him – but first, he has to put on some pants..

Back at the statue, the show really wants us to know this other Locke ain’t getting up anytime soon. His skin is taut, yellow and has crabs crawling on it. Lapidus makes a point of explaining how “Ripe” the body smells. Ilana grabs this new fun foursome (herself, Ben, Sun, Lapidus), and starts heading towards the temple to find Jin! With a short detour to bury Locke, at Sun’s request.

Back to the graveyard to Losties, Ilana explains that once Smokey picks his portal person, that’s who he’s going to be. He can’t hop from body to body. A little bit of a cop-out by the writing staff, but I’ll accept it.

As they bury Locke, guess who delivers the eulogy? Ben! Ha! “John Locke was a believer. A much better man I will ever be. And I’m sorry I killed him.” Nice! And Lapidus remarks under his breath how damn weird all this stuff is.

Meanwhile, Locke and Sawer are on their walkabout. Arguing until a Blonde kid pops up that both can see. Locke chases him deep in the forest but falls. Why not go all Smokey on this kid? Maybe he’s losing some of his ethereal powers the longer he inhabits Locke? Hmm… The kid pops back up and tells Smokey that “You can’t kill him. You know the rules.” Do they mean Sawyer, or somebody else?

Well, the next line(s) is pivotal: Smokey shouts to the kid: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” He repeats it for emphasis. This was Locke’s line for years. NOT SMOKEY’S. So, that leaves us with two options here: Some piece of Locke still exists in Smokey, and is indirectly infecting or influencing him. Or, even more intriguing, has some part of Smokey been inside of Locke all this time? Was Smokey slowly whittling into Locke’s brain all those years prior to arriving at the island? Double hmm….

Sawyer, left behind gets approached by Alpert, wide-eyed and full of warning about Smokey’s “Search and destroy” mission. Alpert runs off before Smokey sees him, and Sawyer plays dumb.

Later, Sawyer spins a tale about Steinbeck (Smokey doesn’t know him: “After my time,” he says), and compares the two of them to Lenny and George in ‘Of Mice and Men’. Sawyer doesn’t want promises of tending rabbits whilst meeting buckshot in the head, so he pulls a gun on Smokey and threatens to shoot.

Two conmen trying to outdo each other. Smokey tells Sawyer that he could shoot, but he’d just be killing someone who was once a man himself, who knew love and loss, who get trapped on the island, and that it would be such a shame to quit now, when the answers are so close. Sawyer is persuaded and puts the gun away.

Does anybody think that this game Jacob and Smokey play has a rule tied to free will? That neither one is allowed to kill a candidate, and that they can’t kill each other, but through the manipulation of frail humans, these candidates can do the dirty work for each other, because it is through their choosing to do so? That’s why Ben had to be the one to kill Jacob. That’s why Smokey is recruiting Sawyer to be his next killer (or maybe replace him as the Smokey on the island so he can be free of the game?). And maybe Sayid is Jacob’s new substitute assassin of some kind? Just thinking out loud here…

Sorry. Onto creepy rope ladders going down a ocean cliff, to a mysterious cave. Sawyer advises Smokey to go down these ladders first because, “You already died.” Of course, the ladder breaks with Sawyer on it, and Smokey saves Sawyer just in time. Was this planned?

Into the cave, where we find a desk and a scale, with black rock on one side, white rock on the other. Smokey tosses the white rock into the ocean, calling it an “Inside joke.” That guy is a sore loser, AND a sore winner, isn’t he..

Here’s the big deal, right? Names of all our characters, with corresponding numbers (THE NUMBERS!!) next to their names. Many of the names are crossed out. But most of close characters are not. Sayid’s and Hurley’s are in plain view, not yet crossed out. Smokey explains Jacob’s game to Sawyer, and we see flashbacks from MOST of Jacob’s early visits to others. Not Ilana’s, or Kate’s…

It gets heavier: Smokey tells Sawyer that all these choices he thought were his own were just the grand manipulations of Jacob to bring him and these others to the island. You and a few of the others are just being auditioned as candidates to replace Jacob! Presumably because Jacob knew he’d be gutted and turned into duraflame log.

