Monday, February 22, 2010

Riding the Grief Cycle – Locke’s Journey in the Sideways World

Grief comes in many forms. We can grieve over just about anything, from the death of a loved one, our own diagnoses, a major playoff loss for our favorite sports team. For most of us, we will grieve the passing of “LOST” as if losing a loved one to an inevitable illness.

And with grief, there is a cycle most of us follow psychologically. This cycle has five phases: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In his flash-sideways, John Locke follows the grief cycle as it pertains to the loss of his ability to walk, and comes out on the other side accepting his limitations while his doppelganger in the Island timeline is not having similar fortune.

Let’s take a look at Locke’s journey through the grief cycle in “The Substitute.”


John’s story opens with him arriving home from LAX and discovering that the special ramp in his handicap-accessible van has jammed. Unable to call for help from any of the neighbors we saw on the street outside, or for Helen inside, John takes matters into his own hands and tries to land on two wheels by rolling off the ramp. As expected, he’s unsuccessful, and finds himself face-down on the grass as the sprinklers turn on and bring the rain.

Denial is tough, and it’s a phase that we most associate with John Locke and his tagline, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” Locke has been defined as much by his attempts to deny his limitations as he has by the limitations themselves. He tried to force himself onto his walkabout back in “Walkabout” (Episode 1.4). In high school, he refused a trip to science camp for Mittelos Bioscience because he was in denial over his ability to score chicks and drive hot cars. He refused to give up on receiving his father’s acceptance and love. While denial is not always a bad thing, in John’s case it has always managed to blind him from the truth, which has led him to make bad decisions, from getting involved in cults to losing the woman he loved.

Fortunately for Locke in this version of reality, his denial is tempered by having an anchor in his life. Helen. Her love is essential to his ultimate acceptance, something he could have had, but managed to alienate in his original timeline.


Locke’s anger in this episode is best scene in his handling of getting fired by Randy the Douche. He wheels into the parking lot, and upon finding his car blocked by Hurley’s banana Hummer, goes into a rage and tries to damage the mini-tank.

Was Locke’s anger at Hurley for blocking him in? At losing his job? Or at his disability, which is the reason for his current place in the world? Of course it’s his disability. He’s taking out his anger on the thing that reveals his weakness – in this case, Hurley.

As with having Helen as his anchor (i.e. “constant”), Locke is given more aid by a graceful Hurley. Suddenly, we find Locke having the one thing he never had before: a support system. In Joseph Campbell’s hero cycle, all of the great heroes needed helpers along the way to provide them what they needed. Locke is no different, but unlike most of the great heroes, this is something he never had. It’s interesting to see the changes in Mr. Clean now that he has a support system.


Locke accepts Hurley’s help and shows up at the temp agency looking for work. Another helper is brought into play: Rose Nadler, who gets him a job, but not before she sets him straight on his limitations and how they are only limiting if he chooses not to accept them. Locke tries to bargain, though, begging for the construction job for which he is certainly not fit. He needs to feel like a man again, the loss of his legs reminding him that he is lesser; so he looks for the most manly job he can find. Fortunately, Rose is there to impart wisdom.


“Home is anywhere you hang your head,” Elvis Costello wrote, and that is the case with Locke. He goes home and mopes over his situation as he stares at Jack Shephard’s business card. He even makes a phone call, but runs away as soon as the receptionist answers. Apparently, he feels that he is a hopeless case; even a brilliant neurosurgeon can’t help him. He, like his doppelganger, is trapped. Woe is he.

Once again, though, as this episode shows us, support is a necessity for greatness, and Helen is there to encourage her fiancé. She provides love and support, even wearing a t-shirt espousing those messages. She is the angel he always needed, but was never able to receive.


Locke’s journey in this episode ends with acceptance. When his box of knives arrive at his doorstep as reminders of his unsuccessful attempt at a walkabout, he has to confess to Helen. It is in this confession that Locke realizes that Rose was right: he needs to accept his limitations if he wants to go the greater good. This is what leads him to accept the job as the substitute teacher.

Now, Locke’s journey in the sideways world can begin anew now that he has reached acceptance of who he is. Maybe there is hope that if this sideways world somehow aligns itself with the Island world, this version of Locke will be capable of becoming the “special” savior we have always thought he was meant to be. If he can return to the Island and walk again, maybe he’ll do so with more confidence and self-worth; the knowledge that while you can’t tell him what he can’t do, you can certainly help him achieve it.

No comments:

Post a Comment