“LOST”: THE ISLAND GURU
There have been countless number of character essays and theories posted by “LOST” fans about Island Destiny Man – John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Quite frankly, I have only read a small number of those articles. But recently, I have been watching some of the series’ episodes from Seasons One and Two. After viewing some of them, I have grown aware of a certain trait of Locke’s that I find annoying.
When John Locke’s back story was first introduced in the episode, (1.04) “Walkabout”, viewers discovered that he had been a wheelchair bound employee of a box company in Tustin, California. Viewers eventually discovered that Locke was the illegitimate son of the fifteen year-old Emily Locke and a con artist named Anthony Cooper. Locke spent most of his childhood and a great deal of his adult years longing to be a man of action and someone special. He spent those years honing his skills as a hunter and gathering a great deal of knowledge on so many subjects.
In September 2004, John Locke had traveled to Australia to participate in a “walkabout tour” that would allow him to ”live in the wilderness” for a certain period of time with a group of tourists. Employees of the Melbourne Walkabout Tours took one look at Locke’s disabled state and refused to accept him on one of their tours. Forced to return home to California, Locke boarded the Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 on September 22 – a flight that was supposed to take him from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California. Only he and his fellow passengers never reached United States soil. Instead, they found themselves stranded on a mysterious island in the South Pacific. Locke also discovered that the island had somehow cured his crippled legs. From this moment on, Locke became an acolyte of the island. And judging from his interactions with characters like Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle, he searched for his own band of acolytes to share his beliefs.
Locke spent most of Season One helping the castaways survive those first 44 days on the island and offer them sage advice. He also had two encounters with a mysterious smoke monster, became the survivors’ “great white hunter”, helped Boone Carlyle deal with unhealthy for his stepsister, Shannon Rutherford, helped Charlie Pace kick a heroin addiction and convinced spinal surgeon Jack Shephard to assume leadership of the castaways. This all changed in the episode, (1.19) “Ex Deux Machina”, when Locke and Boone discovered a Nigerian plane filled with heroin and bodies in the jungle. In that episode, he had convinced Boone to crawl into the plane to examine it. Because he had failed to inform Boone that he had a prophetic dream that the plane would lead to Boone’s death, he lied to Jack about the true situation of Boone’s wounds after the actual accident. From that moment on, the series began to unravel even more of Locke’s less admirable traits. Many fans and even actor Terry O’Quinn have expressed regret that Locke had not remained the wise, self-assured man from Season One.
But my recent viewings of some of the Season One and Season Two episodes have led me to wonder if Locke’s “self-assuredness” had been nothing more than a façade. Also, that same self-assuredness seemed to have revealed a trait within Locke that I found personally distasteful. Superficially, John Locke’s willingness to help others like Charlie and Boone seemed may have seemed admirable. It certainly did to many viewers. No one has ever complained about his “methods” in helping those two. And for me, his methods in helping Charlie and Boone has made me wonder if John Locke was – like Jack Shephard – a slightly bullying and controlling man.
I had first noticed these traits in Locke during the Season One episode, (1.06) “House of the Rising Sun”. This episode’s subplot featured an expedition in which Jack, Charlie, Kate Austen and Locke examined a large cavern as a provision for housing and water for the castaways. While alone with Charlie, Locke took the opportunity to reveal his knowledge of the musician’s heroin habit:
[We see Charlie walking away from caves trying to take drugs out of his pocket, looking behind him. But Locke is coming from the opposite direction.]
CHARLIE: Listen to me, you old git, I’m going in the jungle. A man has a right to some privacy.
LOCKE: Just hand it to me. You’re going to run out. My guess is sooner rather than later. Painful detox is inevitable. Give it up now at least it will be your choice.
CHARLIE: Don’t talk to me like you know something about me.
LOCKE: I know a lot more about pain than you think. I don’t envy what you’re facing. But I want to help. [Charlie walks away]. Do you want your guitar?
[Charlie turns and comes back.]
LOCKE: More than your drug?
CHARLIE: More than you know.
LOCKE: What I know is that this island might just give you what you’re looking for, but you have to give the island something.
CHARLIE [giving Locke the drugs]: You really think you can find my guitar?
LOCKE: Look up, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You’re not going to ask me to pray or something.
LOCKE: I want you to look up.
[Charlie looks up and almost cries when he sees his guitar on a cliff above.]
