Everyone who loves Lost loves the little bits of trivia from behind the scenes of the show, especially it’s inception. And one of the most talked about is the original notion that the Jack character should die in the pilot, that he should be played by a more famous actor (think Michael Keaton rather than the guy from Party Of Five), and that he should die, letting everyone know that this was a show in which anything could happen.
Had that been the case, the producers’ plan was for another castaway to step up and become the de facto leader of the castaways from Oceanic 815, to lead them through their trials and tribulations on this mysterious Island. That particular passenger? One Kate Austen, of course.
But then again, that would’ve been a different Kate Austen then the one (no, two) that we’ve gotten to know over the past six years. One who presumably had a husband who perished on the flight. So, think more of… a little bit of Rose, minus Bernard, and cross that between your typical boring action/mystery show heroine, whoever that would be.
Instead we got the Kate we all know and love (depending on your definition of the word “love” on the internet, that is). The Kate of the Pilot episode is a tremendous character, interesting and enticing and incredibly human. She is, of course, beautiful (I remember an initial sneak preview review of the show calling her “the obvious female lead because she’s the woman who looks the nicest in her underwear”), but she also reveals herself to be incredibly, smart, resourceful, and compassionate. They say that there’s two kinds of people in a crisis and Kate’s the kind that wants to chip in and help, to always be on the move, to be contributing, and that’s certainly who she is in the pilot. And she is incredibly, tragically, beautifully human as well, which I think you can see a little of in what is still one of my absolute favorite scenes from that first episode all those years ago:
John Locke has always been an amazing character, charming and insightful, funny and disarming, a man who can reach for the greatest heights because he’s known the greatest of depths, but even at his finest, he’s also always been incredibly creepy. He is a man who can only be in his element when others are out of theirs. You watch that clip above and you imagine the bevy of emotions Kate is going through, having to literally rob the dead of something so simple as shoes just so she can survive. This is a grim time and there’s Locke, who only wants to bring some cheer to her life, to distract her with something silly, but it’s not the right time. Of course it only makes her feel worse.
Season 1 progressed and I feel like we all liked Kate just fine, though battle lines were drawing in the contest of her love triangle with Jack and Sawyer. Sawyer was the obvious bad boy, but who also had something of a noble side that he kept hidden well. And Jack was the good guy, the smart and successful doctor – a surgeon, even – but he wasn’t without his own insecurities and deep, dark side. And Kate was definitely a bad girl, and was drawn to those like her, even if she could be better than that. And these two guys brought out both the best and the worst from her.
Somewhere in the second half of season 2 I think I began to grow displeased with Kate, though I’m not sure how much I knew it then. I wasn’t loving her choices, and I certainly wasn’t understanding that given how far she had fallen, and the options presented to her, there was no way she was going to make good decisions. But by mid-season 3 I have to tell you, Kate was not my girl. At that point I was firmly in CAMP JULIET, but I think I was alone there. Jack Shephard had one foot in Camp Juliet, but just barely, and he was constantly keeping his eye out for a chance to sneak back into Camp Kate. Hell, I’m not sure that even Juliet was in Camp Juliet as much as me.
It seems like it took until season 4 before the rest of the world saw my point of view. And definitely by season 5 we were all kind of saying the same thing: Man, Kate fucking sucks. Especially the Kate-centric episodes. It felt like a rehash of all the same things, not just the same bad patterns, but the constant return of the Marshall and the wannabe con woman that Sawyer knocked up. Kate was always on the run and always dragging the same lame baggage with her. And that baggage is heavy, weighing her down, keeping her really moving forward, getting someplace new and safe and healthy.
For a while she was off the Island and motherhood looked good on Kate. And I’m not just talking about the fact that she wore actual dresses then (supplied by Sun in at at least one case). She gave love a chance with Jack, but his insecurities were only fueled by his alcoholism and eventually she had to throw him out. She kept Aaron (who was actually related to Jack) and I think the thing we don’t really talk about is how much better Kate was without Jack then, and without Sawyer. For all her fucked up-ness, there was a real person inside Kate, someone who had something to offer, including love, and she found that outlet in Claire’s possibly orphaned baby.
And that’s probably where Kate should’ve stayed, that should have been her happily ever after. I don’t think Kate wanted to go off and become a writer or a doctor and start a career or something. I think she wanted to just have a family and settle down and find an excuse to be happy. But fate was seemingly not done fucking with Kate and neither were the people in her life.
I remember reading an interview with Evangline Lilly – who should be highly praised for her performance on this show as a young actor who little prior experience and who has carried this character and her part of this story on her back so admirably and professionally these past years – right before the airing of season 5. She talked about how Kate was maturing in season 5 (with the Aaron stuff) and what interesting it was for her, having embodied this character for those five years, and how she could feel herself maturing along with the character. I wonder how it must’ve felt to have made that connection and then to have dealt with it all being snatched away from the character by the end of the season.
And Evangeline Lilly’s story is an interesting one as well, having gotten so much out of this show. It brought her to America first of all, and it made her famous. She began a relationship with one of the actors and luckily for her, when their relationship ended, so did his tenure on the show (not that anyone is complaining).
