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No mystery why he's at the heart of `Lost'

March 25, 2007|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Spoiler alert: TiVo viewers be warned. This article contains plot points from recent episodes.

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IN the last two episodes of "Lost," John Locke told a few lies, killed an "Other," blew up a hatch full of communication devices and then set off more explosives in the Others' submarine to prevent anyone from leaving or arriving on the island. It's a far cry from the weeks he spent in a hole in the ground last season, punching computer buttons, only to emerge feeling like he wasted his time.

"Lost" mythology has cast Locke, played by the Emmy-nominated Terry O'Quinn, as the show's most enigmatic character. When Locke has his mojo, it seems, so does "Lost." In fact, the arc of Locke, and even O'Quinn's own story, closely parallel the highs and lows of the ABC serialized ensemble drama that changed television three years ago. Now, 80 days into the journey of the plane crash survivors, what most viewers intuited from the beginning seems to hold true: Locke is one important dude.

But is he the most significant castaway? The creators of "Lost" would never say anything that definitively, but they were willing to offer a glimpse of the way they've embedded some of the series' most telling elements in his story from the beginning. Co-creator Damon Lindelof confirms that in the end, Locke will be among the ones who matter most. Executive producer Carlton Cuse added this, with all the finality he could muster: "The character of John Locke is just the very heart of the show."

When Locke boarded Oceanic Flight 815, he was in a wheelchair. But when the plane crashed, he could mysteriously walk, and that seemed to bond him to the island forever. Wednesday's episode finally revealed to viewers how he became paralyzed: His con artist of a father, who years ago manipulated Locke into giving him a kidney, pushed him out a high-rise window, hoping to kill him. Then it did what "Lost" does. It delivered another whopper: Locke's father is tied up and gagged on "Other" territory.

"That was a big 'What?!' " O'Quinn said, describing how he felt when he first read the script. "It leaves you with a big question mark, but there was plenty revealed in this episode too."

Mysteries, loads of them, are the hallmark of this ABC series, sometimes frustratingly so. Since "Lost" returned in February from its three-month hiatus in a new 10 p.m. slot, it has shed nearly 2 million viewers, though it continues to rank as a top 10 show among the advertiser-coveted 18- to 49-year-olds.

As a fan of his own show, O'Quinn says he understands the audience's frustrations with schedule changes and the questions that outnumber the answers in the series, a dilemma brought on mostly by the flashback device that focuses on one character per week and the large number of characters.

"If I take Locke's story individually and just follow it from its beginning point to now, to me it's cohesive and it's understandable and it's interesting," O'Quinn said. "But because there are so many people, it's very patchy. It comes in fits and starts, and that's tough for the fans of the show to have to work to tie everything together."

Strong man

IN the first season, Locke was a self-assured survivor who motivated Jack (Matthew Fox) to leadership, helped Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) work through his heroin addiction, built a crib for Claire's (Emilie de Ravin) baby and insisted that they blow open the hatchway. The unflinching Locke also sacrificed fellow castaway Boone's life, deliberately broke a transceiver, won his round against the menacing polar bear and dared to look inside "the eye of the island."

"I would get mail and e-mails from people that said the character had given them hope," O'Quinn said. "It was touching, and I thought the character was serene and strong. But then he became weak and addled, and I was upset that a strong card had become a weak card."

After the castaways went down the hatch in the second season, Locke was more than happy to save the world by pushing a button every 108 minutes. But when he learned that the hatch is supposedly a psychological experiment, he assumed the task he had been performing was meaningless, and that's when his faith began to unravel. Slowly, Locke regressed into the man he had been before the crash: a depressed office worker with no direction. And O'Quinn's discontent mounted.

"It's interesting because the actor took a parallel journey to the character," Cuse said. "Terry's frustration was really a good thing. And his growing disillusionment with his role was also a really good thing, because that's exactly what we wanted the character to do."

As the creators dreamed up Locke, Lindelof couldn't help but think of the Charles Atlas comic book ads he used to see when he was a child: the scrawny kid on the beach who gets sand kicked in his face by a bully, then starts weightlifting and whacks the bully in the face when he returns.

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