“What Kate Does”
February 9th, 2010
I sat down to watch two early Kate flashbacks from the first two seasons of Lost earlier tonight, and I was struck by a moment in “Tabula Rasa,” an episode that reads very different with hindsight. The episode’s title refers to “blank slates,” and Jack (who just found out about Kate’s criminal past) says that he doesn’t need to know the truth about what she did, because the island offers them all a fresh start. However, the show’s flashbacks were based on the premise that what happened in the past did matter, and the fact that so many characters struggled to live down their past lives makes “Tabula Rasa” a particularly portentous episode in retrospect.
Of course, with the new flash sideways structure the show is taking on, getting a fresh start has taken on a new meaning. Rather than starting a new life, the characters are returning to their old ones without the seasons of development we’ve witnessed, stepping back into the same problems that made the island as much refuge as isolation for some of the castaways. “What Kate Does” is the first episode to go beyond small character changes to ask what would have happened to these characters if Flight 815 had never crashed, and while some seem to have turned on Kate as a character I strongly believe she is the perfect vantage point to usher the show into this new era.
I expect that there are quite a few “Kate Haters” out there who would object to Kate’s prominence in this episode, but I think it’s important for two key reasons. The first is that, whether you like it or not, Kate is an important character in this universe, and she shares unique relationships with enough main characters that she is both necessary and quite useful for bringing out sides of Jack and Sawyer that we might not see otherwise. The second is that, while I thought Kate’s material in seasons four or five never quite came together, being a mother to Aaron has always been at the heart of what was “wrong” with the Oceanic Six’s return to civilization, and considering that Claire is back full time this season it’s important that we understand Kate’s motivations before we get into the heavier plot material.
There were a few calls online that this episode was “filler,” but I would argue that the season’s structure is simply less complex than perhaps they might have realized. While the premiere had enough little differences and “WTF” reactions to make the flash-sideways structure confounding, in reality it’s extremely simple. There were a few moments where we wonder if there’s something more going on, whether reading something into nothing (like Jack and Kate’s look while she’s in the cab, which is explained by Jack seeing her handcuffs while she was on the plane) or even the characters realizing that something seems off (like Claire jumping to Aaron’s name as if she had heard it before, and Kate reacting as if she too found it oddly familiar), but for the most part the flash sideways are simple stories that question whether the relationship between these two characters (and the child connected to them both) was fate.
I was watching season two’s “What Kate Did,” fitting considering the episode title this week, and Sayid was giving a speech at Shannon’s funeral where he noted that if the plane had never crashed they never would have met, or spoken, or fallen in love. But what we’re seeing in the flash sideways is that these characters would have met if not for that plane crash, just in different ways. In the same episode, Eko warns Locke to not mistake coincidence for fate, but it’s pretty clear that Lost is more interested in the latter than the former, especially as Kate and Claire, Aaron’s two mothers, converge in the wake of the flight’s safe arrival in Los Angeles. And just as it happened on the island, Claire finds herself pregnant without adoptive parents waiting in the wings (the prospective parents having split up), and Kate ends up being there to help her deliver (or keep her from delivering, anyways) her baby.
The story was not as eventful as perhaps one might expect: Kate gets away from the cops fairly easily, and outside of the twist of Ethan (as Dr. Goodspeed) serving as Claire’s OBGYN it didn’t really say anything conclusive about what we’re supposed to be looking for in these flashes. I’d also argue that it doesn’t say particularly much about Kate: after revisiting her flashbacks, it was clear that Kate was always a fugitive with a heart of gold (saving the man who turned her in as opposed to escaping, for example), so for her to find that baby bag and go after Claire felt consistent with the character as we had seen her previously. However, while we see the story through Kate’s eyes, it’s actually far more important as a reminder of who Claire was before the plane crashed. It’s been so long since we’ve really seen Emilie de Ravin, and Claire was a character that felt like she sort of slipped away at some point in the third season, even. And I thought this alternate version of Aaron’s impending birth, as Kate helps convince Claire to keep her baby, was a nice way for the show to transition into what is easily the most exciting part of the episode: that final shot of Claire as the island’s new Rousseau.
