Once again, it's tempting to simply fill this space with "Terry O'Quinn rocks!" over and over again and call it a day.
For nearly six seasons now, Locke has been the best character on a show full of great characters, and it was always a joy to watch O'Quinn portray him: his hope that he was made for something greater, his frustration at realizing he'd been had.
Now, in the show's final season, he has an even more interesting job: playing a new version of Locke who accepts his limitations and seems much happier for it, as well as the entity pretending to be John Locke: a powerful force, unlike Locke, never seems scared or doubtful.
And the contrast between those two characters, and the way the episode balanced mythology and character -- the way the best Losts do -- made it one of the series' better hours.
We begin with Locke -- sideways reality Locke -- returning from the airport. While getting out of his van, the chairlift gets stuck. He tries to roll off the lift, but gets thrown from his chair onto the lawn. His chair collapses, and the sprinkler system comes on, and he...laughs at himself.
Helen comes out of the house and helps him up. They're happy together. They're planning a wedding, and Locke's dad is invited. Helen finds Jack's business card, but Locke isn't too keen on calling him. Helen says it's destiny, but Locke dismisses that idea.
Obviously, a very different Locke, one who doesn't believe in destiny or miracles, and one who's learning to accept his limitations, and seems better off for it.
He struggles along the way during this episode -- refusing to use the handicap spot, wanting the construction job -- but eventually, he seems at peace with his lot in life. On the island, Ben gives a eulogy for Locke the "man of Faith," and in the sideways world, we see the birth of this new Locke (one who teaches science, no less, or at the very least, is a gym/health teacher teaching a scientific-based course).
And it's a wonderful thing to see, a happy, grounded Locke. The cameo appearances by sideways Hurley, Rose and Ben (as a history teacher where Locke subs, no less) were just the icing on the cake.
Back on the island, the Man in Black is not in peace. We start his part of the episode with an exhilarating, somewhat frightening shot shown from his -- its -- perspective as the Black Smoke makes a run through the jungle, first talking to Richard Alpert, then visiting with Sawyer, deep in alcohol-soaked depression since the last episode.
MIB promises answers, and Sawyer half-heartedly agrees, and they head off on this week's Trek Through the Jungle. Along the way, Sawyer runs into Richard (Nestor Carbonell did an amazing job conveying the character's outright terror over having the Black Smoke on the lose), and a young boy who warns MIB that he can't "kill him," because "there are rules."
Who is this kid, and why does MIB seem so scared of him? Smart money's on "young Jacob." Does that mean Jacob and MIB were on the island as children?
At any rate, their trip brings them to a cave.
Oh boy...the cave.
We could write a few thousand words on this scene alone, as Sawyer learns what we suspected from last year's finale: that when Jacob touched all the characters in their pre-island lives, he was somehow setting the course that brought them to the island.
The walls of the cave are graffitied with names, and I'm sure that within the next 12 hours, there will be shot-for-shot analyses of the scene, going over each name, the numbers next to them, and who was or wasn't crossed out, and what the numbers next to specific names might mean.
(For example, as someone on Twitter pointed out, the name Shephard -- as in Jack -- has the number 23 next to it. The 23rd Psalm is the one that begins "the lord is my shepherd.")
But what's really interesting are the three options MIB offers Sawyer, all of which seem to involve doing nothing or simply leaving the island. (Sawyer chooses this one.)
"It's just a damned island," MIB says, rejecting the Jacob worldview that the island needs protecting, and that people like Locke, and now Sawyer, are "candidates" to take on that role of protector.
All of this ties into the debate about Jacob, the Black Smoke, and who's good and who's evil. Maybe the answer is "neither."
It's much more interesting to have Jack, Kate, etc. caught in a battle between two malevolent forces, one of which has no faith in humanity and wants to be free (MIB), the other who's obsessed with people bettering themselves for some vague, "noble" purpose, and if people get hurt or killed along the way, well, so be it.
Jacob's white rock might be at the bottom of the Pacific, and Locke might be buried, but I doubt this battle is over yet. A lot to think about, and a great, great episode.