Filler you say? I say, nay. The adrenaline addicted Sci-Fi junkies that have hijacked the LOST viewership may be kvetching about how last night’s episode “What Kate Does” was filler, I prefer to think of it as a slightly ramped up harkening back to the first season when LOST was about the heavier existential questions facing characters – told against the backdrop of a weird island where magical things happen that, surprisingly, make a decent metaphor for the episode ‘theme.’ Not only did I not think it was filler, I also stand by my long running assertion that Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz write some of the best television anywhere when it comes to bouncing character centric stories off the wires of an overarching mythology.
I will say that I think the LOST writers have taken a gamble here in one regards. I think when we know the context of the alternate universe, what it says about our characters will have much more importance in retrospect. It’s a gamble because where we are now, the full weight of the subtle differences in character action are almost so subtle that they are subtext.
If you consider the ‘clips from the alternate universe’ that were shown at Comic Con, particularly the one where Kate is revealed as having murdered ‘the wrong man,’ her actions are quite different. There was a bit of nobility to Kate’s fugitive run before, this time around there isn’t. In this universe, Jacob didn’t interrupt her tendencies to do wrong with a little pledge of honesty. Of course, whether that action had an impact on Kate or not is entirely up to question considering how she turned out.
All of that aside, there was a fantastic symmetry to this episode that made the writer in me green with envy. In the alt timeline, Kate proceeds coldly and selfishly at first. Dumping Claire on the side of the road and basically acting to save her own skin. She runs into Mr. Mechanic/Machinist who slyly decides to help her out of her handcuff situation. He is an amoral gatekeeper who releases her judgment free into a world where Kate can now judge her own actions. She goes to ‘change’ her clothes, and winds up changing herself upon seeing the contents of Claire’s suitcases. This triggers something inside her, something that tells her to turn around and reenter the dangers of the world in a quest for… redemption.
Redemption is all over this episode. Kate attempts to redeem her actions to Claire, Jack is given the opportunity to redeem his role as architect of the situation, while Kate and Sawyer take turns blaming themselves as the architects of Juliet’s passing. Kate pursuing Sawyer was all about Kate braving the dangers of the island to deliver her apology, but her ultimate goal was freedom – just like in the flash sideways of the episode.
The resurfacing of the ‘The Sickness’ was very satisfying for me as it is one aspect of the show that has been around since season one and not fully explored, and it creates a fantastic mini-arc for Season 6. If death is the only cure to the ‘The Sickness,’ will two of our most beloved characters come to an end? This is also another point where the symmetry of the episode comes into focus: in the Alt-timeline, Kate is pursuing Claire to redeem herself; in the 815-crashed timeline, the same is also true. Besides Kate’s quest for Sawyer, to redeem what she sees as her fault in Juliet’s death, Kate admits she is there to find Claire so that something good can come from all they have been through. However, Claire is sick; sick with a disease that darkens the soul and makes the infected pure evil and, according to Dogen, irredeemable. Whether intended or not, ‘The Sickness’ becomes a strong archetypal belief in the LOST verse that states, for the moment, that some cannot be redeemed by any action other than their destruction. Funny, that’s the same philosophy Kate holds for her stepfather. It’s a grim bit of Graveyard School poetry that, for the moment, seems to be forming a dark cloud over the LOST narrative.