Judging from the above scene, Locke’s idea of helping Charlie was to insist that the latter hand over the remaining heroin he had left. He insisted. That was Locke’s initial idea of helping Charlie. Knowing the location of Charlie’s guitar, which the latter valued more than anything, Locke then maneuvered Charlie into giving up the drugs in return for the guitar.
In the following episode, (1.07) “The Moth”, Charlie had demanded that Locke return his drugs – which the former agreed to do – ONLY when the former asked for the third time:
[Shot of Charlie running from a boar. Some luggage falls, the boar is trapped in a large net trap.]
LOCKE: Nice work, Charlie. You make excellent bait.
CHARLIE [angrily]: I’m glad I could oblige. Now give me my bloody drugs.
CHARLIE: Did you hear what I said? I want my drugs back. I need ’em.
LOCKE: Yet you gave them to me. Hmm.
CHARLIE: And I bloody well regret it. I’m sick, man. Can’t you see that?
LOCKE: I think you’re a lot stronger than you know, Charlie. And I’m going to prove it to you. I’ll let you ask me for your drugs three times. The third time, I’m going to give them to you. Now, just so we’re clear, this is one.
CHARLIE: Why? Why? Why are you doing this? To torture me? Just get rid of them and have done with it?
LOCKE: If I did that you wouldn’t have a choice, Charlie. And having choices, making decisions based on more than instinct, is the only thing that separates you from him [indicating the boar].
Now I realize that Locke simply wanted to help Charlie. And I realize that he honestly believe that he was giving Charlie a choice. But if that was John Locke’s idea of a choice, he could keep it, as far as I am concerned. I found Locke’s idea of giving someone a choice rather boorish and controlling. He did not simply give Charlie a choice. What Locke did was manipulate Charlie into making a choice . . . but only on his terms. If Locke really wanted Charlie to utilize his free will to make a choice – one way or the other – about the heroin, he should have given Charlie the heroin when the latter first asked. Some fans have argued that Charlie would have never given up the heroin if Locke had handed it over right away. My answer to that is . . . tough shit. Seriously. Charlie should have made the decision to either continue taking the heroin or stop using . . . on his own. Without Locke’s interference or manipulation.
In the Season One finale, (1.24) “Exodus II”, Charlie accompanied Sayid in a search for Danielle Rousseau, a long time castaway who had kidnapped Aaron Littleton in order to exchange him for her own kidnapped daughter. During that search, the pair came across a Nigerian plane with dead bodies and Virgin Mary statuettes filled with heroin. In a weak moment, Charlie took one of the statuettes behind Sayid’s back. It turned out to be the first of many trips in which Charlie ended up filching a statuette or two, until he managed to build up quite a collection. The ironic thing is that Charlie managed to refrain from using the heroin in his possession. Claire Littleton – Aaron’s mother, Mr. Eko and eventually Locke discovered in Season Two’s (2.10) “The 23rd Psalm” and (2.12) “Fire and Water” that Charlie had possession of the statuettes. This, along with Charlie’s frantic concern and actions over Aaron, led Locke to assume that Charlie had resumed using drugs again:
CHARLIE: Hey, John, can I talk to you for a second?
LOCKE: Yeah, what is it, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I take it you heard about what happened last night.
LOCKE: If you mean you taking the baby out of Claire’s tent in the middle of the night — yeah, I heard.
CHARLIE: This whole thing was a big misunderstanding, John. I was sleepwalking. I don’t how or why —
LOCKE: Is there something you want from me, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I was hoping you could speak to Claire for me. You know, put in a good word.
LOCKE: Are you using?
LOCKE: Heroin. Are you using again?
CHARLIE: Kate sees a horse — nothing. Pretty much everybody’s seen Walt wondering around the jungle. But when it’s Charlie it must be the bloody drugs, right?
Charlie did lie about having the drugs in his possession. But he had been telling the truth about using. When Locke found Charlie’s stash of statuettes, he reacted in the following manner:
[Back on the Island, Charlie holds a couple of baggies of heroin in his hand.]
LOCKE [suddenly, off camera at first]: I’m disappointed in you, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You following me?
LOCKE: How long have you been coming out here?
CHARLIE: John, you’ve got the wrong idea, man.
LOCKE: You said you destroyed them all, and yet here they are. How is that the wrong idea?
