”Lost”: Kate in chains
Watching last night’s episode of Lost, I couldn’t help thinking of The Defiant Ones, the 1958 classic starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis as chained-together escaped cons who, despite their mutual hatred, must work together in order to elude the coppers and stay escaped. Of course, if I were some Grindhouse hipster like Quentin Tarantino, perhaps the sight of castaway Kate handcuffed to Others doc Juliet, bickering over who wronged who and wrestling in the jungle mud over Jack, would have evoked memories of Black Mama, White Mama, the 1972 blaxploitation flick that reversed the gender on The Defiant Ones. But I’m a square, so the cooler pop connections elude me — though, being a genre nerd, I could reference here Enemy Mine, the 1985 sci-fi variant of The Defiant Ones. In any event, this Kate-centric outing, titled ”Left Behind,” was certainly a fine little fable about defiance and pride — not to mention atonement and social responsibility. Perhaps a little more than fine thanks to the chicks in chains. But I digress.
And the Others, they’ve departed. Packed up their guns and grilled-cheese-sandwich makers and abandoned the Dharma Initiative barracks for parts unknown, leaving this evil, cultish Benstown to the wild boars, mad polar bears, and giant hamsters. (Then again, as Hurley noted in the episode, it’s been three months since the crash — which means it’s about one month until the tsunami of December 2004. I’m thinking a move to the higher ground of Dharma’s summer camp could loom in the future for the beached castaways.)
Was it just me, or did John Locke look a little loco in the ojos when he came to Kate in the game room that served as her cell (holy season 1 — a backgammon reference!) and told her that he was leaving with the Others? Even Kate saw it and asked the easily manipulated Man of Faith if he had been brainwashed. (Shades of Jack’s reconstructed attitude toward his former tormentors when Kate found him tickling the ivories a few episodes back.) I’m going to go for the crazy sci-fi conjecture here: Jack and Locke have been body-swapped. The reason they’re not acting like themselves — or, maybe, acting more like themselves than ever before — is that they are literally not themselves at all. Either they’ve become puppets under the telepathic control of mutant Others, or they’ve been replicated and replaced by Ben’s shape-shifting pet monster, Smokey. Or maybe they just ate some of Ben’s bad chicken.
But thematically, the most important element of the Locke-Kate interaction came after Locke revealed that the Others had told him what she ”had done” — clearly a reference to the season-2 episode ”What Kate Did,” which revealed that the fetching fugitive had killed her abusive daddy by blowing up their house. The curious thing about this scene — besides Locke’s odd demeanor — is how Kate didn’t protest when she was confronted with this veiled, unspecified reference to her past crimes. The girl’s got guilt, and a crushing amount of it — she’s a Franz Kafka character, minus the hyper-defensiveness. Kate seems utterly resigned to being marked as ”a bad person,” to use the Others’ nomenclature. If the castaways were to learn that this place really is some kind of Dantesque hell, Kate might be the one who’s the least surprised.
But resignation is one thing — accepting responsibility for sins and atoning for them is another. Kate found herself grappling with this fact (or at least reminded of it) when she woke up in the jungle handcuffed to Juliet after being knocked out by the Others. Being shackled to her rival for Jack’s affections conjured memories for her of the time she formed a shotgun partnership with another illegal lady — someone the rest of us know to be Cassidy, former partner and lover to the other man in Kate’s life, Sawyer. With the pregnant grifter’s assistance (yep: it’s Sawyer’s kid, Clementine), Kate managed to sneak past that dogged U.S. marshal Ed Mars and meet with her mother so she could ask a furious question: How come you ratted me out to the cops? Mom’s reply: Because you blew up my husband! It doesn’t matter if he was an abusive monster — you had no right to take justice into your own hands!
Utterly shamed, Kate left, heartbroken. With this, Lost seems to be making an interesting statement about personal responsibility, especially in an episode in which we are presented with three women — Kate, Cassidy, and Juliet — who have been so profoundly shaped and damaged by the men in their lives. The message: The subjective truth of your experience is valid, but you are still beholden to commonly held values, or what Rousseau would call ”the general will.”
