SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, take a quick taxi ride and watch last night’s Lost.
Went to bed immediately after Lost last night, because I’m fighting a cold—don’t worry, I took a bath and a nice black pill and everything’s better now!—and this turned out to be a good episode to sleep on, because I don’t know quite what to make of it. Rather, having slept on it, I’m pretty sure I won’t know what to make of it until later in the season, once it becomes clearer what the stakes are in the 2004 and 2007 timelines, why it is we would care about each, and what we’re looking for.
It’s the latter question that interests and frustrates me about the alt-2004 timeline. Since we don’t yet know its relation to the story (Is it just a what-if fantasy? Is it an altered reality that will converge with the Island timeline?), it’s not clear what we should be looking for in it.
Is it character development? Do characters “develop” in a hypothetical timeline based on changing the past? Claire doesn’t seem much different from the Claire we’ve seen in her flashbacks. Kate may be somewhat changed, but maybe not—she seems a little harder-edged than before when she hijacks the cab and boots Claire out, but she later proves to be the fugitive with the squishy center that we’ve seen before. The most interesting “change” we see is in Ethan, who turns up as Dr. Goodspeed, apparently a kindly OB/GYN in all earnest, having (I guess?) escaped the Island as a baby.
All that, in other words, is consistent with a scenario in which the bomb worked and the post-1977 history of the Island was erased. So are we simply watching a what-if exercise in which we see what would have happened had Oceanic 815 landed on schedule? Hmm, Kate might have run from the law, robbed Claire, then brought her to a hospital. And then, I don’t know, she might have gotten In n Out Burger for lunch. Yeah, that makes sense. But it’s interesting why?
Presumably there’s more to alt-2004 than that. We had hints last week that the status quo ante was not exactly restored: that things have been shifted and lives changed in all sorts of not immediately perceptible ways. And some point, I’m guessing, we will see things start to go sideways in the alt-2004 flashes. Until then, we’re watching not just to see what will happen, but to learn how to watch them.
That’s just as well, because the story itself was frustrating at times. Having ditched Claire penniless by the side of the road, Kate awfully quickly and conveniently comes to regret it—and immediately finds Claire (after a detour to lose her cuffs) even more conveniently. Claire, meanwhile, comes to trust the woman who pulled a gun on her and robbed her awfully quickly. And what’s the first thing you do after suddenly deciding to keep your baby as a single mother? Of course: you give your credit card to a fugitive from the law!
Back in Island-time, meanwhile, we see Kate catching up with an escaped Sawyer, and becoming deeply, personally crushed to find that he’s mourning his lover of three years who’s just died. (I don’t, by the way, blame Evangeline Lilly for my frustration with Kate; that is, I think Lilly is playing her exactly right, as someone who’s always had to balance a desire to do the right thing with circumstances that have forced her to look out for her self-interest.)
Which brings us to Island-Claire and Undead Sayid and the question: are either of them still themselves, and if not, who have they become and why? Sayid, we’re told, has been “claimed”—does that mean possessed?—and is in danger of having his self eaten away by the “infection” at the heart of him. Dogen, the Temple Others’ leader, says he knows this because the same thing happened to Claire—who, as we see her approaching Jin at the end of the episode, looks and acts as if she has basically become Rousseau. (Right down to the jungle traps, the rifle and the losing-her-baby.)
So: is there some link between Sayid’s feared infection/possession and the “sickness” that beset Rousseau’s crew? Is what is happening to Sayid similar to what the Man in Black did with Locke? Is it the work of Jacob or Smokey? (If the former, why are the Others so suddenly disturbed by Sayid’s resurrection? And if the latter, why did it come about as the result of instructions presciently sent by Jacob? If it has to do with the troubling cloudiness of the healing waters that the Others noticed, then why—since it doesn’t seem they’ve encountered that before—do they so immediately know that Sayid must be suffering the same “infection” as Claire?)
None of these—like the function of the alt-2004 timeline—are questions I can answer now. For now, we’re in a disorienting place, in a way not unlike the much-maligned start of season three. There, we also had characters separated, and/or imprisoned, and the introduction of a whole new set of Others we didn’t quite know why we should care about. A lot of fans did not care for the start of season three, but we know how spectacularly that season ended.
So: how did I like “What Kate Does”? Ask me again at the end of May.
Now the hail of bullets:
* Yes, it was annoying, as it often is on Lost, that the Others did not answer Jack’s simple questions about the infection, and more so, that he did not press them for the answers. But here I’m willing to forgive that for setting up the genius scene of Jack surprise-popping the poison pill.
* As Sawyer reminded us, the guy getting a second shot at life is an Iraqi torturer. Which raises the question: was his being tortured by the Others, to diagnose him, just ironic symmetry? Or was it a prescription specific to his person? If he were a different person, would there have been a different test?
* If Smokey is somehow behind Sayid’s resurrection, it’s a different kind of thing from his assuming Locke’s form but not taking Locke’s body. Another sign that this is not Smokey’s work, or does Smokey move in many ways?
* As Alan Sepinwall noted in his post this morning, Naveen Andrews did a remarkable job of giving us a slightly different take on Sayid, reinforcing the possibility that he may not entirely be himself.
* Hats off to Rob McElhenny of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, making his last appearance as the Other Aldo. Unless he becomes a zombie.
* Thinking out loud here: Is the alt-2004 Ethan really just an innocent doctor? If one assumes–big if–that he was evacuated from the Island with the Dharma women and children, it’s still possible, isn’t it, that the Dharma organization is still alive and well somewhere in Ann Arbor.
* Nice to see Arzt getting an extended alt-timeline curtain call, this time playing Ratso Rizzo at the airport: “I’m walking here!”
* The episode title, “What Kate Does,” is of course a callback to the season 2 “What Kate Did.” Is the present tense simply a clever allusion, or is it more significant?
* Time to get this posted, so please do fill in any blanks I’ve missed. I’ll be in the food court.