"What are you doing?" -JinAfter the season premiere made me giddy to be back on the island, and intrigued by what was happening off the island, "What Kate Does" was a less thrilling experience. Interesting in spots - mainly on the island - but mainly it left me wanting to jump ahead to the next episode for a more serious fix.
"This ain't 'Sliding Doors' or any other kind of 'What If?' story. Promise." -Damon Lindelof
Now, some of my lack of enthusiasm comes from this being a Kate episode, but not all of it. Kate's never been my favorite character, but I've liked some of her previous spotlights ("Whatever Happened, Happened" was one of last season's stronger hours). But because the character's still fairly opaque after all these years, and because Evangeline Lilly's one of the less compelling members of the cast, it tends to put her episodes at a disadvantage from the jump, and one that "What Kate Does" could never quite overcome.
Last week, I enjoyed the 2004 scenes in part because it was fun to be reminded of how characters like Jack and Locke and Jin behaved at the start of the series, in part to get to play What's Wrong With This Picture? on things like Shannon's absence or Sawyer's lack of self-loathing.
As Lindelof told me last week (in the line quoted above), the 2004 scenes are more than a simple What If?, and the use of a new sound effect to transition from one timeline to the other - as opposed to the familiar whoosh used to connote flashbacks and flashforwards in seasons past - suggests something hinky's happening. Maybe Faraday's plan for Jughead worked belatedly, and the season will build towards the timeline being reset to the LA X one, or maybe the two realities are on a collision course, but there's more to the mainland scenes than just wondering what might have been if the plane hadn't crashed. (Like finding out, for instance, that the couple who were going to adopt Aaron had, in fact, just split up and wouldn't have been able to take in little Turnip-Head.)
It's a new puzzle, but until we have a better sense of what it means, we either need to get a lot of fascinating clues, or those scenes have to work as a good standalone drama the way the better flashback episodes did. And "What Kate Does" didn't offer up enough of either.
We got a few clues: Ethan (going by his parents' last name of Goodspeed, rather than his Nom de Others Rom) working as a kind and patient mainland OB/GYN (because he got off the island as a baby in "The Incident" and never went back once it sunk for whatever reason), and there was a sense that both Kate (in her look at Jack, and then her reaction when Claire said Aaron's name) and Claire (in her "It's like I knew it or something" comment about the name) remembered bits and pieces from the timeline we know. Mainly, though, the 2004 scenes were a chance to see Kate play ultra-capable fugitive again, and to have her meet Claire in one timeline while searching for her in the other, and those scenes in and of themselves weren't that interesting.
Maybe I'll enjoy the 2004 scenes more when we get to some other characters (I look forward to seeing alt-Jack and alt-Locke become BFFs), but this week it was largely a distraction from all that was happening on the island.
And even the island scenes were only sometimes satisfying. Though the circumstances aren't exactly the same as when Jack was eating sandwiches and watching Red Sox games in season three (here, he drinks tea and admires Dogen's baseball), nor is Jack's mindset, it's still another instance of Jack being held captive by The Others and demanding answers they're incredibly slow to give. Dogen finally starts opening up at episode's end after Jack does his clever/suicidal gambit with the poison pill (given Jack's head space at this point in the story, I think he'd have been just fine if Dogen hadn't Heimlich'ed him), but until then, parts of the episode reminded me of one of the series' most frustrating stretches.(*) As Hurley puts it, "They caught us... again."
(*) They even brought back Rob McElhenney from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" as Aldo, last seen being hit by Kate's rifle butt in "Not In Portland" as Kate and Sawyer were making their escape from Alcatraz.
On the plus side from the Temple scenes: I quite like the gravity and mystery of Hiroyuki Sanada's performance as Dogen, and I was even more intrigued by how un-Sayid-like Naveen Andrews seemed, seeming so timid and confused and in pain - and sounding oddly close to Andrews' native British accent - as Sayid the torturer was himself tortured. Is this, in fact, Sayid? He appears to have Sayid's memories, but then, so does Smokey-as-Locke. But if it were Jacob animating Sayid's corpse, Dogen and company wouldn't be so eager to poison him. The start of Dogen's story about Claire, and Jin's glimpse of Claire looking very much like Rousseau (and clearly having set the Rousseau-ian traps Kate, Aldo and Justin stumbled across earlier) could suggest that the "infection" involves people on the island being possessed by the island's dead. (Maybe Sayid's British accent suggests a Charlie influence?)
But the strongest parts of the episode took place in the ruins of New Otherton, with Sawyer still grieving Juliet (just as he opened season five mistakenly mourning Kate and the rest of the Oceanic Six, only more hardcore because he spent three years loving this woman) and Kate recognizing, as Jack did last week, that her return to Craphole Island has been a complete and utter fiasco. She has no idea how to find Claire, is running from The Others again, and Sawyer (whom she may have come back for, in addition to her desire to find Claire) is both in love with a dead woman (whose death Kate feels partially responsible for) and in no condition to help her go Claire-hunting. Being in Josh Holloway's orbit tends to bring out a spark in Lilly that isn't always there opposite other characters, and the scene at the dock was a strong example of that.
Mainly, though, "What Kate Does" was a table-setting episode. I can see lots of things introduced here paying off interestingly down the road, maybe even as soon as next week, but there wasn't enough meat for the episode to really succeed on its own. I imagine this is one that will play better as part of a DVD marathon, especially for those of us going back after we already know what the 2004 scenes are all about.
Some other thoughts:
• Hurley's leadership of the group seems to have already come to an end, as he was happy to let Jack deal with both Sayid and Dogen, but his brief tenure did lead to a hilarious bit of Ken Leung deadpan sarcasm as Miles explained to Sayid that Hurley had assumed a leadership position.
• Say this for the Dharma Initiative: they may have been dumb to stay on the island and dumber to let Ben Linus massacre them, but they know how to build a bungalow colony. Pipes still work 30 years after they were built, and 3 years since anyone lived there and did any work on them.
• Jeff Kober, who played the helpful mechanic, is a familiar enough face that I was surprised he only appears to have been cast for a one-scene part. Maybe he'll pop up again fixing another character's car, as the 2004 stories revive season one's six degrees of separation storytelling?
• Funniest exchange of the night: Hurley asks Sayid if he's a zombie, and a tired, pained, recently-resurrected Sayid (or whoever he is) replies, quietly and seriously, "No. I am not a zombie."
• Joan Hart, the name Kate gives to the hospital, is an alias she's used before, first mentioned (I think) in season one's "Born to Run."
• When the cab nearly runs over Arzt, and he screams, "Hey! I'm walking here!," he's re-enacting this iconic, improvised scene from "Midnight Cowboy."
• No time for Smokey or any of the other beach people this week, but good to know that Jin is finally attempting to reunite with Sun. Here's hoping he doesn't spend most of this season like Michael in season two, running aimlessly around the jungle screaming, "SUUUUUUUUUUUN!!!!"
What did everybody else think?