“The Substitute” kicked Season 6’s story into overdrive by finally revealing the reason that this group of survivors were brought to the island, and a whole heaping lot about the nature of the relationship between Jacob and the Man in Black. We also got big clues as to who those two men really are.

On the flip side, we got a look at the man that John Locke would be if he had never come to the island — and as it turns out, he’s a more content, well-adjusted man than who he became on the island.

Locke returns home from his trip to Australia, and right into the loving arms of his fiancée, Helen (the same Helen from the original timeline that dumped him because of his obsession with his father, and later died after Locke went to the island). Helen is under the impression that Locke has been traveling for a work-related conference. Helping him into their house after a mishap with his wheelchair-accessible van, she confesses that she’s sick of working out the details of their upcoming nuptials. She suggests they simply elope and call in only her parents and his father, but Locke won’t hear of it, insisting that they go through with a true wedding because she deserves it.

Helen finds the card that Jack gave to Locke at the airport, and suggests that her soon-to-be husband give Jack a call for that free consult. Locke doesn’t believe that anything can be done to help his condition, but Helen thinks that meeting Jack might just be the hand of destiny.

Locke heads back to his cubicle at the box company, where he’s welcomed back by his supervisor Randy. Randy confronts him with the knowledge that Locke never went to a conference; Locke apologizes for lying, but says that his true reasons for going to Australia were personal, and he asks Randy to overlook it and write off the week as a vacation. Instead, Randy fires him.

After packing up his office, Locke goes down to his van in the company parking lot, only to find that his elevator ramp door has been blocked by a huge yellow Hummer that’s parked dangerously close, right beside him. Fed up, Locke hits his keychain button to lower the ramp anyway, but it stops within inches of the Hummer’s side door and refuses to go any further. Locke then angrily pounds his fist against the Hummer, and its owner appears: Hurley! Locke gripes at Hurley for his poor parking job, but Hurley is sincere in his apology. Locke remarks that he doesn’t recognize Hurley, and asks if he works there. Hurley introduces himself cordially as the owner of the company, and the two men get a good laugh out of it. Locke confesses that he was just fired by his boss Randy, and Hurley sympathizes at what a jerk Randy is, offering to talk to Randy for him. When Locke passes on the offer, Hurley writes down the name and number of a temp agency, and says to tell them “Hugo says to hook you up with a new job, pronto.” Encouraged by Hurley’s doggedly positive outlook on life, Locke agrees.

At the temp agency, Locke is submitted to an inane personality test, and he asks to speak to the agency’s supervisor. The boss turns out to be none other than Rose Nadler, and she tries to help him by pointing out that the job he wants to be placed at — construction site supervisor — isn’t realistic for a man in a wheelchair. His pride wounded, Locke is angered by her words, and asks her what she knows about “realistic.” She confesses that she has terminal cancer, and gives him a much needed talking-to, encouraging him to let go of his denial about his condition and embrace the life he has.

The next morning, Locke reconsiders calling Jack’s office for that free consult. He dials the number but when a receptionist answers, he changes his mind and hangs up. Helen walks in and asks who he was talking to. He tells her the truth, and she’s happy that he decided to see the doctor, but Locke says he’s not going to go through with it, and then he confesses that he got fired from his job. The doorbell rings, and Helen answers it; it’s Oceanic airlines, delivering Locke’s lost luggage box full of hunting knives. She accepts the box and then asks her fiancé to explain himself. He tells her the truth about ditching the conference in Australia, and tells her to open the case that Oceanic just delivered. She finds the knives inside and is confused, but he explains that he was trying to go on a walkabout. And just like in the original timeline, the travel agency in Australia refused to let him go on the walkabout experience once he got there and they saw him in his wheelchair. But instead of being bitter about this, he tells Helen that the travel agency was right to deny him. He says that he’s tired of imagining what his life would be like if he was no longer in his wheelchair, such as what it would be like to walk down the aisle with her. Because that’s never going to happen, he says. He doesn’t blame her for continuing to hope for a miracle, but he doesn’t want her to spend her entire life waiting for one, either. “There is no such thing as miracles,” he says. She tells him tenderly that there are miracles, and that the only thing she was ever waiting for in this life, was him. She tears up Jack’s business card and the two of them kiss.

