Lost Wednesday: Table Setting

February 10, 2010
By | 7 Comments

One of my favorite television critics, Alan Sepinwall, ended his review of this week’s Lost with this spot-on reflection:

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.

Sepinwall’s experience resonated with my own, and some recent writing I’ve done on the differing experiences of watching serials weekly versus in bound DVD boxes. I’ve always watched Lost as a same-day broadcast, and have had five years getting used to the seasonal rhythms of the show’s storytelling. My wife had only watched via DVD, cramming the first five seasons into four months this past fall.

Thus while I enjoyed “What Kate Does” fine enough, her reaction was “did anything happen in that episode?” It is true that episodes like this are more table-setters, moving the pieces around the board for the next big move, than game-changers. And I’ve long reconciled myself to the expectation that these episodes pop up a couple times (or more) each season – often in Kate-centric stories – where the story is less compelling in the short-term, but there’s long-term payoff behind the maneuvers. Based on the previews of next week, getting Sawyer out of the temple to encounter DarkLocke is crucial (and should be fun!), and no doubt Feral Claire will have some action with Jin down the road. But for my wife, this felt underwhelming and new – waiting a week for an episode that lacked payoff, where in the past we burned through such episodes quick enough to see the table setting as part of a whole.

This season’s big challenge is that the off-island 2004 scenes lack context for why we should care about them – how do these events relate to our primary interests in the island story? I’m sure they do – and the producers have emphatically asserted that they are not an “alternative universe,” a dream, or any other low-stakes asides. But without knowing why they matter, I don’t know how to watch them. Should I want all the characters to converge? Might their crash-free happiness be a problem for the island storyline? As is, my pleasure is less in the story than the clever shout-outs to fan memory – seeing Kate and Ethan participate in Claire’s pregnancy rewards my season 1 memories, in which each played a different role in Aaron’s birth. And seeing Ethan off-island made us pause the TiVo to figure out how he is alive post-Jughead – thanks to Pierre Chang’s DHARMA evacuation of course!

So perhaps more than any other season, it seems that the narrative structure of season 6 is expressly designed for rewatching rather than first viewing, requiring a broader sense of the storytelling architecture to guide our emotional engagements. But clearly that’s a luxury the Lost producers can afford in this last season, where ratings pressures are absent and the afterlife of the show as a bound 120-hour narrative is on the horizon.

And I haven’t mentioned anything about what actually did happen – for me, the most provocative idea was that there is some “infection” that Sayid may have, and that it might well relate to Rousseau’s team going all hostile after their close encounter with Smokey. Given that “the sickness” was a first season concept that was mostly dropped, I’m intrigued that it might turn out to be relevant in the end. But adding to my own disappointment was that after last week’s Terry O’Quinn powerhouse, Locke was absent in any of his various incarnations, as that aspect of the story is much more compelling to me than the Temple.

Random favorite fanboy moment: Hurley asking Sayid if he is a zombie, clearly alluding to the Darlton podcast trope that the final season of the show will be “the zombie season.”



7 Responses to “ Lost Wednesday: Table Setting ”

  1. Myles McNutt on February 10, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    As always, great observations, and I agree with Sepinwall’s final paragraph (even if my review is decidedly more positive, perhaps reading into the episode some of the eventual meaning that we’re discussing).

    One thing I will point out is that the episode serves another important purpose of memory: not only is it referring to Aaron’s back story, in terms of the birth in Season 1, but it’s also the first time we’ve seen Claire in a very, very long time. Outside of a brief moment last week, we haven’t spent any time with de Ravin, so for viewers who haven’t been compulsively watching old episodes before each new one it’s important to remind them of who Claire was before we discover who Claire is. It may not have been a mind-blowing flash sideways, but it was an integral one to be able to reintegrate Claire into the narrative.

  2. Derek Kompare on February 10, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    Loved the “zombie season” shout-out! It was a line only Hurley could have delivered.

    Very much a “table-setting” piece, this one, and that’s OK, for the most part. There are clearly ideas and nagging issues that they want to put out there and let simmer for a bit as the season goes on. This pacing is actually most strained in the temple sequences, where we have the very familiar scene of Jack wanting answers and the Others trying to distract him (and us) with wordplay. We’ve seen this time and time again, and at least they upped the ante by having Jack take the pill, but still: they’re stalling, to allow the question of the “infection” to grow, and (presumably) to allow time for Smocke et al to come to the Temple (which looks like will kick into gear a bit more next week).

    And here’s an interesting thought for next week. Given that it’s presumably about Sawyer, what is this alt-Sawyer like? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cassidy show up in the alt timeline, which puts an intriguing spin on his commitment issues.

  3. Sean C. Duncan on February 10, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    Well, I have a bit of a different take on all of this — beyond table-setting, this is also a lot of subtle thread-tying. Note that before this episode, we never had any confirmation that there was an “infection” or “sickness,” which were referenced all the way back in the 1st season by Rousseau. Last season, we got to see Rousseau kill off her shipmates and her talking about “the sickness,” but this is the first we’ve seen this tied to an actual disease or infection of any kind (which, at the end of season 2, we were led to believe was a red herring due to Kelvin’s actions), nor that it was somehow tied to the themes of life, death, and rebirth. It opens up more questions — was Ben “infected” after he was taken to the temple? Does that mean he died and was reborn? Is Dogen’s claim about “Jack’s sister” confirmation that Claire was really killed when Keamy’s men blew up that cabin in season 4?

    So, to my eyes, this is opening up new questions and setting things up, but is already starting to pull together a number of things from the series into a ball and rolling it down a hill toward an answer. I’m curious to see where that will take us.

  4. Lost – What Kate Does | Telephonoscope on February 10, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    […] general consensus among the Lost critics (see here and here) is that last night’s episode was a little lame, or at least not as satisfying as it could have […]

  5. Evan Elkins on February 11, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    “This season’s big challenge is that the off-island 2004 scenes lack context for why we should care about them – how do these events relate to our primary interests in the island story?”

    You’ve nailed the major problem that I had with this episode. And I think you’re also correct that, when these two storylines inevitably converge, the episode will be more interesting and satisfying in retrospect. But right now, the “LA X” timeline almost feels like non-canon, speculative fan-fiction–a narrative strategy more interesting conceptually than in practice.

    Of course, it could just be that I prefer LOST at its most relentlessly bonkers. A Tim Burton-esque, Syfy-quality dive into the ocean, revealing the sunken island? Yes, please! More of Kate’s adventures as the fugitive with a heart of gold? Eh, fine.

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  7. Sean Duncan on February 12, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    I dunno, I have very little sympathy for people who are becoming impatient with the off-island storyline — as Jason pointed out, every season starts off with expository episodes that seemingly have little connection to the storylines we’ve been following (from Desmond and the button through “Jughead” and the Others in the 1950s). The alternate timeline seems clearly important for at least two reasons — (1) the “what could have been” storyline gives us an obvious way to bring back a live John Locke in some form, and (2) it allows us to (in some fashion) address strange “alternate” inconsistencies that have been around for seasons (the staircase in Miles’s flashback and the changing contents of Ben’s fridge in S4, etc.).

    This is just speculation, obviously, but it strikes me that the early emphasis on Claire and Kate means that this will somehow involve Aaron’s role in all of this. Whether Aaron in the “other timeline” (Lindelof and Cuse don’t want us calling it “alternate,” as it is, to them, an equally valid course of events to the primary narrative of the show) ends up becoming Jacob or somesuch, who knows? But, for me, this is working quite well so far to set us up for some interesting final explanations.