Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Thoughts on What Kate Does...

BIGMOUTH: I rate this episode 7/10 -- four points for character development, particularly Dogen, and three for mythological advancement, which was less than I'd hoped after the bonanza of LA X.  Ultimately, I'm left with same nagging question I have after almost every Kate-centric episode: why is what Kate does always so lame? 

Seeing the LA X reality's parallels to Season 1 reminded me yet again of my dissatisfaction with her backstory.  Remember those early episodes when Kate was a mysterious bank-robbing badass, who tracked game like a pro and dropped men twice her size with a few swift kicks?  The narrative possibilities were endless.  I wondered at the time if Kate was a secret agent like Sydney Bristow of Alias, on the run from her evil former employers.  When we finally learned that what Kate did was murder her biological father for insurance money, it just seemed so... mundane.  I've never forgiven the writers for passing up the chance to make her character more fun and exotic. 

Besides, it's not like things have improved much for Kate since Season 1.  She seems locked in a permanent orbit between Jack and Sawyer, with baby Aaron as a small moon.  Beyond narrative stagnation, this also means Evangeline Lily gets paired with pros like Matthew Fox and Josh Holloway in many scenes.  Evie is beautiful to behold, and a fine actress when she tries, but you can tell her heart just isn't in it anymore.  Lily's withdrawal is especially stark in comparison to Holloway, who has blossomed into one of the best actors on the show.  I suspect Sawyer will be visiting some very dark places in coming episodes, and I'm confident Josh can pull it off with aplomb.

Still, the real star of this season so far is clearly Dogen.  The role of Temple Master seems pivotal, and LOST could not have cast a better actor than Hiroyuki Sanada, who reminds me (and everyone else) of Toshiro Mifune.  I've been a fan of Sanada ever since he played Capt. Kaneda in Sunshine (2007) Danny Boyle's entertaining, if flawed, science-fiction film.  The man exudes a quiet dignity and authority that's just perfect for Dogen.  The only minus I can see is that his elegantly accented English underscores how fake Jin sounds when he speaks.  (Wasn't Daniel Dae Kim raised by Asian parents who spoke proper broken English?!)  Sanada's the real deal.

In addition to being a great character, Dogen is well positioned to offer answers to many burning questions.  He's already shown us how little Ben was healed in the Temple, which apparently had nothing to do with Smokey.  (Or did it?  I'll return to that possibility shortly.)  He's also begun explaining the "sickness" that Rousseau first mentioned in Season 1, though the explanation has been a tad drawn out.  (Note to Dr. Jack: when someone tells you a patient is "infected," your first question should be "with what?")  But just who is Dogen, and when did he come to the Island?  What was that test he gave Sayid, and why does he think Claire is infected, too? 

Who is Dogen and when did he arrive?  I spotted a few potential clues to Dogen's identity and time of arrival.  The first is the small whistle-like object around his neck.  Initially, I wondered if it was a dog whistle for calling -- or controlling -- Cerberus.  (Did Smokey respond to Locke's wooden dog whistle in Season 1?)  It also occurred to me the thing might be a ship's captains whistle from the Black Rock.  But that's inconsistent with a second clue: the manual typewriter.  Dogen is a proficient touch typist, and the typewriter wasn't invented until the 1870s, decades after the Black Rock was lost at sea in 1845 (per the First Mate's ledger).  That leads me to clue number three: the baseball.

Dogen is presumably a fan, but baseball didn't come to Japan until 1878.  So, what if Dogen was a Japanese naval officer who was marooned on the Island during World War II?  He somehow managed to escape, but was captured by U.S. forces, who learned of the Island through his interrogation.  Dogen came to regret his decision to leave and agreed to help the Army find the Island, provided they took him with them.  He was part of the  Army expedition that landed there in 1954.   Because the Island allowed Dogen to return, the Others let him live.  He eventually ascended to the position of Temple Master and sustains his youth by bathing in the spring.

What was the test Dogen gave Sayid?
  Dogen's test had three elements -- ash, electricity, and fire -- each of which has precedent on the show.  The ash was the same substance the Others use to repel Smokey.  The electricity recalled Rousseau shocking Sayid to find out what happened to Alex -- and maybe also to see whether he had the sickness.  The fire evoked the Others' practice of burning their dead, presumably to prevent Smokey from snatching the bodies.  All this suggests to me that Dogen was testing for some infection associated with Smokey.  But what made him suspect that Sayid was infected?  The answer may relate to the murky water in the spring, which has precedent as well.

