‘Lost’ Finale: Lockeless

Posted: May 28, 2010 in Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

(Yes, we’re making this a “Lost”-themed week, because if not now, when?)

For me, the most fascinating part of the final season of Lost is the fact that one of its two central figures was essentially absent for the entirety of it. John Locke was gone.

Sure, Terry O’Quinn got plenty to do this year, and that’s always a good thing, particularly since he managed to bring a lot of previous character traits to an essentially new character (which, given his comments in the retrospective episode and on Jimmy Kimmel – DAMN YOU FOR KEEPING ME AWAKE UNTIL 2AM! – he was unaware of until the finale of season 5) and made it work.

But the actual character of John Locke was gone. And I’m not sure enough fanfare went into that, possibly because a lot of fans were assuming the show would rectify the somewhat undignified ending he was given.That it would stop screwing with them and bring Locke back, because his story hadn’t ended to their satisfaction.

Looking back, though, Locke’s death should have been a big clue to viewers that their expectations were pretty much screwed.

Because so were Locke’s.

Let’s work through the timeline and figure out what happened:

– Locke wakes up and is no longer paralyzed, immediately instilling in him the idea that the Island is something special, and because it healed him, it must think he is somehow special, too.

– Locke’s first boar-hunting adventure wraps with him coming face to face with what he believes to be the “heart of the Island,” what we now know to be the smoke-monster.

– Locke, displaying an innate understanding of the Island attempts to bring this enlightenment to other castaways like Boone and Waaaaaalt.

– While he’s kind of successful, Boone is killed and Walt is taken, and beyond that, Locke’s paralysis threatens to kick back in (ooh, sorry for that turn of phrase). So he screams at the light in the Hatch, his paralysis ceases, and taking that as a sign, he links his belief system into the Hatch.

– He thinks his beliefs have been verified when he learns of the world-saving computer; has a crisis of faith when he learns the Hatch was part of a larger behavioral experiment; reaffirms his faith when Desmond realizes that typing at that computer actually WAS important, but oh well EXPLODEY KABOOOOOOOM

– Locke, getting cozy with the Others, is led to believe by Richard (we’ll get to him in  a second) that HE should be the leader of the pack, and works to take on that role.

– But before he can do anything with his title, Locke”s bounced around in time. First he ends up in the near-future, where he’s given trinkets by Richard that he can use to tip past-Richard off to his Importance – a compass that, as we’ll soon learn, a “future version” of Locke gave Richard.

– In his next bounce around time, into the early 50’s, Locke explains to then-Richard who he is, and suggests Richard seek out the Baby-Locke who’d just been born. Richard – presumably looking for a replacement for Jacob – does this. (Thus beginning Richard’s interest in Locke, which we can assume is the reason he put a bug in Locke’s ear in the third season…right?)

– Then he does it again, testing to see if child-Locke is somehow special enough to recognize items that he will one day use as an adult – and child-Locke, picking the wrong item, fails.

– Richard, through the Island-subsidiary Mittelos Bioscience (sidebar: What was up with Mittelos Bioscience?), attempts to reach out to Locke years later as a teenager; Locke’s stubbornness to be a man of adventure, rather than a man of science, scuttles this, too.

– But Richard isn’t the only one interested in Locke’s destiny – Charles Widmore, through his intermediary, Matthew Abaddon, suggests that the now-crippled Locke attempt a walkabout in Australia – a trip that ultimately plants him on the Island.

– MEANWHILE! Still time-traveling, our present-day Locke figures that fixing Ben’s “move the island” plan might stop the time-skips, and heads on into the cave with the donkey-wheel, encouraged to bring the Oceanic Six back, by a guy who looks like Jack’s dad but is in fact the Smoke-Monster.

– This sends Locke into the present-day (off-island), where he’s promptly crippled again and his attempts to bring the O6 back are (quite harshly) rebuffed. Which depresses Locke to the point that he decides to kill himself (because he was told, by Richard – who was told by “Future Locke,” who we now know to be the Smoke Monster – who, for whatever reason, seemed to be looking for a more recognizable avatar-body).

– But it’s Ben who finds him and finishes the job. Nevertheless, the sight of a dead Locke is enough to spur Jack (and the rest of the O6) to return to the Island like he wanted – because Locke had been told (by Christian/Smoke Monster) this would fix the Island.