While we had always presumed that Claire was a ghost, arguing that she stayed with the group because Miles was there and able to talk with her, what we realize now is that she was somehow (perhaps with the injection given to her while she was pregnant) infected, and that when she died (in the big explosion at the Barracks in Season Four) she was resurrected only to eventually disappear one night, never to return. We know that her exile is at least somewhat associated with her father, in that Christian appeared to her that night, but whether Christian represents Smokey (which makes sense considering that the Others are willing to kill Sayid for having the same condition) or something else entirely is unclear. The episode did a nice job of working its way to the conclusion, like the group stumbling on what seemed like one of Rousseau’s old traps but which the non-“Mac from It’s Always Sunny” Other indicated couldn’t have come from our former favourite island psychopath, and more importantly the story has a lot of potential: not only do we get an answer to what happened to Claire, but we can even come to better understand what “made” Rousseau, returning to season one questions of viruses and the like. Claire, rather than being an entirely separate mystery, fills in some important gaps elsewhere, and made for a great visual in the process (even if the physical similarities to Rousseau were a bit too cute).
While the Kate stuff off-island might have been a bit predictable and unrevealing, I thought Kate was a more important character in the “present,” if we can call it that. Kate and Sawyer’s relationship, in the wake of Juliet and Sawyer’s relationship, is plenty complex, but I thought the show hit all the right beats here: while Sawyer no longer sees her as a potential partner, they still share an emotional bond which means that he can open up to her about Juliet, and the scene on the docks was a great one for both Holloway and Lilly (who nicely detailed her motivation for coming back, which had never entirely been clear last year). While it might not have taken either character anywhere in particular, the fact of the matter is that Sawyer needed time to grieve, and I think Kate was the right character to get him to that particular place, throwing the ring out into the bay and trying to move on even when he feels as if this is in some way his fault. While Kate’s actual stories in and of themselves may be boring at times, I think she brings out interesting shades of other characters, and whether it’s little scenes like Jack’s humanity resurfacing or big scenes like on the dock, I find Lilly to be an important part of this ensemble.
The stuff in the temple this week was sort of opaque, in that it’s clear the Others know far more than we do and are more interested in asking questions than answering them. The story ended up being quite an interesting back and forth on the subject of trust, as Jack is forced to decide how much he trusts these people, even putting himself in harm’s way (to make up for his own sense of being to blame, this time for Sayid getting shot) in order to suss out their motivations. There are times when the stuff at the temple seems weird for the sake of being weird, but the individual scenes remain either compelling thematically (like the leader confirming to Jack that, like them, he was “brought here” in a way which goes beyond a mode of transportation) or just in terms of being a lot of fun (Hurley and Miles both had a number of fun one-liners in this one). So long as the story’s sense of mystery doesn’t seem as if it’s purposefully keeping the audience in the dark, and is instead being used to create complex moral questions for Jack and Sayid, then I’m fine with the slow reveals.
“What Kate Does” doesn’t have the sense of surprise we had last week, and the complete lack of movement in terms of Locke/Smokey and that group of castaways does make for a smaller story by comparison. But I felt like the small scale of the story helped highlight moments like Sawyer and Kate on the dock, and helped remind us that the purpose of the flash sideways is not to blow our minds but rather to jog our memories, reminding us of who Claire used to be before we see who she is now, or showing us that Kate’s empathy for Aaron was not island-dependent. There will be some flash sideways that I believe will make for huge episodes that question the very foundation of the show, but those are not going to be the norm: this device has a greater purpose, but individually their goal is to remind us that the island changes these people’s lives, and without it they would have gone down entirely different paths that, perhaps due to fate or some higher power, may well eventually lead them to the same location.
And that’s not always going to blow our minds, which shouldn’t be the show’s primary goal (or the audience’s primary expectation) to begin with.
- I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see more of the Kate/Jin pairing: rewatching old episodes, you see pairings that after a while the show was forced to stop doing due to splitting its cast up in various locations, so there’s a fun novelty to these new dynamics.
- As noted above, there was a lot of talk about Rob McElhenney making an appearance, returning to the role of Aldo that he played in the early part of the third season. He’s best known for his role as Mac on FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and he’s personal friends with Damon Lindelof, which is where the casting comes from. I thought he did a good job of making Aldo out to be a tool worth getting killed, but I hope that Justin survived that shot to the shoulder: I liked him.
- I’m a little fuzzy on why the mechanic was so willing to allow Kate to take over his shop like that: I like that it didn’t become too dramatic, but it seemed awfully convenient.
- I really liked the scene between Jack and the Others’ leader, if only for the different answer to why he only speaks Japanese (arguing that it helped separate him from the people he leads). It’s strange since it creates confusion, which creates fear, which creates obedience, whereas Sayid trusts Jack innately by comparison. There’s some interesting stuff there about leadership, and I think we’ll be seeing it play out in the weeks to come.