A common knock against Lost is how much of a boy’s club the show is.
With a production staff heavily comprised of men in their thirties and forties, Lost has become a weekly outlet with which to engage in such “male-centric” themes as asserting control, abandonment, and neglectful father-figures. Furthermore, the show has a peculiar habit of marginalizing its female characters, either by placing them in subservient, romantic-accessory role (see Sun of Sun & Jin fame and, to a lesser extent, Claire as the object of Charlie’s desire) or by promptly killing them off the second they start displaying any independence. How much this is a by-product of a predominantly male writing team is up for debate. In the comments section last week I made a point of addressing some of the women who have made creative contributions behind the scenes, but in my heart of hearts, even I knew the ladies of Lost were in danger of having their voices swallowed up by their time in the clubhouse.
Last night’s episode, “Left Behind”, wasn’t exactly a corrective to the situation but it did have the unmistakable feel of one for (and predominantly by) the girls. Co-written by Elizabeth Sarnoff (sharing duties with Damon Lindeloff) and directed by Karen Gaviola, the episode found Kate (Evangeline Lilly) handcuffed to DHARMA conspirator, and competition for Jack’s affection, Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) after being gassed and unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the jungle. This estrogen-infused variation on The Defiant Ones finds the two women in roles we haven’t seen them in in quite some time; without Jack (Matthew Fox) or Ben (Michael Emerson) ordering them around or conspiring with them, Kate and Juliet must play their mutually-exclusive agendas off of one another without killing themselves in the process. The episode followed through on the rumble in the jungle promised in the previews, and I’m not talking about the tree-leveling smoke monster.
Far from feminist doctrine—the hour contained multiple “catfights,” a t-shirt drenching rainstorm and a romp through a mud pit—the episode was still unmistakably committed to re-establishing its two de-facto female leads as strong-willed, driven women who are unafraid to slit a throat if push comes to shove. Deep down, they may ultimately be jostling for position with the good doctor Shepherd, but these two are no damsels in distress. With none of the men around, we see glimpses of both women’s personalities that have been stifled as of late, with Kate’s heart on her sleeve impulsiveness contrasting nicely with Juliet’s deliberate steeliness. By the time we get to the scene where Juliet has to pop her dislocated shoulder back into its socket Mel Gibson-style, with Kate doing the popping (and reticent to do so at the risk of losing a strategic advantage), you start to realize just how much macho-posturing we get on a weekly basis from Sawyer and Jack.
Even Kate’s flashback was markedly female-driven, dedicated to exploring her dogged perusal of Jack through the prism of (yes, the old-standbys) abandonment and lousy parenting. However, in a rare deviation, the offending party turns out to be maternal. Committed to confronting her mother Dianne (Beth Broderick), who turned her into the cops after she killed her abusive father, Kate joins forces with Cassie (Kim Dickens) who returns after making several appearances on the show as the mother of Sawyer’s child and victim of one of his cons. It’s something of a cosmic joke that these two women, one Sawyer’s former lover the other his future one, would join forces to form a make-shift Thelma & Louise, but it does allow the show to add more kindling to the situational fire, reiterating that these people are all irrevocably connected and acting out some grand design.
Still bearing the scars of her time with Sawyer (and still hopelessly in love with him), Cassie agrees to work a small-scale con with Kate—helping her evade the federal marshals who are using Dianne as bait—after the two women’s paths dove-tail at a service station in Iowa. Cassie’s motives are surprisingly altruistic, bordering on sappy, telling Kate only “that one of them deserves something good.” So much of Kate’s story has been marked be betrayal and deception—even later in the hour it’s revealed that Juliet has been misleading her—that it’s refreshing that Cassie maintains her fidelity and doesn’t deviate from her pact. As in Deadwood, Dickens is such an empathetic actress that it’s impossible to not take her at face-value, something which would no doubt make her a heck of a con-artist.
These thoughts of betrayal in Kate are stirred not by Juliet though, but by Locke (Terry O’Quinn) who, by all outward appearances, has completely drank the Kool-Aid and is now firmly entrenched with “The Others.” While Kate remains chained and confined to the recreation room in the barracks, Locke moves about freely, alerting Kate of his plans to abandon the castaways and all hopes of rescue for a life with team DHARMA. Furthermore, he indirectly passes judgment on her and her criminal past, inferring that “The Others” find her unworthy and that he silently agrees. A running theme on Lost since the beginning is the idea of betrayal from within, with various characters temporarily placed in the role of the heavy (most famously Michael and Charlie), acting out of their own best interests at the expense of the group. To its credit, Lost has never quite committed to turning anyone into a villain, but it has long-positioned Locke as the anti-Jack, a man driven selfishly by his own whims and beliefs with often deadly results. With Jack now returning to camp, presumably reclaiming his role as leader, it feels appropriate that Locke would formally turn his back on his friends, his interests having become completely alien to every other passenger of Flight 815. Incidentally, the timing couldn’t be better. O’Quinn’s scenes with Emerson a couple of weeks back were electric; it’s encouraging that the show continues to stick with two-actor tandems that work as it reshuffles the characters around.
