Hot damn! Without a doubt, The Substitute is easily the best hour of Season 6 so far. Screw Claire, Jack, Kate or the Temple. Give me Locke, Richard and the show's extensive mythology.
Locke's story in the alternative timeline was flawless. The amount of raw emotion pulling our heartstrings was only matched by the intensity of the revelations we were given. Locke is friends with his father? The MIB used to be an ordinary human? The all knowing Richard Alpert is completely clueless as to what is happening? The fact that Ben has no hesitations to conceal his emotions when it comes to murdering Jacob, but simultaneously pours out his regrets when attending Locke's funeral (combined with Frank's comment at the end) was absolutely priceless.
This episode is a 9.5 out of 10. Not quite as tightly organized as The Constant, but it's a worthy successor to Walkabout, Locke's first centric episode.
Now, back to my predictions...
Claimed = In The Smoke Monster's Army
We know that the Temple Others appear aligned against those who are "claimed", so it's a safe bet that being "claimed" means you are effectively recruited into MIB's side. Odds are Claire was claimed after MIB (in the guise of Christian Sheppard) led her away from Aaron and into the cabin. She's definately not on Jacob's list anymore, as the cliffside cave ceiling showed "313 Littleton" crossed out. While a number of fans are speculating this references Aaron, but in my book, it's Claire. Just like how we've endlessly speculated about Walt's "specialness", I don't think Aaron is going to have nearly as crucial of a role in this show as some people theorize. IMO, the key players in the end are going to be the folks they've been showing us week after week.
This isn't Jacob's handwriting on the wall
Speaking of the cave ceiling, I don't believe MIB when he said that Jacob wrote the names on the ceiling. The cave doesn't strike me as Jacob's, but rather MIB's. Jacob has his home-under-the-statue/foot, so odds are this is MIB's home away from home. If that's the case, odds are this is MIB's hit list. He has been writing down the names of Jacob's candidates, and then has been systematically having them killed (such as telling Locke that he needed to die) or "claimed" (as in the case of Claire & Sayid).
I've said it before, "The Candidates" will replace Jacob and the MIB
My theory that the "Candidates" are Jacob's replacements just got a big credibilty boost. Biggest issue with it is that it was revealed by the MIB (who is a master manipulator), but the best lies are often couched in truths... Additionally, MIB also revealed that he used to be an ordinary human before becoming what he is today. It should be interesting when Frank asks Ilana what the hell Bram meant about him being a candidate. Given the flashbacks with Jacob, I seriously doubt that Frank is a candidate, but he doesn't know that. More importantly, this is LOST, so nobody ever asks a logical follup question.
Invisible Jungle Ghost Kid is Jacob
The only two who appear to know what the rules are seem to be Jacob and MIB, so my money is that invisible jungle ghost kid is a manifestation of Jacob. The invisible jungle ghost kid clearly said "You know the rules, you can’t kill him." This seems to be a reference to killing Jacob, however it could very well be about Sawyer (and all other Candidates).
Kate's Number Is Significant
Given that Kate is a canidadate, I'd be surprised if her name and number wasn't on the ceiling. The fact that they didn't mention it makes me think that to reveal her number would have clued us into something the writers want under wraps. If her number was 12, we'd be celebrating that she'd isn't special enough to get one of the show's magic numbers (and give us hope she might get killed off before the end). If it was 108 or 815, we'd be howling with rage that one of the most annoying cast members has such a significant number attached to her.
Richard lost his training wheels and only has his faith in Jacob's instructions to sustain him
Richard doesn't know a damn thing about the inner details of the conflict between Jacob and MIB. He knows a lot about the island and the Others, but honestly, the Others seem mostly in the dark about the mythology of the show half the time. He clearly has a previous history with MIB, which undoubtably will be covered in detail. It's apparently enough to convince him that he shouldn't abandon Jacob's instructions, and is staying as far away from MIB as he can. The scene showing Richard and Sawyer talking was priceless, as Richard was completely terrified of his current circumstances. (After all, his life has just gone to hell after being pretty stable for centuries...)
Final thoughts.... I had no idea that the fortune teller that Hurley's dad took him too was in the episode until someone pointed it out to me. She was the employment councillor in the Alternate Timeline that asked John what sort of animal he would be. The fact that the writers are focusing on details like having obscure characters show up in the alternate universe makes me feel more confident that they actually have a coherent plan as to how this will end.
Speaking of obsure characters, when Locke rolled into the teacher's lounge, the woman in the foreground looked a lot like Harper (Goodwin's wife). Nobody has mentioned it, so odds are it isn't. Still, a boy can dream.
Anyway, it was an excellent episode that reminds me why I watch this show in the first place. I can only cross my fingers and pray that the rest of the season is this fantastic!