"I'm going back to find your daughter." -KateMiracle of miracles, a Kate episode I liked. One I really liked, in fact.
I was tempted to open this review with a quote from one of Hurley and Miles' many debates over the "Back to the Future" changeable model of time travel (Hurley's horse) versus the closed-loop "12 Monkeys" one (Miles'), since it echoed arguments we've been having on this blog all season. I don't know where in the production process this was written, but showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof had to know that, even with all of Faraday's explanations, some fans would be confused about how the closed-loop works, try to pick it apart for inconsistencies, ask about how someone could die in 1974 when they were still alive in 2004, etc.
So those scenes certainly worked as a meta commentary on the season, as Hurley scenes tend to do. But the rest of the episode was devoted to showing that the set nature of the timeline doesn't have to suck all the tension out of events. We knew that Ben would survive, because he was still alive 30 years later, but there was still plenty of drama to come out of how he survived. As Miles notes to Hurley, "we never experienced how it all turns out," which leaves a lot of wiggle room. Jack can sit on the sidelines because he just assumes Ben will be okay, and while he's right, his inaction also tells us about where Jack is now mentally (bitter because he believes -- wrongly, as it turns out -- that Kate has come back for Sawyer, and also running away from his savior complex), just as Kate, Juliet and Sawyer's attempts to save the future monster tell us who they are (that Juliet is still a fundamentally good person, in spite of all the horrible things the adult Ben will do to her, that Kate now has a strong maternal streak, and that Sawyer loves Juliet enough that he'll do this for her).
Beyond that, we get to see how our characters, whether or not they know or care about Faraday's theory, wind up affecting their own futures with their decisions. Sayid shoots Ben last week because he wants to save himself and everyone he cares about from this monster; instead, he sets in motion a chain of events that guarantees Ben will become exactly that monster. (Though I would have liked it better without Richard explaining that Ben would never remember the circumstances of the shooting. Hurley's objection to how Ben behaved when he first met Sayid in season two can be waved away as Ben play-acting, and I think a lot of the Ben/Sayid scenes in the Oceanic Six era have an added kick if Ben knows he's fashioning Sayid into the man who's going to shoot him as a kid -- and gets a sadistic thrill out of knowing that he'll survive, but that Sayid's soul will be destroyed in the process.)
Like last week's "He's Our You," "Whatever Happened, Happened" was very much a throwback to the original "Lost" episode model, focusing primarily on Kate and trying to use flashbacks to her past to illuminate her present circumstances. But where I felt disappointed by what it seemed like "He's Our You" wasn't telling us about Sayid's vendetta against Ben(*), here I gained a newfound appreciation of Kate -- and, for that matter, of Evangeline Lily -- as I found out her reasons for returning weren't what I had initially thought.
(*) A lot of commenters, by the way, made persuasive arguments that there wasn't supposed to be a betrayal -- that Sayid simply blames Ben for unleashing the killer Sayid had tried to keep bottled up for most of his life. I like that interpretation -- in many ways, it's more interesting than simply finding out Ben had once again lied to someone -- but I don't think the episode did a great job of selling it as Sayid's motivation in that episode, and throughout the last half-season.
There was no shock ending like the show often gave us (or tried to) in the earlier seasons, but we didn't need one. Sometimes, it's enough -- even richer than a twist ending -- to just see a natural emotional progression, as we watched Kate struggle with the guilt of raising a boy who wasn't hers, of keeping Aaron from his grandmother, of leaving Claire behind (even though, as she explains to Mrs. Littleton, Claire had disappeared and there was no time to look for her). Kate's a character who's generally been defined as running away from things. Here, she's running to something, and while I thought/feared that something was James Ford, it turns out her motives are much more selfless than that. She's come to rescue the mother of the boy she loves so much -- and that is a Kate I can get behind, even as I fear that she's going to wind up coming between Sawyer (who called her "Freckles" by the sonic fence) and his Juliet.
Some other thoughts:
• At first, I was troubled that none of the characters were questioning why they should be saving the man who will one day cause them all so much grief, but Sawyer dealt with it enough for my needs near the end. We've seen this kind of story so many times in other sci-fi series that the debate about killing Hitler in the cradle would have simply felt obligatory.
• Earlier in the season, I used to keep the running tally of how Sawyer and Miles were battling for island comedy supremacy. With this episode, it feels like Miles has won by default. Sawyer has matured so much that, while he can still be funny (see last week's line about how they went three years without flaming buses before Jack came back), he's much too important to be relegated to sarcastic comic relief anymore.
• I have to assume that we're going to see a whole lot more of Ben's time with The Others, possibly even Ben as a child. One of Richard's lieutenants brought up Ellie (presumably Ms. Hawking) and Charles Widmore, both last seen in 1954 in "Jughead," and we know Widmore blames Ben for his banishment from the island. If it was late '70s Ben who was responsible for Widmore's exile, as opposed to the post-purge Ben of the early '90s, then there are far fewer complications about Penny's birth, how Widmore became such a respected businessman, etc.
• It's been nearly four full episodes since we last saw Locke, from the glimpse of him turning the donkey wheel at the start of "LaFleur" until the end of this one. And while these have been among the season's strongest episodes, one glimpse of Terry O'Quinn's face as Locke enjoyed Ben's surprise at seeing him alive was all I needed to wish I could travel back in time and insert him into those episodes without messing up the timestream.
• Looks like the Dharma folk have been pretty easygoing about Juliet's surprise medical credentials, though of course not a lot of time has passed since she delivered Amy's baby.
• As most of us assumed, Sawyer was telling Kate on the chopper to take care of his daughter Clementine. It was good to see Kim Dickens again as Cassidy, and to hear Cassidy's clear-eyed take on the man Sawyer used to be, but did anyone else expect Kate to be really surprised to see that Sawyer's baby mama and her old con artist partner were one and the same? I suppose she could have figured this out on her own while preparing to meet Cassidy after her trial ended, but it seemed odd to me.
• In addition to my newfound appreciation of Kate, I have to say that, unlike Kate and Juliet, I'm kinda digging the new Jack. He's still a selfish ass in some ways, but he's a mellower, more interesting selfish ass.
• What do you make of the blonde in the supermarket? Foiled kidnapper or helpful shopper? And, of course, she looked like Claire from behind, which only added to Kate's feelings of guilt about "stealing" Aaron.
• This episode was a bit lighter on Sawyer than the last few, but Josh Holloway still had a very nice moment as Sawyer got to hear about his daughter from Kate.
• Was Sawyer's line to Kate about how they had The Others right where they wanted them a reference to a movie (maybe "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid")? To a previous Sawyer/Kate scene (maybe during the polar bear cage arc)? It sounded familiar, but it just might be the sort of thing the Han Solo types Sawyer's modeled on might say, whether or not any of them specifically did.
As always, reminder of the two basic rules for "Lost" discussion: no spoilers (that includes previews, interviews, stuff you've read/heard elsewhere, even the Darlton podcasts), and make an effort to read everyone else's comments so you're not doing a "Did anybody else think about..." point on something 16 other people have already mentioned.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?