John Locke lives again on ‘Lost’

The Emmy-winning actor has given up trying to figure out where his character is headed on "Lost."
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
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At this stage of “Lost,””%20mystery no one actually believed that John Locke would remain dead, but still, it’s satisfying to see him alive again. That is, alive in the way that you and I are -- not in flashbacks, and not in the way that the ghosts of Charlie and Ana Lucia appear to Hurley or the ghost or some supernatural semblance of Christian Shephard roams the island.

No, as “Lost” viewers saw last week, a content and assured Locke (Terry O’Quinn) once again walks and talks among the living people of the island, and even eats mangoes. All of which solidifies the “Lost” lore that has been building for five seasons: Locke is one special, mystical dude. “Well, it appears to be at least a version of living,” said O’QuinnTerry O’Quinn with a laugh during a telephone interview, acknowledging that he’s given up on trying to assume things about his character because he’s usually wrong. “It’s interesting that I find post-death Locke up to this point much more relaxed and confident. I guess dying does that to you. I don’t think he’s too worried anymore. I think he might believe that he has the answers he’s been looking for.”

When Locke boarded Oceanic Flight 815 in the series pilot, he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair after having been pushed out of a high-rise window by his father. But the instant the plane crashed, Locke was healed, and that bonded him to the island in a way that none of his fellow castaways, especially Jack (Matthew Fox), have been able to comprehend.


“I’ve looked into the eye of this island, and what I saw . . . was beautiful,” Locke told Jack only six days after the crash, establishing the man of science / man of faith tension that has dogged the two characters, most movingly in the note Locke left Jack before he died: “I wish you had believed me.”

Locke intuitively felt that the island called him for a specific purpose. That suspicion was later reinforced by other intriguing island dwellers -- Richard Alpert, Charles Widmore and -- who at different times persuaded (or is it manipulated?) Locke into believing he is someone of importance on the island. Accepting his island destiny has been especially poignant for a man who has struggled with feelings of unworthiness and alienation his whole life.

“What he perceives, his understanding of the island, is special,” said O’Quinn, who has won an Emmy for the role. “But it might be the road to hell. We still don’t know what the moral entity of the island is. Is the island a good guy or a bad guy? That is the question I have.

“Because what’s tragic about Locke is that he will follow,” he added. “He’s faithful to a fault. Once he decides, he follows to the end. You see the same sort of thing in politics. Someone who commits to a theory or a course so deeply that even when it’s proven wrong, they can’t stop doing it because they don’t want to look like a fool. I believe Locke is going to stay this course whether it proves to be the good or evil one, the dark or light one.”

Whatever the path, the drama is heightened by Locke’s memories of Ben strangling him -- factors that will drive much of what happens to Locke for the remainder of the season.

“Obviously, Locke is of critical importance as to where the show is going and -- having died and come back to life -- that is 10 times more significant than being in a wheelchair and being able to walk, just on a spiritual level, so how is he different?” co-creator Damon Lindelof said. “What’s very interesting moving forward is how is he going to process that experience and is he going to forgive Ben.”


O’Quinn thinks his character might have more forgiveness in him. After all, he already forgave Ben for shooting him and throwing him into a mass grave.

“He seems to do it consistently, doesn’t he?” he said. “The one thing about Locke is that he’s never closed any options that I can see. He’s never burned any bridges that I can see. He forgave his dad. He will forgive anybody if it will help him move forward. It wouldn’t surprise me if somehow Ben talked his way out of this. At the moment, what we’ve shot to this point, I think Locke has a pretty strong upper hand.”

And that self-possessed Locke is the one that O’Quinn prefers, although his days of complaining about the character’s trajectory are over, he said. During the second season, O’Quinn expressed his disappointment with Locke’s diminished role as the button-pusher in the hatch that temporarily loses his faith. Then, when Locke’s strength resurfaced in the third season, he stabbed Naomi in the back and killed her, which didn’t sit well with the actor.

“I told them I thought it was gratuitous blah blah blah, and the producers basically gave me what I think is the final step in my education for actors for television, which was ‘Shut up, you have a contract,’ ” O’Quinn noted and laughed. “I can’t desire that he do one thing or another, and I finally got it through my head.”

The new O’Quinn is more like Locke, an in-the-moment, reflective man whose wish for his character is rather simple.

“In the end, I would like him to be terribly interesting,” O’Quinn said. “Locke now has this sort of confidence that he never had in his first life, although a little confidence in a guy like him is a dangerous thing. I expect him to take at least one or two more surprising turns, and whether people like him or dislike him, I don’t care, as long as they are not bored by him.”


Locke? Boring? That doesn’t seem likely.

As the series nears its final chapter next season, Locke could be The One who reveals one of the island’s burning questions, the reason these castaways were all seemingly chosen to go there. Or someone (Ben? Widmore? Richard? Walt?) or something (the smoke monster? Christian’s ghost?) could make Locke doubt himself again and wind up closer to the paralyzed man he once was, the man who was also willing to attempt suicide.

This season, viewers will have to wait a few weeks before seeing Locke again.

“How far he goes next year, what his role is, what the final destination of that character is, we just don’t want to say because we feel it will spoil the journey of the show next season,” said executive producer Carlton Cuse. “But Locke is one of those iconic centerpieces of the show, and Terry will be associated with the show forever in an incredibly good way because of how memorable his character is and because of the incredible skill with which he has executed that character.”