Perhaps the most intriguing thing about “The Substitute” is the presence of the blonde-headed child with blood on his hands who seems to haunt the Nemesis. A lot of theories have been floated about. Everything from “he is Jacob” to “he is Aaron.” My favorites so far have been that the boy is either a god above the likes of Jacob and the Nemesis, or the Nemesis’ dead child. The latter theory in particular has sparked my imagination since I read it on Nikki Stafford’s website. There’s so much being said over there about it that you should go there. Instead, I want to talk about a different element involving the blood-stained boy.
Blood is a very interesting thing in literature. It can have several different meanings. It is a symbol of life, vitality, salvation, guilt, emotional wounds, weakness, bad omens, conflict and war. Taking the context of the situation in “The Substitute” I don’t think it would be remiss to remove “life,” “vitality” and “salvation” from the discussion table.
With this thought in mind, the bloody child may very well be a representation of the Nemesis’ own guilt for overseeing Jacob’s murder. Metaphorically, he has Jacob’s blood on his hands, much like Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, who was the one to put an end to Caesar’s life. Under the statue, Jacob spoke his last words right before the Nemesis kicked him into the fire. I’ve felt since the moment I saw the scene in “The Incident” that there was a connection between that moment and Caesar’s death in the Senate building. The Nemesis had developed a conspiracy, like Cassius, and brought in the unwitting Ben Linus to do his dirty work. And like Caesar’s death, the death of Jacob is going to bring about a war for the claiming of the Island.
At the same time, we can interpret this moment to be a revelation of the Nemesis’ emotional wounds. Taking the theory that the child is none other than the Nemesis’ dead son, it would be easy to see how seeing the boy opened those wounds in his heart. Like Ben Linus before him, who watched his daughter die at his own lack of action, perhaps the Nemesis watched his own son die. This would explain the judgment in the bowels of the Temple at the end of “Dead is Dead” in season five: the Nemesis was putting Ben’s sins before him to make a connection with the defeated man.
We are spending so much time trying to figure out the identity of the child, though, that we are not considering what it reveals about the character of the Nemesis. The blood on the boy’s hands is no doubt more indicative of the blood on the hands of the Nemesis.
The question has also arisen as to why Sawyer saw the boy, but Richard Alpert did not. One explanation has been made that Richard couldn’t see the boy because there was too much foliage, so only the Nemesis had a good line of sight. I’m not buying it, but it’s plausible. Another explanation is that Sawyer, like Hurley, has the ability to see the dead.
What if the answer were simpler? Maybe the Island wanted Sawyer to see the child, but not Richard. With all the talk of Jacob and the Nemesis, I think we’ve forgotten that the Island is a magical place. Obviously, not every vision is the Nemesis changing form; the boy proves it. The Island must be doing this for an essential reason. Why would the Island want Sawyer to see the boy? Maybe it has something to do with becoming a protector. After all, Sawyer was the head of security for the Dharma Initiative, and the self-appointed “new Sheriff in town.” Maybe the job is tailor made for him.
Besides why Sawyer saw the boy, I’m equally interested in why the boy had blood on his hands when the Nemesis saw him the first time while with Richard, but not the second time when he is with Sawyer. Why the change? What was being communicated to the Nemesis? Did the boy get cleaned up for Sawyer because he wanted to save his scary hands for alone time with the Nemesis? Only the Nemesis is supposed to be reminded of his guilt. The blood is for him alone.
This was one of the most compelling questions of season 6 from the most compelling episode.