Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Midside: S6E03 What Kate Does

I haven’t even seen the episode again and am writing my introduction. Why? Because I don’t need a stinkin’ rewatch to know I was impressed! (Yes, those eight of you who are following my Twitter probably recognize those two sentences. The rest of you should start following me now. NOW.) Nearing the end of this final hiatus, I began noticing Lindelof and Cuse making the bold claim that S6 would be most similar to S1 in tone. The first time I read it, I scoffed. The second time I read it, I dismissed it as a coy marketing ploy to increase viewership. The third time I read it, I was annoyed that I had to keep hearing the audacious claim. I have to admit though, I was eventually worn down.

Through the repetition, I decided to give this season a chance to recreate the magic of the first. Why wouldn’t I want it to? S1 was the ultimate game changer for me. It told a story in a way that was not only novel and precise for television but storytelling in general. It simultaneously gave me a passion to experience and a passion to aspire to. The depth of organization and detail in both character and mythology can’t be over praised. Not only was each episode self contained in its parallelism (flashback vs. island story), but it was a smaller piece in the overarching story of (seemingly) random people surviving a plane crash together. Those 25 episodes will never be matched.

"LA X" piqued my interested. It went pretty much how I expected. The first episode was centered on all the characters with the plane landing just as the Pilot was centered on all the characters with the plane crashing. However, I was still skeptical. S2 captured some of the magic of S1, but the flashbacks bordered on tedious at times--unnecessary bits jammed in there because the formula demanded it. Many people definitely were rightly critical about S3, where the formula led to such awful flashbacks as "Stranger in a Strange Land." Why wouldn’t I be skeptical about the flash sideways being the same way? What if the writers created them merely as a way to keep the formula alive for one final season? Thankfully, after our latest go around, it seems as if they didn’t.

Sometimes the best way to get to know someone is to learn who they aren’t. In other words, A is A, so it’s necessarily not B. By standing A side-by-side with B, you can see what makes each what it is. Take, for instance, two football players; let’s say wide receivers. You can say they both have great hands and run great routes, but it’s not until you compare their play side-by-side that you realize they each do unique things that make their hands or route running great. In other words, if we take Kate O (original) and compare here with Kate P (parallel, not to be confused with Perry--please, never to be confused with Perry), we’re going to learn things about Kate O that we never did before. (Are you down with O v P? Yeah, you know me.) And that comparison is exactly what this week’s episode achieved.

The difficulty with such an analysis though is that it requires us to consider the character from several different angles. One angle is the most obvious: The one we see on screen, S6 Kate O vs. Kate P. The rest of the angles are permutations of Sx Kate O on-island or Sx Kate O Flashback or S4 Kate O Flashforward vs. Kate P. Heck, if we wanted to, we could even hypothesize Kate P--e.g., what if (the parallel plane crashed) with any of the Kate Os?

(Ok, seriously, I’m going to stop writing that paragraph because it makes me feel like a dirty, dirty Star Wars nerds. However, I do think some respect must be paid to Star Wars here. In a way, the multitude of inane hypothetical questions Star Wars fanboys debate is a surely inspiration on the flashes technique of LOST and, most apparently, an inspiration of the flash sideways. We all know Lindelof is a huge Star Wars nerd. Oh, you didn’t? Well, now you do.)

…and since I’ve made all these comparisons to S1, my column will finally return to its original format (Intro, Flash/Character, Other Characters, Mythology, Conclusion). There is one subtle difference, however. Since we no longer have flashbacks, I can’t reference the epic Highlander series in my section title. Instead, I will reference the kind-of epic, but widely recognized, parallel universe television show Sliders. Now, onto the unveiling of the section name and the remainder of the column (and the rewatch for me--not to ruin your suspension of disbelief that I wrote this column all in one sitting)!


Everyone has always thought the problem with Kate is that she runs. She’s immature and fearful so, rather than facing the tough facts of life, she evades by physically removing herself from an equation. Kill someone? Run away. Your mother hates you? Run away. Married Nathan Fillion? Run away. In certain ways, this character trait allows Kate to symbolize a large number of women in America, especially young/immature women. I’m referring to those girls (yes, I would call them more girls than women--consider that word usage before you get huffy at me) who allow their insecurities and low self esteem to control them.

