Monday, April 6, 2009

The Midside: S5E11 Whatever Happened, Happened

Ladies and Gentleman, we are back in action. No, I don’t mean me personally. I mean all of us in the IL, Institute of LOSTology. We have things to talk about again. There’s character development. There’s philosophical quandaries that are actually difficult to decipher. There’s throw away lines that aren’t actually throw away lines. You see, this last episode may not have seemed that important to you, sort of like filler between the last big episode and the next big episode, but it was. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse wrote it. How could it not be important? The reason it didn’t appear as so is because what made LOST good in the beginning has returned to it: its subtlety.

This episode can be understood and discussed through the development of three of the most important characters on the show: Kate (of course, it was her episode), Jack, and Ben. Yes, Ben was only in this episode as a child. Yes, Jack only had a few scenes in this episode. This apparent lack of importance is exactly where the subtlety of the writing comes into play. Sometimes, it’s the smallest events that have the biggest effect on us. You also might be asking why I didn’t include Sawyer on this list of characters. He did some interesting things in this episode, and this is The Midside after all, right. Yeah, well, Juliet did some interesting things too (and so did Cassidy), but the discussion of those choices can easily be addressed within our considerations of the other characters.

Finally, in the closing section, I’ll address an idea a passerby on the street put forward as I was writing this column. Ok, she wasn’t a random passerby. A couple of my friends were walking by and she was with them. Regardless, she seems to think the determinism inherent in a time travel story devalues the storytelling. She may have a point, but she also might not. Stayed tuned in to see which is correct.


Here’s my problem with Kate. The more she does, the less I like her. In the early seasons, there were grumblings from some members of the fan base about how pathetic of a character Kate was. Some of my friends explicated her weaknesses as well. Hell, it got to the point that even I was recognizing the mistakes she made. Every time Jack told her to stay behind, she would run ahead and make some mistake that got everyone else in trouble. I even made a short horror-comedy called “End It Like Beckham” that spoofed that attribute by “Kate” be the one who accidentally let the killer into the apartment. (Yes, that was a cheap plug for my movie. You can find it on YouTube.) However, I always managed to pawn those mistakes off on Jack. He, after all, was the one who insulted her personhood by telling her that she didn’t come. Hey, Jack sucks, we can blame him for everything and anything, right?

No, he can’t (as we learned elsewhere in the episode, or did we?). Kate’s shortcomings were all over this episode, and it mainly comes down to this: she has no sense of self worth anymore. In a way, the constructions of our perceptions of her character are very similar to John Locke. During the first season, she seemed cool and confident, able to kick ass and take names all because she believed she could. She stood toe to toe with Sawyer and didn’t give much of thought to Jack. If you remember, in Season One, Locke also seemed badass, like the wise old dude who had never been given a chance. In Season Two, he seemed weaker, owned by his con man of a father and subsequently putting way-too-much faith in the island.

In Season Two, Kate’s character began to unravel as well, although at a much slower rate than Locke’s. In “What Kate Did” we learned about her real father and the issues she had with seeing him in Sawyer. The only problem is that we didn’t fully realize how deep those daddy issues went until this episode. Looking back over the previous material, we can now see how her lack of self worth through out. In Season Three, she left Nathan Fillion at the alter (really, what woman would do that?) and desperately seeks approval from her mother. In Season Four, she continually returned to a debilitating relationship with Jack. The beginning of this season featured much of the same, as she ended up crying in Jack’s bed. In this episode we found out why.

To put it bluntly (why would we waste our time doing it any other way?), Kate used Aaron to give herself self worth. On one level, anyone who uses external sources to find self worth will not ever find that self worth. On a deeper level, she used a child as a tool for her own means. While it is true that she took care of him and gave him a good life, she denied his personhood and took advantage of his innocence when she essentially kidnapped him.

This betrayal of innocence is especially ironic considering the argument she, Sawyer, and Juliet used to save Harry Potter, the “He’s Just a Kid” argument. However, considering why Kate used Aaron, we have to ask ourselves if she was saving Harry Potter for the same reason. Was she still living out her motherhood fantasy or was she actually doing it to save an innocent? Of course, that same question could be asked about her relationship with Aaron. Maybe she was just trying to protect any innocent.

Kate wasn’t lying when she said that Claire disappeared. Leaving him on the island didn’t seem the best choice for him. Sure, she could have decided to give her to Claire’s mother right when they got back, but at that point The Lie and their lives weren’t unraveling, so there was no need. Plus, none of this speculation explains why she gave Aaron to Claire’s mother when she did. She didn’t have to go back to the island. She could have stayed and raised Aaron for as long as she wanted. So why did she decide to go back?

