A Tale Of Two Cities (S3, ep. 1)
Christian: “Let it go, Jack.”
Welcome to Season 3 of the Lost Rewatch. I’m going to be pressing the figurative-pedal to the figurative-metal as we power through these episodes, and I hope you’ll let me know when I’ve missed something that you think is important.
• The open-eye motif continues, this time focusing on new character Juliet as she makes her way around a sunny-looking house in what is, essentially, a duplicate of Season 2’s Desmond-centric fake-out opener. Just like Desmond’s introductory scene it’s terrifically disorienting, making us unsure of time or place or relevance to the larger story before yanking the rug out from under our feet, knocking us to the floor, pointing at us and laughing. In a matter of minutes we’re introduced to Otherville, an eerily cozy-looking hamlet nestled smack-dab in the middle of the Island’s jungle, we have it confirmed that Ben is some form of leader among the Others (along with the fact that his name is actually Ben) and we witness exactly what went down among these increasingly-less-hillbilly-ish characters in the moments after flight 815 broke in half over the Island. God, it’s so awesome.
• There’s already a different feeling to the show at the start of Season 3. There’s still a focused thematic emphasis on imprisonment, isolation, conditioning and emotional struggle, but by leaving the claustrophobic Swan Station behind, and by shifting the perspective to begin exploring the mysterious culture of The Others, A Tale of Two Cities feels like a breath of fresh sweet air.
…In some ways, at any rate. Jack’s flashback tonight is a painful one. I enjoyed it though, finding in it a kind of re-statement of theme and purpose for the show as a whole. Say what you will about the potential repetitiousness of Jack’s flashbacks – this one works like gangbusters.
• I don’t know who this woman is, what her function in the Others is, or if she shows up again in the show, but I’d watch a spin-off show centering around her character – preferably a whodunit in which she investigates the secrets and possible wrong-doings of her fellow Others while pining for the company of her sister, Jessica Fletcher, who lives off-Island. Admit it – you’d watch it.
• Juliet, played by the luminous Elizabeth Mitchell, is probably my favorite female character on this show. It’s terrific to watch her pop up on the show for the first time, even more so for the fact that I haven’t seen these episodes since they aired. While I have my complaints about the way Juliet’s character has been handled as the show has rolled on, none of those complaints revolve around Mitchell’s performance.
Juliet: Here I am thinking that free will still actually exists on…
Ah, free will. Like a bad penny, you just keep turning up. I think it’s pretty appropriate, thematically, that this sentence is interrupted by the arrival of Oceanic 815 – something that many characters go out of their way to describe as ‘fated,’ or ‘destined.’
Tom: Kate, you’re not my type.
• The way that we’ll discover that Tom is gay may be one of my favorite, casual revelations in the show.
• I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of Jack’s wife, Sarah. Her reasons for leaving him have always been nebulous at best (“you gave me back my legs and restored my life! But you’re also kinda intense! I’m leaving you!”), her behavior is weird and irrational and borderline cruel, and Julie Bowen, the actress who plays her, gives Sarah an impenetrability that doesn’t allow us (or rather, me) to understand her very much at all. That feeling is only reinforced in this episode, as she interrupts Jack’s effort to apologize and reconcile with her so that she can laugh with her new lover on her cell phone. And what’s up, really, with her refusal to tell him the name of her new beau? I get that on a thematic level it doesn’t truly matter what his name is – that what matters is moving on, but practically-speaking her silence comes off as cruel and sort of pointless. What do you think? Am I being too hard on Sarah? Am I being too easy on Jack?
• And speaking of Sarah and Jack and this flashback: just as Season 2 mirrors Season 5 in a number of interesting ways, Season 3 and Season 4 look like they may function in the same sort of way. Note that the Jack we see in this episode’s flashback enters (albeit unknowingly) an AA meeting, reflecting and foreshadowing the downward spiral to come in Season 4. Note also that Jack’s emotional state has shifted fairly significantly – he’s much more aggressive and unhinged (and unshaven) than we’ve seen him off-Island before. This emotional state reflects the state we’ll see him in both at the end of Season 3 (making this season’s premiere and finale episodes into miniature mirrors themselves) and in Season 4.