– They bring Locke’s body back to the Island, and then it appears that Locke has miraculously returned to life. He commands Richard to give the previous, time-skipping Locke the aforementioned compass to give Locke more sense that what he was doing had been somehow predestined.

– But it turns out this new version of Locke was, in fact, the Smoke Monster, having used the dead body of Locke to assume his form and manipulate people.

In other words: Locke was NEVER special.

Just as Jacob and the Man in Black weren’t anything more than normal people the Island had bestowed strange powers upon, John Locke was never much more than he’d seemed: a guy searching for meaning in a strange occurrence, who’d had a lucky Island break.

This is actually a pretty amazing “Gotcha” from the show. FIVE YEARS, the audience had been led to assume Locke was some kind of Island-buddha in waiting. But by the end of season 5, it became clear: John Locke had been nothing but a patsy the whole time.

And yet the audience was still waiting for that decision to be reversed. Right up to the end.

Had the Island “chosen” him for something? Possibly. But he was there for like three days before he saw “the most beautiful thing [he’d] ever seen” – the Smoke Monster, masquerading as the Heart of the Island. And from that moment on, he was just a tool the Smoke Monster could use in his quest to get off the Island – a guy Richard had been led to believe was Special, and so treated him as a potential Candidate.

Because the Smoke Monster had manipulated that to be the case.

“From that moment on,” for those keeping track, was four episodes into the series. They’ve been dicking this guy around – and, by extension, the audience – since episode four.

I’m not sure how much the show really had planned from beginning to end. But if you follow Locke’s timeline, and you accept that they had some idea of what the Smoke Monster was supposed to be, it looks like they expected to paint him as a false prophet pretty early on.

(At least since season 4, where they started pushing Locke around on the game board quite a bit.)

So for those of you still angry that the show screwed with your expectations with that finale? Ignore the dropped plotlines. Ignore the continuity gaffes. Focus on the characters. Because as the producers have been saying, this was a show about the characters.

And they’ve clearly been fucking with the characters for this whole time. It’s only now you can definitively track it.

  1. sebastian says:

    Which is one of the reasons why the whole “man of faith/man of science” conflict became so limp. Faith only ends up getting you killed for nothing (Locke, arguably Jack when he takes Locke’s views), meanwhile science, well, science never really came into it. It’s not like Jack tried using “science” to explain the mysteries of the island, he just didn’t wildly believe any nutjob who shows up on the island talking about old computers and monsters.

    This even goes back to Jacob and his mom. Having blind faith in things seems to only get you fucked over on the magical island. Throw Ben and Richard into the camp of screwed over by “faith”. Faith never was rewarded on the island and more often than not the thing/person you had faith in was actively screwing you. Sure, all Losties Go To Heaven at the end, but it’s not like any of them was actually having faith in THAT.

  2. braak says:

    Yeah, I never really got the “science/faith” debate going on here. It always looked to me like “faith vs. some fairly reasonable concerns.” And there’s nothing that really suggested that Locke’s faith was anything but completely misplaced.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    “We’ve got to push that button!”
    “But WHY, John?”
    “Whuh–fuh–…I mean, it’s a BUTTON, in a LIVING ROOM THAT IS UNDER THE GROUND. So we HAVE to push it, otherwise why is there a living room under the ground? Tell me THAT, JACK! With your ‘science’!”

  4. Carl says:

    While I agree with your assessment based on the convoluted storytelling mechanics employed by the LOST powers-that-be, I don’t think this take is at all what they intended. That final exchange between FLocke and Jack in the light cave when they were lowering Desmond down was very clearly intended as the denouement of Locke’s narrative. That is, the Man of Science admits the Man of Faith was right.

    But, yeah, not really at all.

  5. braak says:

    True; that denouement was very specific but, I will admit, puzzling. “Lock was right about everything” only if you don’t actually think about it for more than ten seconds.

  6. sebastian says:

    Plus, is it really about “faith” anymore when you’ve met the semi-immortal man in person, he’s given you special powers, and you’ve found the magical glowing cave in a place you know didn’t have it before?

  7. Carl says:

    “You’re not John Locke. You disrespect his memory by wearing his face but you’re nothing like him. Turns out he was right about most everything. I just wish I could’ve told him that while he was still alive.”

