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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the LOST episode “Deus Ex Machina", which originally aired on March 30th, 2005.
Previously on LOST: The island-obsessed Locke recruits Boone to help him crack open the mysterious hatch, but none of their efforts produce results.
It’s fitting that a show called LOST has a tendency to aimlessly wander on occasion, often taking a short vacation from the main story to put its fascinating characters under the microscope. While the previous episode “Numbers” got the narrative moving again it failed to touch on what has so far proven to be the show’s biggest mystery: the hatch buried in the jungle. This week the show will not only explore the chunk of metal in the ground, but also further flesh out one its most-interesting characters in John Locke.
Biblical allegories are everywhere on LOST, and there’s no denying that Locke is the Moses of this story. His spiritual connection to the island is unrivaled, while his fellow survivors busy themselves with building rafts and maintaining their camp Locke searches for metaphysical answers in the lush jungle. He holds communion with the island, simultaneously playing the role of disciple and prophet with an equal amount of comfort. Locke takes his scripture from the island and passes it onto Boone, who has been a dutiful follower since Locke helped him let go of the unhealthy obsession he had with his sister. But even the most loyal pupil loses their faith from time to time, and their lack of progress on cracking the hatch has caused both Locke and Boone to stray from the path of the true believer.
The two men construct a trebuchet, hoping that the impressive device can penetrate the thick steel of the hatch. The attempt fails in spectacular fashion as the device falls apart on impact while the door remains intact, further demoralizing both Locke and Boone. As Locke stares at the hatch in disbelief over what he perceives to be a betrayal by the island, Boone points out the piece of shrapnel stuck deep in Locke’s leg, which Locke hasn’t even noticed. Confusion turns to horror as realization sets in, and since we know about Locke’s recent confinement to a wheelchair we understand his fear. The island gave him back the use of his legs, and it looks like it’s about to take that gift back.
That evening Locke experiences a dream where a twin-engine airplane flies over the hatch site, eventually crashing in the jungle. Dream Locke turns to Boone to gauge his reaction to the plane and finds the young man bloodied and seemingly in a trace, repeating “Theresa falls up the stairs…Theresa falls down the stairs” over and over again. A bizarre scene for certain, and one that leaves the viewer quite concerned for the health of Boone after this not-so-subtle foreshadowing.
While Boone remains skeptical of this vision he agrees to accompany Locke to see if there actually is a plane. Along the way Locke’s legs fail him, which he interprets as punishment for questioning his faith. The island is an Old Testament God, one that demands unwavering belief from its devotees. Locke himself acknowledges this early in the episode, telling Boone that their faith is being tested. Unfortunately for both men, vengeful gods not only expect blind belief, they often require that a sacrifice be made in the name of spiritual growth.
While trekking through the jungle they find the decomposed body of what appears to be a priest, although closer inspection suggests that the man was a criminal. There is indeed an airplane that matches the one in Locke’s vision, but since he’s incapacitated Boone must scale the cliff it is teetering on. Inside he finds a map of Nigeria as well as dozens of religious statues that are packed with heroin, and given what we know about Charlie Pace we have to assume the drugs will provide temptation, another key ingredient in religion, at some point in the future.
Boone finds the aircraft’s radio to be in working order and attempts to send out a distress call, but entering the cockpit puts the plane out of balance and it begins to spill over the cliff’s edge. There’s just enough time to hear the muffled response “There were no survivors of Oceanic Flight 815” before the airplane topples end over end, smacking into the ground thirty feet below. With his ability to walk restored, Locke picks the broken Boone up and carries him back to camp, depositing him at the caves so Jack can attend to the young man’s injuries. Jack demands answers as to how Boone was hurt so he can treat him properly, but as he looks up Locke has disappeared. The island’s shaman is then shown to be back at the hatch which remains sealed, but after Locke screams at the sky in frustration light begins to shine from inside the hatch’s window. Locke’s faith is instantly restored, but as Boone’s life hangs in balance the final cost remains unknown.
