The final season continues to provide a steady stream of answers and implications, and this episode definitely has its moments. It is becoming progressively more difficult to separate each episode from the massive context in which it arrives. It is a testimony to the writers that the episodes themselves are still solid, telling a compelling story as well as tying up the loose ends.
The 'flash sideways' into the 'Lost X' timeline continues the trend of showing a more positive version of the conflicted characters, especially Jack. No one would ever expected Jack, given his family issues, to be a happy go-lucky kind of guy. And someone with that many Daddy Issues is going to struggle with fatherhood. But it's clear that Jack X is someone making strides and dealing with his insecurities. This isn't someone lost or in search of redemption; he's just trying to be a better father.
That's not the familiar Jack on the island. Jack is still broken, and his attempt at self-redemption in 1977 has apparently failed so miserably that he is even more aimless. As Jacob said, Jack is not going to listen to anyone's advice, and he is not going to let himself be led around by the nose for very long. Jack is the kind of stubborn man that needs to work out the obvious for himself. (Not unlike a certain Mr. Ford.)
Taking a tour of the old caves from the first season was a nice touch. It's sometimes hard to remember just how much things have changed! However, this seemed to be designed to serve a different purpose above and beyond nostalgia. It was a reminder of Jack's encounter with the apparition of his father (very likely Jacob's rival), as well as a signal that the writers haven't forgotten Adam and Eve. This is the 'Lost' equivalent to showing the audience that the gun is still sitting on the mantelpiece; both plot elements are going to come into play before the tale is told.
This was also a great episode for Hurley. Hurley may seem to do whatever the voices tell him to do, but his instincts have been fairly good over the years. With Jack all but out of commission, Hurley is acting more like a Candidate than anyone else at the moment. That said, Hurley has played the kingmaker more often than he has played the king, and it might make more sense for him to shift into a Richard Alpert-type role.
Kate's focus is back on her fifth season mission, and this is more bearable than her apparent lack of direction in 'What Kate Does'. Kate directly rejects the notion of doing what Jack wants her to do, and makes it very clear that she is still focused on finding Claire and reuniting her with Aaron somehow. That's likely to end badly, but it's great to see Kate blazing her own path. There's still hope that she will play a vital role.
Even as damaged as she is, it's great to see Claire again. It seems as though her perspective has been warped by her time on the island and the influence of Jacob's rival, but appearances may be deceiving. What version of events has Claire been told? Just what did she go through at the hands of the Others? It's not as though the Others have been peaceful; they weren't called the Hostiles without cause. Claire could feel justified in her actions, and she could be right.
Of course, that leads into some speculation, which pertains directly to the revelations at the Lighthouse.
This builds on some of the speculation in the review for 'The Substitute'. Generally speaking, there is evidence to suggest that one storytelling purpose for the 'Lost X' segments is the implication that everyone would be a lot better off if Jacob had never brought them to the island. And sure enough, in this episode, it seems very clear that Jacob used the semi-mystical nature of the island to lead his potential Candidates to the island.
This is all tied up with 'the numbers', but it now seems clear that the nature of the numbers might be the real clue. Since the beginning, there has been an odd assumption by many that the numbers themselves hold a mystical value, as if they hold a specific property unto themselves. While tying the numbers to specific individuals does touch on elements such as the doomsday Valenzetti Equation and Faraday's talk of 'variables', it could also have a more transcendent meaning.
What if 'the numbers' aren't a cause, but rather, an effect? In this case, a representation of the manipulation of the random: imposition of order upon statistical chaos. The numbers always seem to show up in moments that link directly to the sequence of events that Jacob has set into motion, even if just in the background. They are found in the most unlikely of places, especially if they are then meant to have a specific causal meaning.
What if they are simply an artifact of Jacob's manipulation of time? In 'Lost Prime', the numbers are seemingly everywhere: they show up far more often than chance would allow. In 'Lost X', they don't seem to hold any significant meaning. This appears to link up with the fact that 'Lost Prime' is the timeline in which Jacob is manipulating events, and that 'Lost X' is the opposite. As Mrs. Hawking told Desmond, time tends to 'course correct'; one way or another, the same people and similar situations unfold, just in variant fashion.