The answer to this question is buried in her conversations with Cassidy, who is the woman Kate fears she is going to become with Sawyer. The mother of Sawyer’s daughter is still bitter about what happened between her and him. Look, I’m not defending Sawyer for what happened back then. He clearly conned women by giving them only half of a relationship, the physical half. Still, that wrong he did to Cassidy does not excuse her for holding onto it for so long and demonizing him for jumping out of the helicopter. Did he jump out of the helicopter for selfish reasons? Of course he did. He lives for himself. (Which, by the way, I’m glad the writers clarified that he didn’t jump out simply to help others with complete disregard to himself.) If he didn’t jump, who would? And, like he said in this episode, he wouldn’t have been a good boyfriend or father back then. His jumping let them leave the island, but, more importantly, let him stay on the island. What’s disturbing is how angry Cassidy was about his choice. She wanted him to live his life for her and was using Clementine was a tool for that end. In “Every Man For Himself” Sawyer set up a bank account for his daughter. In this episode we saw Kate go see his daughter for him, as he requested. He wasn’t disregarding her. He was trying to take care of her. His issues just made him maintain an emotional distance, and those issues aren’t a good reason for Cassidy not to get over her issues.

Even worse, Cassidy applied her issues to Kate, telling Kate that they both used the kids in the same way. Was Cassidy a reliable narrator? Did Kate use Aaron to get over Sawyer? No, I don’t think Kate was “getting over” Sawyer. She never sought the commitment or close personal connection that “getting over” requires and leaving the island was the perfect opportunity to run as she always does. However, I do think she was using Aaron like many women with low self worth do: as a source of the unconditional love they believe the world owes them. What she soon realized was, be it correctly or incorrectly, that she couldn’t raise Aaron.

In the end, I think she was right. I don’t think she is incapable of raising Aaron, but the whole island thing and her unresolved issues put her in a place, quite literally now, that she couldn’t. Claire even told her not to bring Aaron back to the island. And Kate’s valuing of children and ability to protect them was clearly evident by her bringing Harry Potter to the Hostiles. And since Sawyer came along we see they have that in common (although we already knew why and how Sawyer valued children).


Point to the sky and say thanks because Jack may have finally reached a turning point. While my opinion of Kate plummeted to an all time low (no, not the band), my opinion of Jack sky rocketed to an all time high. Things are topsy-turvy in the LOSTiverse, and I left this episode with a general feeling of confusion for because of it. Jack did something I liked and agreed with. (Yes, hell just froze over, pigs flew, and the American public saw Barack Obama for the fraud he is.)

No, I’m not referring to his decision not to help Harry Potter. I understand his reasoning. However, as someone pointed out to me, this decision was still a screw up. If he had saved Harry Potter, he wouldn’t have been brought to the Hostiles, and his innocence never would have been, well, lost. Yes, the decision blew up in his face again. Even more to the point, he could have ripped out Harry Potter’s heart, killing him once and for all. (We’ll get into more of the details of this moral decision in the next section). The smart response to this point though is that “whatever happened, happened,” if Jack tried to save Harry Potter he would have failed, and the kid would have been brought to the Hostiles anyway as time “course corrects.” (Or, if you don’t agree with compatibalism, he was always going to make the choice not to save him.)

What I am referring to is his decision to stand up for himself. When Sawyer asked him to come and fix Harry Potter he stopped for a second, thought, and said no. Then, in that moment, he faced the fears he had been dodging his whole life: the immediate negative reactions people give you when you don’t do what they want. These responses were, of course, stronger in this instance because Jack has always tried to fix things, so his behavior was outside the norm. Still, he dealt with it admirably (even if I don’t necessarily agree with his decision) and stood by his choice. He then had to face the next step in the process: the scrutiny of those closest to you.

Kate attacked Jack for his decision, and he explicated his error in reasoning when cutting the tumor out of Ben’s back, “I did it for you, Kate.” Later in the conversation, she complained that she didn’t like the new him, to which he replied that she didn’t like the old him either. I’m glad he finally stood up for himself and called Kate on her use of him. I’m glad he finally questioned the premise that he had to fix everything. The problem is that, while he is trying to think for himself, he is making the same error in judgment that Locke is by exalting the island as his missing father figure. How crazy do you think it’s going to be when he meets Christian again? He’ll have to face his issues one more time.