Locke’s new temp job turns out to be substitute teaching at a local school, and he clearly enjoys himself at this line of work. At lunchtime, he ventures to the teacher’s lounge, where he meets a persnickety teacher griping about the proper way to clean the lounge’s coffee filter. This teacher turns out to be none other than Benjamin Linus! Ben recognizes a kindred spirit in Locke, as the two of them bond briefly over talk of tea, a “gentleman’s drink.” Ben introduces himself as the school’s European History teacher, and the two of them look like they’re on the fast track to a new friendship.

The smoke monster roams across the island, searching for something or someone. It enters the barracks and overhears Sawyer listening to rock music inside his old house. After a moment, the monster then turns back to the jungle and reverts to the Man in Black’s human form of John Locke. MiB cuts down a captive, who’s been dangling from a tree inside a sack. It’s Richard, still bruised and bloodied from MiB capturing him at the foot of the statue. “Time to talk,” MiB tells him.

When he’s recovered a bit, Richard asks MiB what he wants. “What I always wanted — for you to come with me,” MiB replies. Richard asks why MiB looks like John Locke now, and MiB replies that he took on this form because it was the only way he could gain access to Jacob, since Locke was “a Candidate.” But Richard has no idea what MiB’s talking about, or even what the term “Candidate” refers to. MiB is incredulous that Richard was treated this way by Jacob — that Jacob never told his trusted servant Richard about this important information. MiB says that had Richard chosen to work for him instead of Jacob, he would have treated Richard with respect and not kept him in the dark. MiB begs Richard to side with him, promising to tell him “everything” if he does. But Richard firmly refuses.

As their conversation is ending, MiB is visibly shaken when he spots a young blonde boy standing in a nearby clearing, with blood running down his arms. Richard follows his gaze, but sees nothing. MiB concludes their business by telling Richard that he’ll be seeing him “sooner than you think.”

Ben walks inside the statue, where he finds Ilana grieving over the bodies of her fallen friends. She demands to know what happened to her people, and Ben explains that they were killed by the smoke monster. When she asks if the monster killed Jacob too, Ben lies and says yes. She asks where Jacob’s body is, and Ben explains that it burned away in the fire. Ilana takes a handful of ash from the fire pit and carefully pours it into a small, cloth bag. Ben asks why MiB carried Richard into the jungle, and Ilana says, “He’s recruiting.”

Back at the Barracks, MiB enters Sawyer’s house and finds it’s been ransacked. He comes upon Sawyer drunk, in his underwear, blasting his music as loud as it will go. “Thought you were dead,” says Sawyer. “I am,” MiB replies. Sawyer offers him a drink before asking him to leave, but then confronts him on the fact that he knows MiB’s not John Locke — “because Locke was scared, but you ain’t.” MiB says that he’s the person that can answer the most important question in the world, to which Sawyer laughs in his face, but then asks what question he’s talking about. “Why are you on this island?” MiB answers. Sawyer says he already knows the answer to that question — he’s here because Oceanic 815 crashed here. But MiB says that that’s not really why Sawyer’s here, and that if Sawyer will come with him, he can prove it. Sawyer’s curiosity is piqued, and he grudgingly agrees.

Ilana and Ben emerge from the statue chamber to find that the Others have all gone. She asks Sun and Frank where they went, and Sun says they’ve gone to the Temple. Ilana agrees that the Temple is the safest place on the island, and says that the four of them should go there, too. But Sun has no intentions of following Ilana anywhere, pointing out that they’re complete strangers. Ilana reveals that she knows Sun is looking for Jin, and says that if Jin is alive, he’ll be at the Temple, too. Once their destination is settled, Sun again hesitates, wanting to bury her friend John Locke before they go to the Temple.

