As soon as we understood this episode was a Locke backstory, we felt preemptively distressed. After all, the man's history is all retro humiliations and “Don't tell me what to do.” Last night's story was as sad as ever, a nerd-exceptionalism carnival of shame featuring yet more people offering intimations of specialness and then snatching them away. In this case, people we've seen before. With eyeliner. Or on The Wire.
But we loved it anyway, because face it, dude's the most original character on the show. Or maybe because we can't help but identify with the poor wishful baldy geek, who has a lot in common with your basic Lost fan: spotting clues everywhere, convinced he's seen the big picture when he's actually just a pawn, and endlessly, vulnerably prey to the bullying wiles of a big mean island.
The Past: Lipstick and Early Intimations of Backgammon
Ooh, sad and eerie: We're in the fifties and a pretty teenage girl is lipsticking up, preparing to meet an older man. Then: Hit by car, pregnant, has preemie, yells “Name him John!” But the sweet girl can't handle it (a little like Claire, eh?), and Mom wants to put him up for adoption and … AIEEE! Peering through the maternity window is old eyeliner-eyes: Richard Alpert, Ben's piratical never-aging quasi-second-in-command.
Whose job is apparently to taunt and trail poor baby Locke. When Locke's just a kid, Alpert gives him a creepy test involving symbolic objects: a vial of dust, baseball glove, scary knife! Locke chooses wrong — picking the knife, maybe deliberately — and Alpert rejects him. Then, when Locke's a sad teen, Alpert indirectly tries to recruit him to a “science camp,” but the stubborn nerd would rather be a superhero than a scientist. Finally, we're back in Locke's physical-therapy period, and now it's that cadaverous dude from The Wire who is stalking/recruiting him into the famous walkabout. Because when Wire Guy went on his walkabout, he was “convinced I was one thing and found out I was another.” Locke catnip, in other words.
The Present: Hot Jerks, Stooges, and Dead Dad
On the Freighter of Hot Jerks, Top Jerk Martin is pissed — Smokey ate his teammate and worse, Benjamin I.D.'d him. He beats up Michael for snitching, gets all key-grabby and secondary-protocol-riffling and we're-going-to-torch-the-island-revealing, and finally straps a bombs to his very hot arm. In contrast, Captain Former Jerk saves Michael, gets Sayid a boat, and was apparently not in on the whole torch-the-island scenario, so he's doomed. There's a great action scene: Martin slits the doctor's throat to pressure Lapidus to fly (suggesting again the weird time anomaly, since the doc should already be dead!) and the Captain gets shot. Then Lapidus helicopters over the beach — inspiring hope and fear among the Losties — and he drops a package signaling Jack to follow him.
Meanwhile, Ben, Locke, and Hurley wander like stooges until Locke dreams of a snarky Dharmite who guides him to the mass grave. In the now-dead Dharmite's pocket there's a map leading to Jacob's cabin. Hurley has a reasonable theory: “We can see it because we're the craaaaziest.” Meanwhile, Ben puts on a show of how he's sooo jealous, because John is all fancy and chosen while Ben ended up “with a tumor on my spine and my daughter's blood all over my hands.” Which would be poignant, except this is Ben, so we're thinking manipulative. Anyway, the result is that only Locke goes into the cabin, where he finds Jack's dad and a horrible creepy-waxy smiling Claire. Jack's dad suggests Locke ask the only question that matters, which we're thinking is, “Why am I such a sucker?” Instead, Locke asks, “How do I save the island?” The creepy people are pleased. They ask him to move the island.
What We Know Now
• Richard Alpert has been around forever, wrote the very first song, and almost certainly organized the very first genocide.
• The Lost universe is weirdly overstuffed with pregnant women, dangerous births, and special children (Walt, Locke, poor, dead Alex, Ben, Aaron) raised by nonbiological parents. Not to mention game boards. Is this whole thing a really disturbing metaphor for Dungeons and Dragons?
• Destiny is a fickle bitch.
The Wha? Factor
• WTF is up with waxy Claire?
• What's with that time differential between the doctor's getting killed and floating up on the island?
• What is the meaning of those eerie symbols — the vial of dust (is that the dust around Jacob's cabin?), the Book of Laws, the comic book — offered by Alpert? Because we think that comic book actually belongs to us, and Lindelof, we want it back. —Emily Nussbaum