Remember that pit of murky water when Ben summoned the Monster from the secret chamber in his house?  I'm beginning to think that murk is connected somehow with Smokey, which brings me back to the above-mentioned question of how little Ben was saved.  In a few posts, I've raised the possibility that Ben was healed by Smokey when Richard took him into the Temple.  Seeing Sayid healed in the spring seemed to falsify that hypothesis -- unless, of course, the murk is indeed Monster-related.  Dogen claimed not to know what the murky water represents, but he may secretly recognize it from that fateful day Richard bathed little Ben in the Temple.

Why does Dogen think Claire is infected? But there's one more piece to this sickness puzzle that points to still another possible answer.  Dogen also mentioned to Jack that Claire was herself sick.  And since there's no indication she bathed in the spring -- murky or otherwise -- something else must explain her infection.  So, what else do she and Sayid have in a common?  A near-death experience!  Many of you wondered if Claire was killed when a missile struck her house in the Barracks.  It's possible she died temporarily, allowing the Man in Black to infect her soul.  Same with Charlotte Malkin's visions of Yemi after her drowning.  She was touched by the Man in Black while in "between places."

It may well be that everyone who has a near-death experience is at risk for such infection.  This could explain why Charlie had strange dreams that nearly led him to kill baby Aaron after surviving the Swan implosion.  In fact, if you really want to follow me down the whackadoo well, consider the possibility that all of the '77ers are themselves susceptible after their brush with death in the Incident.  Come to think of it, was Dogen's poison pill meant for Sayid, or was it actually a test of Jack?  Over to you, Wayne...
* * *

WAYNE: I have an announcement... Kate Austen is the Smoke Monster! Absolutely true. I had just let my border collie out as our 36 hour snowfall had finally split for the East Coast, allowing him to believe that snow was ice cream yet again, thus ensuring my having an entire pint for myself. I had made notes during my initial viewing of last night’s episode, and thought I’d rewatch the last half hour or so. The time was just after 3:30 a.m., and as I made my notes about Kate more legible, a Cerberus Vent opened about forty miles west of me. A 4.3 magnitude earthquake sounds like little more than an errant snowplow, but it was all in the timing. It startled my dog enough that he came into my computer room, promptly forgot he was scared once he saw the pint of ice cream, reminding me once again that karma is a fickle bitch.

I’ll talk about Kate in a moment, but as with the idea of Richard having once been in chains being the cool moment of “LA X,” I just about squealed when I saw that Claire’s ultrasound was date and time stamped 10/22/04 and somewhere close to 10 AM. You all everybody know that I love me my maps and my times, and I was happy to see a subtle difference between the LA X reality and that of S1-5. (I keep waiting for a ham-handed reference to the Red Sox winning the World Series -- if that part of history is revisited, I hope it amounts to no more than Desmond showing up to throw out Christian’s favorite line about the BoSox as perennial losers.) My best guess regarding the date change: someone is pushing the button on the Island, something happens to cause a system failure, there just isn’t an Oceanic plane flying overhead. Or the Island is underwater. (All depends on if the underwater foot we saw was from the LA X reality or from the actual ending of the show, right?)

OK. Kate. More selfish than I’d ever seen her, but I think this is the subtext we will see in the LA X reality. We’ve already seen Jack and Locke bonding in a way that didn’t involve the latter saving the former from toppling from a small cliff. So, of course, Kate will be more extreme. Part of the tension involving the cab was caused by Kate waving a gun with a pregnant girl sitting next to her, and I wasn’t far off in thinking last week that the result would be Claire going into labor. Kate steps up for Claire the way she did for Cassidy during the days of the fake-jewelry con. In this LA X reality, there is already a Kate/Claire/Aaron dynamic going. To be honest, I’ve always seen the “going back to the Island to find Claire” line as self-serving, but I understand it. Kate was mid-wife for Aaron’s birth, and I suppose you could say that she is presented in a different capacity when Ethan Goodspeed -- maybe Rom was on his diploma from Mittelos -- shows the grainy little shot of Aaron. In both realities, Kate saw Aaron before anyone else besides Claire. So, for me, what Kate does in this episode is help Claire decide to raise Aaron.