In the jungle, Sawyer spots the blonde boy (who’s arms are no longer bloody), and MiB is astonished that someone besides himself can see the kid. The boy runs off into the jungle and MiB chases after him, though Sawyer is ambivalent about the whole thing and stays put. When MiB trips over a branch, he looks up to find the boy standing right in front of him. “You know the rules,” says the boy. “You can’t kill him,” referring to Sawyer. “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” shouts MiB, quoting one of John Locke’s most frequently used phrases. The boy walks away while shaking his head sadly, as if giving up on an old argument.

While MiB is gone, Sawyer shouts at the jungle around him, warning “Locke” that he has twenty seconds to come back or Sawyer’s leaving. But he’s almost startled when Richard sneaks into the clearing and begs Sawyer to come with him to the Temple, before MiB comes back. Sawyer says no, but Richard assures him that the man he’s traveling with is not Locke. Sawyer says he knows this, but he’s with him because he says he’s got answers — which is more than Richard can claim. Richard warns him not to be naïve, promising Sawyer that MiB wants to kill him, not help him. Richard says that MiB doesn’t just want Sawyer dead, he wants everyone dead. He’s interrupted when he hears MiB returning, and he runs away, leaving Sawyer there alone. MiB returns, and Sawyer sets off with him once more.

Later, Sawyer pulls a gun on MiB and threatens to shoot him, explaining that this was his plan for agreeing to come along on this like hike all along. MiB is unperturbed, and encourages him to pull the trigger. Seeing that this standoff is pointless, Sawyer asks MiB what he is. “What I am is trapped,” MiB replies. “And I’ve been trapped for so long, that I don’t even remember what it feels like to be free… But before I was trapped, I was a man just like you… I know what it’s like to feel joy, to feel pain, anger, fear, to experience betrayal. I know what it’s like to lose someone you love.” He promises Sawyer that he’s very close to finding out the truth about everything, and Sawyer relents.

Sun, Frank, Ilana, and Ben walk to the Oceanic survivors’ old beach, carrying Locke’s body, which they bury in the survivors’ graveyard, alongside the likes of Shannon, Boone, Ana-Lucia, and Libby. On their way there, Ben asks Ilana why this enemy of theirs, the Man in Black, hasn’t changed his appearance so that he no longer looks like John Locke. Ilana replies that he can’t change anymore — he’s stuck this way now. After placing Locke’s body in the ground, Ilana asks if any of them want to say anything over their friend’s body. Ben steps forward and says some surprisingly touching words about how Locke was “a much better man than I will ever be.” He then shocks everyone by confessing that he’s “very sorry I murdered [Locke].”

MiB leads Sawyer to a huge bluff on one side of the island, overlooking the ocean below. An ancient ladder takes them down the side of the cliff, and after a treacherous descent — during which Sawyer nearly falls off — they come to a large cave opening in the side of the rock wall. Just inside the mouth of the cave is a tiny room that appears to have once been a dwelling place for someone. It comes complete with a table and various manmade objects, all of which are very old. Key among them is an ancient scale, upon each side of which rests a rock. One rock is white, the other black. MiB takes the white rock and smiles as he throws it into the ocean. When Sawyer asks what that was about, MiB merely replies, “Inside joke.”

The two of them enter an inner chamber further inside the cave, and MiB claims that what they see there is the reason that Sawyer and his friends are on the island: written in chalk upon the chamber’s huge ceiling are countless names, most of which have been crossed out. Sawyer himself is listed as “Ford,” along with his friends “Reyes,” “Jarrah,” “Shephard,” “Locke,” and “Kwon.” What’s more, each of them has been assigned a number — and not just any number, but one of the cursed Numbers. MiB explains that Jacob wrote all of these names, having personally ventured off of the island and touched each and every one of these individuals, including Sawyer himself. “Jacob had a thing for numbers,” MiB replies, when Sawyer asks why their names all have numbers beside them.

