Now that's more like it.

I enjoyed last week's episode, but I thought it was a pretty typical second episode of a season, setting things up and doing the legwork it'll take for us to really have fun with the rest of the season.  The more I thought about it, though, the more I liked an element of the episode that I initially dismissed as too coincidental, and that's the relationship between Kate and Claire in the off-island "Timeline A" storyline.  My first thought was that I didn't really buy the way they interacted, or the way Kate kept making choices that helped Claire but that put herself harm's way.  But what if what we're seeing off-island right now is all about the way these people find themselves drawn together by forces they don't understand, and what if Kate stayed with Claire because she was compelled to, without even understanding why?

One of the things that started me thinking on that was the scene in the two-hour premiere where Jack gave John Locke his card in the airport and told him to call for a free consult.  And it gave me real pause to see Ethan show up as Claire's OB/GYN.  I think the "Timeline A" stuff is throwing viewers because they don't have a handle on it yet, but I think when the game becomes clear and we realize what we're watching, all those little things like the cut on Jack's neck or the date on Claire's sonogram being a month off from when flight 815 crashed in the first go-round will add up in a way that will take off the back of our heads.

So... straight into tonight's episode, where tons of ground was covered, and where some of my theories about this season were reinforced.  The "previously on" clips emphasized that Sawyer is still hurting over Juliet's death, and that he blames himself for it.  We saw Smokey kicking some ass again and heard Alterna-Locke's great line, "I'm sorry you had to see me like that."  There was a quick glimpse of Locke telling Boone on the flight about his walkabout, and then a shot of Locke as he wheeled off the plane to a cheery, "Welcome to LA."

And then... boom.  TIMELINE A.  Locke drives himself home from the airport.  Gets to his house.  And then as he tries to use an elevator platform on his van to let himself down.  It gets stuck, though, and when Locke tries to wheel himself off, he ends up doing a face-plant in the front yard.  Terribly undignified, especially when the sprinkler goes off.  And then just as it looks like Locke is having the worst day of all time, the front door of his house opens and who comes running out?

Helen.  Katey Sagal.  Holy crap.

Do you remember Helen?  She was going to marry John Locke, but his self-pity and his anger eventually ruined that.  In this timeline, though, it looks like the wedding is still going to happen.  While Locke relaxes in the bath, Helen talks to a caterer on the phone, then comes in to talk to Locke.  She asks him, "How was the conference?"  He lies.  Tells her it was good.  As she picks up his clothes, she finds Jack's card and asks about it.  He tries to shrug it off, tries to downplay it, but she tells him that he has to call.  "What are the odds of you meeting a spinal surgeon?  Maybe it's destiny."

See what I mean?  There's something going on in this timeline, some sort of universal course correction, and I think it's going to be incredible to see them bring it together.

TIMELINE B.  My favorite shot of the season so far is a POV shot as Smokey races over the Island, checking everything out.  He stops by Dharmaville for a moment to try and get a look into Sawyer's bungalow.  He keeps moving, out into the jungle again, where he stops, looking down at a machete.  And then Alterna-Locke steps into the frame.  In human form again.  Uhhhh... awesome.

There's a bag hanging there, and he cuts it down, revealing Richard Alpert.  He's looking rough.  Smokey pounded him like a red-haired stepchild.  And on that reveal...

BOOM.  LOST.  And our first commercial.

TIMELINE A.  Locke's back at work now.  At the box factory.  And Randy, his scumbag boss, does his best to prove himself a total scumbag once again with the way he corners Locke into repeating the lie that he'd been to a conference in Australia.  Once he's got him, Randy fires him, and he seems to enjoy doing it.

TIMELINE B.  Alterna-Locke offers Richard a little water.  Richard is still in shock, trying to make sense of what's happening.  "What do you want?" he manages to rasp.

"What I've always wanted," Alterna-Locke responds.  When Richard asks why he's using Locke's body, Alterna-Locke explains, "John Locke is a candidate."  This only leads to more questions, and the first big reveal of the episode:  Richard Alpert does not know the endgame.  It's funny how for a long time, Alpert and Ben Linus were played as the guys who knew What Is Up, but most of their appearances this season have been about how little they really understand.  Basically, they thought Jacob was the only game in town, and they're both starting to realize that they may have sadly underestimated the competition.

Alterna-Locke is basically laughing at Richard now, but he offers to explain everything to him if he'll come along, and Richard refuses.  Alterna-Locke tells him, "People seldom get second chances," but Richard still refuses.  Locke gets spooked when he sees a young blonde boy standing nearby and watching them, but when Alpert turns to look, the boy is gone.  Alterna-Locke is obviously uneasy about this, and he shrugs Alpert off.  "Be seeing you.  Sooner than you think."

Back at the statue, Ben goes back inside and he finds Ilana, sitting alone and crying.  "Am I interrupting?"  Ben tries to explain why happened, and she seems to simply absorb it all as fact, not at all surprised by the description of the giant smoke monster.  She asks about Jacob's death, and Ben tells his one lie of the conversation, saying it was the smoke monster who killed Jacob.  She goes to the fire where his body burned up and retrieves some of the ashes.  Ben realizes that Ilana understands what's going on, and asks why Alterna-Locke took Richard.

