[20 May 2010]
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.
The Man With the Squared Jaw
I have to be honest. In the grand scheme of the show Locke was my favourite character, his arc the most tragic, his fate the most shocking, but Locke is universally acclaimed and I want to use this space to rehabilitate a character that while at the forefront of the show, remains extremely divisive.
Positioned as the de facto hero of the show Jack Sheppard, due to his profession, is immediately thrust into heavy responsibility from the pilot episode. It soon becomes apparent that his solid nature is not quite as ironclad as we would believe, his flashbacks tell of a man always in the shadow of his father trying to live up to him and with a compulsive need to “fix everything”. This slightly arrogant trait leads to some very bad decisions over the course of the series and for a while I believed the writers just loved making Jack “be wrong”.
Rumours began to circulate that Matthew Fox was considering leaving the show, and while it was never confirmed, it was apparent that during the second and third seasons the character was definitely made more unsympathetic. The obsessive and self-righteous components of his personality were emphasised and this turned a lot of people off the character.
One cannot fault Fox’s performance, exemplified best in two key scenes which showcase the actor’s subtle emoting, rather than the histrionics occasionally on display. The first is the moment when, via Other surveillance technology, Jack is confronted with the image of Sawyer and Kate in a post coital embrace following their capture. Confronted with the woman he loves in the arms of another man, he gives this ‘look’ which conveys that he is heartbroken.
The second scene is during the discovery that Claire is Jack’s half sister. While people might debate the soap opera tendencies of this story, Fox nails the mixture of intense feelings at this stunning piece of information. It’s a wonderful moment. He also excelled in his role,the more disillusioned his character became, consistently delivering a nuanced portrayal, making his character much more than the square-jawed hero we originally thought he was.
That Damned Wise Guy
What started off as an archetypal Southern Grifter slowly gained momentum as Sawyer continued to show a particularly nasty streak. Sawyer consistently refused to listen to orders, hoarded the camp’s water, and stole the stash of weapons, all with a sarcastic sneer at the side of his mouth.
In spite of his biting wit and dark moods, we liked him. He’s quite the wit, with his off-the-cuff nicknames (see quotes from Sawyer here on YouTube). We found ourselves curious about what book he was reading – perhaps we’ve read it, too. When we found out about his past, we realized where Sawyer’s juvenile habits come from. He’s still that kid under the bed. In that regard, we can all relate.
A Big Burly Bundle of Love
While all of the characters on Lost have proven to be dynamic, perhaps the most compelling of them all is Hugo “Hurley” Reyes. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with most of the Losties, however, even at his worst, Hurley has always been a big, burly bundle of love. Throughout his life, Hurley made the best of every bad hand dealt to him. He possesses a sense of honor and dignity beneath the comic façade, often choking back the tears of a clown.
Overweight, frequently punctuating his sentences with “dude”, and having labored at an unsatisfying job with Mr. Cluck’s for years before winning the lottery, Hurley is the Lostie most people can easily find themselves relating to. He has loved and lost (love interest Libby, friend Charlie, members of his own family whom he believed to be victims of his “cursed” lottery ticket, etc.) and readily shows his emotions. (I still laugh, but understand Hurley’s terror after stepping on an urchin, desperately trying to break the language barrier with Jin, screaming “Pee on my foot!”)
Like most of the Lostaways, Hurley seeks redemption. Once he discovers his purpose, he fully accepts it, tempering his solemn duties (he sees dead people, dude) with a sense of compassion and good humor.
Hug Me, Hurley
Dude, clearly Lost’s best character is Hugo “Hurley” Reyes. Hurley is the heart of the series. He serves as an almost unofficial surrogate for the viewer. Part of Hurley’s appeal lies in his complete sincerity and his genuine loyalty to his friends. Despite his own tortured past (in a cast of characters filled with tortured pasts), Hurley still just wants to do the right thing. He’s funny, insecure, scared, and usually not that interested in finding all the answers, but he is interested in making sure his friends are okay.
As far as nice characters usually go, they often tend toward bland, one-dimensional, and boring. Hurley is the exception in that he has such a natural charm that you can’t help but root for him. In the recent episode “The Candidate”, as Hurley, Kate, Sawyer, and Jack all mourn Sun and Jin, it is Hurley’s emotional breakdown that has the most resonance and connects most viscerally with the audience. In the end, Hurley is the conscience of the show and Lost would be a very different, less fulfilling series without him.
