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‘Lost’ turns its focus to ‘What Kate Does’

"Lost" has a habit of following up its premiere extravaganzas with scaled-down follow-ups that seek to ground the audience and orient them to a more deliberate pace to the season.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

Meet Kate Austin, the Good Shepherdess. When the sheep wander off (to grieve dead girlfriends), or become stranded in the wild (i.e., the terrifying urban jungle of Los Angeles), the foxy fugitive will put her own security at risk to rescue the sad strays of her flighty flock, no matter where they go or where she may be in the multiverse. This is ''What Kate Does,'' to borrow the title of last night's episode of "Lost."

Yes, she runs, but only because she's got that I murdered my awful father but he deserved it, the battering-abusive bastard, and I'm not letting anyone — even my heartbroken mom, who now totally hates me for killing the very monster I was trying to save her from — tell me different murder charge over her head. When it comes to her natural/nurtured pathology, Kate is a caretaker — a chaser. On the Island, she chased after runaway Sawyer, and then wept for his Juliet grief. In Sideways Los Angeles, she first marooned, then chased after pregnant Claire, and then nursed her through emotional and physical crisis.

Kate's story — as well as the subplot belonging to "Lost's" other shepherd, Jack — reminded me of that great line from one of the show's many conspicuous literary references, "The Little Prince": ''You are responsible forever for what you have tamed.'' In the book, ''tamed'' is explicitly defined as ''to create ties.'' As in: The castaways are profoundly bonded — tied — to each other and are now forever responsible to and for each other. As in: What the Island has joined together, let no man put asunder. ''What Kate Does'' — which continued the season's early emphasis on binding symbols (shackles, cuffs, rings) — reminded us of the souls that she has most tamed and the specific responsibility she has carried across the forever of time, space, and multiple worlds: to pull a Paul Simon and facilitate a mother-child reunion between Claire and Aaron. She fulfilled her guardian angel responsibility to Claire in the Los Angeles story line. But it appears she'll have more of a challenge in the Island world now that our fair Claire has taken Rousseau the French Lady's place as "Lost's" Heavily Accented Mama Gone Loony Toons Native ...

"Lost" has a habit of following up its premiere extravaganzas with scaled-down follow-ups that seek to ground the audience and orient them to a more deliberate pace to the season. ''What Kate Does'' conformed to the mold, and I'm going to hazard a guess and say that not everyone here appreciated that choice, especially those who came to the final season expecting "Lost" to be all We've Got A Lot To Do And Not Much Time To Do It So Let's Just Rip Into This! Nope. Apparently, "Lost" has decided to ring itself out by continuing to do ''What 'Lost' Does.'' Which has always been a pretty good thing, in my book, even if means so-so second episodes. And yet, as I write these words, ''What Kate Does'' grows more and more interesting the more I think about it. Granted, it's my job to think about "Lost," like, a lot, but put the episode's good stuff on a scale and I'll wager it'll outweigh the lame stuff.

The stuff I loved: Josh Holloway's wrenching acting as he revealed the heartbreaking disclosure that he intended to propose to Juliet; the intrigue of ''infected'' and ''claimed'' Sayid; the hilarious irony of Dr. Ethan Goodspeed; the notable camaraderie of the Temple-stuck castaways, determined to survive their latest ordeal with ''live together, die alone'' idealism and great, knowing humor. (Hurley: ''You're not a zombie, right?'' Sayid: ''No, I am not a zombie.'') And don't look now, kids, but is Jack Shephard actually getting really likable again? I loved his sincere concern for Kate and Sayid, his willingness to accept Sawyer's seething anger, and his humbled self-awareness. When he told Dogen, ''I don't even trust myself,'' Jack may have uttered the most heroic statement of his wannabe hero life, because it was so painfully honest. Superman of Science? No. Superman of Faith? No. Just Jack. And in the end, one wonders if that's exactly what he needs to be to save the day for himself and his friends.

But I'm not as blind as Lady Justice; I saw and was bugged by the weak stuff, too. I felt the absence of Richard, Ben, and The Locke-ness Monster. I'm not bowled over by the new crop of Others; Temple Master Dogen and his BFF (barefooted freaky friend) Lennon are growing on me, but the Lenny and George pair of Aldo and Justin was a dopey combo that didn't flatter the Others' ominous mystique. And I'm already counting the minutes until the castaways escape the Temple. It's not that I don't like spending quality time in the Island's spiritual heart; I find the themes fascinating. But I'm through with the castaways being captives. And I miss the beach. I really do. Unless the Temple gets super-interesting next week, my guess is that we'll be starting with the Season 3/Hydra Station comparisons next week.

And it was a Kate episode. Now, to be clear, I've grown to appreciate Kate over the years. In the beginning, I couldn't quite reconcile the young ingénue with the shampoo commercial hair with the scrappy fugitive/jungle cat tomboy "Lost" wanted her to be. I wanted more psycho-spiritual angst — and less ''Sawyer or Jack?'' blah blah blah. But over time, as the character gained detail and damage, and as the actress grew in confidence and experience, Kate has become credible and compelling. ''What Kate Does'' — evenly divided between its Sideways vision of an early Kate that struggled to capture my imagination and the Island Kate I've grown to respect — only reminded me of my ambivalence for her. Especially when she was in shampoo commercial mode. That Marshal Mars may be a jerk, but damn if he doesn't make his captured quarry clean up nice for their trek to reckoning.

Like I said, though, the more I thought about the episode, the more I liked it, and better yet, the more I became convinced that it contained some extremely valuable ideas for making sense of the season's risky flash-sideways storytelling device. The recap you're about to read captures that process of discovery. Get yourself some coffee, and let's get started.

