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Getting 'Lost' in Terry O'Quinn's best moments

He is one of the most intriguing prime-time characters of the decade, and the actor who played him has Baltimore-area ties.

I am talking about the character John Locke and the actor Terry O'Quinn, who lived in Reisterstown for years and he has moved back to Maryland, according to ABC. Both of them will be saying goodbye to fans of "Lost" tonight as this remarkable series ends its run.

Sometimes it helps in saying goodbye to such standout characters to remember their best moments over the years — and the way they made us feel when we watched. Because "Lost" has always belonged more to its savvy and passionate fans than the critics, and because the ABC series benefitted so much from the interactivity of new media, I asked readers of my Z on TV blog to talk about their favorite Locke moments and what the character meant to them.

Though Locke, who lived many years in Reisterstown before "Lost" began filming, was a strong presence throughout the series, both as himself and then as the smoke monster, it is clear from what fans say that he had a very strong first season — and was one of the series' most important characters in terms of articulating themes and setting a tone of intensity, ambiguity, inscrutability and power.

My own Locke pick is from Season 1. In fact, it's from the pilot and features Locke explaining backgammon to Walt. As he holds up the black-and-white tiles, and as the camera moves from him to Walt, the theme of dualism is sounded and visually stated for the first time — a thread that that runs straight through the series from beginning to end.

Ann Cannon also picked a scene from Season 1 that she described as "Locke's Legs." It features the character uttering his "trademark" line: "Don't tell me what I can't do."

In the flashback, Locke is engaged in a dispute with a travel agent. The Australian tour director will not allow him to get on a bus taking tourists to a flight for a "walkabout." As the man gets up from the desk, the camera shows that Locke is in a wheelchair.

The scene then flashes to the island immediately after the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, with Locke coming to after the impact of the crash — and gingerly moving his foot.

"He is no longer paralyzed, and Locke comes to believe that the island has healed him, so he must listen to the island and do what it wants," Cannon says. "I think John Locke represents all things: good and evil, love and hate, fearful and feared, arrogant and sensitive, powerful and weak, selfless and selfish, brave and cowardly, believing and doubting, enlightened and confused, hopeful and hopeless. He represents the complexity and wonder of every human being."

Jennifer Istvan, too, went with Season 1, and Locke's newfound ability to walk. She also sounded a common complaint of Locke lovers: being asked to pick only one favorite scene or moment.

"It is too difficult for me to sum up my [single] favorite John Locke moment," she says. "His character had such an amazing journey on and off the island. If I had to sum up my favorite moment, it would encompass every time we see John Locke smile in Season 1."

Istvan adds that she watched the first season again before the start of this final year, and enjoyed it all the more.

"Looking back, I see how absolutely freed and alive he felt when the plane crashed," she says. "Regaining his mobility and feeling 'special' for the first time in his life, feeling like he had finally come home and found a sense of purpose, Terry O'Quinn brought all those emotions into play every time he flashed that quirky smile, and I do think just about everyone on the island received it in one form or another over the course of the series."

"Walkabout's 'don't tell me what I can't do' scene is among the best," wrote Karen Moul. "But how about 'Deus Ex Machina,' when Locke is driving away from Anthony Cooper's house, screaming in anguish as he realizes his "father" conned him out of a kidney. And the same episode shows us Locke after Boone's death, banging on the hatch door screaming 'I've done everything you asked, what do you want from me?' And the light in the hatch goes on."

This last moment was also cited by several commenters as a powerful affirmation of Locke as a symbol of faith locked in a dialectic with science throughout the series.

Several viewers started out by picking one scene from the pilot, and then thinking back about it, voting for the entire episode. None was more enthusiastic than Kevin Perkins.

"My favorite moment," he writes, "everything about the pilot episode, but especially the mystery of Locke and the wheelchair (and he can now walk on the Island!), which set up the central theme of Locke and faith. One of the best pilot episodes of any TV series I have ever watched, including the original 'Prisoner.'"

"Lost" was one of the few dramas on network TV complex enough to allow for multiple interpretations — and so compelling that viewers wanted to talk about their take on what they just saw after the final credits roll. O'Quinn's winning performance as Locke played a major role in generating that kind of dramatic and intellectual energy.

"The scenes between Ben and Locke were dubbed the 'Michael Emerson/Terry O'Quinn Emmy-off' in my household," Jenny Makunas says of last week's penultimate episode.

"My husband and I have been having an ongoing discussion all season about the dramatic acting opportunities that this last season has afforded Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson. It seems like they're both gunning for Emmys — and they've certainly had lots of opportunities to be very evil or very dramatic or very creepy or very persuasive. That episode last Tuesday just struck me as both of them acting their [behinds] off in some sort of weird acting throw-down. Hence the comment about having an 'Emmy-off.' Kind of like a 'dance-off.'"

"Terry O'Quinn is a remarkable actor," Cannon says. "He can display powerful emotions with just a slight movement of his eyes or mouth. He has been a treasure to watch. Just seeing some of these clips on YouTube makes me sad that we are losing this wonderful character he has created."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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