One of the challenges in writing these rewind posts is to not cover too much territory in the earlier episodes. If I write too broadly, I might not have much left to discuss as a narrative thread is expanded in subsequent hours. For example, I wrote at length last week about what I saw as the thematic purpose served by the Temple Others: corruption. The Man in Black's control of Benjamin Linus didn't just affect the leader of the Others, but spread throughout the entire group. Thus, now three years removed from Ben's departure, the Others remain ruined as a functional unit of good. Once corrupted, always corrupted. This links in to MiB's words to Jacob as the Black Rock approached the island in the season five finale: "They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same." The Others were a long-term project by Jacob, but in the end they fought, destroyed and corrupted like all their predecessors. Just like the Dharma Initiative, whose fighting, destruction and corruption we watched throughout season five.
So having covered all that last week, what's left to talk about with several more episodes featuring the Temple Others? Well, I guess not much, but "What Kate Does" does offer further evidence of this aspect of the Others' corruption. The first of these is the presence of Aldo. For fans of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," his return was little more than a "Holy crap, it's Mac" moment. For the rest of us, it was just another whiny, secretive, abusive member of the Temple Others to annoy us for an hour.
Aldo was the guard Kate attacked to escape her caged captivity back in season three. Given how awful the polar bear cages arc was, any tie-in to the almost-as-excruciating Temple Others arc is like mixing mustard and raisins: two nasty things that become even worse when combined. (Those are just two things I dislike. Feel free to substitute in whatever you need to complete the effect.) Here, Aldo tells Kate that he still holds a grudge over being hit in the head, and proceeds to treat her and Jin pretty poorly. Aldo is also this week's device of pointless plot stalling, as he repeatedly shushes his fellow Other whenever he starts to reveal anything that might progress the story or our understanding of the island's secrets.
But I have found a redeeming purpose to Aldo's purposelessness: he is a direct connection to the corrupted tribe of Ben Linus's Others. This makes his abusive and secretive behavior toward Kate make sense. That's how Ben ran things because that's how MiB taught him to run things. The bad habits of Ben Linus continue through Aldo and through everyone else at the Temple. Despite whatever suspicions or explanations we had for Ben being an evil leader, at this point in the story we've only recently learned that Smokey had been corrupting him and the Others for years, taking them far off Jacob's track. And at this point in the story, we also aren't yet 100% sure that Jacob is good and MiB is evil (or even who they are). In hindsight, knowing which side is which, we can better appreciate that Ben derailed the Others off the path of good during his tenure thanks to some serious manipulation from Smokey. So folks like Aldo behave badly because it's how they were told to behave. Even with Ben gone and the Temple Others trying to do what the real Jacob wants, they just don't quite know how to do it because they were never taught by anyone how to do it.
I can even tie this theme into another annoying season six gimmick: Sideways World cameos. In "What Kate Does," the token cameo is Dr. Ethan Goodspeed. Ethan, such a menacing presence as Claire's season one kidnapper and castaway infiltrator, shows up here as a kind obstetrician who takes care of Claire when she goes into early labor. Believe it or not, his "I don't want to stick you with a bunch of needles if I don't have to" schtick serves a purpose beyond mere groan-inducing irony. The point is that Ethan is a good person here. Minus the corrupting influence of MiB and Ben, he's a kind, gentle doctor whose bedside manner puts Claire at ease. The Others, including Ben, weren't inherently evil people. They were corrupted, as so many on the island are.
This angle on the Temple Others is something I find infinitely intriguing, and to some extent redeeming for the storyline, but it doesn't change the fact that the action itself is often poorly written and executed. This is something that recurs throughout the show's final season: interesting ideas executed in annoying ways. (More on this when we get to "Across the Sea.")
While he was already detaching from everyone in "LA X," this episode saw the first real manifestations of Sawyer's return to moral free agency. Here he ditches the Temple, heading off for the Dharma barracks to retrieve the ring he intended to give Juliet. Though Kate follows him there, he eventually sends her on her way to pursue his own path alone. Like much of season six, this is a direct parallel to the show's first season, when Sawyer was an angry con man who used and abused his fellow castaways for personal gain. As the final season develops, Sawyer tries to find a way out of both Jacob and MiB's plans, eschewing both good and evil. I'll save most of this discussion for later episodes, but while there was a lot of online discussion about whether this path would be the right one for Sawyer, his resemblance to the early asshole version of the character seemed to indicate it wouldn't. And it wasn't, arguably costing Sayid, Sun and Jin their lives.
What about the Sideways World? Summary: Kate hijacks a cab with Claire inside, ditches Claire, ditches her handcuffs, and picks Claire up again. When "What Kate Does" first aired, a big viewer complaint was Claire's inexplicable decision to let Kate, who had just kidnapped her at gun point then abandoned her in the middle of Los Angeles, drive her around the city, accompanying her to both Aaron's adoptive parents' house and to the hospital where Claire helped Kate elude police pursuit. In real life, one would hope Claire would've told Kate to get the hell away from her when she showed back up and offered a ride. Well, lucky "Lost." This isn't the real world. It's an afterlife where the rules of common sense don't have to apply. The real point here is that these characters are drawn to one another in the Sideways World against all logic. Despite her better judgment, Claire accepts a ride from Kate because of their real connection to one another. Alas, it doesn't play out believably, even on a second viewing. And as future episodes illustrate, the bendable rules of the Sideways World allow writers to take shortcuts whenever necessary to connect characters, logic (and medical privacy laws -- more on that when we get to "Everybody Loves Hugo") be damned.
A few random thoughts...
- Dogen's bizarre "test" to see if Sayid is infected makes no more sense on second viewing than it did the first time around. Perhaps that's the point, since I don't think there is an infection. Maybe when you test for something that doesn't exist, the results always come back positive.
- As Kate's hijacked taxi leaves LAX, she and Jack lock eyes in a moment of puzzling connection. As we learn in the finale, Kate's love for Jack has the power to wake him, though he resists her.
- In the hospital, Claire calls her unborn baby Aaron despite having never chosen that name. On first viewing this was commonly interpreted as some sign of destiny for the characters but now we know it's because she'd already given birth to Aaron in the real world and is simply reliving an alternative version of his birth in the afterlife.
- I've fallen behind with my "Lost" rewind posts the past two weeks due to the Los Angeles Film Festival and a day-job-related conference in Philadelphia, but I'm bound and determined to keep up, so hopefully in the next couple of days I'll be able to watch and write about "The Substitute."