What makes this representation so infuriating is that, in the very beginning, Kate seemed to be a strong female character. She could go toe to toe with Jack, Sawyer, and Sayid. In the beginning, it could’ve been argued that she was the center of the show. Now, she bounces around like a pinball, not mindless, but directionless. We have no idea why Kate does "what Kate does." (Get the episode title now?)

The bigger issue with Kate has always been that she doesn’t have any values. She has nothing she pursues and desires. Every moment merely seems to be nothing more than an excuse to survive until the next moment. She has no foresight. She has no hindsight. My mom’s sick? I’ll go to the hospital, even though she said she never wanted to see me again. Jack is hanging out with Juliet? I’ll lick this spoon even though it makes me seem like I would enjoy Twilight. Sawyer wants to have sex? OK, even though I don’t really want to pursue a relationship. It is an odd kind of hedonism. Kate wanders around the world, the island, the supermarket looking for her next fix. It’s why she always finds herself helping Jack’s plans fail more quickly by getting captured or something equally reckless.

Kate P seemed different however. Rather than simply continuing to run, when faced with a choice, she actually addressed it and made a value based decision. She didn’t have to go back and help Claire, but she did. The reason for this choice may be mythologically based (more on this later), but the decision remains the same. Rather than run and ignore the rest of the world, she went back, got Claire, and helped her with her pregnancy.

Kate O has seemingly found her direction as well and it likewise seems to focus on Claire. I’m not exactly sure what this want-to-help Claire says about Kate--both Kates. What values does it demonstrate? There seems to be something about children. And now eight feminists just got mad. “A woman shouldn’t be defined by childbirth.” If you’re so concerned about being oppressed, go be a fan of Sun, who left her kid in Korea when she went back to a mystical island. Ignoring the crazies, I’m not sure if the value she's protecting is children specifically or family in general. When Kate O met her childhood sweetheart, Tom, again, she seemed to envy his family. Returning to the Nathan Fillion episode, her greatest fear seems to be that she’s not good enough for a family. (Interesting how these self esteem issues keep popping up, no?)

(BTW: Am I the only one wondering where Kate P got the $200 to pay to have her handcuffs removed, especially if she didn’t rob Claire P?)


Ah, the return of another Midside staple. I feel like I’m getting back in touch with an old friend who’s changed or visiting my hometown with a new perspective but still wanting to stay. Well, except, I can’t actually really stand more than a week in my hometown. Details, details. To remind the old readers (all 4 of them) and to help the new readers (all 2 of them), this section focuses on the non-flash characters that had (major) minor events in character progression. Most often, I focus on the characters that interest me the most (Jack, Sawyer, Ben, etc). Not surprisingly, I’m going to discuss two of those parenthetical characters this week.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re at the beginning of the sixth season and LOST still manages to achieve firsts. Much to your and my dismay, we have finally witnessed the first successful Jack Plan™. Characterized by his brazen stubbornness and stupidity, the reason it worked is tied up with the mythology of the show (for some reason his life must be protected). Still, I must give credit where credit’s due, and swallowing the poison pill in order to learn it was a poison pill was a ballsy move. Sure, it got Jackie Chan, as my friend William referred to him, to beat him up again (which is something none of us will complain about), but it also got him to shoot straight, tell him the truth, insert another metaphor here.

(For those of you keeping track, William has earned himself a mention in both columns so far this season. The rest of you need to step up your game.)

