Another week, another pointless flash-sideways. And until we make some headway on the connection between the two worlds, I have a sinking feeling that the Earth-2 stories are going to remain strictly what-if affairs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m just not sure what else to make of them for the time being. Thankfully, Locke is a much more interesting character than Kate, so I didn’t really mind learning more about his Earth-2 counterpart. It was nice to see Katey Sagal return as Helen Norwood (now engaged to marry Locke), but despite some sweet moments between the two, the real fun came in his chance meetings with a few other familiar faces.

After getting fired for using the company’s expense account to fund his walkabout in Sydney, Locke leaves the office to discover the wheelchair access ramp in his van blocked by a big yellow Hummer. And who should that Hummer belong to but Hurley, who just so happens to own the company. Better yet, when he hears about Locke’s situation, he gladly offers him another job through a local temp agency that he also owns. (There was no mention of Locke blowing thousands of dollars on his trip, but Hurley’s a pretty laidback dude, so I guess he didn’t mind much.) The office supervisor at said temp agency is also none other than Rose, and as an annoying Disney-owned theme park ride would remind us over and over again, “It’s a small world after all.”

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Still, for as great as those cameos may have been, they were nothing when compared to the last reveal, which found Locke taking a job as a substitute teacher, only to stroll into the teacher’s lounge during lunch to find Ben Linus going on a rant about someone failing to replace the filter in the coffee machine. Something tells me this is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Of course, if the Earth-2 characters ever learn anything about their mirror lives, chances are it won’t last long once Locke finds out about all the times his new buddy tried to kill him – and finally succeeded.

At least Ben is finally apologizing for it on Earth-1. I’m sure no one was expecting him to just come out and say it (Most. Uncomfortable. Funeral. Ever.), but it’s definitely a big step for someone like him. It’ll be interesting to see what role he plays in the rest of the season, because now that Smokey is done using him, what more is there for Ben to do? At least Sun still has to be reconnected with Jin, and though Ilana suggests they head to the temple to search for him there, we already know Jin’s long gone. Talk about shitty luck. First he was nearly killed on the freighter and now he’s Savage Claire’s prisoner.

But enough about that for now, because we have plenty to discuss in regards to Smokey’s ongoing mission to get off the island. I thought it was pretty brave of Richard to decline Smokey’s offer to join him, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less scared. Sawyer, on the other hand, doesn’t seem fazed by any of it. In fact, he knows that Smokey isn’t Locke (“I don’t care if you’re dead, or time traveling, or the Ghost of Christmas Past”), but all he wants to do is drink. That quickly changes once Smokey offers proof of why he’s on the island, prompting Sawyer to follow him to a cave where hundreds of names have been written on the inside. Most are crossed out, except for a few, including Sawyer, Jack, Hurley, Sayid, Locke, and either Sun or Jin. All people that Jacob came in contact with earlier in their lives, and each with a number before it that correlates with the mysterious numbers from the hatch.

Of course, Smokey writes off that bit of information as Jacob simply having a “thing for numbers,” but I think that’s just the writers’ way off burying a long-standing island mystery that was never really important to begin with. As for why their names have been written on the cave wall, it’s because Jacob deemed them potential candidates to take over as protector of the island. In response, Smokey gives Sawyer three options (walk away, accept the job, or leave the island), and seeing as how much Sawyer has hated the island ever since he arrived, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see him pick the third one. After all, if Smokey’s going to have a travelling companion, it might as well be someone as entertaining as Sawyer.

In light of this revelation about the candidates, there are a few interesting things worth noting. For starters, although there are six people listed from the original group of Oceanic 815 survivors, they’re not the same ones as the Oceanic Six. Additionally, Kate is missing from the group, despite the fact that she was also visited by Jacob as a child. What makes them so special or her so unqualified? Also, is it a matter of choosing between Jin and Sun, or do they, as a couple, count as one candidate? With Locke and Sawyer already crossed off the list, not to mention Sayid’s possible disqualification now that he’s “infected,” it’s looking more likely that Jack will be the one to take over Jacob’s duties. But if the role of protector is just as pointless as Smokey suggests, doesn’t it present the same predicament of pressing the hatch button every 108 minutes?

On a side note, I loved Smokey’s inside joke of throwing the white rock into the ocean, thus leaving the black rock on the scale to signify the change in the balance of power on the island. Oh, and who is this kid running around the jungle that Smokey and Sawyer can see, but Richard can’t? He mentioned something to Smokey about some kind of rule preventing him from killing Sawyer. Is this another loophole that he’ll have to find a way around, and if so, how will he manage to do it if he’s stuck looking like Locke for the rest of his existence? Who knows, but at the very least, we won’t have to wait as long for the answers to these questions as we did for the one about those damn numbers.