Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thoughts on The Substitute...

BIGMOUTH:  The Substitute confused me at first.  Why flash sideways to Locke's life in the LA X reality when the episode was seemingly about Sawyer?  Then it hit me: those shots from the Lockeness Monster's point of view were more than just cool camera work.  This was actually the first Smokey-centric episode of the show, and the Monster's tale is closely intertwined with Locke's, a point I'll revisit below.

And what an episode it was!  Easily a 9/10 (five for mythological advancement, and four for character development, especially Smokey) on the Sickness Scale.  Terry O'Quinn clearly relishes the role of villain, which comes as no surprise to anyone who remembers his menacing performance in The Stepfather (1987) an otherwise forgettable film.  And make no mistake, the Man in Black is a villain like Randall Flagg, another man in black who embodies evil in Stephen King's fictional multiverse.  I was reminded of how Flagg raised an army of darkness in The Stand as Smokey went about "recruiting" Richard and Sawyer with the promise to answers all their questions.

Flagg is reincarnated as "Russell Faraday" on a tropical island following a nuclear blast

But just how much of the Man in Black's story should we believe?   In a recent interview with NPR, Damon discussed so-called "Johnny Explainer" characters who "come strolling out of the jungle and tell you what the hell is going on."  He confessed that "what we love is when Johnny the Explainer is completely unreliable."  I've expressed skepticism in the past about the misleading answers offered by Eloise Hawking and Daniel Faraday, among others.  After the Man in Black's offer to explain everything, however, I suspect that Damon was mainly referring to Johnny Locke.  So, let's take a stab at separating truth from lies in the Man in Black's various claims.

What kid?  The Man in Black was clearly lying when he denied knowing what Sawyer meant... or was he?  The former kept yelling "Don't tell me what I can't do!" which we know is 100% Locke because it's part of his persona in the LA X reality, where the Island isn't a factor.  Did the real John Locke momentarily reassert himself?  Smokey has his memories, and I'm hoping there's some spark of the latter still left in his double.  Ilana said that Smokey is stuck in Locke's form -- maybe he must redeposit this "spark" in the corpse before changing appearance.  I foresee a final battle between Jack and the Man in Black, where Locke briefly reemerges and describes what it's like to have Smokey devour your soul.

And while we're discussing the kid, the casting is just too perfect for him to be anyone but Jacob, in my view.  But was his appearance a dream vision like bloody Boone, or an astral projection like wet Walt?  The kid first appears covered in blood while Smokey is talking with Richard, who doesn't see him, suggesting he's a figment of the Monster's guilty conscience.  Later, however, he reappears to Smokey minus the blood, and this time Sawyer sees him, too.  It reminded me of when Shannon and Sayid both see Walt whispering in the jungle.  I think Jacob, like Walt, was projecting himself through time and space.  His warning about the "rules" recalled Ben's bedroom confrontation with Widmore in Season 4. 

"You know the rules.  You can't kill him."

I was a man.  The Man in Black claims he was once a (human?) man who lived, loved, and lost like any other.  His wistful comments, and the way he licked the whiskey from his fingers as if tasting it for the first time in a long time, suggest he was being truthful.  But just how long has it been?  The Man in Black had already been trapped for ages by the time he threatened Jacob on the beach.  Yet the window to plausibly explain two white guys speaking perfect modern English gets progressively smaller the further you go back in history.  They could be from the future but for the Man in Black's comment that Of Mice and Men (1937) is "a little after my time."  Are he and Jacob the children of time travelers?
His name was Jacob.  The Man in Black implies that Jacob lived in the cave and wrote all those names.  But if you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, because it was clearly the Man in Black's pad and graffiti.  The cave's complete isolation contrasted perfectly with Jacob's prominent home in the foot of a statue that presumably once greeted visitors to the Island.  The location by the sea evoked the cave lairs of mythical sea monsters like Grendel in Beowulf and Scylla in The Odyssey.  And the black and white stones on the scale brought to mind Claire's dream from Season 1 of Locke with one black and one white eye, a vision I believe was sent by the Man in Black.

"Everyone pays the price now."

Jacob had a thing for numbers.  Well, duh, but what do the numbers mean?  The Man in Black's dismissive answer suggests he may have no idea.  I'm guessing the names and numbers come from Jacob's lists, which the Man in Black had access to through Ben.  I further suspect that most of the numbers are meaningless and were assigned simply to confuse the Man in Black.  But we know, as I believe Jacob did, that six of the numbers have grave significance.  They're the core factors of the Valenzetti Equation, which predicts Armageddon.  In Dark Tower terms, the names associated with the Numbers are a "Ka Tet," a group chosen to follow the "Path of the Beam" and decide the fate of both realities emanating from the Island.