CHARLIE: I came out here to finish the job. I’m going to get rid of these right now.
LOCKE: Yeah, that’s very convenient now that I found you. [Locke goes to the statues with his pack.]
CHARLIE: What are you doing?
LOCKE [putting the statues in his pack]: There was a time when I let you choose whether or not you were going to do this to yourself. Now I’m making that choice for you.
CHARLIE: Oh, you don’t believe me? Give them to me. Give them to me right now; I’ll destroy them. Look. [He breaks up the baggies in his hand] I’ll throw them in the sodding wind. Look, John, I know I lied, alright. [Locke starts walking away] Wait, wait, wait. Remember all those talks we had, you and me? You said everything happens for a reason — this island tests us. That’s what this is, John, at test. This is my test. That’s why these are here.
LOCKE: These are here because you put them here, Charlie. [Locke starts to leave again.]
CHARLIE: Wait, John, wait. [Charlie grabs Locke’s arm, and Locke angrily breaks free.] What are you going to do? Are you going to tell Claire? You can’t. If she sees them, I’m done. She’ll never trust me again, and she has to, John. It’s about the baby, alright? Aaron’s in danger. You have to believe me.
LOCKE: You’ve given up the right to be believed, Charlie.
Now, I can understand how Locke would be pissed off that Charlie had lied to him about having the statuettes. But the manner in which he took possession of them reminded me of a bullying parent. At that moment, Locke decided that he would do something about Charlie’s drug problem by taking away the heroin without the latter’s permission. Like a parent would act toward an errant child. All Locke could have done was express disappointment at Charlie for the latter’s lies. But he behaved as if he had the right to take the drugs away . . . and “make the choice” for Charlie to stop using. The sad thing is that Charlie allowed him to get away with such controlling behavior.
By mid Season One, John Locke found another disciple to mentor. It all began when Charlie and a very pregnant Claire had been kidnapped by a spy for the Others – Ethan Rom – in the episode (1.10) “Raised By Another”. In the following episode, (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”, a party that included Locke, Jack, Kate Austen and a wedding planner named Boone Carlyle set off into the jungle in search of the two kidnapped castaways. Eventually, the quartet split into two teams when Kate revealed that she also had tracking skills. Jack and Kate formed one team, and Locke and Boone formed the other. And at this moment, the master/apprentice relationship between the latter pair was born.
This relationship between Locke and Boone lasted approximately eight to nine episodes – between “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” and (1.19) “Ex Deux Machina”. During this period, Locke and Boone discovered a steel door to the hatch (Swan Station) that would dominate Season Two. The two men spent several episodes trying to find ways to open the hatch, while lying to the castaways that they were on expeditions hunt for boar. These expeditions were briefly postponed in the episode, (1.13) “Hearts and Minds”, when Boone decided to tell Shannon about the discovered hatch:
BOONE: Look, at least I’ve got to tell Shannon.
BOONE: What do mean, why? She’s my sister.
LOCKE: Why do you care about her so much?
BOONE: You don’t know her man. She’s smart, she’s special in a lot of ways.
LOCKE: Fair enough.
BOONE: She’s been asking me about this. I can’t keep lying to her.
LOCKE: You mean you can’t keep lying to her, or you can’t stand the way she makes you feel because you’re lying to her?
BOONE: Both. Whatever. Look, she can keep a secret.
LOCKE: You’re sure?
BOONE: Yes, I’m sure.
LOCKE: No, I mean, are you sure you want to do this?
BOONE: I’ve got to get her off my back. She keeps asking me about this, she keeps asking me about you, about the whole thing.
LOCKE: You’re sure you’ve thought through the ramifications?
LOCKE: So be it.
[Boone turns around, Locke clocks him with a knife handle.]
After this surprising moment, Locke tied Boone to a tree and used drugs to force the latter to experience a vision quest :
[Shot of Boone tied up. Locke is mixing the stuff in the bowl.]
BOONE: Locke, what is this? Do you hear me? Untie me right now.
LOCKE: Or what?
BOONE: I swear I won’t tell anyone about the hatch thing, okay? I promise.
LOCKE: I’m doing this, Boone, because it’s time for you to let go of some things. Because it’s what’s best for you. And, I promise, you’re going to thank me for this later.