"He's recruiting."

At Dharmaville, Alterna-Locke goes back to Sawyer's bungalow, where the Stooges are on the stereo, blaring, and Sawyer's in his bedroom getting drunk.  Their exchange sums up the oddball wacko humor of this year's dialogue perfectly.

"Hello, James."

"Thought you were dead."

"I am."

COMMERCIAL.  And when we come back, Sawyer's pouring Alterna-Locke a drink.  He toasts him with a wry "Here's to being dead."  Sawyer doesn't really care what Alterna-Locke is or why he's dead or how.  He just tells him to drink up and get the hell out of his house.  Alterna-Locke tells him it's not his house, and it never was.  He tells him he was just living there for a while.  As he talk, Sawyer sizes up, finally asking him who he is.  He tells him that he knows he's not Locke because "Locke was scared.  You ain't scared."

Alterna-Locke asks Sawyer to come with him.  He tells him he can answer the most important question in the world:  "Why are you on this Island?"  Sawyer tells him that he may need to put on his pants for this.

TIMELINE A.  The wheelchair lift sticks again as Locke tries to leave the box factory, humiliated, the sting of being fired still fresh for him.  Frustrated, he throws his keys away, and he sets off a car alarm in the process.  As he's sitting there, pissed off, Hurley comes walking up, and this is the "luckiest man alive" version of Hurley we met on the flight at the start of the season.  Happy.  Confident.  John yells at him about his parking job, and Hurley points out that Locke could have parked in a handicapped spot.  John's not having it, though.  It's only once he realizes that Hurley is the guy who owns the box company that he finally smiles, amazed at how his luck seems to roll.  Hugo asks what John does for the company, and John tells him about being fired by Randy.  "Yeah, that's guy's a real douche," Hurley says.  He gives John a business card and tells him he also owns a temp agency, and that he'll set him up with another job if he calls that number.  He tells John things are going to be okay.

TIMELINE B.  Ilana and Ben walk out of the statue to join Sun and Frank, who are with John's body.  Ilana tells them that they need to get to the Temple, and when Sun asks why she should go there, Ilana tells her it's most likely where Jin is.  That blows Sun's mind, since she never mentioned Jin to this woman.  Before they go, though, Sun says they need to bury John.

At the same time, Alterna-Locke and Sawyer are walking together in the jungle when they see Spooky Kid again.  Alterna-Locke is a little surprised that Sawyer can see him, and he takes off after the kid, determined to catch him.  Alterna-Locke takes a nasty fall as he's running, and when he looks up, Spooky Kid is standing there, angry.  "You know the rules.  You can't kill him."

Alterna-Locke gets angry right back at him, practically snarling, "Don't tell me what I can't do.  DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO!"

COMMERCIAL.

Sawyer, who didn't chase after Spooky Kid, is walking alone now, calling for Locke, telling him he's going to go back if Locke doesn't come out.  Instead, it's Richard who comes stumbling out of the brush, all freaked out and skittish.  He wants Sawyer to go to the Temple with him.  He's shocked that Sawyer knows it's not the real John Locke but he's walking around with him anyway.  He tells Sawyer that Alterna-Locke is going to kill them all.  Before he can elaborate, he hears someone coming and runs off.

Sawyer turns to find Alterna-Locke standing there.

"Who are you talking to?"

"Nobody.  Did you ever catch up with that kid?"

"What kid?"

I love it.  I love that these two have no reason to trust each other, that they're both smart enough to know that there's a game afoot, and yet they're still willing to dance.

TIMELINE A.  Locke's at the temp agency that Hurley told him to visit, having one weird interview with a woman who should look familiar to eagle-eyed "Lost" fans.  She was the fake psychic who was supposed to make Hurley feel better a few seasons back.  Now she's asking Locke what animal he would be if he could be any animal.  He asks to talk to her supervisor, and the supervisor turns out to be none other than Rose.  Okay... by now, I'm sure that this storyline is all about the way fate is bringing these people together in this alternate timeline, no matter what.  I may not know exactly when the timeline is, but I can see the way the universe is tying itself in knots to put them all face-to-face anyway.

John asks for a construction job, and Rose tries to talk him out of it, saying it's not a realistic choice.  "What do you know about realistic?" he answers.  She tells him about her cancer, and about the way she dealt with it, the way she had to let go of her anger and just get on with living.

TIMELINE B.  Sawyer and Alterna-Locke.  Still walking.  Still talking.  Sawyer asks if Alterna-Locke reads books, and in particular if he's ever read "Of Mice And Men."  He tells him about it, about the way George eventually had to put Lenny down, and as he does, he draws a gun and threatens to shoot Alterna-Locke, who seems underwhelmed by the threat.

"What are you?" Sawyer asks.

