'Lost': Is all the Kate hate justified?

evangelinelilly_lost_290.jpgIt's Kate Austen Week here on the " Lost" blog, and I'm not sure anyone's more surprised about that than yours truly. If you'd asked me to sketch out a Top Ten list of characters I thought might win out if I asked my readership to nominate a character to spend one week analyzing, I'm not sure she would have made it. But here she is, so here we are.

That first paragraph leads into the first topic of the week: Is the Kate Hate justified? When we talk about fan favorite characters, I've rarely heard her name come up. When the topic of most loathed character arises, she appears more than infrequently. I've taken plenty of pot shots at her over the course of this blog, but then, I've taken shots at just about everyone other than Hurley at one time or another. I don't mock Hurley because I very much like my life having no falling meteorites in it.

One thing that's important to separate off the back when talking about attitudes towards Kate is separating the character from the actress. Too often, discussion of the latter bleeds into the former, regardless of the gender of the performer. I have no problems with the casting of Evangeline Lilly in the role of Kate. When the opportunity has arisen, she's made the most of chances to shine. My issues over the years with Kate stems from the writing room, in which her character is often portrayed as an obstacle to the plot, rather than the heroine of the story.

Because, let's face it, she's the heroine. That's the role "Lost" carved out for her from Day One. Never mind the well-known story that Kate, not Jack, was originally designed to be the leader of the show. Just watch the way in which she's used in the pilot: it's clear from the stitching scene with Jack that we are watching two protagonists around which this sandy, smoky, twisty, turny show will revolve.

Flash forward five years, and one is blowing up a hydrogen bomb in the hopes of correcting the mistakes he made with the other. So that's pretty consistent, in terms of the importance of these characters. But how the show arrived at that point did a great disservice to the Kate we first met massaging her wrists on the beach, recently released from the handcuffs that chained her to the marshal. Instead of exploring her inner journey on the Island, the show more often than not chose to use her as a lightning rod to create drama.

Maybe they had to, because I'm not sure the show's created a weaker off-Island narrative for any other major character. Three Season 1 flashbacks about a toy plane? I know the show spun its wheels more when it didn't have an end date, but come on. Eko's first flashback was 150x more concise and interesting than anything ever written for Kate. Again, this is a writing issue at heart: if Locke had gotten these flashbacks, would he be as iconic as he is now? There's a big difference between "Don't tell me what I can't do!" and "I'm coming with you!"

And yes, that line is usually my go-to when mocking Kate. If you drank every time she said "I'm coming with you!" on the show from the first episode on, you'd be in the ER before Walt killed that bird with his brain. Now, at first, "I'm coming with you" read as "adventurous woman" eventually giving way to "woman that can't stand still due to her past" and landing in "seriously, you're more than allowed to sit a few of these out, we'll be fine" territory. Why? Because her attempts to tag along didn't make her "heroic" so much as "perpetually captured."

Desmond snagged her in the hatch. Mr. Friendly caught her in the jungle. The Others snagged her in New Otherton. Our heroine, ladies and gents! And all three instances occurred against the wishes of the man that the show wants us to think is the love of her life. Rather than empowering her, these flights into the face of danger merely drove a wedge between herself and Jack. Maybe Jack should have changed the end of his big speech to, "If we can't live together, then we're going to die alone. And no, there's no room in my grave, Kate. Don't even ask."

Speaking of wedges, I haven't even gotten to the love quadrangle yet. Oh, you might have hoped I'd skip that giant four-toesd statue in room. Sorry, campers. But I feel like that's another entry altogether. So we'll deal with that next time before getting to what I feel is the strongest part of Kate's role on the show: her relationship not with either Jack or Sawyer, but the long-lost Claire.

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