BOONE: Hey, I don’t think this is best for me. [Locke smears the stuff he’s been mixing onto the wound on Boone’s head.] What is that?
LOCKE: An untreated wound, out here, is going to get infected.
BOONE: You’re not going to just leave me here.
LOCKE: Whether you stay is up to you. The camp is 4 miles due west.
BOONE: Which way is west?
[Locke throws a knife into the ground, just out of Boone’s reach.]
LOCKE: You’ll be able to cut yourself free once you have the proper motivation.
[Boone is struggling in the ropes, trying to reach the knife.]
BOONE: Help, help!
Locke claimed that he was forcing Boone to submit to a vision quest “for his own good”. Perhaps helping Boone find closure in his relationship with Shannon had been on his mind. But I find it interesting that Locke had decided to manipulate Boone into this situation after the latter decided to reveal the secret about the hatch. And regardless of whether Locke truly had Boone’s interests at heart or not, he really had no business forcing Boone into that situation in the first place. No wonder the younger man attacked Locke upon returning to the camp.
It all worked out in the end. Locke’s enforced “vision quest” convinced Boone to leave Shannon alone and allow her to continue her romance with Sayid. More importantly – at least for Locke – the two men continued to maintain the secret of the hatch within the next six to seven episodes. However, Boone never really forgotten Locke’s heavy-handed method of coercing him into a vision question. He made this perfectly clear in “Ex Deux Machina”:
[The scene switches to Boone and Locke at the hatch.]
LOCKE: I had a dream last night. I asked for a sign and then I saw a plane crash—a Beechcraft [pointing] right out there. It was a dream, but it was the most real thing I’ve ever experienced. I know where to go now.
BOONE: Go for what?
LOCKE: To find what we need to open this bastard up.
BOONE: Have you been using that wacky paste stuff that made me see my sister get eaten?
LOCKE [laughing]: No, no.
BOONE: Because, John, I’ve got to tell you—signs and dreams…
In the end, Boone paid a heavy price for becoming John Locke’s protégée . . . assistant . . . or however you want to call him. In the same episode, Locke dreamed of the following – a Beechcraft plane crashing, as well as his mother pointing in its direction; a blood-stained Boone; being confined to his wheelchair and a woman from Boone’s past who had died from a fall. As shown in the above passage, Locke did reveal some of his dream to the younger man. Unfortunately, he failed to tell Boone about seeing the latter covered in blood. With Locke’s legs temporarily paralyzed, he urged Boone to climb into the Beechcraft. The younger man managed to briefly contact someone via the plane’s radio (it turned out to be Bernard Nadler from the Tail Section of Flight 815) before the plane fell over and severely injured Boone. Locke managed to regain the use of his legs and carry Boone back to camp. But since he had failed to inform Jack about the nature of Boone’s injuries, the latter eventually died in the next episode, (1.20) “Do No Harm”.
Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle were not the only survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 to whom Locke had volunteered his advice. In (1.14) “Special”, he tried to give parenting tips to Michael Dawson on how to handle the latter’s ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd. Being older than Charlie and Boone, and resentful of Locke’s growing relationship with Walt, Michael angrily rejected Locke’s advice. Ironically, I sympathized with Michael. God knows he barely knew anything about being a parent, considering Walt’s mother kept Michael away from the ten year-old. But Michael had never asked for Locke’s advice or sympathetic ear. And the older man did not help matters by attempting to teach Walt on how to throw a machete without Michael’s permission.
Locke’s relationship with spinal surgeon Jack Shephard is practically legendary among “LOST” fans. And yet, their relationship had begun on a harmless note when Locke informed Jack that most of the castaways regarded him as their leader. This was Locke’s way of convincing Jack to accept the mantle of leadership. In the end, Locke grew to regret the advice he had given for by Season Two, he ended up clashing with Jack over the leadership of the castaways. Which I did not found surprising, considering that both men shared a penchant for controlling others . . . in their own fashion.
There have been other instances in which Locke inflicted his own will against the desires and choices of others . . . or manipulated others. In “The Moth”, he prevented Sayid from setting up a signal to help the castaways get rescued. He committed a similar act in Season Three’s (3.13) “The Man From Tallahassee”, when he blew up the submarine that the Others had provided for Jack’s departure from the island. In (3.19) “The Brig”, Locke manipulated James “Sawyer” Ford into murdering his own father, Anthony Cooper. It seemed that Cooper had conned Sawyer’s family of their money back in the 1970s – an act that drove Mr. Ford to commit the double act of murder/suicide. And in the Season Three finale, (3.24) “Through the Looking Glass II”, Locke murdered island newcomer Naomi Dorrit in cold blood to prevent her from signaling her companions from an offshore freighter.
