Traditionally, Kate-centric episodes aren’t usually ones to fill a Lost fan’s heart with excitement. This is due in part because Kate’s episodes invariably come early in the season, when events maintain less impetus and mysteries are being set-up rather than revealed. But it’s also inherently to do with Kate’s character being mostly defined by other characters. Take the love triangle, for example. It’s less about whom Kate will end up with and more about which of Jack or Sawyer will get her. And in this Kate-centric episode, who do we most think about once the credits roll? Claire, Sayid, Jack and Sawyer – in roughly that order of importance. Poor Kate.
Riffing on the Season 2 episode What Kate Did, the use of the present tense of What Kate Does is indicative of what Season 6 is all about. There are no flashbacks now. We’re not concerned with what happened. We have two timelines running parallel and we’re interested in what’s happening. (Indeed, if Sayid’s question at the end of the previous episode was “What happened?” then surely the response to the end of What Kate Does is a near-exasperated, “What’s happening?”)
Let’s pick up the alternate timeline first, to start us off relatively simply. Here was Kate escaping the airport in the taxi, with Claire (who, yes, was pregnant). Like Jack in the last episode, we were given the sense that remnants of the Island Timeline permeate into this Alternate Timeline and characters’ unconscious. Kate taking a momentary glance at Jack in the car mirror. . .
. . . to Claire’s almost ludicrous willingness to remain with Kate, there’s more recognition and familiarity than they quite know how to rationalise. If the person that had kidnapped me at gunpoint came back I wouldn’t hang around to chat. And I sure as hell wouldn’t get back in the car with them! Yet perhaps some distant recollection from another timeline flickered in Claire, telling her Kate could be trustworthy, that she was even the right person to have by her side when she went into labour – and so Claire got in the car with Kate.
That name, Aaron, was a significant ‘out of nowhere’ titling. Claire surprised herself by announcing the intended name, and even Kate had a look of startled recognition when she heard it. Again, further hints that this Alternate Timeline holds some memory of the Island Timeline. Maybe they depend on one another. That there’s reconciliation between the two being paralleled whereupon we will find our resolution – this point I’ll pick up again towards the end.
There was some stuff here for the longtime Lost fans to sink their mental teeth into. Consider Richard Malkin, for example, who way back in Season 1 told Claire that he had lined up a couple for her in L.A. that would look after her baby.
Now since Claire was onboard the non-crashing Oceanic 815 and was there to meet up with a couple to take her baby, it would seem that the events we saw previously – of her meeting up with Malkin – happened the same way. If so, this perhaps clears up the matter of whether or not Malkin was really psychic.
At the end of Raised By Another Charlie reached the conclusion that Malkin really was a psychic and had simply made up the story of the couple in LA to get Claire on the flight – Oceanic 815 – knowing it would crash and she would have to raise the child herself. Yet, confusingly, Malkin did himself say he was a fraud to Mr. Eko in Season 2.
And now, in What Kate Does, we find there really was another couple waiting in LA (albeit in this Alternate Timeline which affords wriggle room for doubt) and the notion that Malkin had some psychic vision for Claire looks dubious. In short, for those fans left wondering whether Malkin was psychic or not, I am falling down on the conclusion that he wasn’t. See? Who said we wouldn’t get answers this season!?
And hey, how about this guy showing up?
No longer Ethan Rom as he was once ridiculously anagrammed to, here he was Ethan Goodspeed. A quick re-jigging of Alternate Timeline history then suggests that baby Ethan born on the Island in 1977. . .
. . . was shipped off the place before it plunged beneath the depths (validation that the Jughead explosion didn’t immediately sink the Island), probably with mother Amy and maybe with Horace, and raised as a ‘Goodspeed’ where he became a doctor. Retrospect made his remarks about not wanting to stick Claire with needles somewhat sinister, considering how he treated Claire during the Island Timeline, but I don’t believe we’re supposed to read anything untoward into it. Just one of those irony-things.