    Jack isn’t wrong in saying this– as it pertains to their specific couples-narrative. If you fold every disagreement that Jack and Locke have over the course of the show into the question “were we all brought to this island for a reason (ie, life is Purposeful and orchestrated) or was the series of events that lead us to this moment of choice arbitrary (life is random and Essentially Meaningless)”, then yes, Locke was right. (Though, due to the lazy storytelling engaged in by the writers, that reason was sort of stupid– it was just, you know, because some other dude wanted you here.) But as soon as you get into any of the particulars, Locke’s track record gets really muddy. Wrong about his father. Wrong about the button. Wrong about Boone’s death as blood-sacrifice. Wrong about Smokie as the “heart of the island”. Wrong in trusting Ben. Wrong about the Others as true emissaries of Jacob’s will. Wrong about being able to get the O6 to willingly come back to the island, and so on and so on.

    I understand (and can even theoretically get behind) what they were trying to do here: Locke’s instincts that there was “a world behind the world” were right, and his life on the island given to that faith, though was marked by nearly constant missteps and ended vainly in tragedy, made possible the unfolding of events that ultimately brought about a monumental good (assuming you believe that the light going out or Smokie getting off the island really had any far-reaching negative consequences for outside-world). You won’t be surprised to hear that this is a theme that, in theory, resonates with me. But I think the execution here belies the message because, in many ways, we perceive the world we live in with a linear causality that these storytellers fail to honor in their ‘sub-created reality’ (as Tolkien called it).

    As far as the show’s ability to grapple with a large theme of Faith versus Science, I think it was a bit above LOST’s pay-grade to pull this off satisfactorily. The Russian judge says 7.5 of 10. Had the show been drawn differently, I think The DI versus the Others, and their relative relationships to engaging the mysteries of the Island could have been used to mirror Jack and Locke in a way that would have been interesting in the exploration of that question. Clearly the show seeks to value of Faith over Science. For my own part, I reject the dichotomy on which this choice is premised because I have never believed that there CAN be a actual conflict between the Truths of faith and Truths of science– true is true. Any perceived conflict between the two owes only to our moment in history in the unfolding narrative of knowledge between man, the world, and its God, and to our incomplete scientific and theological understanding that will all meet at the single point at the end of history.

    BUT if you are going to premise a show on this conflict and privilege one over the other, you have to recognize that the collision between Faith and Science hinges on the question of “what versus why” and give to each its proper sphere. Seen through this prism, investigation and measurement of the quantifiable world allows Science to unpack a succession of mutually illuminating ‘whats’, but can never tells us any of the original ‘whys’ behind those ‘whats’ (not so far anyway). Faith, on the hand, purports to have those absent ‘whys’ and asks their consideration come before the ‘whats’.

    The problem for LOST, then, is they want to advance faith but offered completely unsatisfactory, vacuous ‘whys’. Why were they all the island? Because Jacob wanted them there. Why? To potentially replace him as protector of the island. Why? Because his brother wanted to kill him. Why? Because he’s trying to keep his brother on the island. Why? Because his crazy foster-mother told him to. Why? I don’t know. Where’d she come from? I don’t know. What does any of it Really Mean?

    “Yeah, no idea. But its way better than focusing your energy on whatever the ‘whats’ could tell you about your life, trust us.”

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    @Carl: “For my own part, I reject the dichotomy on which this choice is premised because I have never believed that there CAN be a actual conflict between the Truths of faith and Truths of science– true is true.”

    This is why I’d assumed – and as per usual, I will say I was a kook for assuming anything about this show – that after all the back-and-forth between faith and science, with neither really gaining a foot-hold, that the Ultimate Answer would be that both Jack and Locke were wrong, because it’s NOT a battle between ideologies.

    That there is some middle ground, or some new paradigm, that someone on the Island might consider, that might break this ridiculous argumentative cycle.

    It seemed, for a while, that Desmond, what with his ability to bounce around time, space, and beyond, might have some kind of answer here, some kind of “Brothers, yeh both got it wrong” denuemont. But, apparently no.

    So I’m taking the Hurley-Ben alliance to represent that ideal – Hurley making up his own, more humanistic rules as to how people interact with the Island, with Ben’s logistical input. But in the end, I can’t say for sure if that was the intended takeaway or what.

    BAH! Danged show. YOU WROTE IT, JUST TELL ME!


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