Smokey explains that Sawyer has three choices: He can do nothing, and get his name crossed off as a candidate. He can become the new Jacob and protect the island, although according to Smokey, there’s nothing to protect. The island’s fine – it’s just some big cosmic joke being played on all of us, and we don’t have to play the game being forced on us anymore (somebody is angry at their dad, I think.) It’s almost as if Smokey was saying ‘Fate’ and ‘Destiny’ do indeed exist, but that as humans, we have the capacity to cho
ose it, or ignore it and “Go Rogue”, Sarah-Palin style.

The last choice Smokey gives Sawyer is to reject all this game-playing B.S. and help him get off the island, to which Sawyer replies, “Hell yes.” To which I say, either Sawyer’s audition for Smokey went well, or, and I’m close to banking on this, Sawyer thinks he’s such a good con man that he can con the devil himself.

QUESTIONS, FORECASTS, AND THOUGHTS ABOUT THEM DARN BOOKS:

Ash! ASH! ASH! What is up with the damn ash, already?! Considering what week it is/was, I expected Ilana to indulge in Ash Wednesday with Jacob’s remains, but I digress…

Why TWO rope ladders to get down that cliff? That was symbolism with some kind of intent, but I’m still scratching my head. And yes, that was (Ahem) Jacob’s Ladder…

While I don’t think who got what number scrawled on the wall is important, I didn’t see Kate’s name up there. Believe me – I looked.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Before I forget! Doc Jensen pointed this out, so credit goes to his highness! Locke’s getting married, right? Boone’s family owns a wedding planning/catering business, right? More criss-crossing to come!

Next week’s episode is called “The Lighthouse.” Yes, feel free to apply all direct religious symbolism at this one, because it will fit. Anyhow, expect plenty of screentime for Jack and Hurley. And more ass-kicking from Claire. Also, let me prep you with a question: Aaron got off the island with Kate. Think Claire knows that? If she doesn’t yet, how do you think she’ll react when Kate tells her? Lastly, one of my favorite nice guy red shirts returns.

More bad guys coming back soon! Even one rotten scumbag, who killed so-and-so’s daughter, will return in a couple weeks. No word on whether he’s a ghost, still a jerk, or a, uh, ghost jerk.

Again, many more familiar faces from the past will be popping up. Remember me mentioning someone unlikely popping up in Locke’s new world? Turned out to be Ben, right? Well, expect more unexpected, jarring pairings in the side timeline.

Don’t think that tearing up Jack’s business card will prevent fate, destiny or Jacob from ensuring that these two guys end up together, maybe even in an operating room.

So, the show has made a point to let us know that while the coping skills of our heroes might be improved in this side timeline, they are still the same people, chased by the same inner demons (except for Hurley. Hmm…). It’s all about how they deal and grow. Even the side characters are the same: Locke’s boss Randy has always been a petty jerk. With that said, why do I have trouble, extreme trouble, believing Locke’s dad is a decent guy?

Peter and I had an interesting ‘discussion’ about Steinbeck, and other literary references thrust into the inner workings of the show, sometimes with great success, and at other times too forced to feel natural. I wanted to crack some jokes about The Ghost of Tom Joad wandering around the island (hey, Christian Shepherd looks a little like Henry Fonda, so it works for me). I admit I sometimes get the sense that somebody on the show wants us to know that the Master’s in English Lit they got at Berkeley isn’t going to waste writing for television. We get the idea! You’re well-read! Can we just enjoy the freaking show?! BUT, I think taking that glib approach only denies you, the viewer, an even richer and more rewarding experience.

Why do they reference all these dang books, then? Well, for fun, sure. To show off their smarty-smart pants, yes. To defend this television show as being more important, more meaningful than nearly all the other dreck dripping out of our media portals – absolutely. I think they also want to teach us that these stories, these moral fables, are ancient. They’re immortal, and they’re ingrained in our existence and societal evolution. If they want to remind me that by pointing towards the Bible, Steinbeck, or even the primal sounds of Iggy Pop and The Stooges, I’m totally down with it. Give me more to puzzle, please!

One last thing to mention: For diehard fans, I encourage you to go to EW’s website and read Doc Jensen’s recap. I know, I know – even more verbose than my postings. But he really grasped what happened this week better than any other Lost blogger and even has some really KOOKY theories (examples: Smokey is either Cain or Abel, and the ghost boy that appeared in front of Smokey? He says it’s young Sawyer… Huh? Doc also says Alpert is probably Smokey’s son… HUH?!)

Thanks for reading and for watching