'Lost': Look out! It's a Kate episode!
Hey, "Lost" fans, it's a Kate episode! I'll bet you're just all terrifically excited about that fact too. You're not? Well, that's too bad. "What Kate Does" takes on the tough task that the first Kate episode -- season one's "Tabula Rasa" (not coincidentally, I imagine, the first episode after the two-hour pilot) -- also had. Here's where the show is going to establish the template that will make season six work. Just like "Tabula Rasa" established that the flashbacks would break up the Island action, providing a little story that would be a closed-off plot within each episode, "What Kate Does" establishes how the flash-sidewayses (which really shouldn't be a word) are going to work: They're going to offer intriguing little hints as to what's going on in the master plot of the 815ers landing in LA in an alternate timeline, but they're also going to provide a way to look back at how far these characters -- and the show -- have come.
Now, the problem for many fans is going to be that all of this comes wrapped in the guise of a Kate episode. Kate episodes are things that a lot of "Lost" fans have notoriously tricky relationships with. Kate's one of the show's most important characters, for sure, but she's also one of the series' most obvious missed opportunities. She's the main character who -- through a combination of actress Evangeline Lilly and the writers -- has most become a shadow of what she once was. She often seems something like a bargaining womb, just a girl that the guys can fight over, even though she may occasionally take matters into her own hands.
But let's be honest here: "Lost" isn't very good, period, at creating female characters. Juliet and Sun are both very well done (though not on the level of some of the show's stronger male characters), but it's often seemed like the series' writers had to respond to what the actors were giving them in the early going. They deepened characters like Locke and Sawyer because the actors were giving them all of this stuff to react to, but they were less able to do interesting things with Kate, Shannon or Claire because the actresses were not as handy at elevating characters that entered the show as fairly broad archetypes (fugitive! bratty rich girl! sweet pregnant girl!). Terry O'Quinn could make the grizzled survivalist into a deeply tragic figure, the true sad center of the show. Evangeline Lilly was good at playing a tough girl, but when asked to play Kate's sorrow over, say, that toy plane she robbed a bank vault for, she was less capable.
Lilly's performance has actually grown with the series, but it's as if the show forgot what to do with her once she was trapped in that infernal love triangle with Sawyer and Jack. The character seems to only hang around to occasionally track somebody down and then just go along with whatever Sawyer or Jack wants to do (depending on which she's crushing on at the time). She's had numerous potentially interesting storylines since season one (including two tonight), but that stupid love triangle keeps tripping her up, as though the show doesn't quite know how to write a woman of action who's also in love.
And, I should admit, many of the show's Kate flashbacks are just plain silly. There was that one where we learned that she had randomly been married to Nathan Fillion. There was the one where she (again) robbed a bank for a toy plane. And while I liked the way the show used the character of baby Aaron to show sides of Kate that were interesting without making her a cliche who'd just wanted a baby all along, the whole "Kate's a mom" plot never cohered as well as all involved probably wanted it to, though it did lead to a pretty great motivation for Kate to go back to the Island. She was also a big part of why Jack's flash forwards tended to suck, as he got wrapped up in that whole thing where he was going to be engaged to her and then he wasn't and then they hated each other and ... blah, blah, blah. So, yeah, there have been a lot of pretty dire Kate episodes.
But I thought "What Kate Does" mostly worked. I can see why some fans are calling it a filler episode, since we didn't learn anything too major (besides the basic nature of the infection and the fact that Claire's a wild woman now). At the same time, I think the episode had so much to set up -- again, just how the sideways flashes (that's much better) are going to work -- that it's understandable that the show took a little time to breathe. It also had to find some space to mourn Juliet, a very important character in the arc of the show overall, and it had to believably put the characters through their paces. For the most part, by the time the end of the episode rolled around, I was pleased with how these things had resolved themselves.
But for the first 20 minutes of the episode or so, I was less convinced this was all going to work. When Sawyer wandered off into the jungle, I took it as a sign that he was just doing so because the plot required him to do so (since that's something that often befalls characters on this show). When Kate went after him, I was convinced it was because she was going off to seduce him or something. And when Lennon and Dogen (the two main Temple Others) were shifty with their responses to Jack, I was worried the show had fallen back into keeping answers from us just for the sake of keeping answers from us, and that the characters had fallen back into their bad habit of just shrugging and saying, "I guess they're not going to answer my question." Even when I've got complete faith in "Lost," I'm always worried it will fall back into old bad habits.