The next person to attack Jack was his other woman, the other woman, Juliet. We had the reverse of the Jack and Kate shower scene from the Hatch, where this time Jack is the one being gawked at and yearned for by a crazy (although, did anyone else notice that he barely dried off before putting his shirt on?). Juliet claimed, “I needed you” as if her need put some sort of moral responsibility on Jack. He thankfully ignored it and stated his reasoning. She then went into attack mode, demonstrating why she sucks, stating that Kate and Sawyer were off somewhere together. He tried to play the old altruistic Jack, but she quickly denied it, making him admit he did it for himself, and crying in the process. It’s incredibly messed up that she is mad at Jack for doing what he wants. Clearly the problem isn’t Jack, but that she still has feelings for him. Of course, Jack once again stated, “I came back because I was supposed to” perhaps finally completing his transition to a Man of Faith. (Meanwhile, Juliet stormed out of the room indignant, not realizing the irony that the man she is with makes decisions for himself more than Jack does.)


Though Harry Potter was little more than a prop in this episode, literally (both the word “little” and the word “prop”) he had a huge affect on the philosophical undertones of the episode, the philosophical undertones that returned LOST to its former, um, form. Remember when the situations the characters were in and the choices they made were applicable to important thoughts? Yeah, they’re back, and it’s all thanks to Sayid believing he’s a killer (or does he?). This episode focused on what we could call the “Hitler Dilemma.” If you could kill Hitler as a child would you?

The two main points of view in this episode were expressed by, not surprisingly, Jack and Sawyer. Jack, as we already stated, refused to help, arguing that it’s fine to let Harry Potter die because of who he would become. Sawyer said they were obligated to help because he was a child, advocating the position that children are always sacred. Kate, in a throwback to her first episode “Tabula Rasa” was once again caught in the middle. And once again she chose Sawyer’s side, just as she did when she gave him the gun to kill the Marshall. Let’s pick apart these two sides some more.

The “children are innocent” side holds a lot of intuitive weight. We have to consider the idea of tabula rasa that was first introduced early in the series (as noted above). We are all born innocent, a blank slate. (No, I won’t go into a discussion of original sin here.) How can a child be held responsible for acts he hasn’t committed yet? Is the future person even really him? How can we know? As Hurley and Miles discussed, even if determinism is true, can we know it’s true? This idea is a strong compatibilist argument. They say that even if determinism is true, we can’t know it is true, so we must still consider morality as important. Thus, saving Harry Potter would be the right call.

The other argument for saving the child is based on the butterfly effect. Even if we let him die, how do we know a worse evil won’t arise? We can’t guarantee that the choice of death will create a better outcome than the world already, so why make the choice at all? This argument falls apart when you consider that we can’t guarantee any choice we make will improve our lives. If not knowing that our lives will be improved by a choice is a reason to not make it, then we wouldn’t make any choices at all.

The “let him die” side, however, also carries a lot of intuitive weight. This kid will turn into evil. How can his death not be a good thing? Sure, we don’t know what will happen if he dies, but we never know what’s going to happen with any choice. Let him die. All we can make are the choices that face today. We can sort out the rest in the future.

The important thing to note about this discussion is that whichever side you pick instantly changes your perception of Sayid. If you agree with the “children are innocent” side, then you think he is immoral for shooting Harry Potter. If you agree with the “let him die” side, then you probably think Sayid did a good thing. Although, I want to unpack Sayid’s intentions a bit. We’ve seen him kill numerous people in the past. When he did, he shot them multiple times and made sure they were dead. This time he fired one shot and ran away quickly. I think the shot more represented his inner struggle than an intention to actually kill Harry Potter. If he wanted the kid dead, he’d be dead.

Which do I agree with? I say save the kid because I refuse to believe determinism is true because if it’s true in the past, it’s true in the future, because all labels of time periods are relative to the time traveler.


If you nerdgasmed over Miles and Hurley’s discussion of time travel theory, then you’re going to enjoy the next few paragraphs. We have to ask ourselves the question: does determinism devalue a story when the characters travel to the past?

One side says yes. Their actions can have no affect on the world. We already know what’s going to happen. Everything is just a waste of time.

The other side says no. The characters will still develop and change, and we will witness that change. Besides, we already know the end of the story, but we don’t know the middle. Why should we privilege the end over the middle?

The reason we’re facing this problem in LOST is that it seems the show will end in the past. If it ends in the future, there will be no issue, as we won’t know the outcome to their actions, so we can believe they have an effect on it even if determinism is true.

And if you disagree with that, well then:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

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