"John Locke was a... believer. He was a man of faith. He was a much better man than I will ever be, and I'm very sorry I murdered him." -BenI saw a lot of fan anger after "What Kate Does" aired last week, in part because it was a Kate episode, but mainly because many people felt like it was "filler" at a point when people feel the show should be going pedal-to-the-metal towards a conclusion while providing as many answers as possible along the way. Some even went so far as to call it the worst episode since the one about Jack's tattoos.
Now, I didn't love "What Kate Does," but my issues had to do more with the Kate end of the equation than any notion of filler. I'm still not sure what the purpose of the flash-diagonals is - and still suspect those scenes will all play much better on a second viewing after they're explained to us - but I know I cared about what was happening in those scenes a hell of a lot more when it was John Locke at the center of things.
And if the alternate timeline (or whatever it is) accomplishes nothing else, it at least gave John Locke - or a John Locke - the relatively happy ending (for now) that he was so cruelly denied by Ben and the hand of fate in the version of reality we know. On the island, Locke is eulogized as both a good man (by Ben) and a
I know many of you want - and deserve - answers to many of the questions the writers have raised over the previous five seasons, but to me this final season of "Lost" needs to be at least as much about doing right by the surviving characters as it is about explaining what the Numbers are(*).
(*) And the cave ceiling at least tells us the Numbers came from (or were used by) Jacob, but still not what they mean.
Smokey has Locke's memories and some of his personality - witness the priceless moment where Smokey screams out Locke's "Don't tell me what I can't do!" catchphrase - and Terry O'Quinn is still gainfully employed, but the man we know and care about died (in at least one timeline) in a grubby motel room. And for one week, we got to see a version of Locke who was still alive, and happier than we'd seen at any point in the run of the series. This was a Locke who was occasionally frustrated by circumstances, but capable of maintaining a healthy relationship with Helen, of laughing off an indignity like the sprinklers going off in his face, of enjoying the small pleasures of being a substitute teacher. And Terry O'Quinn's typically wonderful performance captured every bit of pride and joy and frustration of this alternate version of the character we know and mourn, and to provide some closure for that version of him no matter what happens to the monster wearing his face on the island.
And speaking of Smokey-as-Locke, I guess I'm in a particularly Zen mood about the answers (or lack thereof) so far this season, because I was mostly amused by the idea that Smokey - who claims to want to explain the plot of the series to anyone willing to listen - spends most of the episode paired with Sawyer, the regular character who cares the absolute least about the mythology of the island. In fact, I found myself caring more about watching Josh Holloway blend the grief-stricken Sawyer of the season's first two episodes with the sarcastic, self-destructive guy he was for most of the previous seasons more than about whatever it was Smokey was going to tell Sawyer, or Richard, or whomever.
It can be fun to speculate about whether Jacob was the good guy or the bad guy (and it's not hard to envision a scenario where he's bad, based on what he put all our heroes through), to wonder if the blond boy who reminds Smokey of "the rules" is some kind of higher island power who kept Jacob and Esau trapped on the island over the centuries, about whether Jin or Sun is the "candidate" Jacob had in mind when he scratched "Kwon" into the cave ceiling (and what it means for characters like Kate who don't seem to be on the ceiling at all).
But the thing about the Jacob/Esau/Smokey/backgammon stuff is that it's made me oddly less interested in the mythology, not more. We know now (or seem to know) that the characters on the show are only game pieces to these two abstract, supernatural figures - that most of the key decisions made on and off the island by Jack, Sayid and the rest have been in service to Jacob's plan - and the controlled, predestined quality to it all leaves me a little cold. Like, the characters' actions are already dictated by a pair of omniscient beings in Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse - albeit omniscient beings who prefer to perform light comedy together rather than try to kill each other - without layering another pair in between.
In the early days of the show, Lindelof liked to say that when the time came for he and Cuse to start revealing the big answers, viewers would be invariably disappointed, either because the reality wasn't the same as what they'd imagined, or because it was too much like what they'd imagined (and therefore wasn't surprising). None of the Jacob material feels like Cuselof have played unfairly with their audience, but thus far, the more I learn about the mythology, the more I want to focus on the people, on the comedy, the action and the many other parts of "Lost" that don't have to do with answering questions and cosmic games of dice.
And so an episode like "The Substitute," which offered more mythology hints but also had two great beating hearts in Locke in the real world and Sawyer on the island, was damned satisfying, even if I still don't know why The Others couldn't have children or who The Economist is.
Some other thoughts:
• Loved the Smokey-eye-view tour of various island landmarks. Were we supposed to take that as Smokey taking a quick lap before untying Richard, or a bit of out-of-sequence storytelling (i.e., the New Otherton stuff was from later in the episode when Smokey goes to fetch Sawyer)? And is this how Smokey sees things even while in the form of Locke?
• Hands up, anybody who wouldn't watch a spin-off about Benjamin Linus, snotty European History teacher? Certainly, Michael Emerson's gift for making incredibly mundane things sound funny has rarely been used better than in the scene with alt-Ben bitching about the coffee pot.
• So far, Jeff Fahey hasn't gotten much more to do as a cast regular than when he was a recurring guest star in seasons 4 & 5, but he makes the most out of his small moments, like Lapidus' eye roll and exasperated "This is the weirdest damn funeral I've ever been to" after Ben's eulogy for Locke.
• I will never, never, ever object to some time spent with L. Scott Caldwell as Rose, who definitely gets a shorter end of the stick in the LA X timeline.
• We learned years ago that Hurley owns the box company where Locke worked, and now we finally get the sense that it's not a coincidence that both Hurley (at Mr. Cluck's) and Locke (at the box company) worked for Randy Nations, but rather that Hurley hired the guy (for whatever reason) to work at the box company after the meteorite destroyed Mr. Cluck's.
• Even more startling than the idea of Locke still being in a relationship with Helen was Helen's casual suggestion that they elope to Vegas with "my parents and your dad." Is Anthony Cooper a much less evil man in this timeline, or does alt-Locke somehow have a different daddy? And how did alt-Locke wind up in a wheelchair?
• The island activity in this episode takes place the day after the events of "What Kate Does," right? Now, it's been a while since I've really got my bender on, but Sawyer's undershirt and boxers managed to get awfully filthy in the space of a night, didn't they?
• The song playing on a loop at Sawyer's New Otherton bungalow was "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges.
• I did a major forehead slap when Ilana told Sun that Jin must be at the temple. If these two keep crossing paths without finding each other for the bulk of the season, I'm going to be annoyed.
• "Of Mice and Men" was a big source of Sawyer/Ben discussion in season three's "Every Man for Himself," and comes up again here as Sawyer briefly threatens to shoot Smokey/Locke.
• We know from the season 2 finale that the four-toed foot is pretty far from the original Lostaways beach (Sayid and company had to sail to find it), yet Ilana and Ben carried Locke's corpse all the way from the foot to the Oceanic 815 graveyard where Libby, Nikki, Paolo and company are buried? That seems quite a haul.
• Because "Lost" so often paints in bright, archetypal colors, the dialogue can veer into corniness, but really good actors manage to sell it, anyway. Case in point: Katey Sagal (on a breather from her award-worthy work on FX's tremendous "Sons of Anarchy") making me not only not wince at Helen's "the only thing I was ever waiting for was you" line, but rather feel moved by it.
After reminding you once again about the commenting rules - specifically the No Spoilers portion (and the "no talking about the previews" sub-section) - let me ask, what did everybody else think?