Kate Austen

Written by @EllieDangerous
Sorry, but it's proper hard to dislike Evangeline Lilly. She can express her characters better with a glance to the side than you and I can with a stage and a loudspeaker. But as much as you totally enjoyed ‘The Hobbit’ or ‘Real Steel’ (yes that happened), don’t forget ‘Lost’. Kate Austen was one of the biggest twists in the first of many twisty seasons, and so conflicted that she gets away with having the most consistent personality on the show.

Spoiler Alert
So this was 2004. We meet our hero, inevitably named Jack, and could be excused for assuming that Kate, this quiet and naturally caring young woman, will be his love interest and nothing more. I mean look, there he is, all American and injured, and there she is with her lovely healing hands.

It’s worth admitting at this point that it’s easy to get distracted by the love triangle Kate finds herself in, and judge her character based on what you did or didn’t like about her romance plots. But she starts, ends and middles separately from her romantic endeavours, and her personality is not a consequence of them. In fact, the reverse is true. Her love life is all over the place because her personality is all over the place, and that’s where the fun starts.

The first twist in Kate’s arc is that she is not the Mary Sue who only exists to add value to the lead bloke. She doesn’t make people nod along, she makes them pause. There was a murderer on the flight, and it turns out Kate is it. Quite apart from what comes next, this is enough for us to quirk an eyebrow.

When she was a kid, the prophetic Jacob told her to “be good”. She didn’t, of course, going on to become a con artist, thief, arsonist and worse; but I don’t think this is because she’s naturally rebellious. (After all, she doesn’t shirk away when she finds a leader worth listening to.) It’s because she’s fine to throw her life away, it meaning very little to her. But like others on the island, this changes when Oceanic Flight 815 blazes dramatically to the ground.

Her misdeeds are not based on evil, and nor are they based on faith or science or some dangerous plot of the Dharma Initiative. A more traditional hardass like our boy Sawyer wears many of his misdeeds like badges of honour; but Kate wears hers like scars.

Jack was originally meant to die in the pilot episode, making Kate the leader of the group. If J. J. Abrams and the show's other creators had stuck to this plan, things would have been a little different. Kate would’ve got a lot more people killed. It would be on purpose, and she would never forgive herself for it. Kate is a good character because of these complexities, these contradictions, and the fact that she's well and truly (yes I’m going to say it) — lost.
Welcome to the wonderful world of not knowing what the hell's going on.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 26 June 2016

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