Before we leave the Alternate Timeline, one more piece of arcane Lost trivia. Kate used the name ‘Joan Hart’ to pass herself off as at the hospital. She’s used this name before, at a motel in the episode Born To Run, where she was, at the start of the episode, sporting blonde hair that from the right angle would have seen her mistaken as Claire!
Other blasts from the past came on the Island in the shape of obscure minor Other Aldo, who was all pissy because Kate once busted him in the face with the butt of her gun when she was making a break off the Hydra Island during Season 3, Not In Portland.
I don’t particularly want to dwell on the excursion Jin and Kate made with these Others. Their petty bickering and insistence on keeping things secret got on my nerves. Further from last week, the Temple Others are doing little to enthuse me. I mean, let’s not forget, the likes of Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Hurley have been hand delivered by Jacob to be amongst them at The Temple – you’d think this would afford them some measure of respect! Sayid certainly didn’t receive any such respect, but then no one’s really sure about what he’s all about since he came back from the dead.
The torture test of Sayid (the torturer being tortured, another one of those irony things) was a confounding element. Dogen (Japanese leader) remarked to Lennon (bespectacled translator) that Sayid had failed this test. I can’t really figure out how Sayid could have passed the test of being electrocuted and then branded with a hot poker, but my best guess is derived from estimating what little we know about Ben and his time at The Temple.
Back in Season 5, Young Ben was shot and delivered to The Temple. Like Sayid, it was a certainty that he would die but there was a cost associated with being revived in that his memories would not be the same. What other changes may have been induced we don’t know.
So for Ben we can assume that he was taken to The Temple, to the pool there (which would have surely been full of sparkling, clear water rather than the murky liquid Sayid was immersed in), and ‘drowned’ to have been brought back to full vigour. The crucial element here, it seems, is that the water was murky and whatever was supposed to happen – whatever happened to Ben – did not happen to Sayid. Maybe it was as simple as Sayid retaining his memories that gave him away as being infected, but that’s as close, or far, as my guesswork can take me to an answer.
Unless, of course, you prefer the idea that Sayid isn’t infected at all and the whole torturing business, and the green pill, was just a ruse to get Jack involved.
The logic would run like this: Temple Others convince Jack that they have deduced Sayid has a problem that only this mysterious pill can solve. Jack has to be the one that gives Sayid the pill, to make him “want to want” to take it, a bit like how Ben wanted Jack to “want to want” to do the spinal surgery on him. It’s a theme we’ve seen before but it’s like the water in the pool: very murky. The crucial element here is that Jack, as he told Dogen, feels responsible for Sayid getting shot. Dogen even tweaks Jack’s guilt by asking about people that had died during his time on the Island.
And if this was the case, Jack giving Sayid the pill was Jack’s task of making reparations. Or, as has been said elsewhere, “cleaning up his own mess”. I suspect if the intended goal was to make Sayid take the pill to kill him, it would only really work if Sayid did so willingly and if Jack was the one to do it.
Consider it a ‘loophole’. Sayid as he is now can’t be murdered by just anyone, but he can willingly kill himself (even if he doesn’t fully realise he’s doing so) because Jack was the one to give him the means since he was the reason Sayid was the way he was. Hence the poison pill he had to “want to want” to take.
It should also be noted that Dogen might still be wrong about Sayid. Jacob’s spirit might still be fighting its way through Sayid’s system rather than this dark infection. Dogen and the Temple Others don’t know about Locke and how his body is being used – they only know Jacob is dead. Jack nearly swallowing the pill might have quietly been one of the most heroic things he’ll ever do. . .
On an interesting note, I did think Sayid’s gratitude towards Jack for saving his life rang a little hollow. It makes sense. Ever since he shot Ben, Sayid has been in the wilderness, a damned soul, and prepared to face the penalty of whatever the afterlife brings. His atonement whilst he lives is to do whatever those he trusts will ask. Ben utilised this exact same character trait of Sayid’s to do his assassinating bidding during Season 4.
So now we get to the real meat of the episode. Let me tell you, I thought I was ahead of the curve on this. I had a thrilling moment of relief that this rather limp and frustrating episode was presenting some quality revelation. When Dogen was talking to Jack about this infection, this darkness, that slowly takes over a body, I was thinking. . .