Sawyer is confused, because he doesn’t ever remember meeting Jacob. But MiB assures him that he did. “At some point in your life,” he explains, “probably when you were young, when you were miserable and vulnerable, he came to you and manipulated you. He pulled your strings like you were a puppet, and as a result, choices that you thought you made, were never really choices. He was pushing you — to the island.” Sawyer asks why Jacob would do that, and MiB says it’s because everyone written on this ceiling is a Candidate — a potential successor to Jacob in his role as protector of the island. But MiB doesn’t believe that Jacob was right in seeing himself as the island’s protector, suggesting that the island doesn’t need protecting. He offers Sawyer three choices: 1) do nothing and see how it all plays out, 2) accept the job as the new Jacob, or 3) leave the island — a feat that he says Sawyer can only accomplish with MiB’s help.

Sawyer accepts option #3, seemingly signing on with MiB as his first “recruit.”

  • What did Ilana think Frank might be a Candidate for? What’s a Candidate? [5.16]
    Candidate is the term Jacob used to designate those he believed could serve as his successor on the island.
  • Why did Jacob touch so many of the castaways in their pre-island past? For what purpose did he mark them this way? [5.16]
    Jacob was designating them as Candidates to take over his position as protector of the island. And they are just a handful of many he chose over the centuries — but they seem to be the only ones left as viable Candidates.
  • Did Jacob touch anyone else in the same way? [5.16]
    Based on what we saw on the cave ceiling, Jacob has been marking his Candidates for a very long time now. It’s likely that many of those he chose were brought to the island, the same as the Oceanic 815 survivors.

  • Sideways reality: We were given a few hints that Locke’s father might be a better man in this reality. Is this true? Could it be that Locke’s paralysis here is not a result of his father’s actions?
  • Sideways reality: If the island was destroyed or sunk by the detonation of the hydrogen bomb, then how did Ben escape to lead a new life on the mainland? Is this the same manipulative Ben that we know, or is he a better man who’s never been subjected to the abuse of his father?
  • Why did Ilana take Jacob’s ashes from the statue chamber? Might they be used as protection against the smoke monster?
  • The blonde boy bore more than a passing resemblance to Jacob. Was that who he was? If so, what’s the significance of him appearing as a boy to MiB?
  • Why were the boy’s arms covered in blood?
  • The “rules” the boy spoke of — that MiB couldn’t harm any of the Candidates… are these part of the same rules that kept Jacob and MiB from killing each other?
  • Why was Sawyer able to see the boy, but Richard could not? Is it because Sawyer is a Candidate?
  • Why is the Man in Black “stuck” in John Locke’s form? Why can’t he change his appearance anymore?
  • On the cave wall, did “Kwon” refer to Sun or Jin? Jacob touched them both — could the name on the wall refer to both of them?
  • Why was Kate’s name not seen as one of the Candidates written in the cave? Is she not a Candidate? Or is she there, but we just didn’t see her?
  • Is it coincidence that the numbers representing each of the remaining castaways on the cave wall correspond to the cursed Numbers? How long have these names been written here?
  • The Man in Black said that Jacob believed himself to be the island’s protector, yet he asserted that the island doesn’t need protecting. Which one of them is right? And if it does need protecting, who or what does it need protecting from?

It was so awesome to see Katie Segal back as Helen! I cheered out loud when she opened the front door of the house. She always deserved a happy ending with her man, and it was nice to see him be honest with her for once. It earned him a stable future with her, methinks.

Interesting that Locke’s van door refused to do any harm to Hurley’s Hummer, even though Locke was intentionally trying to do exactly that. So far, it looks like Hurley’s claim of being “the luckiest man alive” who “nothing bad ever happens to” is true.

Did anybody else spot the spider or crab or scorpion or whatever that was that was resting on dead Locke’s bald head, and then scampered off when Frank covered Locke up?

Was the blonde kid Jacob? Yeah, I’m pretty sure he was. He was a dead ringer for actor Mark Pellegrino, and he spoke to MiB like someone who’d known him for a long time. Why Jacob appeared to MiB as a boy is something I have a theory about…

How interesting was it that MiB used Locke’s favorite phrase, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” Was this a wink at the audience, or was it a hint at something else? Is there a chance that when he gained Locke’s memories, MiB took on some of Locke’s personality, too? Might that lingering bit of John Locke be trying to influence MiB from the inside out?