More importantly, we’re finally starting to see some positive outcomes of the change Jack made last season. No longer is he the leader (as Miles informed us, Hurley is). He is more confident in his ideas. To a certain extent, these two changes are intimately intertwined. Jack is much more self-motivated. What I mean is that when coming up with and going through with ideas he is primarily motivated by his wants and feelings. In contrast, he was almost always concerned with everyone else first (ex: “We have to go back” not “I have to go back”). That improper focus caused him to put too much pressure on himself. He thought he was responsible for things he was not responsible for, and he learned that he wasn’t the hard way. It destroyed his life. Why do you think his conversation with Jackie Chan was so intense? Jackie explained his use of Japanese as a rhetorical tool to maintain distance between himself and his followers. Jack never had that distance, the key to being a leader and staying self-motivated. How is such a seeming contradiction possible? It’s all about understanding that being a leader fits into your plan, not their plan. Jack always thought being a leader fit into their plan and not his plan. That belief is the reason he felt obligated. That belief is the reason his life fell apart.

Seeing him on an upward arc makes it difficult to maintain my prediction that he will give himself for the good of everyone else. I don’t like altruism. I don’t like people living for other people. I want people to be happy. I want them to live for themselves. Yes, I even want Jack to be happy (as much as you can want a fictional character to be happy, anyway). The reason I rip on him relentlessly is because, so far in this series, he’s been like the kid with the helmet ramming his head into the wall--before his mother bought him the helmet. He constantly has a headache and is bleeding (or, in non-metaphor terms, crying and making Jack faces). Despite these things, he waited until S5 to make a change. Likewise, everyone else continued to allow him to make the same mistakes over and over again. Don’t get me wrong. I hold everyone else accountable for encouraging Jack too. Basically, Jack is the Peyton Manning of LOST. I’m intrigued to see if he will continue on this upward arc and ultimately find success or if he will truly follow the Peyton path by seeming to overcome himself, making the Super Bowl, and throwing a classic interception under pressure to lose the game (or, in non-metaphor terms, hatching a Jack Plan that epically fails).

On the other side of the coin, almost literally, we’re witnessing Sawyer on a downward arc. It’s sort of ironic, as the story of the series has been the inverse (Jack down and Sawyer up), yet appropriate, as this season is supposed to be most like S1 (when Jack was at his strongest and Sawyer was at his weakest). Man, I wrote those words and can’t help but admire Lindelof and Cuse more and more. The pure level of organization and structure is astounding. Wait, where were we again? Ah yes, Sawyer.

Say what you may, but I’ll admit to crying during my rewatch of this episode. I’m specifically referring to the dock scene with Sawyer and Kate. His speech (which, BTW, was amazingly acted by Josh Hollow--props, dude) is a microcosm of his character (and why I identify with him). Likewise, you could almost see Hugh Laurie tagging himself in and delivering the speech as House. “But I think some of us are meant to be alone.” Welcome back to my theory about the Randian arc of his character. In his moment of deepest pain, he falls back upon his deepest fear, that the world is a lonely and dark place.

The Randian romantic hero does not believe the world is a lonely and cold place. He has a positive sense of life, seeing the world, and life, as good. Sawyer, however, is not the Randian romantic hero. Rather, he is the Randian everyman, dealing with an emphasized version of the key struggle to human nature. Like Jack, he is in a battle for self esteem. Contrasted with Jack, he feels guilt for having and expressing self esteem. Asking someone to stay on an island with you is an expression of self esteem. You’re bold enough to express what you want to her even though you know her greatest desire is to get off the island. Likewise, subsequently falling in love with her, and rising to a position of power while doing so, is a huge expression of self esteem. The crisis Sawyer is facing right now is whether it is proper to express that self esteem or not. Ultimately, he blames Juliet’s death on his audacity to ask her to stay when the real mistake (and his as well) was her decision to help Jack with the Jughead plan. Why does he make such an error in reasoning? Because he’s not reasoning. He’s falling back on old evasions. He ironically forgot what he told Jack in "The Incident": What’s done is done.

I like the direction these two characters are going. Knowing the ultimate payoff is coming only makes me more excited.


Ah, yes, the return of the mythological section where I ponder random tidbits, big and small, and try to jam them into some sort of overarching theory. If you read my "LA X" column, you know that I’ll be focusing comparing the two universes to determine which is better. I haven’t yet rectified that comparison with the MiB/Jacob dynamic, but I will; I will. This week, I’d like to continue with the comparison and then drop a knowledge bomb on you.

