A Locke-centric episode of Lost is always an appealing prospect, and upon viewing this latest instalment all the bad memories from the season’s dodgy third offering, ‘What Katie Does’, do subside. Only slightly, though.
‘The Substitute’ takes us away from the temple and maintains a focus on Locke. On the island, ‘Claimed Locke’ is mooching around, abusing Richard Alpert (his character remains the season’s biggest disappointment) and forming a tentative alliance with Sawyer. This particular element forms the episode’s big reveal, but the best to be found is definitely within the alternate timeline. It’s probably a credit to Terry O’Quinn’s dual performance, but seeing this version of Locke back in action is a heartfelt experience. The new island incarnation of Locke isn’t the warmest fellow to track on screen; so being back on urban soil with the Locke we only ever really saw in flashbacks is a welcome treat. He’s down on his luck and hating every minute of it, but you can’t help but muster up hope that he, more so than any of the show’s other characters, will come emerge from this series with a happy ending.
As you can see by the score, though, there are problems with this episode. Quite big ones in fact. The main one is that we are now four episodes in, and it is clear that this 2004 timeline isn’t actually a ‘what happens when they land’ perspective, it is a new one altogether. Locke is still with Helen, he is still on good terms with his father and why, oh why, is Ben a school teacher? If the creators have created these new alternative back-stories for Lost characters, then that means there will be more episodes on the horizon addressing these alterations, when really they should be getting on with answering the lingering questions we’ve wanted answered for years. Troubling times, but by no means a total disaster.
There are middling moments, and a few potentially troublesome questions asked, but overall ‘The Substitute’ is marked improvement over its predecessor. Is Sawyer a bona fide baddie now? Only time can tell.