. . . Christian Shephard’s initial appearances in the jungle and his guidance for Jack that, perhaps via this infection, eventually consumed him and turned him more into. . .
. . . the Christian Shephard rocking in Jacob’s chair and leading Locke to his doom – the more bad Christian Shephard. It all made sense, all felt like it was coming together. So when Dogen remarked that Jack should have known all about it, I was totally primed for him to say Christian’s name. Totally. Absolutely. You pause the show right there and I would have guaranteed that was where the conversation was heading.
And then Dogen goes and says the same thing happened to Jack’s sister and all of what I thought I knew went out of the proverbial window.
Right then. What’s to be made of this? Without the troublesome idea of an ‘infection’, we could see Claire here, in a clear similarity with Rousseau, and draw immediate parallels. Both women lost their children as babies, and then both were left in the jungle to fend for themselves. That both then resorted to booby traps and appearances so similar suggests either coincidence, or eventuality: that is, if you were left in the jungle to fend for yourself you’d set booby traps, too.
Yet there’s the matter of this infection that Dogen has brought into the matter. This blackness that attacks dead (do they have to be dead?) bodies and takes them over (I guess we’re really talking about Black Smoke/Nameless here). We’re lead to believe this has happened to Claire. Well, that idea throws into the mix that old theory from Season 4: the theory that Claire died.
The theory was fairly straightforward. During the attack on the Barracks by Keamy and his men, there was a house explosion that Claire was caught up in. Sawyer dug her out and carried her away.
The theory thus runs that Claire died during this explosion and the ‘Claire’ that Sawyer pulled free was a counterpart version – like Christian Shephard or Yemi. I didn’t like the theory back then, and I don’t really like it now – but if it were so then it might explain why Claire abandoned Aaron; she had been infected. The good Claire was gone and explains why she happily wandered off with Christian; these different elements of the Black Smoke all uniting together at Jacob’s shack.
It’s persuasive all right, I admit. But I still don’t like it. For one thing, why has Claire – a dead person – apparently been setting booby traps and surviving alone in the jungle? We don’t see Christian Shephard hunting boar to keep himself going. Furthermore, why make Claire so strikingly comparable with Rousseau? Is this some suggestion that Rousseau herself was infected in this manner? Only the way it transpired was that her team went down into the Temple walls and came out infected, resulting in Rousseau realising Robert was not the same person and so shot him.
I am not buying that Rousseau was somehow infected all the time she spent on the Island. That doesn’t ring true with me one little bit. And so, similarly, I am not buying that Claire as we saw her at the end of What Kate Does is a re-animated version of dead Claire that has been taken over by the Black Smoke or some form thereof. Maybe the Black Smoke did somehow get a hold of her, and maybe it did convince her to leave Aaron behind – but I believe her bond with Aaron and her determination to one day be re-united with him brought her back and kept her going, the same as it did with Aaron. I’m quicker to believe Claire is channelling the spirit of Danielle than the idea this is her dead body counterpart running amok.
I am further convinced that Claire is alive, and salvageable, because of Kate. Despite the apparent marginalisation of her character, this was still an episode about what Kate does, and what she has to do. Her sole reason for being back on the Island is to get Claire and Aaron together. To say Claire is dead is to say Kate’s reason for being back is gone and I’m not ready to accept that.
An interpretation of the Alternate Timeline is that it will show, with a sense of fateful inevitability, the same resolutions that our main characters on the Island will discover. Even a new timeline can’t change what is meant to be. If this is so then we have witnessed Kate already there to guide Claire towards being Aaron’s mother. In effect, ensuring they are together.
What Kate did in the Alternate Timeline may very well be what Kate does on the Island. Claire can be saved and Kate can bring her back to Aaron. If this holds, and maybe pans out for the other characters in a similar parallel manner, we may see a convergence where the Alternate Timeline and the Island Timeline mirror one another. Consider the Alternate Timeline as an almost ideal version of what should have happened – if that can be made to occur on the Island maybe all these events and failings, that Jacob marked down as just ‘progress’, will culminate in a final reconciliation.