Nonetheless, Lost loves its island of sinners too much to pass judgment on them — but I do think the series is interested in exploring whether they’re willing to put down their rationalizations and live in the conscience of their community. This is where Smokey the Monster comes in. More so than any previous episode, ”Left Behind” seemed to suggest a clear, cogent theory to explain Smokey’s modus operandi. It seems to me that the Monster has a bug up its incorporeal butt about human pride. Think back to Mr. Eko. Think back to what he said to the manifestation of his beloved younger brother, Yemi, prior to getting pounded by Smokey. Falling to his knees, the reluctant warlord turned faux priest proclaimed (paraphrase), ”I have done nothing wrong!” Eko came to the belief that his sins and all their consequences were justified in the context of the sacrifice he made to save Yemi’s life. Kate’s story echoed Mr. Eko’s, which would have made her Monster bait, if not for two things: 1. Fortunately, as the flashback revealed, her mother had already confronted her about her self-righteous narcissism, so the lessons had already been implanted. 2. The experience of being tethered to Juliet helped to activate those lessons and make them real. For during her dark night of the soul, Kate was made to understand, in a personal way, how her allegedly altruistic actions could be compromised by selfishness and have painful, destructive consequences. It was this epiphany that allowed her to apologize to Jack at the end of the episode for sabotaging his escape and denying him a chance at happiness. By the way, this is very similar to the growth of character we saw in Jack during the season premiere, when he finally took responsibility for his failed marriage and found himself capable of hoping for happiness for the wife who betrayed him.
(PS: My theory on Smokey’s manifestation in this episode: I’m thinking that the Monster’s true target was Juliet. Maybe he was just checking her out — taking psychic pictures of her soul for future reference. Or maybe he was drawn to her sinful pride. After all, Kate was correct: Juliet is culpable for the evil the Others inflicted upon Kate and Sawyer. But given the opportunity to explain herself or apologize, Juliet declined. This might put her at risk for tempting Smokey’s wrath. But I wonder: Remember that mark Juliet got branded with by the Others for killing Danny? Might that symbol be some kind of language that Smokey can recognize — a mark of Cain that might protect her from the Monster’s divine judgment?)
All of this was mirrored in a much more lighthearted manner in the secondary story line, in which Hurley pulled a Survivor scam on Sawyer — tricking him into thinking that the beach community was on the verge of sending him to Exile Island (or at least just a ways down the shore) for his greedy supply hoarding and for orchestrating last season’s assault on Sun as part of his gun-seizing power play. ”I don’t do amends,” he grumbled to Hurley, but he soon changed his tune and scrambled to campaign for his place in society like a politician way behind in the polls, doing everything from kissing babies to preparing a pig-on-a-spit feast — anything to win the hearts and minds of his castaways. When Sawyer learned he had been duped by Hurley, who merely wanted to teach him a lesson, Sawyer snapped: ”You tricked me into being decent? That’s got to be the lamest con in the history of cons!” And yet, by episode’s end, Sawyer’s Grinchy heart seemed to grow a couple sizes more, even as a look from Sun reminded him that a roasted pig is only the beginning of making good on past mistakes.
Of course, what I also loved about the Sawyer story line was this: It was a joke that disguised a giant clue! An elaborate scheme designed to promote human decency — that’s the Dharma Initiative! That’s the whole ”Dharma was trying to harness the power of the Island to bring enlightenment to the masses!” theory that I’ve been tub-thumping for the past year!
And now some questions:
1. I was struck by Juliet?s kung fu. Where did she learn it? How had she dislocated her shoulder three times previous to Kate?s takedown? And given the presence of Mikhail Bakunin on the Island during her Othersville experience, might Juliet be versed in the Russian martial art of systema, a quasi-mystical fighting style that in some forms purports to incorporate mind-over-matter powers?
2. Saint Lucy — Kate?s fave saint from Sunday school — is the patron saint of blindness. (She got her eyes scooped out for refusing to become a prostitute or something.) This could be made to support any number of theories involving redemption, enlightenment, a bad girl who yearns to be good. Interestingly, Kate?s previous aliases included Monica and Maggie (or Margaret) — Catholic saints as well. My question: What the hell? Theories please.
3. So many unanswered questions about Juliet. Why was she left behind? Is she of no more use to Ben? Is she facilitating the enlightenment mission of the Others? Or is she a Trojan horse on a more insidious mission?
4. Why couldn?t the Monster breach the sonic fence or go over it?
I look forward to reading your thoughts — and I mean that in a message-board kind of way, not in a creepy Walt kind of way!
Until next week!