Now that’s the John Locke I remember.
When Lost first launched back in September 2004, the first character I cottoned to was the mysterious John Locke. For starters, he was played by Terry O’Quinn, a fantastic character actor who I discovered in one of those late 80’s slasher flicks, The Stepfather, and later followed through his tenure on Chris Carter’s Millennium. Like all good character actors, O’Quinn lives in his roles and he has the knack for authoring solid authoritarian types who mask an edge. There’s always an air of menace creeping around the corners of his characters.
Locke’s first appearance on the Lost pilot was a memorable one. First we see him rising to his feet – shocked to be alive. Later in the pilot, Kate catches Locke from across the beach. He has a fresh slice carved over his right eye, which makes for a great, creepy image. The moment is goosed further when Locke spreads his lips in a harlequin grin and reveals a slab of orange wedged between his teeth – a shout-out to The Godfather. It’s a wonderfully unhinged moment, one which made an indelible impression.
Then came Locke’s first flashback – the David Fury scripted ‘Walkabout’ – which gives our first view of Locke’s sad back story. A fascinating dichotomy is revealed as the rugged island adventurer who appears to be one of a select few who are up to the challenge of exploring this brave new world was in the real world a desk jockey toiling away at a box company where he is set upon by a force more fearsome than any old smoke monster; pint-sized middle management drones that are 20 years his junior. This of course culminated in yet one more slap against Locke – and one jaw-dropping twist – when we learn in flashback that the reason John is denied passage to an Australian walkabout tour is that he is completely paralyzed from the waist down.
That last twist – tied to the images of a newly emboldened Locke rising from the ashes of Flight 815 – were heart-breaking and inspiring all the same and in a few deft strokes, Fury managed to paint Locke’s unbreakable ties to the island. Here he had found his salvation and purpose. Fury had written some great scripts while working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and this talent carried over to Lost as he instantly elevated John Locke to iconic status through that fascinating reveal.
Over the last two years, as Locke journeyed through the island and peered deep into its (and his) heart of darkness, I felt he was slowly losing his way. His blind devotion to get into the Hatch led to more flashbacks that betrayed his true identity. Through his life, Locke was beaten down. His Dad had stolen his kidney, he lost his girlfriend through a later deception drafted by Dad and he was cast out from the hippie potheads when he was duped to act as patsy for a sting operation. All of that back story would be fine were Locke to continue as a man of action on the island, but slowly the two personalities were melding and the weak, vulnerable Locke was taking control.
Plus, Locke had developed an affinity of late for blowing the hell out of most everything he touched. It’s a good thing Desmond never let him set foot on his sailboat.
With last night’s terrific ‘The Man from Tallahassee’ I feel that the old Locke has returned and that the weakening of John Locke was never without purpose. In fact, after the revelations in this episode, I feel more strongly than ever that John Locke is pivotal to the ongoing plot. I’ll get to that in a minute but the reason for this lengthy prologue was to pay tribute to one of the more fascinating characters on Lost, to welcome his return to form and to toss some props towards Terry O’Quinn for the fantastic work he has turned in over the last three years. Love or Hate John Locke – one thing is for sure – you can’t ignore him.
On with the show.
1. Last week I spoke about forward progress. I feel that outside of the Jack and Hurley episodes, this season has been on a march. This week’s episode picked up exactly where we left off last week, with Sayid, Kate, Locke and Danielle spying Jack’s pick-up football game with The Others. As they watch the game unfold, they pick up on a few new interesting dynamics – with Jack going all googly-eyed for Juliet and shaking hands with his sworn enemy, Ben. As Locke states: “This is going to be more complicated than we thought.”
2. Did anyone else catch that new tattoo on Jack’s forearm? It looked fresh (bright green and red) but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Even my handy-dandy screencap site missed it but I clearly saw it through the magic of crystal clear high def broadcasting (ah, my sweet, sweet new TV – how I want to make lov… ahh, back to the topic). Anyway – what gives?
3. While we’re on the topic of Easter Eggs, I’m dying to know the title of the song Jack was playing on the piano when Kate waltzed in. Knowing that the writers love sprinkling references and clues through out the show, I’m guessing they didn’t have him wailing away on Chopsticks for a reason. Was it ‘My Humps‘?
