Lost 6.4: "The Substitute"

Another episode of the final season has come and gone, and the result is another solid step towards answers to long-standing questions. As promised, those answers aren’t going to be easily won; some of the work is going to have to be done by the audience. But by now, those watching “Lost” should know what to expect. One either enjoys the puzzle for what it is or not.

As more and more of the “Lost X” timeline is revealed, it seems as though the initial assumptions may not hold. For example, there was speculation in the review for “LA X” that the “Lost X” timeline would ultimately bring the familiar characters to a darker end. Now, having seen more of “Lost X”, the characters seem more well-adjusted. They have their problems, but the world is still a less portentous place.

Based on this episode, a possibility comes to mind: perhaps the familiar faces in “Lost X” were never touched by Jacob. If the Incident of 1977 actually caused the island to sink in the “Lost X” timeline, then would Jacob have been there to enact his plan to bring new candidates to the island? If not, then the crash of Oceanic 815 need not have occurred, and all the manipulations that led to all those people being on the plane wouldn’t have led to the conflicted, lost individuals of “Lost Prime”.

This episode cements the notion that the crash of Oceanic 815 was not an accident by any means. It would be interesting to go back to “Live Together, Die Alone” and see if there are any hints and clues connecting to Jacob. It seems very clear that the writers had this notion in mind for quite some time; Abaddon’s claims that he was involved in engineering Locke’s presence on Oceanic 815 in “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” is strong evidence to that effect.

In fact, this muddies the waters in turns of Charles Widmore and his allegiance. He certainly seems aware of the conflict between Jacob and his rival. His efforts to send Locke back to the island would appear to mesh with Locke’s previously revealed hijacked destiny as a “candidate”. Ilana’s gang was working for Jacob, but they seemed to have the kind of resources that Widmore could have provided. Also, given that Ben was unknowingly working for Jacob’s rival for most of his life, Widmore’s symbolic opposition to Ben is in keeping with the idea that he was aligned with Jacob’s agenda.

On the other hand, Widmore was also trying to wipe out every living thing on the island, and that would appear to contradict Jacob’s goals. In “The Incident”, it seemed as though Jacob welcomed the arrival of more people to the island. On the other hand, if Widmore felt that he and his people were the true followers of Jacob, and that the Others and the Oceanic survivors were tainted by Jacob’s rival, then perhaps Widmore’s goals in the fourth season aren’t so contradictory after all.

The same applies to Jacob and his rival. Much of what has happened recently suggests that Jacob is “good” and his rival is “evil”. Yet if one assumes that “Lost X” is indeed a timeline in which Jacob’s influence was never present in the lives of the Oceanic 815 passengers, then a lot of pain and suffering has taken place in Jacob’s name. For that matter, the whole attitude of the Others, even accounting for Ben’s wayward leadership, is hostile. They kill those who aren’t on Jacob’s lists, and Jacob appears to let some live because they are candidates. (And note how the candidates match up with those brought to the Others at the end of Season 2 and the Oceanic Six. There are differences, but there are also parallels.)

Jacob’s rival, on the other hand, has been mostly represented by the smoke monster. The smoke monster has mostly been known for casting judgment: those who have refused to repent their pre-island ways and change for the better have usually been his victims. The overall sense was that the smoke monster was pushing the survivors to accept the opportunity for change that the island represented. While not necessarily “good”, that sort of judgment seemed to reflect the darkness of the individuals, not the judge himself.

All of which points to an interesting question: is Jacob’s rival truly the evil entity that he seems to be? The implication is that Jacob’s rival has been trapped on the island for good reason, but that is not necessarily the case. Richard's reactions and warnings came, by his own admission, from a limited point of view. For that matter, while the black/white duality suggests a clear good/evil distinction, that may be a false assumption. Until the motivations of Jacob and his rival are better defined, critical context is missing.

That context may be wrapped up in the whole question of the “candidates”. It seems rather obvious that the “candidates” are potential replacements for Jacob, either in the truest sense or through possession by whatever entity Jacob truly is. But then there is the connection in this episode between the “candidates” and the infamous numbers.

This brings to mind one of the original, though supposedly non-canon, explanations for the numbers: the Valenzetti Equation. According to the Lost Experience, the Valenzetti Equation was developed to represent a calculation of the precise timing of the end of the world. The numbers were the values of core variables in the equation. The purpose of the Dharma Initiative was supposedly to use the island to develop a means to shift the variables, thus extending humanity’s survival.

While this was supposedly dismissed as non-canon, the map on the Blast Door in “Lockdown” referred to the Valenzetti Equation and the Dharma Initiative in keeping with the above description. And Daniel Faraday insisted that people themselves were the “variables”. Considering that he was referring to a group comprised largely of the “candidates” now connected to the numbers, there is an interesting potential connection that is forming.

Perhaps the Valenzetti Equation is nothing more an accidental expression of Jacob’s rival and his desire to leave the island. Much implies that such an event would be catastrophic. If Jacob’s rival is trying to “recruit” the “candidates” to his purpose, perhaps there is something about those individuals that will allow him to leave. If that were the case, then it might still connect to Jacob’s apparent desire to use the “candidates” as potential successors in his bid to keep his rival imprisoned.

Of course, there are two big elements to all of this that are conspicuously missing. The first is the most obvious: Kate. Kate was among those touched by Jacob, she was one of those held prisoner by the Others at the end of the second season, and she was one of the Oceanic Six. More than that, she has been one of the most prominent characters since the very beginning, but the only one that hasn’t had a distinct purpose or function at any point in the story, other than “love interest”.

The exception is that she was surrogate mother to the other missing element: Aaron. Aaron was originally granted much importance, and there was reason to believe that Aaron was going to be critical to the overall series (not the least of which, comments by the producers/writers to that very effect). Very early speculation, going back almost as far as the pilot, theorized that Aaron was important because he would give a non-corporeal entity on the island a means of taking physical form. And that may have been Aaron’s original purpose, thwarted by Kate. Aaron might have been a “candidate”, but Jacob’s rival conspired to convince Kate not to bring Aaron back. Taken in conjunction with all the warnings about what would happen if Aaron wasn’t raised by Claire, it all feels like it is still leading to something.

All of which is evidence that the writers still have a lot of pieces of the puzzle to place into the context of the struggle between Jacob and his rival. The good news is that there is still plenty of time, and the fourth and fifth seasons both pointed enough to the existence of this conflict to suggest that the writers knew how it was all supposed to fit together.

Overall, this was another strong episode for the final season, with a good combination of revelation and implication. Of course, most episodes centering on John Locke have been winners, and this is no exception.


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Feb 19, 2010 1:35AM EST

How insightful! Very astute observations! Where do you see Desmond coming into this picture? "The island is not done with you Desmond!" Desmond appears to have been blindly following the Dharma Initative, to fight for humanity's "survival" by intertwining himself in fate with the numbers and also has appeared to be a person called onto the island. Is he one of the exceptions to what Jacob's rival believed that all those who come to the island become corrupt? As well, would 42 more likely to be Sun as she was one of the Oceanic six and had a child of her own (signifying a strong connection to the power of the island) than Jin?

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