Desmond, the Dearest
If Jack Shepard is the brain of the series and John Lock is its faith, then Desmond Hume is certainly Lost’s heart. Sure, we’ve had the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love polygon with us from the start, but the sweeping romance of the series belongs to Desmond and Penny. For her, he’d enter a sailing contest around the world to prove his worth. For her, he’d conquer Time itself (using her as his constant—so romantic). With her, he’d have a happy family [with a baby named Charlie, (tear)] so fairy-tale perfect.
I’ve had a number of people tell me that if the finale somehow messed with them, they’d throw their TVs out the window. Rather than choose allegiances between Jack and Locke, Ben or Widmore, or Jacob and the Man in Black, Desmond has always played for Team Desmond—with Penny, not the power of the island’s electromagnetic properties, as his ultimate prize. Through this, it seems like he quietly has gotten the better of everybody, understanding more about the island and time travel than anyone else, making subtle mockery of Jack’s “live together, die alone” mantra. (Desmond does far better on his own.) Besides, it just sounds really cool when he calls people “brother”.
“I’ll see you in another life, brother.” With that immortal line, Desmond Hume became the coolest/most quotable character on Lost (not counting John Locke, of course). He also became something that wasn’t apparent until this season’s sideways world storyline: a prophet. Given Desmond’s role within said storyline, another thing becomes clear in hindsight: Desmond Hume is the unsung hero and heart of Lost. As we’ve been told a hundred times, Desmond is “special”.
Looking back at Lost’s best episodes, many of them have been Desmond-centric: we’ve seen him in “Flashes Before Your Eyes”, “The Constant”, “Jughead” and the current season’s best episode (so far) “Happily Ever After”. Of course, Desmond is also “special” because he’s been portrayed by Henry Ian Cusick with the kind of warmth, charm, and organic sex appeal that makes every hetero woman swoon and every man (hetero or not) want to be him. This portrayal is exactly why the love story of Desmond and Penelope “Penny” Widmore (played by the gorgeous and utterly endearing Sonya Walger) is the love story of Lost. Their romance is so integral to the story of Lost that their reunion in season four might as well have been the series finalé.
He Wasn’t Long for This World
For many Lost fanatics, Mr. Eko was a tantalizing lost opportunity. The character’s arc was cut unfortunately short by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s desire to leave the show, leaving even creative gurus Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse pining for more of the imposing Nigerian gangster-cum-priest and his menacing “Jesus-stick”. In his one season on the island, Eko helped to deepen the thematic and philosophical possibilities of Lost. His uncompromising and hard-won faith exposed the limits of John Locke’s more experiential approach to belief, a schism that would climax in their destructive disagreement over the pushing of the hatch’s mysterious button.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can see that Eko’s shocking demise in the smoky clutches of the malevolent entity we now know as the Man in Black was a strong hint as to the intentions of the saga’s ultimate villain. The being that Eko called “the devil” has preyed again and again on the emotional baggage of the castaways in the final season, using their lingering guilt and pain to manipulate them to his will. Mr. Eko, however, was unapologetic about his past sins, leaving the Man in Black no room to maneuver, and so he had to die. To me, that courageous stand is worthy of a humble salute.
Martin, at Least, Could Handle a Gun
Although he only appeared for a handful of episodes in season four (and a flash-sideways appearance in season six), Martin Keamy proved himself to be the toughest mortal adversary that the castaways faced. Sure, he was doing Charles Widmore’s dirty work… but what dirty work it was! Finally, here was someone who knew how to handle a gun. He killed several Oceanic Flight 815 survivors, a couple of Others, the freighter’s doctor and captain and, by way of the dead man’s trigger attached to his chest, killed Michael and nearly everyone else left on board the Kahana.
In a show increasingly complicated by vague “rules”, Keamy flipped the bird to the rules when he shot Ben’s daughter Alex in the head at point-blank range. It’s doubtful that anyone else in the island’s long history, aside from the Smoke Monster/Man in Black, ever singlehandedly racked up such an impressive bodycount in such a short span of time. In fact, when Ben “unleashed” Smokey on the freighter’s mercenaries, Keamy was the sole survivor of the attack. Perhaps ol’ Smokey saw a little of himself in Keamy’s bloodthirsty eyes?