February 10, 2010

Lost: "What Kate Does"

"Are you kidding me?"

Well that didn't take long. While I was impressed with the novelty of the alternate universe last week, a small part of me was concerned that flashes to it would feel very much like wasted time when placed in an ordinary week-to-week setting. I think "What Kate Does" unfortunately proves that concern correct.

In the episode, the action pivots between a "primary" plot line in which the survivors deal with the aftermath of Sayid's unlikely resurrection and Sawyer's self-loathing, and an alternate plot line in which Kate frees herself from handcuffs and befriends a very pregnant Claire. Neither plot line really advances the ball down the field, and at the end of the episode, all we really know is that the Others think Sayid has been "claimed" by darkness (by Smokey? by the Man in Black?). More interestingly, in order to prove their point to Jack, the Others claim that Claire was claimed by that same darkness at some point in the past (presumably when she left with Christian in the middle of Season 4).

Other than that, the episode served no apparent purpose.

Sure it's nice that Kate, despite being in the middle of running from the law, stops to pick up the pregnant Australian girl whose cab she had just hijacked (very realistic by the way), but what do the events of that timeline even mean? The creators of Lost have a real problem the longer they fail to explain just what we are supposed to take from the alternate timeline scenes.

Back in Season 3, there was much talk about the fact that the show was losing momentum because the flashback mechanic had been played out for so long. All anyone really wanted to see was more Island adventure, and taking time out of an episode for flashbacks which failed to illuminate any interesting characteristics of the survivors felt like a waste of time. Unfortunately, the alternate timeline appears to have the same problem as the Season 3 flashbacks, only this time writ large.

Unlike Season 3, in which the flashbacks at least colored our understanding of the characters to some degree, we have no idea what to do with the alternate timeline, because the showrunners have failed to tell us what they mean. Said another way, an episode of Lost in this, its final season, tends to feel like a 20 minute window on the Island we care about accompanied by a 20 minute dream sequence/tone poem which really doesn't mean anything.

To put it mildly, this is a problem.

The good news is that this problem can be, at least in part, retroactively corrected. If, at the end of the season, we find out, for instance, that the show is adopting some type of "wheel of life" explanation, that the alternate timeline is actually a representation of where the characters go when they die (or any of an infinite array of explanations that give meaning to the alternate timeline), at least we could give some internal weight to the proceedings occurring in "fake" 2004, even in the episodes we are seeing now. In my humble opinion, however, it is a mistake for the show to try to maintain a mystery around the alternate timeline, as it seems intent on doing, as that mystery is essentially unanswerable at present, and creates a show that feels disjointed and oddly short for a prime time hour long.

Now, I trust the showrunners, and I believe that this retroactive course correction will occur. I, however, do not enjoy the show as much as I should in the manner in which it is currently being presented, and the blame for that falls squarely on those same showrunners. In other words, I think everything will be fine, but that the alternate timeline, for so long as it continues to play out as the world's longest dream sequence, is a mistake.

16 hours remain...

Quick Thoughts

Moments of Recognition: Similar to last week's Jack/Desmond encounter, this week's episode lingers on a shot of Kate seemingly recognizing Jack as she drives by him at LAX. Seeing as this is the second time we've seen such a shot, I think we are meant to assume that there is some recognition there; that the alternate timeline Losties have either already lived the primary events (making the primary timeline a flashback of sorts) or they are in some small part aware that they are living a different sort of life in an alternate universe. Throw in the fact that Kate's acts of kindness towards Claire make little to no sense unless she views Claire as something more than a stranger, and I think a sense of recognition has been fairly strongly implied at this point.

What Kate Did: Obviously the title of this episode is a reference to the episode in Season 2 where we found out that Kate murdered her father to protect her mother ("What Kate Did"), but it illustrates another problem with the alternate timeline. At one point in the episode, Claire asks Kate what the cops want her for. In response, Kate asks Claire if she would believe that she's innocent. Claire said that she would, and I guess we have to too, considering we have no idea who this Kate is. Did she murder her father as she did in the primary timeline? Did she murder someone else? Is she innocent? Since the show's producers have decided that the alternate timeline could have changed all manner of things (Shannon getting on the plane, Locke being allowed to go on walkabout, Charlie's suicidal tendencies), what are we to believe? How are we supposed to root for or against people that we barely know? As I said above, I think this is just one more reason the alternate timeline needs to get resolved sooner rather than later.

Real Adoption?: One of the fringe debates from the early seasons of the show was whether or not Claire was actually going to visit an adopting family when she was in LA. A little background: In Season 1, Claire visits a psychic that tells her that she must raise her child on her own or great calamities will befall the earth (this last part is more implied than said). He hounds her with this "prophecy" before seemingly giving up by telling her that he's found a couple to adopt her baby in Los Angeles. Of course, the flight she'll have to take to get to Los Angeles is Oceanic Flight 815 and it's strongly implied that the psychic knew that flight's fate. In other words, there would be no need for an adopting couple in LA, because the psychic knew that Claire would be raising her baby on her own on the Island. That interpretation of the episode's events was thrown into a small amount of dispute, however, when a later episode in Season 2 featured Mr. Eko investigating a miracle claimed by the psychic's wife. In one scene of that episode, the psychic admits to Mr. Eko that he is a fraud, a fake psychic that preys on people and takes their money. Presumably, in that episode we are meant to reflect on Claire's situation, and whether or not the psychic was defrauding her or whether, just once, he was touched by the supernatural (you know, like Whoopi in Ghost).