It’s kind of funny how Kate was marked as a target by the men of the Island from almost the day of the crash. Jack always treated her with respect (at first), but of course he was into her. Sawyer’s intentions were blatantly obvious, but there was no respect there, which was something Kate responded to. Charlie hit on her pretty quickly. The Marshal’s attitude towards her wasn’t just one of a guy doing his job, but of domination and conquest. There’s certainly the inference that her stepfather/biological father, Wayne, didn’t exactly have a healthy relationship with her. Benjamin Light and I are in agreement that Sayid was definitely after Kate at first, before moving onto Shannon. Locke seems to be a little into her, as does Ben. Really, this is an Island full of men seizing opportunities and going after vulnerabilities. Imagine Kate’s genuine shock when Tom Friendly tells her that she’s not his type.
And we talk about how Kristen Stewart in the Twilight movies is kind of a cipher, a kind of blank that’s there for the typically young emotionally inexperienced viewer to insert themselves into, and live vicariously through. Perhaps, like the Team Jacobs and Team Edwards out there, a choice between Team Jack or Team Sawyer is really a decision about how you want to suffer.
Lately I’ve started to wonder if the reason Kate always does the opposite of what everyone tells her to do (or expects her to do) is because she’s told to do it (or expected to). She’s a fascinating character, one of the first sympathetic female leads to a TV show who is not only a known fugitive, but also a cold blooded murderer. But she’s someone who someone else is always trying to control. Sometimes it’s the men who think they love her. Sometimes it’s the men who watch her with another man. I think everyone wants to run away with Kate, but none of them really know where they’d take her. And rightfully so, she wants to be impressed. I can seriously imagine that she’s attracted to winners (the swaying plotlines and power struggles between Jack and Sawyer over the years would seem to confirm this), and the last thing she wants is to be controlled. Or have expectations placed upon her. Or be bored. She wants to be, and that’s it. And when something comes closer to harming that, she’s on the move.
And though she’s played by an Canadian actress, Kate feels so incredibly American of a young woman. Or, she’s the kind of woman you want to sit around with and listen to American soft rock songs. Or write soft rock or cock rock about. Or maybe youtube compilation videos of her set to Ben Folds Five’s “Kate.”
A lot of the criticism about her character is about, if not the constantly letting someone down by doing the opposite of what they want, the constant crying. Right?
And it’s unfair to get mad at Kate for crying when we tend to praise Jack for constantly crying. In fact, with Kate, I don’t blame her. I expect it, actually, just because everyone around her has taken up all the other points on the emotional spectrum and set up camp there. It’s like Kate’s not allowed to get angry, or not allowed to be happy, or any of the myriad of points between those two ends. Kate’s allowed to cry and to run, and seemingly that’s it. Well, that and copious amounts of climbing trees (something that Evangeline Lilly apparently loves in real life).
In fact, while others are busy either crying or shouting at one another, Kate’s on the move. Maybe she’s not stopping to think everything out first, but that’s because she’s an impetuous creature. She follows her blood, lets it lead her. She may not be great at dealing with her lot in life, but at least she’s not immobilized by it. And a bit part of this show is it’s sense of duality, and I feel it’s mostly strongly felt in the real human beings (not including Locke or Sayid, one who is a supernatural entity and the other who has come back from the dead infected by… something) like Kate and Jack. We haven’t really had a chance to know Jack since probably the start of season 4. He’s just been an off the rails mystery to us, and we can understand him, but I feel like he’s kept the audience at the distance the same as he’s kept those who truly love and care for him. But I feel like Kate diverged from us somewhere in season 2, closing off to us as a defense mechanism. Her actions were a mystery to us, and probably to her as well. And a lot of that has to do the with the general mystique of the character but also with how tough it is for mole male writers to really capture a complicated female character. And love her or hate her, you have to admit that Kate is certainly complicated.
We’ve seen “What Kate Did” and we know “What Kate Does” but we’ve only kind of gently probed why for either of those. And now it’s too late for that. Sure, there’s been mistakes along the way, but now isn’t the time to obsess over that.
But the show is coming to an end soon and so are my ramblings. This is by no means a definitive take on Kate, nor an authoritative attempt to crack her shell and really analyze her. This is me coming full circle, or trying to, from liking her to disliking her, to really, really disliking her, and now liking her again. Appreciating her. Realizing that I’m going to miss her. Kate’s run is going to come to an end soon and I want wherever she ends up to be somewhere fitting. And nice. I want it to be a happy ending. I want to feel her character resolved, and maybe for the ending to be similar to Buffy‘s or the ending to Magnolia. I want to see Kate smile. I want to see her laugh and be happy.
You’ve had to heard Benjamin Light and I say by now that we’ve always thought that had the castaways put Sayid in charge since the beginning, they probably would’ve been off the Island in about a week, and maybe that’s true, maybe not. But I think that maybe the same could be said for Kate.
Imagine if Jack had died in the Pilot. Without him to expect something from her, perhaps Sawyer’s cheap charm would’ve never had an effect on her, at least not the one it did. This is a woman who, for some reason, is an expert tracker and who also made the drapes in her apartment. Perhaps it’s a bit strong of me to suggest that Kate’s been denied human agency in this world because of the maze of the male gaze that she crash landed into, but I keep thinking of this whole other Sideways world she wasn’t carrying those theoretical chains with her. Maybe in that world she just started running and never looked back. Or maybe in that world of possibility what Kate did and what Kate does are exactly the same: Anything.