Instead, the series mostly spun off some fine answers to those questions. Why was Sawyer wandering off into the jungle? Because he wanted to be in a place where he could mourn Juliet in peace (which turns out to be the Others' encampment). Why did Kate follow him? She seemed to be genuinely concerned for his well-being after the death of Juliet. Why were Lennon and Dogen shifty? There's not a terribly good way to explain the infection to someone in English, though they gave it their best shot as the episode drew to its close. And Jack actually took matters into his own hands in fairly convincing fashion by swallowing that poison pill so he'd see just what Dogen's plan was.
I also loved the scene where Sawyer and Kate sit on the dock in New Otherton and discuss how he was going to propose to Juliet, how much he misses her. There's no better actor for man tears in this cast than Josh Holloway, and he makes Sawyer's confession both believable and moving. And Lilly is very good in this scene as well, as she believably played someone genuinely sorry for a friend who's in pain, someone who wishes she could have done more to keep him from this grief. "Lost" is at its best when it's grounding all of its goofy shenanigans in simple, emotional scenes like this one, and this was the show at its best, even if plenty of other stuff in the episode disappointed. (And how much are you willing to bet that engagement ring comes back into play at some point?) At this point, I'll be pretty angry if the writers try to force more Sawyer-Kate-Jack machinations on us. Sawyer's fairly upset over Juliet still, and I don't think the remaining episodes will be enough time for him to adequately grieve, especially with, y'know, all of the mystery revelatin' going on.
There's very little in the way of big revelations tonight. There's the moment when Claire chooses the name Aaron for her baby over in the alternate timeline, where Kate seems to have a weird moment of deja vu. There's the reveal that whatever happened to Sayid -- his healing and apparent resurrection -- is a bad sign that he might be "infected," which turns out to be something very like evil taking over your entire soul and entire form. And there's the revelation that Claire apparently suffered a very similar fate, right before Jin comes across her in the jungle, all Rousseau-style. They aren't a bad little series of twists, all things considered, but not one of them is on the level of "Locke is the smoke monster." And that's fine. They can't all be that way.
The alternate timeline is mostly used tonight as a suggestion of how the show will use the alternate timeline going forward. We're shown who Kate used to be and what would have happened had she landed in Los Angeles. There are a few convenient narrative beats -- like Kate finding Los Angeles' most corrupt mechanic. And there are hints galore that these characters would have been drawn together regardless of what happened, since Kate and Claire spend most of the episode fretting over the baby they'll both be mother to in another world. The storyline also continues the suggestions that things will play out very similarly to what happened on the Island without quite playing out exactly the same, as Ethan turns up to be Claire's obstetrician, out of nowhere, and Claire is forced to keep her baby by circumstance once again.
So, yeah, I can see why some fans think this one was a filler. I prefer to think of it as a breather, a brief pause between all of the bigger events. And even though it had me nervous as it started, I was definitely happy to see it pull itself together in the end. "Lost" has always needed little pauses in the narrative like this episode, just to keep us from losing touch with the characters and who they are entirely. It's also needed little pauses to let us adjust to new narrative gambits. "Lost" is some of the most fun you can have on television, but it only works if you can sense that the writers know just where everything is headed and what they need to do to get you there. Despite a few little bumps, I'm still confident that season six is headed off to a great place.
Some other thoughts:
- I'm not sure introducing entirely new cast members is always the best idea for "Lost," but I'm kind of enjoying Lennon and Dogen's buddy comedy energy. Here's hoping we get a few episodes with these guys just hanging out, doing whatever Temple Others do when they're not menaced by a smoke monster.
- Related note: Am I the only one who thinks the Temple has the weird feel of a "Dr. Brain" game?
- All I could think was that that ring? A little skimpy. Let's be honest here. Then again, the Island isn't exactly hopping with Zale's outlets.
- I liked Miles' crack about Hurley having asserted himself as the leader.
- Another nice scene: Jack and Sayid talking about the pill and whether Sayid would take it.
- So, we didn't see Ben, Locke or anyone else down at the beach. You guys miss 'em? I didn't even notice they were gone, honestly, though many of my favorite characters were there. Maybe I liked this one more than I thought I did.
- Also, yes, that was Mac from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" as one of the Others who took Kate and Jin out into the jungle. And, in case you'd forgotten, he was in "Not in Portland" back in season three as well.
- Don't forget tomorrow's "Lost" Wednesday! Share your best thoughts in comments, and be sure to e-mail or Twitter me your cool "Lost" links. See you then!
-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: (Top) Ethan (William Mapother), Claire (Emilie de Ravin) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) all cope with problem pregnancies and alternate timelines on "Lost." (Bottom) Kate and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) discuss his escape. Credit: ABC