The number of parallels integrated by the writers between this season and the previous seasons, both narratively and visually, is astounding. Last week, I joking assigned you to look for them, Where’s Waldo style. This week, I hope you took my challenge more seriously than even I did. This episode was basically one long in-joke between the writers and us (especially when I started talking about the joke that S7 will be the zombie season and Hurley then asked Sayid if he’s a zombie. How do they know exactly what I’m thinking when I’m thinking it? Don’t answer that question. I know how.).

The first super mega obvious parallel was Ethan being Claire’s doctor. Because of it, you knew she wasn’t going to deliver because you knew he had to inject her with something. Although, Ethan living in LA makes me wonder about the locale. The only other time we saw him off the island was in Miami where Juliet lived. Knowing he was born on the island, I have to wonder if the only reason he was in Miami was to monitor Juliet. Why, in the parallel universe, where for the moment we’ll assume he was still born on the island, would he live in LA? Coincidence? Are we once again erring towards determinism? Or is the sci-fi nerd in me that is trying to break out right? Is there something special about LA; is it some sort of hot spot? Probably not. It’s probably just part of the free will vs. determinism debate we always come back to.

The other two obvious parallels are Kate P finding the whale she gave to Aaron in Claire P’s bag, and Claire P yelling out the name Aaron during her time in the hospital. These could simply be parallels, but they also continue a theme that began in "LA X." Something about them seems to hint at these characters remembering the other universe and then using that knowledge to improve their lives in their universe. I’m sure we’ll learn more about this idea, so it’s something to watch.

Finally, the knowledge bomb is in regards to Claire’s sonogram. The date on it was 10/22/04. Did the flight in the parallel universe take place a month later? Was it a production error? I hope it’s the former. I’ve read the latter. Apparently, one of the staff writers who frequents the internet, so not Lindelof or Cuse, said it was an error. If it really was that big of an error, wouldn’t Lindelof and Cuse have said something, too? Likewise, it’s a pretty awful error. How can you work on LOST, in any position, and not know the date of the original crash (which is the date of the show’s premiere). The only other time I remember something similar occurring is with the obituary Jack had in "Through the Looking Glass." You had to try hard to read that one, though. This date was very obvious (unless you had a Prestige Subaru logo over it like we did. I’m glad I can rewatch.)

(BTW: Has anyone notice how often I’ve used “likewise” in this column?)


Even though Freddy Adu has indeed bid us adieu--now playing in Europe--he will forever live on in my cheap pun. And that’s pretty much all I have to say in this week’s conclusion.

Epic Quote of the week: “We’ll be in the food court,” Miles

Oh, also be sure to check out Jimmy Fallon’s LOST parody titled LATE. The first episode is up. It’s probably the funniest thing he’s ever done. He does a great job parodying Jack. The Sawyer character is pretty funny as well. (I also love the beard joke. It’s very clever.)

Oh, and, screw it, the old catchphrase remains, and if you still hate it, well then:

Shut up, you’re wrong.


nick said...

Only took me 3 seasons to work out lost tv was a goner and that i could just find the midside by typing your name into google. I think you may be onto something with the characters have imprinted memories that are influencing the choices that they make in the pll universe (heavy emphasis on the word choices). Faced with having Ethan stick a big needle in her again, Claire chose that she was ready for Aaron, faced with the choice to keep runnning Kate chose to go back.
Also, I think that if the date wasn't an error then it may make sense in the context of the story if the bomb changed the whole timeline from that point forward - after all on the plane Hurley told Sawyer he was the luckiest guy in the world (which is not how he viewed himself on original univ).Will do some thinking and remember to come back before season 10

nick said...

sorry just read your article on the first episode so realised none of my comments add anything as you've already raised the stuff about Hurley etc.

Did however go and look up the wikipedia recap for What Kate Did in season - not sure where the Black Horse fits in

Jayemel said...

Nick, I might be happy if you didn't come back until Season 10, because that means there is a Season 10. Glad to see you back though, for serious.

I'm not sure the black horse will have any relevance in S6, but it was likely the Monster taking its form from witnessing it when reading Kate's mind.