The best thing about the alternate reality we're seeing this season (really don't want to use the term flash-sideways) is that despite being killed last year Locke is still a part of the show, not just Terry O'Quinn. This episode wasn't a tradition centric episode as it really focussed on two separate characters, but it was great to watch nonetheless.
I'll start with the alternate reality in which we find Locke returning home after not being allowed on his walkabout. The main argument I could see against this new timeline is that it doesn't really answer any mysteries due to the fact everything seems to have changed a bit. Also, if you don't listen to the official podcasts, there's no indication if these scenes will have any relevance to the main timeline. However I find that more than balanced out by the way it seems to reward hardcore fans of the show. My mum watches Lost but I doubt she could've told you if Locke and Helen were together before he boarded flight 815, so that difference feels like something that's a reward for the fans that obsess about the show such as myself.
The other thing that makes these scenes so great is the reason we're all here in the first place: quality drama and storytelling. Against the more epic stuff on the island these lighter stories work nicely, especially when they're as well told as it was here. John Locke had found a purpose on the island and had been healed from being in a wheelchair; but what if that had never happened. What if the man of faith was simply wrong and had to go on living his life. That is the story told here and it was great to watch. After four seasons of flashbacks to before Locke got to the island we'd seen basically everything, so these flash-sideways (fine I'll say it) allow us to see a different and new story with the same character.
And it was great to see Locke continue to battle against his disability, openly refusing to accept it. From insisting he could work a construction job to simply not wanting to park in a disabled spot all wrung true for the character. To that end him openly admitting to everything to Helen at the end was a huge moment, and was played out very nicely by the superb Terry O'Quinn. So it was a very human story with a lot of heart as well as a few easter eggs that may or may not be important to the overall mystery of this reality. But as far as character links go the best was saved for last. We've seen The fantastic Michael Emerson play Ben as manipulative, controlling, borderline evil and even loving (towards his mother and Alex); but we'd never seen him petty before and it was fantastic. Sure the fact Ben is alive and off the island could be a large part of the overall puzzle, but just seeing him as school teacher annoyed about a coffee pot was fantastic and something I never even thought would happen on the show! When comedy can mix with drama and mystery so well you know they're onto a winner!
On the island the reveal of Claire alive as well as the temple folk was overlooked to concentrate on the Monster version of Locke and the main characters who were outside Jacob's home. This was an issue I had last season, and pretty much have had all through the show, that it's annoying when plot threads need to be overlooked because there's so much going on. It's great that the show is so complex and intriguing, but it would've been nice if we'd gotten a bit from the temple. Still what we did get was still great fun to watch.
The opening shot of the Monster moving through the island was pretty cool, although I didn't like the flash cuts but I guess they were needed as doing it all in a sweeping one shot would've been borderline impossible. The focus being on our fake Locke was very entertaining and gave us a bit more about him, without truly answering anything in typical Lost fashion. The main new mystery introduced here was him seeing a young boy. It was kind of surreal as the Monster has appeared like that to people before, to see something/ someone appear to him in the same manner was a bit weird. Also while I'm fully on board with compelling storytelling, the sudden introduction of this seemingly new character is similar to the man in black turning up as a major player at the start of the season 5 finale. Is it not too little too late to be introducing such huge characters? Still I guess that man in black turned out to be the Monster and therefore in it longer than Jacob, so I'm withholding judgement on this kid for now.
As for the rest of Monster Locke's time it was mainly spent with Sawyer. So many times over the course of the show something terrible has happened to Sawyer that has made me think his character will suffer quality-wise as a result, but every time he becomes more compelling because of it. The death of Juliet has been no different so far and while drunk in his underpants when we first ran into him here he was still as awesome as ever. I loved that he new Locke wasn't the real Locke almost straight away. As a con man it made perfect sense that he could read people so well and after everything he's seen on the island just because this guy had the same face didn't rule out the possibility of him not being John Locke. Also from a story point of view it allowed us to avoid the awkward explanation scene of how this Locke ties into everything which allowed for it to move on at a nice pace.
The two shared some great and well written scenes. Sawyer's tirade about why he was stuck on the island against Locke telling him otherwise was great, as was Sawyer's bit about "Of Mice and Men". Of course the episode's big reveal was all the names on in the cave with numbers by them. It was a great moment that nicely followed on from Jacob meeting and touching everyone in the season 5 finale (I said at the time the physical contact bit was important). It was that great kind of Lost moment that throws out loads of theories, some a bit daft (Shephard must be Jack not Christian) while still moving the plot forward. Locke then saying that the island doesn't need protecting was an interesting point and it'll be interesting to see if he truly believes that or if he was simply playing Sawyer. Sawyer's agreeing to leave the island with him was a big moment that was a cool ending leaving us satisfied with what we'd got this week, while also hungry to see what happens next.
As well as all that there were also some cool scenes on the island with Sun, Illana, Frank and Ben. Illana revealing that she knows about Jin was played subtly enough that it worked nicely with the other info we got this week and Ben admitting to Locke's murder seemed like a rare genuine moment for the character. Still while a great episode it wasn't perfect. As already mentioned the lack of many of the main characters in any episode is always annoying and, maybe we were spoiled a bit in the premiere but, the episode wasn't as fast paced as I would've liked. Sure a lot happened, but with only 14 hours left I wanted a bit more. Still none of that really takes away from what was another great entry in this finale season of Lost.