Now, I have always been of the opinion that the psychic was telling Claire the truth, and that he really saw terrible things happening if she gave the baby away. Of course, that interpretation implies that there was no family in LA for Claire to give her baby to. In this episode, however, we find that in the alternate timeline there was a family ready to adopt Claire's baby. What does that mean for everything I wrote about in the above paragraph? Nothing, and that's the problem with the alternate timeline. Like I said in my comments about how it's impossible for us to know who alternate Kate is, it's similarly impossible for us to know who alternate Claire is. Who is the baby's father? Did she visit a psychic? Did the psychic warn her of the baby's fate? Did the psychic buy her the ticket on Oceanic 815? Did the psychic arrange for her to meet with the adopting family in Los Angeles? Since we don't know what, if anything, changed in Claire's past, we can't ascribe any meaning to the events of the alternate timeline. This is a problem.

Take the Green Pill: Perhaps the best turn of events in this episode was the fact that Jack "cowboyed up" and stopped feeling sorry for himself, at least a bit. When Dogen (the name of the Asian leader of the Temple Others), told Jack that he could redeem himself for the deaths or injuries that occurred on his watch by giving Sayid an ominous green pill, I simultaneously thought that redemption was a stupid reason to give a friend an unknown pill and that Jack would fall for it. Imagine my surprise when he called Dogen's bluff (a few scenes later, but still). It was a good moment for Jack, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

Fear and Loathing in New Otherton: Sawyer has a number of good lines in this one, most of which relate to his new understanding of the Island as some type of hell. (This was first seen last week when he said that Jack should be allowed to suffer on the Island "just like the rest of us.") In this episode, Sawyer's state of mind was reinforced early on when he seemed nonplussed by Sayid's resurrection: "Of course he's safe. He's an Iraqi torturer who shoots kids, he definitely deserves another go-around." It's no surprise then that Sawyer separates himself from the group to take a wander down to New Otherton. What is a surprise is just how effective Josh Holloway is at portraying the character's sense of loss and heartbreak while sitting on the docks telling Kate of his planned life with Juliet. I've never been much of a Sawyer fan, but that scene alone deserves specific mention.

Dr. Ethan: I suspect that the powers that be are just playing with us in putting cameos in unexpected places, but what are we supposed to do with the fact that a seemingly benevolent Ethan (perhaps the most infamous of the Others) was just some random doctor in a Los Angeles area hospital?

A Real Christian Shepard: Ever since it became apparent that Smokey could take on the forms of the dead, the one apparition that didn't quite fit was that of Jack and Claire's dad, Christian Shepard. See, we know that the smoke monster can take the form of persons who left a corpse on the island, but Christian's corpse has never been discovered. Thus, there was some thought (at least by me) that the appearances of Christian were different in kind than those of the other "ghosts" on the Island. If, however, the Others are to be believed in this one, and Claire really was consumed by a certain darkness, it seems likely that Christian's appearances are the work of Smokey (or at least the Man in Black). That is because, when last we saw Claire she was at the side of a ghostly Christian sitting in the rocking chair in "Jacob's" cabin. If Claire was turning towards the dark side, then it seems reasonable to assume that Christian was her guide. To the extent this helps us place Christian's loyalties, I think this revelation is the most important of the episode. One of the things I had really hoped that this Season would answer, is just who or what was on whose side during the events of the previous seasons. This goes a long way towards sorting those things out. Of course, it all depends on whether or not you can trust the Others...

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: If you had asked me last week what the most interesting or important continuing plot line of the episode was, I would have told you it was Not Locke's taking Richard Alpert out into the jungle, with an impotent Ben following close behind. How wonderful it was, then, to see on my DVR a Kate-centric episode that was completely devoid of Locke, Ben, and Alpert. The show most certainly suffered for their absence.


  1. Definitely missed the Ben/Locke/Alpert plot line. I found that to be the most interesting part of the first episode, which is probably why this episode didn't have me sucked in or on edge... at all, really.

  2. I really liked your take on the alternate timeline and how we kind of need a little bit of explanation on why we should care about it. The writers keep saying trust us (seems a little too much like the annoying Others' answer to every question Jack asks ever.)

    You have never been a big fan of Sawyer?? I don't think I've ever heard that before - I can understand the lack of love towards Jack and Kate, but Sawyer?

    I don't think Ethan was a random doctor in L.A. - he got off the island soon after he was born with all the women and children from Dharma that Chang had evacuated on the sub.

  3. Bryanmurray70,

    You are right to call me out on Sawyer. I should have been more careful in my description. I've generally liked the character, I just haven't been that impressed by Josh's portrayal of him (not that it was bad, just that he wasn't asked to do too much, in general). I wanted to point out the dock scene in this week's episode just because I was that impressed.

    As for Ethan, I absolutely think you can construct a viable timeline that involves him never returning to the Island, thus becoming this warmhearted doctor in LA. I simply struggle with exactly how much of the alternate timeline past has changed given that so many little things appear to have been altered. It's hard to play the game if you don't know the rules, you know?

    Thanks for the comments.