We also know that some very important names and numbers are missing from the cave.  Kate and Ilana are absent, even though each was touched by Jacob.  Even more significantly, the number 108, which features prominently in the Swan Mural, is nowhere to be seen.  I believe that 108, the sum total of all six Numbers, represents Aaron and Ji-Yeon, whose existence results from the combined efforts of all seven members of the Kat Tet (42 is Jin and Sun because Jacob touched them both).  I've previously speculated that these children are the keys to Jacob's creation of the Omega Point.  The Man in Black may suspect their importance, which is why he manipulated events to get them off the Island.  But I still don't think he sees the full scope of Jacob's end game just yet.

He was pushing you....  In A Little Push, I made the same basic claim as the Man in Black that Jacob rewove the individual fates of those he touched to bring them to the Island.  But I also stressed that Jacob was constrained by the free will of his Ka Tet to refuse destiny's call.  I thus believe the Man in Black was lying when he claimed that Sawyer never had a choice.  In fact, the former's goal all along has been to exploit the free will of our Losties in service of his dark agenda.  The Man in Black made them all miserable in hopes of manipulating them into making choices that would frustrate Jacob's plans.  Jacob's pushes were meant to compensate for this emotional manipulation.

Dear Mr. Sawyer...

How do you suppose the Man in Black knew that Jacob visited Sawyer when he was young and miserable?  It's because the Man in Black was the one who actually caused Sawyer's misery via Anthony Cooper.  Indeed, the Man in Black killed two birds with the Cooper stone, using him to ruin Locke's life, too.  I'll bet that, in the LA X reality, Cooper neither conned his son out of a kidney nor pushed him out of a window.  That's why LA X Locke's relationship with Cooper is so much happier, as evidenced by his invitation to the wedding and the picture of him in John's cubicle.  S1-5 Locke was angry because the Man in Black manipulated him emotionally from cradle to grave.  Hence Locke's amenability for coercion.

It means you have three choices.  The whole "three choices" spiel sent my BS detector dancing, especially the part about protecting the Island "from nothing."  Does that sound anything remotely like the Man in Black we met in The Incident, who spoke so vehemently of the way visitors fight, destroy, and corrupt?  How could someone who's lived for centuries -- perhaps millenia -- as a time traveling cloud of black smoke possibly say that "it's just a damn island"?  If anyone's the Island's protector, it's the Man in Black.  He claims to want to leave, but I'm not buying it.  I think the Man in Black needs everyone to die or depart the Island -- to clear the board of pieces -- before he can return home to the future or the stars.

* * *

WAYNE: First things first.  My thanks to several of you for biting your lips whenever my wacky Numbers=People theory was discussed in recent weeks, and I'm also talking about people who never ever comment on this blog.  I guess the reveal in the cave was out there in the spoilerverse for at least a few weeks.  And, thankfully, there is actual meaning for the Numbers.  The whole Oceanic Six thing was too easy, six numbers, six on the chopper.  And I must add that, until I write the posts, I stay away from comments, the Doc Jensen articles, and the like.  But this time I had to check Lostpedia.  I needed a screencap, because I saw the name Mattingly on that cave ceiling.  I wanted info, because, if Jacob was bringing these people to the Island as potential candidates, why would he plant his touching mitts on more than one member of that military team from 1954?  Lot of numbers up there, a lot of crossed out names.  Why are the numbers going in reverse order?

Or is the Man in Black yanking on Sawyer's whiskey bottle with the "Jacob likes numbers" line?  The first thing that comes to mind is that, if Jacob knows the past/present/future/(sideways?), and he knows that the Man in Black will get his loophole with LockeDark/LockeLite, it would make sense that the numbers become smaller as the loophole tightens like a noose.  So fill in the missing sequence of numbers, more importantly, who would have been the first three, if Locke was #4?  If the Man in Black has Locke's memories, then he knows how well Sawyer got played in the brig, strangling Anthony Cooper because Locke couldn't kill his dad himself.  And he gained Sawyer's confidence -- or at least thinks he did -- by giving Sawyer a helping hand when the ladder broke, a scene which mirrored Locke grabbing Jacks arm when he too was ready to topple off a cliff back in "White Rabbit." Now, the Man in Black might be cocky, or old and senile, maybe even resigned, but at first viewing, one might easily see Sawyer falling for the "Elvis has left the building" option.  He gave the Man in Black the rundown of his failed attempts, the plane, the raft, the sub, the chopper.  Does the Man in Black have a private jet or a time machine?  Nothing special about the Island?  You can't con a con man.  the Man in Black might think he has someone on board for Die Hard 5, but Sawyer has the upper hand.  Conning Ben at the statue is one thing, doing the same with Sawyer (who would catch the tell-tale signs of the Man in Black letting the liquor touch his lips but not drinking it; if he did, would it simply drain out of his make-believe human form?) is a different game altogether.