Did you recognize the woman at the temp agency who was administering the goofy personality test to Locke? That was Lynn Karnoff, the fake psychic that David Reyes took his son Hurley to, to try and convince him that he wasn’t cursed. She was last seen in a flashback in Season 3’s “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead.”

One of the biggest takeaways that we got out of this episode is that Jacob and the Man in Black were both human men once, who must’ve assumed these two important mantles of power on the island. This is significant because it means that neither Jacob nor his frienemy are inherently mythological or religious icons, on their own. It’s the role they fulfill that’s truly important, not the men themselves. Which very likely means that these two roles — the one occupied by Jacob (until recently) and the one occupied by the Man in Black — are roles that others probably fulfilled before them, and then passed down to others.

Someone on Twitter (and it escapes me who at the moment, forgive me whoever you are) noted Ilana picking up Jacob’s ashes, and suggested that perhaps Jacob has died many times in the past, and his ashes are the ones used against the smoke monster. It would make sense — since MiB can’t kill Jacob, then he probably couldn’t harm Jacob’s ashes, either. But I propose that rather than Jacob dying repeatedly, maybe the ashes that Jacob’s allies have been using until now belonged to Jacob’s predecessors.

Lost is ripe with endless examples of symbolism that require much pondering to figure out. The meaning of the “white and black rocks on the scale” is not one of those instances — its symbolism is as plain as the nose on your face. The rocks represent Jacob and the Man in Black, and their perfect balance on the scale represents their relationship on the island. Both light and dark must coexist for there to be balance, yin-and-yang style.

MiB throwing the white rock into the ocean as an “inside joke” made me imagine a time when he and Jacob must have resided in that very cave, and maybe the two of them made a bet. Jacob believed that balance would always be required between them, while MiB thought that he could find a way to effect real change if he could upset the balance. Thus, his tossing away the white rock into the sea was an acknowledgment of winning the bet. All of this is conjecture, of course, and it remains to be seen if we’ll ever see the origins of that cave and everything in it. If it’s ultimately left up to us to fill in the blanks, then I just gave you my version of what that was all about.

Okay, let’s take a look at those names and numbers that were inscribed on the cave wall by Jacob. In order, they are:

  • 4 – Locke
  • 8 – Reyes (Hurley)
  • 15 – Ford (Sawyer)
  • 16 – Jarrah (Sayid)
  • 23 – Shephard (Jack)
  • 42 – Kwon (Sun and/or Jin)

Let me just interject here: how cool is it that the Numbers have been given new meaning now that we know they are represented by one of the survivors? I wonder just how deep the rabbit hole of the Numbers goes? Have we reached the bottom with this revelation, or is there more? (I’ll touch on this again in a minute.) And why was Jacob so obsessed with numbers, anyway?

When I went back and freeze-framed the walls in HD, I could see lots of other familiar last names, all of which had been crossed out, including “Littleton” (Claire), “Lewis” (Charlotte? or one of her parents?), and “Goodspeed” (Ethan? or maybe even Horace?!). There are lots of other names are visible, such as “O’Toole,” “Sullivan” (who could be the survivor seen once in Season 1 on Hurley’s golf course), “Mattingley” (which was the name of one of the U.S. Army soldiers that fought the Others in 1954), “Domingo,” and “Almaeda,” but no others that were familiar. Readers of Lostpedia noticed a bunch more, including familiar names like “Faraday,” “Linus,” “Rutherford” (Shannon), “Burke,” “Straume,” “Pace,” “Mars,” “Fernandez,” and “Chang.”

So the first question that popped into everybody’s minds: Where’s Kate? Did the writers decide to skip her because they were out of Numbers? Was she on there someplace that we couldn’t see? I hope this is addressed, because it seems to be the thing that everybody’s fixating on.

Regarding the outcome of this scene, I do not for one second believe that Sawyer has truly signed on with the Man in Black. Sawyer is many things, but gullible is not one of them. As a professional con artist, Sawyer knows the value of learning all he can before showing his cards, and I’m sure that that’s exactly what he’s doing here. Very possibly he could be playing both sides of this little war, looking for his own angle to work.