The Sideways World
Death Cab For Cuties!
In which in the process of making sober commentary about the Sideways story line, the author has an epiphany or two that suddenly super-charges his enthusiasm for the Sideways story line and gives him eyes to see its value. Hooray for the author! Throw him parade! Write him checks and give him chocolates! Please?

''What Kate Does'' showed us how the new Sideways storytelling device functions in a traditional, character-centric "Lost" episode. Kate's La-La Land adventure with Claire was easy enough to track and generally accessible to the "Lost" non-obsessive, though only modestly entertaining. The Sideways world story line very clearly mirrored the Island world story line. Kate chases after Sawyer; Kate chases after Claire. Is there a physical, cosmic connection between the two realities? Still TBD, though we were again given a few moments that seemed to suggest the Sideways characters were either intuitively recalling their Island experience or perhaps even channeling it. We've been told not to view the Sideways stuff as an inconsequential ''What if ... ?'' fairy tale about an uncrashed Oceanic 815. Yet most of ''What Kate Does'' felt exactly like that ... until the final act, when we got the great comic irony of Tom Cruise's Evil Cousin serving as Claire's perfectly decent OB. By the end of the episode, I accepted "Lost's" first regular episode Sideways tale as a simplified pitch of the entire conceit. Nonetheless, I wished we had gotten more. Specifically: a clarifying peek into Sideways Kate past. Did this Kate also have a childhood pal with a fondness for toy airplanes? Did this Kate also murder her father? Did this Kate also marry a cop that looks like the guy Castle? The episode decided not to dote on the past.

Then again, that was the point, wasn't it? ''What Kate Does,'' with its present tense verb title and its narrow focus on the present moment in both its realities, was all about characters trying to get away from their past, successfully and unsuccessfully, for better and for worse. It was an episode about people trying to ditch burdensome, painful baggage (like heartbroken Sawyer and his ring) — or learning to embrace it (like Claire and her baby; like Jack and his failure). The Sideways episode began with a guy literally dropping his bags — that guy being Leslie Arzt and his toppled luggage cart. (''Hey! I'm walkin' here! I'm walking' here!'' grouched Arzt, channeling Ratso Rizzo from "Midnight Cowboy.") That theme was mirrored in the episode's deep communion with past "Lost" episodes. The title itself is a riff on the season 2 episode ''What Kate Did,'' the episode that showed us the patricide Kate was wanted for and had Kate gnashing her teeth at the thought of coming from the same awful stock as her loathsome father, that he would ''always be part of her.'' ''What Kate Does'' echoed the idea with a subplot about Sayid's alleged spiritual corruption. Other examples of call-and-response? Season 1: Crashed-stressed Claire went into false labor. Last night: Carjacked-stressed Claire went into false labor. Season 1: Kate played midwife to Claire during Aaron's birth. Last night: Kate was there for the lonely Claire.

Now, all of this is neat. But is "Lost" doing this just to be all fancy-pants literary, or could it be that "Lost" is trying to tell us something? Could it be that the creative design of "Lost's" sixth season, embedded and suffused with past episode resonance, is a clue to resolving the mystery of its seemingly split reality? I am wondering — and perhaps you are, too — if these corresponding events across parallel realities are meaningful synchronicities. It's almost as if no matter the world, these people are destined to intersect and to play out variations of the same essential drama. THEORY! It's all about reincarnation. The Sideways world is basically the afterlife for the Island castaways. Their Sideways selves contain the experiences of their Island World identities within their genetic make-up/spiritual essence. Think I'm crazy? Then I refer you to last year's anagram clue, the Canton-Rainier (aka ''reincarnation'') Carpet Cleaning Company. See? Totally settled!

The Shepherdess and the Shephard
''We're in a strange relationship with our fiction, you see. Sometimes we fear it's taking us over, sometime we beg to be taken over by it... and sometimes we want to see what's inside of it.'' — Planetary, Chapter 9, ''Planet Fiction''

The Sideways story picked up where the premiere left off, with Kate carjacking Claire's cab. She put a gun to the wheelman's head. Drive, she said. As they took off, Kate looked out the window and saw Jack talking on his cell phone, and it looked to me like she had a moment of déjà vu akin to Jack's experiences last week. Now, there was another moment in the episode in which Kate looked at Jack and something like a rush of recognition filled her eyes. It was the tender moment in the Temple, when Jack grabbed her gently by the elbow and pulled her close and wished her well and a safe journey in her pursuit of Sawyer. His sincerity and absence of jealousy seemed to catch her off guard, and she seemed almost dazzled by the strong, selfless, self-confident man standing before her. The look in her eyes said, There you are. There's the man I love. The man who proposed to me and that I was ready to marry back in Los Angeles before you went all nutty-petty-untrusty on me. Welcome back. Kate seemed to take strength for the journey from his blessing, and she was off.

Now here's the crazy thought I had — an alternative to past-life/reincarnation theory. I submit that when Kate saw Jack at the airport, she established a psycho-spiritual circuit with her doppelganger self on the Island, and specifically the moment between Jack and Kate in Temple. This circuit facilitated a transference of psychic energy that flowed from Island Kate to Sideways Kate — or rather, from Redeemed Kate to one of her Fallen Kate selves in another world. That energy? Strength. Selflessness. A sense of sacrifice. A sense of ''You All Everybody'' idealism. All qualities that Kate embodied in her Island story — and all qualities that Kate gained during her Sideways story.

To put it more simply: Island Kate inspired Sideways Kate. Bottom line: The Sideways-Island relationship is a metaphor for our relationship to fiction. It's about how fantasy redeems reality. Like last week's literary reference "Haroun and the Sea of Stories," "Lost" is telling us a story about the redemptive value of storytelling itself. Haroun asks, What's the use of stories that aren't even true? "Lost" answers, They teach us how to make the real world a better place.

Keep reading this recap on Entertainment Weekly's Web site.