One castaway who’s moving in the opposite direction however is Sawyer (Josh Holloway) who continues his progression towards the Captain Solo role of anti-hero and reluctant authority-figure. Informed by Hurley (Jorge Garcia) that he’s in danger of being banished from the beach pending an upcoming vote, Sawyer enters full-on politicking mode, putting on a false gregarious front as he tries to sway opinion and avoid getting “voted off the island” (as it were). This b-storyline stuck me as especially transparent (we learn that Hurley made the whole story up to force Sawyer into stepping into a leadership position), mostly because this development appears out of thin air and, of late, Sawyer’s been on his best behavior. Still, the Sawyer & Hurley show has become one of my favorite dynamics on Lost and watching the former squirm as he’s forced to be nice (the horror) is almost as rewarding as the moment his Grinch-like change of heart is rebuffed by a scowling Sun (Yoon-jin Kim).
The crux of the episode however is Kate and Juliet’s time in the jungle together, which ends with the less-than-stunning discovery that Juliet has been manipulating Kate, having cuffed their wrists together herself so as not to be left behind twice in one day. Still no doubt a pariah for murdering Pickett (Michael Bowen) earlier in the season, “The Others” have moved on without her, having pulled up camp and embarked for a new, “secret” location. Realizing her only hope for survival is with the castaways, she literally forces herself into a partnership with Kate hoping to be dragged all the way back to the beach. Kate is understandably suspicious and the viewer should be as well. Juliet has held a position of prominence with DHARMA for years now and is loathe to divulge more information than she has to. I remain doubtful that “The Others” could settle at a new location without Juliet being aware of its whereabouts, or that they would truly cut a resource as valuable as Juliet loose, literally dropping her into “their enemies’” lap. This whole thing screams of set-up, but perhaps that’s the response the show’s producers are banking on.
Part of the reason that Juliet has emerged as my favorite character on the show (apart from the school-boy crush I’ve developed on Elizabeth Mitchell) is how she comes across more menacing the more soccer-mom, faux-warm she is. She is essentially the opposite of Dickens’ character; we question her every motive out of conditioning and well-earned skepticism. Her Betty Crocker façade is the ultimate cruel joke not because of how easily she slips out of it (witness her lightning fast reflexes after Kate sneak attacks her) but how smoothly she transitions back into it (she seems legitimately bothered by the aforementioned altercation, offering up a hurt “I was just bringing you a sandwich” before stepping over the incapacitated Kate).
The new game is trying to decipher when exactly Juliet’s telling the truth, if ever. After weeks of absentia, “Left Behind” gave us the return of the island’s security system (aka “Smoky”), which Juliet initially pleads ignorance to, only to later snap into action, unlocking herself from Kate with a heretofore unseen key and activating the island’s supersonic force field to deflect the creature. Obligated to concede to her earlier fib, Juliet claims that DHARMA knows of the “monster” but had nothing to do with its creation, which makes for as interesting a truth as it does a lie. One is inclined to credit the Hanso Foundation for most of the unchecked weirdness found on the island, but the revelation that this force of nature pre-dates them lends a fascinating new wrinkle to this as yet unexplained phenomenon. Still, it’s worth noting that if the smoke monster is viewed differently by everyone, what then to make of the bright flashes of light it produces when it confronts Juliet. Perhaps her future is flashing before her eyes ala Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick)?
The episode ends with Jack making his way back to the beach with Juliet, Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Kate, with the latter-two possessing a healthy amount of skepticism towards their new traveling companion. Jack is returning to a beach that has changed quite a bit since he left; Desmond is now a camp mainstay, Charlie is walking around with a death sentence over his head, Nikki and Paulo are dead (one assumes the more socially-conscious Jack knew who they were) and Sawyer may be less than willing to relinquish his new-found responsibilities. But the distrust sure to be generated both by Locke’s defection and the introduction of an honest to goodness “Other” into the camp will likely be the motor that pushes the show along through the end of the season. If last season’s finale drew borders between “us” and “them,” then this season seems to be heading in a direction where the parameters which separates these people could become increasingly fluid and ultimately non-existent.