When this episode first aired, it was recognized as one of the strongest and most critical episodes of the season. Four years later, it is equally true that this episode was important probably in relationship to one character in particularly, and perhaps the series. Naturally, it involves the island's disciple Locke, and because of that I will be going over 'Deus ex Machina, with a fine-tooth comb.
Locke has revealed in previous episodes that he was raised by foster families and that his father was not a good man. We have no idea how much he's understating that. The episode begins, however, with a flashback to when Locke met his mother Emily. We don't see much of her and she seems a bit spacey, which is why a lot of people probably dismissed her talk about his being part of a larger plan, and that he was immaculately conceived. Now we later learn she suffers from a form of schizophrenia, and has been in and out of institutions. However, considering the plane crash, and the fact that a huge amount of Locke's activities are critical to the island, I can't help but wonder if maybe there's something to it. Was the island guiding his mother even then?
This later leads to Locke tracking down his birth father, Anthony Cooper. Let me raise the question, what proof to we have that Cooper was Locke's father? For one thing, there's the fact that in the life of the 'real' John Locke, there was a man named Anthony Cooper who Locke as a physician helped save his life. Since the writers of this show do not choose these names by chance, maybe they're trying to send the viewer a subtle message. By the time this episode's flashbacks are over, we learn that Cooper was a con man. Is it possible that he used Locke's mother as part of a larger con in believe that he was never his actual father at all, but merely played upon his desperation like he did on so many other people? (On pure casting choice, I have a problem with it as well. Kevin Tighe and Swoozie Kurtz are both incredible actor, but unless the flashbacks in Locke's life have gone back really far--- all right, I'll concede the hair---- neither is really old enough to be playing his parents. This might just be do the casting directors part as well, but I'm still opposed to it) Basically, he would have been a lot better off if he'd just followed the detectives advice and left him alone, but Locke is desperate for any kind of love That is why he worships Cooper so much, it's why he will never be truly able to get Cooper out of his head, and will eventually send him on the path to the island.
There's also a critical point when Cooper asks Locke if he is a hunter. At the time of this episode, he's working at a toy store, and clearly doesn't seem as well textured as before. We get the feeling he only becomes a hunter because his father wants him to be. It will be several years before we learn that despite Locke's militarist behavior on the island, it was a while before he accepted that part of his nature.
On the island, Locke has reached a critical point as well. For two weeks, he and Boone have been trying to get inside the hatch, but haven't been able to find a way in. Boone is starting to lose his faith, and it's pretty clear Locke is, too. To test his faith still more, the miracle made him the island disciple--- the restoration of his legs--- is beginning to disappear as well. He is beginning to make demands of the island, and the island sends him a sign.
Oh, does he get one. After having a prophetic dream involving himself and Boone in which he sees a Beechcraft airplane fly through the sky, they walk through the woods to an increasingly stranger series of things. For starters, there is the skeleton of a priest, armed with a wad of cash--- which Locke identifies as Nigerian--- and a gun. Eventually, the body leads them to a crashed plane, perched precariously in a tree. Locke tells Boone to climb in, and search it, mainly because he can't walk, but also because he has some idea of what's going to come next.
We still don't know how this plane got there, but next season we'll learn where it came from, and who was on it. Boone, however, finds out that the plane was carrying ceramic Virgin Mary's with heroin in them He is about to dismiss this entirely, when he finds that the radio is still working. He tries to send out a message and seems to reach someone. However, if we listen carefully to the transmission, when Boone says that they're the survivors of Flight Oceanic 815, the response is: "We're the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815" This has also sorts of implications, but before anyone can think of it, the plane does what you knew was going to happen, and plunges off the cliff--- leaving Boone horribly, perhaps mortally wounded.
Locke does his part in getting Boone back to Jack, but he doesn't stay around . Instead, he heads back to the hatch, claiming that "I've done everything you asked! To the island. Then a light goes on in the hatch.
This simple gesture has not yet been explained. Near the end of season 2, we will get one rather mundane explanation as to how it happened. However, did someone from inside the hatch simply flick a switch? Or was it the answer that Locke was looking for? When his faith is tested again, Locke will switch to the former possibility and he will have a good reason to do so, and there is the possibility that someone was watching him, toying with his head, and decided to do this for just that reason. The answers are still fuzzy, but this question will finally be answered this season (so says TV Guide).
The writers recognize that this is crucial and devote the majority of the episode to Locke. However, simultaneously Sawyer is now suffering from increasingly worse headaches, which are making him even less likable (if such a thing were possible) Jack is probably reluctant to do anything to help him, and sure as hell enjoys toying with him (the questions he asks Sawyer and his reactions are hysterical) before finally telling him that he is far-sighted, which is exactly what he is. He is so focused on the future (when he can finally get revenge on the real Sawyer) that he is completely unable to enjoy life. Ironically, it is because of Locke and the island, he will get that chance, but even then his far-sightedness will not help him get past it.
The end of the episode is so shocking that the writers don't start to play with it until the next one in sequence, but we already have a feeling that unless that there's a real deus ex machina, poor Boone's doomed. Locke will disappear for the majority of it, which Jack will not let him forget, and everything is about to change--- again.