From this perspective, the numbers are a sign of Jacob's subversion of free will. The implication is that Jacob's rival would then champion unfettered free will. Jacob's rival has always seemed to be more focused on choices. That said, there is still not enough context to know exactly what the nature of their conflict is, and why it is taking place on the island.
The lighthouse and the cave may be a clue. The lighthouse seems to belong to Jacob; he has a set number of 360 potential Candidates, perhaps defined by what the lighthouse shows him at each position on the wheel. Each number denotes the Candidate at that location. The process of bringing people to the island, Jacob's sense of 'progress' mentioned in 'The Incident', could be the iterative process of crossing out the names of failed Candidates. Bringing people to the island is the most expedient means of testing the Candidates for Jacob's replacement.
By this logic, the cave could be the home of Jacob's rival. The names there were incomplete and not consistent with the number/name combinations on the wheel. This implies that Jacob's rival has been trying to get the names from the lighthouse, in the hopes of derailing the process of replacing Jacob (and thus, presumably, ending his 'imprisonment').
It seems odd that the ever-important number 108 referred to someone named 'Wallace', not a more familiar face. Odds were much better that it would have been either Desmond or Charles Widmore, since the island didn't seem to be finished with either of them. Both need to be part of the story to make sense of it all. Perhaps Wallace is connected to one of those men, or even both. On the other hand, the name was crossed out, so it may have referred to 'Wallace' in the past, but not any more.
If the implications about the numbers are correct, then what does it say about Jacob's true nature? Is he the 'good guy', as he seems? If the numbers are an artifact of Jacob's direct or indirect influence on events, then he can be linked to dozens of questionable situations over the course of the story. But two in particular come to mind.
First, there is the oft-mentioned Valenzetti Equation. The numbers were said to be the values of certain key variables that would lead to the swift destruction of humanity. The Dharma Initiative was all about changing those values. If the numbers lock onto those values as an artifact of Jacob's influence, then it could be said that Jacob's actions are hastening the end of the human race. (Assuming, of course, the Valenzetti Equation and explanation are canon, as they seem to be.)
The second example is definitely canon and far more straightforward. Hurley played the numbers in the lottery, and that began the downward spiral of his life. This led Hurley to one very simple conclusion: THE NUMBERS ARE BAD. While this has often been dismissed as a matter of Hurley's perspective, this may have been early foreshadowing that the source of the numbers (in this case, Jacob) is not good.
In addition to the connections explored in the review for 'The Substitute', there are other aspects to consider. Jacob's rival, as the smoke monster, always seemed to judge people on the island based on their desire to change and seek redemption. Those unwilling to grow past their weaknesses and issues were killed. It's hard to say if this is truly 'evil'. It could have been a response to an individual's rejection of choice: those unwilling to change were all but trapped by a sense that they were locked into a pre-determined life, and that could have offended Jacob's sensibilities.
On the other hand, Jacob's rival could have been testing people to determine if they were Candidates. Those who were Candidates were ripe for subversion to his cause; it seems rather obvious that Locke's experience early in the first season was with Jacob's rival in some form. Those who were not Candidates could be eliminated. This is another area that needs a lot more context before solid conclusions can be reached.
But there is also the fact that the smoke monster could be summoned for 'protection'. If Jacob's rival was something to be contained, why would there be a means of summoning him for protection? Granted, it was something Ben could do, and there's evidence that Ben was always working for Jacob's rival, but those hieroglyphics had been there for a long time.
Part of the fun is recognizing that characters are choosing sides, even though they have no idea what the nature of the conflict really is. So which side is 'good', and which side is 'evil'? Can either side really be described in such simple terms? Perhaps this is going down the less familiar and less traveled path of 'Babylon 5'; perhaps the answer will ultimately be refusing to choose either side. And if that is the case, one might consider that the 'Lost X' timeline has yet to show any hint of intervention from either Jacob or his rival.
Overall, this was another solid entry for the final season, continuing the trend of providing a compelling storyline while still answering key questions regarding long-standing mysteries. There is the definite sense that this is all leading to a big revelation, but there is still much to be revealed before the end.