"What I am is trapped."  There's a desperation to Alterna-Locke that is starting to show.  Yeah, he can turn into a giant smoke monster and kill a room full of dudes, but he's not all-powerful.  He's not omnipotent.  He explains that he used to be a man like Sawyer a long time ago, and as he talks, he plays into the grief that Sawyer is feeling.  Manipulating him.  Playing him until he puts the gun down.  "You're so close.  It would be such a shame to turn back now."  He walks off into the jungle again, and Sawyer follows.

COMMERCIAL.

On the beach, Ben and Ilana carry Locke's body.  She tells Ben that Alterna-Locke is stuck in this one particular human form at this point.  That's important.  They carry the body to the small make-shift cemetary, where there are a lot of crosses at this point, a quiet visual reminder of the toll this series has taken on these characters.  They bury John, and Ilana asks them who is going to speak for John, who knew him.  In the end, it's Ben who steps up to eulogize him.

"John Locke was a... 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."

As Frank says, "Weirdest damn funeral I've ever been to."

TIMELINE A.  Locke wakes up to his alarm and starts getting ready for his day of work.  As he does, he finds Jack's card again.  He calls it, and when the receptionist asks if she can help him, he replies, "No.  No, you can't."  And then he hangs up again.

Helen hears the tail end of things and asks why he hung up, and John comes clean with her.  He tells her he was fired.  He tells her he didn't go to the conference in Australia.  Before she can respond, there's a knock at the door, and his missing luggage is delivered.  He tells her to open it.  She finds all of his knives and asks what they were for.  He tells her about the walkabout, and the way he was refused.  "I'm sick of imagining my life out of this chair," he tells her.  He says she shouldn't wait for him to walk anymore, and that there are no such things as miracles.

"There are miracles, John," she tells him, tears in her eyes, "and the only thing I was ever waiting for was you."  They tear up Jack's card and throw it away, and then kiss.

TIMELINE B.  Sawyer and Alterna-Locke reach a cliff face by the water.  There is a flimsy little ladder set into it, and while I liked the staging of the climb down the ladders, it's just treading water.  They're not going to kill Sawyer by having some silly latter come unpinned from a rock wall.  We know that.  Once they finally get to the bottom, there's a cave there.  "What is this place" Sawyer asks.

Alterna-Locke walks over to a table, where there's a scale.  On it, there's one white stone and one black stone, the scale in balance.  Alterna-Locke plucks off the white stone and hurls it out into the water.  When Sawyer asks why, Alterna-Locke responds, "Inside joke."  Sawyer looks around, unimpressed, and asks if this is what Alterna-Locke wanted to show him.

Alterna-Locke lights a torch, then takes him to another chamber, further in.  "That's why you're here.  That's why you're all here."  Sawyer looks around and sees names written on the walls of the cave in chalk.  Many of them are crossed off, but we see a few we recognize.  Reyes.  Jirrah.

And in front of each name?  A number.  Ohhhhh, boy.

COMMERCIAL.

TIMELINE A.  Locke's a substitute.  That's the job the temp agency placed him with, and he seems to be good at it.  We see him coaching gym.  We see him in the classroom.  And then we see him in a hallway, trying to find the teacher's lounge.  When he goes inside, one of the teachers is complaining about how no one ever makes a fresh pot of coffee when they finish the last cup, and Locke says he's just looking for a good cup of tea.  The complaining teacher turns around and introduces himself.  "Benjamin Linus.  European History."

Uh-huh.  Keep telling me that Timeline A isn't important, "Lost" fans.  Go ahead.

TIMELINE B.  Sawyer's trying to make sense of what he's looking at.  "Who wrote all this?"

"His name was Jacob."

We see the names and the numbers in front of them, and this is the big one, the seismic shock of the episode.

4.  Locke.

8.  Reyes.

15.  Ford.

16. Jirrah.

23.  Shephard.

42.  Kwon.

And as we see the numbers, we see silent flashbacks to each of the moments when these people met Jacob, when he marked them.  Alterna-Locke explains that Jacob made all of them into puppets.  "You're a candidate," he tells Sawyer.

"What does that mean?"

Alterna-Locke says Jacob needed someone to step up after him to protect the Island.

"Protect it from what?"

"Nothing.  That's the joke."  Alterna-Locke explains that there are three things Sawyer can do with this information.  He can do nothing and see what happens.  He can accept the job and just become the new Jacob.  Or he can go.  Get off the Island.  Never look back.

"How do we do that?"

"Together.  What do you say, James?  Are you ready to go home?"

And with a look that says that someone's going to get hurt, Sawyer replies, "Hell, yes."

LOST.  Oh, boy. Lots to think about before next week, and I have a feeling we got some big pieces of mythology tonight, even if we don't fully get them yet.

My one question I'll leave you with is this:  who was Spooky Kid?  Because I don't think it's Jacob.  My guess is that we just met a grown-up Aaron, although I'm not really sure how that works.   I may be wildly wrong, but BOY, did that kid look like Claire.

See you next week, same time and channel.

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