Where is the criminal also known as Kate? What became of the mysterious Juliette? They were lost, in seems, in this collection of adoration for the Lost boys. Yet not one chose the truly duplicitous, most complex boy of all as their favorite character: Benjamin Linus. Perhaps that entry didn’t make the deadline…
Like a Charlie Brown—Turned Rambo
John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) is like the Charlie Brown of the castaways. Fate yanked the football away from Locke every time he ran to take a kick, and he always ended up flat on his back, again.
After being born prematurely to a 15-year-old mentally ill girl, he grew up sickly, was conned into giving up a kidney for his father – who eventually pushed him out of an eighth story window, which left him paralyzed – and then ended up working for an abusive boss at a box company while paying for the artifice of a relationship with a phone sex operator. John Locke couldn’t even enjoy an Australian walkabout vacation because of his paralysis. As a result, he was an angry man who lacked purpose but not questions, and he demanded the universe to answer, “Why me?”
However, after the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, John Locke was reborn a running, hunting, knife-throwing zenlike badass. For a time, Locke was the castaway’s answer to Caine from Kung Fu, acting as a protector and spiritual guide. As the man-of-faith counterpart to Jack Shephard’s man-of-science, Locke saw signs of destiny everywhere on the island, and expressed no desire to leave his new home.
However, his “in Island we trust” obsessions led to carelessness and death (primarily Boone’s). When he was loyal to the island, it tested him, and when he lost his faith, it punished him. Whether it was digging up the hatch, pushing the buttons, leading the Others or trying to return the Oceanic Six to the island, Locke was plagued by constant failure along with his inability to let go of his emotional baggage.
Locke is a man who simply wants to be valuable, not unlike many of us, Locke is instead a plaything for the universe. He is jerked around by everyone he knows, and is a poor schmoe whose triumphs are short-lived. He seeks answers, discovers faith, struggles to survive, but always remains disappointed and confused, including within his final living thought of “I don’t understand.” John Locke personifies the struggle, perseverance and, ultimately, the fall of man.
When Locke left the island to retrieve his friends, he died without fulfilling his purpose. Although the philosopher he was named after argued that the soul is a blank slate, authored by us alone, the character of John Locke needed the path written for him. Perhaps it was, and that path was to return to his beloved island reborn yet again, but this time as a puppet once more.
For as powerful as post-crash Locke was, he was always a man easily manipulated because of his faith and willingness to trust all the wrong people. This, coupled with his desperate need to be special, made him a constant pawn (to his father, Ben, Widmore, Jacob, the Island itself). It makes sense that as the series draws to a close, he is still a pawn in death. Serving as the shell –and perfect candidate—for the Man in Black, Locke finally has purpose: As a very unreasonable archvillian preparing for a final showdown with the newly faithful man, his old friend Jack Shephard.
As Cursed as Job
His name says it all – you have John: the guise of the everyman, the disappointed dreamer always being told what “he can’t do”, a man whose actions fail to leave an impression in the sands of time. Think back to season one – think back to “Walkabout”. Reflect on Terry O’Quinn’s embodiment of disappointment and painful realization.
Locke, though, (as Lost producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have told us), references the 17th century British philosopher of the same name, a man who pioneered the concept of tabula rosa (also the name of a first season Lost episode) which suggests that the mind is a blank slate and that knowledge is accumulated through experience.
On the Island, Locke’s body is used by a Monster – a darkness festering and spreading wickedly on an otherwise utopian paradise. Locke’s temple is now nothing more than a vehicle of unflinching evil. Dude can’t catch a break.
In the Sideways world, things are different. He’s engaged to his love Helen; he’s found his passion (or at least a paying job he’s good at) in substitute teaching. He’s even going out for that experimental spinal surgery Jack bugged him about. Still, his old life beckons through the haunting crossworld pulse that has begun seeping through the castaways.
John Locke was a blank slate, a man who wanted to fill his world with experience, a man who dared to dream for more than what his wheelchair, his wretched family, his boss, and his day job would allow him. Locke is the everyman. Locke (to keep the constant Biblical undertones of Lost flowing) is also Job. He is a man cursed on Earth – by God, by fate, by science. Or maybe just by bad luck. Yet through it all Locke never stopped believing, even up to his death by the hands of Benjamin Linus.
Locke Lost, May Be Found
Part of the reason that John Locke has evolved into my favorite Lost character is the unparalleled performance of Terry O’Quinn. We’ve watched Locke morph from a broken human being (in every sense of the word) to a man empowered with purpose and passion and back again. Both his drive and his weakness come from faith—his trust in other people, his belief that any success is a reward for devotion, his pained frustration when he repeatedly fails to motivate others through shared belief. It’s only when he resorts to violence on the island (or the threat thereof) that he is actually able to lead, yet when he assumes a place of leadership it is that very belief in its organic origins that cause him to be taken advantage of yet again.
Off the island, in either timeline, Locke is a man desperate for love, for attention, for validation of worth. His desperation leads to some naive and bad choices, but he only harms himself, never another. He is a seeker who feels like he might have lost his way. Who can’t identify with that?
With three hours left to go, it’s not yet clear when and where the real John Locke ends and the entity of John Locke begins. However, I believe we’ve seen that even something as powerful as the Smoke Monster can be impacted by Locke’s personality and traits, and perhaps it’s that crack in the armor that will allow the humanity that was once the Man in Black to take control at the end, much like Lord Vader did once a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
So Damnedly, Determined
“Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” This frequently expressed Locke-ism speaks to the man’s most maddening and endearing trait: perseverance. John Locke is a seeker; one who was given the gift of legs and never stopped moving in the direction of his purpose. We never quite know if he’s leading our castaways to certain doom, but we follow Locke down the hatch because he continues to wrestle fate. For Locke more than any other character, the island is freedom from the cruel reality of another life, and his special case of redemption provides fuel for the belief that there is meaning to be found for the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815.
One man’s tenacity is another man’s delusion, and the actor straddling that line with brilliance is Terry O’Quinn, a journeyman who found his perfect role at the age 51. O’Quinn’s singular contribution to John Locke’s character is his sense of joy in tribulation, a man who never forgets the gift of legs.