4. I thought this episode had a lot of potent meetings between characters. That piano scene was a good one, especially when Kate came in. The look on her face was not of sadness but of dawning realization that Jack was really with ‘them’. He seemed so comfortable and at peace sitting in his bungalow playing the piano and that confused the hell out of her. Of course, he was being monitored but he was being monitored in his fish tank too and that didn’t stop him from alternating between moping and lashing out at his captors. Here he seemed content to hang out and stroke the ivories and I think that threw Kate for a loop.
5. Then there’s the quick exchange between Sayid and Alex. I liked Sayid using his ‘interrogation skills’ to quickly implant seeds of wonder and doubt into Alex’s head. Very subversive. As she walks by to recover Locke’s pack, Sayid references Alex’s mother and tells her that she looks a lot like her. That thought is bound to bear fruit at some point.
6. That led to another ‘encounter’ where Danielle gazed upon her long, lost daughter as she delivered Locke to the docks. It was a fleeting moment but one of pure heartbreak. I found this episode was all about these brief encounters which tied so much together.
7. Another great moment was Jack’s reunion with Kate in Tom’s rec room where Jack lets on that he is being released. While Kate feels betrayed, Jack plants a seed of hope. “I told you never to come back for me… but I WILL come back for you.”
8. Of course, the main event was Locke’s confrontation with Ben. I had thought long and hard about how the island, which had cured Locke’s paralysis and Rose’s cancer, could leave Ben saddled with a tumor. Here was someone who has lived his whole life on this island – never swearing allegiance to any other land – yet he is breaking down. While this episode finally revealed how Locke ended up in his chair, I think the biggest revelation was Ben’s confession that his quest is to understand why Locke and not him and he needs Locke to help him get there. I think this sets up something we’ve suspected for a long time. John Locke – who has sought to belong somewhere his entire life – who has been groomed by the pitfalls life has thrown his way to seek acceptance and ‘family unity’ is the perfect candidate to fall under the sway of The Others. These seeds were planted last season when Ben saved Locke’s life in the hatch (when he was pinned under the door in ‘Lockdown’) and they are starting to bear fruit now. See – the writers do have a plan for these things.
9. And yes, we did finally learn how Locke ended up in that chair. I wish ABC didn’t tease the event so much as it sort of robbed it of its surprise. If ‘Walkabout’ featured that great reveal of Locke in the chair, this episode would have benefited from a surprise toss out a window. Still it was shocking and sad to see his own Dad throw him out that window.
10. Kudos to Terry O’Quinn’s fantastic acting when the orderly carried him into the chair for the first time. Here was a character whose whole life has been nothing but disappointment and despair and just when he feels he can’t fall far enough, Dad up and tossed him eight stories to the ground. That look of defeat on his face was wrenching.
11. It also led to Locke’s return. Yeah, he blew up a sub (what would an episode of Lost be without Locke blowing something up) but I thought the more potent sequence was Locke’s confrontation with Ben when he claimed that The Others are cheating. That they live on this amazing land yet continue to fashion a normal suburban existence rather than work to understand and believe in the mysterious power of the island. Locke put is succinctly, he understands the place better than Ben because “You’re in that chair… and I’m not.”
12. Let’s set this straight before the blogosphere gets it all out of whack. There is not an actual Magic Box on the island capable of wishing up a submarine or a Black Stallion or a dead brother. There’s a smoke monster that can do that stuff… but that’s a different story. I think Ben was speaking in metaphor with the Box and was simply referring to a mystery of the island in its ability to manifest whatever you desire or need to make peace with. Now that I think about it, maybe the Smoke Monster is Ben’s metaphorical box. I just don’t think there is actually a physical Box and wanted to clear that up as I can just see the net shutting down today as everyone pontificates on “What’s in the Box?” It’s Gwyneth’s head, okay!!! Now, let’s move on.
13. That metaphor did serve a purpose though as Ben gifted Locke with one final surprise. It turns out The Man from Tallahassee is in fact code for Anthony Cooper… or Seward… or Dad?!?!?
Next week, the Paulo and Nikki (who?)-centric, ‘Exposé‘.