For me, there is one scene that truly symbolized the conflicting and sometimes hypocritical nature of John Locke. In Season Two’s (2.11) “The Hunting Party”, Locke and Jack had discovered that Michael had left the camp in a desperate search to find Walt, who had been kidnapped by the Others in ”Exodus II”. And the two eventually clashed over how to react over Michael’s desperate flight:
LOCKE: Doesn’t seem to be — trail’s as straight as the interstate — the path of a man who knows where he’s going. [Locke stares at Jack a moment] Where are you going, Jack?
LOCKE: Well, let’s say we catch up with him, Michael. What are you going to do?
JACK: I’m going to bring him back.
LOCKE: What if he doesn’t want to come back?
JACK: I’ll talk him into coming back.
LOCKE: This is the second time he’s gone after Walt. He knocked me out; he locked us both up. Something tells me he might be past listening to reason.
JACK: What? You think we should just let him go — write him off?
LOCKE: Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can’t do?
What exactly did Locke say to Jack? Oh yes . . . “Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can’t do?” I found the comment a very ironic one for John Locke to make, considering his past history with Charlie, Boone and Michael. Judging from the above dialogue, Locke seemed to be a fervent believer in free will and choices. Yet, he seemed incapable of practicing what he was preaching. Despite his belief in free will and free choices, I suspect that John Locke suffered from a malady that afflict many human beings – namely a desire to inflict one’s will or control over others. Power over another is a heady drug and many would bend over backwards or make any excuse to indulge in that desire. A very popular excuse, at least with Locke, seemed to be that he had acted for the greater good on behalf of his fellow castaways – regardless of whether they had asked for his help or not. From what I have seen of Locke’s character over the series’ six seasons, he reminded me of a certain type of character who has appeared in many forms of literature over years. This type happens to an individual who has exercised very little control over his/her life and who has spent most of his/her life being manipulated by others. This has certainly been true of Locke’s character in his relationships with his parents, employers, Other leader Benjamin Linus and other acquaintances. Especially Ben Linus and his father. This could explain why given the opportunity, Locke never hesitated to make decisions for others without their consent or manipulate them with a Draconian touch that seems rather sinister.
The ironic thing is I have rarely come across any criticisms regarding Locke’s penchant for inflicting his will upon others. Many fans have complained about his willingness to be manipulated by others, especially his father Anthony Cooper and leader of the Others, Ben Linus. Some fans have complained about his obsession over the island and his long-running feud with Jack. But I do not recall coming across any complaints about his actions with Boone in ”Hearts and Mind”. And many have complimented him for the way he dealt with Charlie’s drug addiction in Season One. I wish I could share in this adulation, considering that Charlie did give up his heroin addiction. But I cannot. I believe that Locke – and possibly many fans – was more focused upon the endgame, instead of the journey. What I am trying to say is that Locke seemed so intent upon achieving a goal – whether it was to get Charlie to give up drugs or convince Boone in getting over Shannon – that he failed to realize that such goals required a great deal of work on their parts. I would have been more impressed if both Charlie and Boone had come to the realization that they needed to get over their desires and obsessions on . . . their . . . own, or made the decision to achieve these goals without being manipulated by Locke. But since Locke had decided to interfere in the lives of both men, he pretty much robbed them of their struggles.
After reading this article, one would believe that I dislike John Locke. I do not. Frankly, I consider him to be one of the most fascinating characters from “LOST”. Like many other fans, I bought into that image of him as this mysterious and all wise man who not only understood the island better than the characters, but also understood them and their situation better than them. What I had failed to realize back in Season One that underneath the persona of the all wise island guru, John Locke was an insecure man whose enthusiasm over being healed by the island led him to interfere and manipulate the lives of some of his fellow castaways. This enthusiasm not only led him to wallow in a delusion that he knew all there was to know about life, it also hid the fact that as an individual, Locke had a long path in achieving self-realization . . . a path that he finally concluded after death.