What makes “Deus Ex Machina” such a great episode is how well the on-island events are contrasted against the flashback. While the words above undoubtedly paint John Locke in a selfish light, this chapter of his backstory does a fantastic job of showcasing how the man became so faith hungry. The Locke we meet here is further in the past than the one in “Walkabout”, he has a fuller head of hair and is working at a department store rather than the box company (which we learned last week is owned by Hurley). While an unknown woman watches, Locke shows a young boy how the board game Mousetrap works, his descriptions being complimented by some fantastic camera work and editing. It’s obvious to the viewer that this sequence is important, that it’s a metaphor being employed by the writers. We’ll soon find out who this episode’s trap is designed to ensnare.
As he leaves work Locke once again takes note of the woman who continues to spy on him in parking lot. He tracks her down, demanding to know why she’s stalking him, and she reveals that she’s his biological mother and that he was immaculately conceived, yet another Biblical reference in the episode. Locke spent his childhood bouncing from one foster home to the next which has left him desperate for answers (and love) from the parents who abandoned him, so he hires a private investigator to get answers on this enigmatic woman. It turns out her name is Emily Locke and she’s been in and out of mental institutions for most of her life, which calls into question her claim regarding Locke’s conception. Locke’s father turns out to be quite human, a man named Anthony Cooper, and while he initially suspects Locke’s claim is a con it isn’t long before he’s offering the fatherly love that Locke is so desperate to acquire.
We see a bond quickly form between father and son, as Cooper takes Locke hunting on multiple occasions. Terry O’Quinn nails these scenes, conveying the bliss John Locke feels from finally meeting his dad after suffering a childhood full of throwaway parents. But everything falls apart one day when Locke accidentally arrives early to Cooper’s house to find his father hooked up to a dialysis machine. That Locke claims he was arriving at the correct time is important to note, as he's been on the Mousetrap board from the moment he met his mother and this is just one more step towards the finish line.
Locke doesn’t hesitate to offer Cooper one of his kidneys, and soon the two men are sharing a hospital room as they prep for surgery. As Locke is wheeled into the operating room Cooper tells his son “see you on the other side”, but when Locke awakens after his kidney is removed his father is nowhere to be found. The nurse working in recovery tells Locke that the other man has already been released, and that she didn’t even know that they were related. This visibly stings Locke, not only has he once again been abandoned by a parent but Cooper wasn’t even appreciative enough of his son’s sacrifice to mention their biological connection. The situation only gets worse when his mother appears, revealing that she was paid by Cooper to track Locke down so the man could con his son out of a kidney. What a cruel betrayal, one that inspires Locke to return to Cooper’s home where he finds his father unwilling to see him. The flashback ends with Locke screaming in frustration from the seat of car, unable to process what his father has just stolen from him, both physically and emotionally.
It’s amazing how well the writers are able to contrast the two timelines in “Deus Ex Machina”, subtly weaving parallels into the two stories so they can play off each another. On-island Locke is selfish and obsessive, but who wouldn’t be after having a kidney stolen by their father? In a way the island itself bears a resemblance to Anthony Cooper, it gave Locke the ability to walk again just like Cooper offered love and acceptance. In both cases the gift was snatched away, although in the island’s case it would appear that the sacrifice of Boone, Locke’s loyal disciple, satisfied the god that demanded an offering. And without question Locke worships the island as if it were a deity, whereas the egotistical Anthony Cooper preferred to verbally announce “Well I guess that makes me God”. Cooper asked for a kidney while the island requested Locke sacrifice his only follower, perhaps punishment for Boone’s lack of faith.
“Deus Ex Machina” is another standout episode from LOST’s opening season, and as the show continues to evolve a pattern will emerge regarding the Locke-centric chapters in the story. He’s such a complex character that will frustrate the viewer while also making them root for him to succeed, he often works in the shadows of morality but we get the sense that his motivations are good. Even after his poor treatment of Boone there’s a sense of relief when the hatch lights up at the end of the episode, a satisfaction found in seeing that Locke’s hope remains alive. Unfortunately for Locke his blind faith in the island is about to put him at odds with the other survivors, and there will be consequences for his recent actions.
Next week on LOST: “Do Not Harm”, the third episode focused on Dr. Jack Shephard.