You don’t need me to tell you what the big headline was for this week. It was the idea of the “Candidates.” What I am going to tell you is what I think it means.

“The Substitute” gave us a great big set of new facts that help explain what Lost is about, and where it’s ultimately going. Assuming that the Man in Black was telling the truth about it all… let me see if I can construct a narrative to put everything into context.

Sometime in the distant past, two men — or possibly young boys — were brought to the island, and either chose to or were forced to take on two very pivotal and powerful roles: one of them would become the island’s protector, while the other would become the smoke monster, a “security system” that serves some as-yet-unclear purpose. These are the two men we now know as Jacob and the Man in Black.

Though they were friends, they had differing viewpoints on humanity. Jacob believed that people were worth saving, worth fighting for. The Man in Black believed in the “every man for himself” idealogy.

I’m guessing that somewhere during their drafting into these new roles, the Man in Black tried to get out of the deal, and an altercation occurred between him and his friend Jacob (probably resulting in Jacob’s arms being bloodied), setting them on opposing paths. Jacob was content to remain on the island, believing in his newfound purpose, while the Man in Black wanted to leave, but couldn’t because he was bound by their agreement to remain in these all-important roles.

All along, Jacob was leaving the island periodically to search for his eventual successor. He wrote these Candidates’ names on the ceiling of the cave he once shared with his old friend, and then he started gathering followers (the Others) to help him determine who would be best suited to the role of island protector. This is why the Others have always been concerned with Jacob’s lists — the lists were names of potential Candidates, which he asked them to protect.

Meanwhile, MiB felt betrayed by his former friend, and vowed to find a way to break the rules that they were now forced to adhere to (through supernatural or some other means), and saw his chance when Oceanic 815 was brought to the island by Jacob. Onboard was a kindred spirit, John Locke, a man who was similarly mad at the world for his lot in life. Four or five weeks after he arrived on the island (at the time of the Season 1 finale), the Man in Black tried to kill Locke himself by dragging him down into the Tunnels, where he could then take Locke’s place. But that didn’t work, because Locke’s friends saved him from that fate. So MiB decided to take a different tack, carefully manipulating Locke, but repeatedly trying to kill him, such as when Ben shot him and left him in the Dharma burial ditch. MiB realized that as long as Locke was on the island, he would never be able to kill him, so he orchestrated the events that led to Locke leaving the island by moving it. All of this scheming resulted in him finally being able to kill Locke and take on his form, so he could at last kill Jacob and find a way to escape.

Now that he’s in a position to change things, MiB is recruiting people to his cause, and at the top of his list are Jacob’s chosen Candidates. He’s already eliminated Locke from the list, and it looks like Sayid’s become a non-issue as well (assuming that the infection Sayid suffers from is another tool of the MiB, then Sayid is being converted to MiB’s side, as we speak). Sawyer appears to have converted to MiB’s side, but I remain unconvinced that Sawyer would so easily sign on with someone he doesn’t know. That leaves Hurley, who’s surely a Jacob man through and through, Sun and/or Jin (what if Sun was left behind in 2007 when the other Oceanic 6 members jumped back to 1977 because Jin was the Candidate, and not her?), and Jack.

And as soon as MiB started talking about Jacob trying to find a Candidate to take his place, to become “the new Jacob,” I knew immediately who that was going to be.

I said as much to my wife after the episode ended, and she turned to me and said:

“Jack?”

“Without a doubt!” I replied.

Repeatedly over the summer hiatus between Seasons 5 and 6, the show’s writers have stated that the conflict between Jack and Locke has always been the core conflict of the show, and that this conflict will come to be all-important in Season 6. It all fits. After all of Jack’s lifelong struggles with issues of faith — him finally choosing to believe by accepting Jacob’s mantle would be the unequivocally perfect endpoint to his story arc. (And hey, would you look at that — next week’s episode just happens to be a Jack-centered ep!)

So there it is. Jack will be the new Jacob! And the conflict between him and Locke will be realized physically as the two of them, in the end, embody the struggle between good and evil.

Thoughts?