We have the answers to the three cabins on the Swan mural.  The cabin, the base of the statue, and now, the cave.  Man, does the Man in Black not have a single place on the Island for himself?  Maybe he lives under the Island, with the vents being his outlets.  I'm still saying that the Man in Black is not Smokey, but I think I'm going to end up being wrong.  I still want to know why he seemed to sneak away before the smoke monster killed Bram and the others.  Does he have to let his body sink into the ground and then reform as Smokey?  Back to the Jacob's summer homes.  Jacob left the cabin, showing Ilana the way by leaving the section of tapestry depicting Tarawet.  He left because he knew his list of candidates was down to single digits.  (And, if we stick with the reverse order thing, Lapidus might very well be below Locke's, his name going up during the freighter days.)  the Man in Black Christian could very well have not known about the piece of tapestry being left as a message, the cabin was dark enough, but he had to go and sit even further in the shadows, near his mason jars of goo.  There is just so much that can be written about this episode, just like "Walkabout" in S1 changed LOST's entire playing field.  Or backgammon board.  I'm no longer sure why Claire was in the cabin or who is the real bad guy, the Man in Black or Jacob.  Last season, the Man in Black ominously mentions Richard knowing what needs to be done about the Ajira passengers on Hydra.  They are no longer needed, because they will not need to be candidates.

So who was the kid?  Now, I'm not certain why Richard couldn't see him and Sawyer could, or why his hands were bloody the first time around.  The obvious visuals are visions of Aaron or a young Sawyer, even Zack.  Here's who I think it is, I just need to figure out the why part.  This is Charles Widmore when he was Ben Linus's age, that time he met pirate-y Richard past the sonic fence.  Widmore circa 1945, unless he'd been de-aged from bathing in the Lazarus pit, which I find doubtful.  No, I think his hands are bloody because he killed whomever it was that answered to Jacob.  The part I can't figure is not so much why Richard couldn't see the apparition, rather why the Man in Black freaked out when Sawyer saw the kid, too.  And for Sawyer, at that point, the con was on.  So who did young Widmore kill?  And why would this be a big deal to the Man in Black?  The only thing I can think of right now is that, if Sawyer saw the kid, somehow it meant he was at the Temple and saw the bloody/muddy water.  Why that would rattle the Man in Black, I don't know.

Speaking of cons, I'm wondering if we had a tiny one played on us by the producers.  They of the Crab Nebula scenario.  Last night, there was a crab next to Locke's corpse.  How does a crab move?  Sideways.  The Crab Nebula itself is a supernova remnant, and so the implication might be that the sideways reality is going to explode, symbolically or for real.  I think both, and here's why.  A star takes a very long time to go nova, just as lostmio pointed out about the Island sinking slowly over time.  The star will shrink and then blow the hell up.  For me, shrink is the important word.

The LA X reality is Desmond's bloody snow globe, only, well, in LA.  There was a discussion last week on how the sideways Kate/Claire story was so convenient.  I think it was meant to be that way.  On Monday, Gina Marie commented to me that Kate found Claire right where she left her because she took Claire's money and ID.  But I would go so far as to say that only Kate could have picked up Claire, that a bus driver could have been ready to give Claire a free ride, then Kate would have pulled up and it would be like Claire knew she should go with her.  Ethan wasn't in Portland last week, and Ben wasn't there this week, though he did look a little like Kevin Spacey.  Granted, there's no reason for either of them to be in Oregon at all.  I'm just saying that maybe there just isn't a Portland in the LA X reality.  I don't mean that someone would disappear into an anti-matter wall if they tried to go to the Mr.  Cluck's in Ventura County.  We already have people making with the deja vu glances, and various characters almost falling over each other.  The LA X reality is like that star, unable to sustain itself and thus exploding.  Which is really my way of saying the two realities will merge, but for all intents, we will never see outside of LA in sideways-land.  Next week we get Jack's story, the following week Jin and Sun will maybe re-unite, and then we can get down to business with that war.  Always great to see Katy Sagal, but in the interim since we last saw douche bag Randy, he now reminds me of the guy from FreeCreditReport.com singing about being in a band and wearing a pirate hat.

Score: 8/10 (five for character development, three for mythological advancement) on the Sickness Scale.
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