Let me start off by saying: WOW. I was blown away by this episode, and it definitely exceeded my expectations. There was definitely a lot of improvement from last week's "What Kate Does." Contrary to last week's episode, which focused on Jack, Kate, Hurley, Dogen, Lennon and the rest of the Temple dwellers, this week's "The Substitute" focused on Flocke, Richard, Ben, Ilana, and Sawyer. I personally find the latter to be the much more interesting/intriguing group currently in the show, so naturally, I was very excited to see new events transpire after the cliffhanger from "LA X, Part 2." After killing Bram and other Jacob's bodyguards, Flocke leaves the statue and knocks Richard unconscious, telling the Others that he is very disappointed in all of them.
In the beginning of "The Substitute," Flocke is seen taking his 'smoke monster' form to travel quickly across the Island. He moves to the Barracks, looking through Sawyer's house, and then leaves to talk to Richard. I thought this scene was amazing, and it was really cool to finally see things in the perspective of the Monster traveling across the Island. We learn that, although Richard was advisor to the Others, and was looked very favorably upon by Jacob, he was still left in the dark with many major issues. He apparently didn't know that Flocke could shapeshift, when he asked "why do you look like John Locke?" This was also a surprise to Flocke, who was seemingly shocked that Jacob had withheld important information from one of his top advisors. Then we see something very surprising -- an apparition of a mysterious kid. Flocke seems very surprised to see this kid, but when Richard turns around he sees nothing. I found this to be very interesting, since I've come to expect that most apparitions on the Island have actually been the Monster -- and now the Monster himself is seeing an apparition. So who is this mysterious kid? I initially thought that it had to be Jacob as a kid. Either way, I though that this apparition had something to do with Jacob. Jacob seems to be the only one who has any power over MIB; even though Jacob is now dead, I really don't think he's "dead" (if you know what I mean). The Man in Black asks Richard to follow him. I found this to be much like Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. MIB tells Richard that he won't keep him in the dark like Jacob did. Still, Richard refuses to follow MIB. This now begs the question: how well does Richard really know MIB? In "LA X, Part 2" he seemed quite aqare of him and his capabilities after he left he statue, and he also seemed very scared (something that Richard usually isn't). But apparently he didn't know that MIB could change form.
Back at the statue, Ilana collects Jacob's ashes from the fire pit. I'm guessing that those ashes will somehow come in handy in the upcoming episodes. Ilana says that MIB is recruiting. We see MIB enter Sawyer's house. Sawyer doesn't seemed surprised at all to see him, merely exclaiming "I thought you were dead." Sawyer sees that there is no fear at all in Locke, making him come to the conclusion that it really isn't Locke. MIB convinces Sawyer to come with him, saying that he can answer the most important question: "Why are you on this Island?" Saywer is intrigued, and somewhat reluctantly, follows MIB.
In flashbacks, we see Locke arrive home in his van. I must say, when he fell out of his wheelchair and the sprinklers turned on, I just had to laugh. I felt bad so for him, but at the same time it was really funny because nothing ever seems to go right for him -- even Locke starts to laugh when the sprinklers turn on. We then see Helen come outside and help John. Back inside, Locke and Helen discuss the Australia trip that he had just gotten back from. Helen finds "Dr. Jack Shephard's" spinal surgeon card. Helen says it might be destiny that he met him (which I thought was an awesome line).
Locke returns to his good old cubicle at the box company. Then we see a face we hope we would never have seen again: It's Randy Nations. Locke's jerk co-worker from "Deus Ex Machina" he made fun of Locke's desire to go on a walkabout. We also see him in "Everybody Hates Hugo" as Hurley's boss, and in "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead" as Hurley's worker. But in this flash-sideways timeline, Hurley is not only the boss of bosses, he is the owner. He offers Locke his job back, and writes a note for him (this is an awesome scene...I love Hurley!). Back at the office we see Rose Nadler, who reminds us that she has terminal cancer since she never went to the Island.