Meanwhile...back at the Temple. Everything seemed a bit subdued. I actually felt at times like I was watching something other than an episode of Lost, but I think this is because “LA X” ended without all the activity on the outside of the Temple. I had planned on coming up with a wonderful theory regarding Sayid that now seems blasted to bits. Shot to sunshine, as Ben once said to Jack. Going back to Bigmouth’s blog entry of September 14th, 2009, “The Two Bens,” I thought we might see the implications from the deleted scene in the Tunisian desert bear fruition. Something along the lines that we saw a live Ben glom a dead one and willingly ignore the fact completely. Two, bunnies, two Bens, two Lockes. I dunno. I was hoping for a different scene, maybe Sayid telling Jack he saw himself dead in the Dharma van. A resurrected Sayid willingly letting another Sayid die. Crazy, I know. Worth a shot thinking about, I guess.

I mentioned last week that MiB is not Smokey, that MiB exploited Ben the way Ben did to everyone else. Remember the conversation Ben had with Juliet while Paulo was eavesdropping at the Pearl? I’m wondering if Smokey isn’t even the security system for the Temple. That term has stuck out like Ben’s bug eyes since Rousseau first mentioned it to him while he was being given shock therapy the first time around. For a while, I was even toying with the phrase Temporal Security System. Sayid now has some sort of sickness that will claim him as it has Claire, and we saw her pulling her own personal Rousseau at the end of the episode. But if the science team succumbed to the sickness in 1988, why were they allowed out of the confines of the Temple? I think Rousseau always had the sickness, and the security system is really just individual people that take care of business in different ways than the Hostiles. Slim thinking here, I know, but I’m saying Sayid might not turn into a bad guy, just more a Unabomber-type, with the traps and the explosives. I’ll still present my "MiB is not Smokey" argument in fuller detail, but I think it should wait until we get an episode with the gang still near the statue. (Will these two group converge as we saw with the tail section group, this time around Jin and Sun standing in for Jack and Ana-Lucia)?

Dogen. When I saw the baseball, I thought of Yogi Berra’s famous comment “It’s like deja vu all over again.” But Dogen’s comment to Jack was exactly what Richard said to Locke about the compass. Baseballs, compasses, cigars -- some objects are exactly what they appear to be. A regulation ball also has 108 stitches and two curved (reality) lines, but it’s really just a ball. I just don’t want it to start changing hands like the compass. Though I do wonder if the ball might have come from Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

The name Dogen is mentioned in The Dark Tower as the control room of one’s mind, and huge dials and knobs are involved. I thought of Room 23 on Hydra, but then I thought of the doohicky clamped to Sayid’s skull, and the dial being replaced by an old-fashioned crank. Just sayin'. Aside from this, there is a tribe in Mali, not far from Tunisia, and the Dogon Territories are known as the “End of The World” to the rest of the Saharan country. The Dogon tribe, incidentally, retreated to a corner of Mali to avoid being forced to join the Muslim religion -- I suppose this might be a play on the phrase Hostile takeover *cough* -- because they would be forced into slavery. The spellings of Dogon and Dogen seem interchangeable, from various Google searches I made, but the former is how the tribe is mentioned in a 1976 book by Robert KG Temple (!) called The Sirius Mystery (!!). Building on the work of a French anthropologist who studied the Dogon between 1931 and 1956, Temple’s book illustrates how the tribe had knowledge of Sirius’s companion star and other facts about Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings that could only have come from extra-terrestrial sources. Though the book has its critics, the main objection its thesis is simply that the Dogons were not as isolated as Temple led people to believe -- the Dogon fought alongside the French Foreign Legion during WWI. Man-o-Maneshewitz, that was a long-winded story. But I found the idea of the tribe’s retreat into what might be considered a Dark Territory interesting. Plus, the only other Dogen I came across is a billionaire in Turkey.

Dogen does tell Jack that he [Jack] knows who brought him to the Island. I’m seeing Dogen as the guy who stays in the Temple, and Richard as the guy who stays in the tents, and that there are two groups of Others. I think Dogen is the last of his crew, and the way it has looked all along, Richard is the last of the group from the Black Rock. When the war is over, will Jack be the sole survivor of the original Oceanic flight and be granted eternal life? Does any of this make sense, or is a baseball just a baseball and a compass always points north?

Episode Rating: 8/10 (5 for character development, 3 for mythological advancement).
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