On the Island, Flocke and Sawyer run into the mysterious kid. And this time, Flocke isn't the only one who sees him; Sawyer can as well. Flocke runs after the kid, and trips. The kid tells MIB that he "can't break the rules," and he "can't kill him". Flocke responds angrily by saying "don't tell me what I can't do!" Mysterious kid shakes his head (possibly in dismay), and then runs off. I found it to be a little odd that Flocke started to act a little like Locke; he seemed to be very vulnerable at that moment. I think the writers intended that, though, to show that MIB isn't the Island's omnipotent entity; he is still vulnerable against Jacob. I think that this mysterious kid could possibly be Jacob, but he says "you can't kill him" -- it semed like he was referring to Jacob since he mentioned breaking the rules. It's possible that he was referring to Locke or Sawyer, but I believe it was Jacob he was referring to. If that is the case and the mysterious kid really is a young Jacob, he should have said "you can't kill me." This leads me to think that this mysterious kid is not Jacob himself, but rather, a relative of Jacob -- perhaps his son or brother.
Richard then emerges from the jungle, pleading to Sawyer that he would come to the Temple with him. Sawyer refuses, saying that at least Locke promised to provide answers for him. Richard said that he wants to kill Sawyer, and everyone else as well. Sawyer decides to stick with MIB, and Richard runs off. If Richard is this terrified of MIB, then he is definitely something we all should be scared of. Sawyer pulls his gun on Flocke, asking "what are you?" MIB says that he's trapped, and he doesn't remember what it was like to be free. He says he knows what it's like to lose someone you care about and to feel pain.
On the beach at the funeral of John Locke, Ben gives a eulogy. I was pleasently surprised to hear Ben say that Locke was a better man than he would ever be. I had to laugh, though, when he said "I'm sorry I murdered you." Frank's reaction to that was hilarious to see.
In flashbacks, the episode title's meaning is revealed: Locke is a substitute teacher. When he enters the teacher's lounge, we hear that telltale ominois voice. Yes, that's right: it's none other than Benjamin Linus. He teaches European history. I found this to be a great scene; Ben really does appear to be a good teacher! (I'd love to see him actually teach in class during a flash-sideways).
Now we get to the best part of the episode. MIB and Sawyer arrive at a cliff, where a ladder resides. They make their descent to a cliffside cave, where there is a balance scale with one white and one black rock. MIB takes the white rock and throws it into the ocean, saying that it was an "inside joke." This makes me wonder: is MIB admitting that he's the evil 'bad guy'? He seemed to recognize that Jacob was good (a.k.a. the light white rock), and he is evil (a.k.a. the dark black rock). I thought the scale was an interesting item that I hope we'll receive more insight to in upcoming episodes. Sawyer and MIB enter into the cliff through a cavern. On the ceilings and walls are numerous names, many with numbers next to them. The Numbers are assigned to various characters we have come to know well: 4-Locke, 8-Reyes, 15-Ford, 16-Jarrah, 23-Shephard, 42-Kwon. As MIB noted, 42 could either be Sun or Jin. Other names seen on the walls with their names crossed off were Domingo, Troupe, Cunningham, Jones, Mattingly, Lapidus, Littleton, and Sullivan. There are various numbers next to these names. I'm assuming that these names on the walls go back centuries, since we see some names from the U.S. Army camp (i.e. Mattingly, Cunningham, Jones) and also 815'ers. I'm guessing some names on there are probably ancient. MIB tells Sawyer that he has three options: 1) to do nothing. Wait around and see what happens. 2) he can take the job of being the Island's protector. But MIB says that the Island doesn't need protecting, saying that it's "just an island." 3) leave the Island and never look back. Sawyer is with Flocke on the third option. At this point, I'm definitely thinking that this is a long con from MIB. the Island really does need protecting, and MIB does not want to leave at all. Sawyer will probably join the dark side with MIB, and who knows, maybe convince Kate and some of the others to join him. I'm thinking that, like Richard warned, MIB will eventually kill Sawyer after he's used him. This really was a fantastic episode, and the best of Season 6 and one of the best episodes ever. Awesome on-island storyline, great new mysteries, and amazing flash-sideways story. Real answers are being revealed, and I can't wait to see what the rest of the season brings us.