JULIET: I don’t think you’re stupid, Jack. I think you’re stubborn.
That sums things up in a nutshell mighty nicely, no? After two seasons of pussy-footing around Jack’s bull-headed tendencies, Lost diagnoses it and lays it out on the table for us and, more importantly, for Jack to see.
• Kate’s first scenes are terrific, trippy fun. The locker marked with “Wear This,” recalls (for me anyway) Alice In Wonderland and the “Eat Me/Drink Me” instructions that Alice follows, and which subsequently change her perspective in significant ways. This seems fitting, since much of “A Tale Of Two Cities” involves revisiting past pains and attempting to come to terms with them through shifts in perspective and personal growth. That theme is underlined in Kate’s surreal Beachside breakfast with Ben, where she is urged to voluntarily cuff herself.
• Michael Emerson is a marvel. He can take a line like “Then you don’t get any coffee,” and imbue it with humor and menace. And speaking of actors and their abilities, Evangeline Lily’s reading of “why are you feeding me breakfast” is hilarious, though I suspect not intentionally so.
Christian’s voice, heard over the Hydra speaker: “Let it go, Jack.”
Jack and Christian’s office confrontation continues to underline the importance of letting some things go, about the dangers of allowing personal drive to calcify into obsession. The way in which Jack’s suspicions about his father distract him from what’s right in front of him does a nice job of illustrating the danger of anchoring yourself in the past at the expense of the present. We hear Christian’s advice echoed in the Hydra station, filtered through a non-working speaker. It’s left to us to decide if Jack has begun hallucinating sounds due to hunger, or if Christian’s voice has manifested itself in Jack’s new prison.
• And while we’re on the subject of prisons, they’re a pretty big feature of this episode. Jack is isolated in a Hydra cell, unable to communicate with anyone who doesn’t first communicate to him, unable to leave the same small space. That this is an effective metaphor for Jack’s emotional and psychological state seems obvious.
• Above and beyond that example, when Sawyer is reintroduced it’s in the now-infamous Bear Cages, which function in a similar way to the Swan Station – acting not just as prisons, but as Skinner Boxes to test and re-condition behavior through Stimulus/Response. It’s worth noting that the correct method of receiving fish-biscuits in the Bear Cages would seem to involve cooperation, something Sawyer’s dialogue explicitly underlines. This lines up nicely with what the show is telling us overall about community and the importance of communication. In both the literal and the figurative sense, it’s much easier for you and I to get our fish-biscuits when we work together.
• Speaking of the Bear Cages, I’m something of a fetishist when it comes to run-down, dilapidated buildings/machinery reclaimed by nature. There’s something about the sight of rust-browned, obsolete machinery in the midst of verdant greenery that just appeals to me, and these sets push my buttons in all the right ways.
Great Jack Delivery: “JACK: I’m a repo man. You know, when people don’t pay their bills I go into the bank and collect their possessions. I’m a people person so I really love it.”
Every once in a while, Matthew Fox really surprises me. His delivery of this line is laugh-out-loud funny.
• This episode also introduces us to Karl, Alex’s escape-happy boyfriend, played by Blake Bashoff. Karl’s central function as I recall it is to illustrate the ways in which the Others mentally and/or physically condition their own. We first meet him in the second Bear Cage, and it isn’t long before he’ll be strapped into a chair in Room 23. That through line is explored here not just by Karl’s presence in the Cages, but by the way that Tom forces Karl to apologize for ‘involving’ Sawyer in his escape attempt.
• I love the “Spike-Lee cam” that they use to shoot the Others dragging Sawyer back to the Bear Cages. It’s such a distinctive, visceral, visual device when used sparingly.
• The second Jack/Christian confrontation of this episode, which takes place at one of Christian’s AA meetings, is powerful stuff from my perspective. Say what you will about the repetitious nature of Jack’s flashbacks; as of the start of Season 3 the show is beginning to mine new territory for the character in the past. We’ve always known that Jack was driven, that this drive was sometimes problematic but that, typically, his heart was in the right place. The AA encounter saps some of the strength from that belief, revealing a wounded, reeling Jack Shephard who is profoundly unable to step outside of himself and view the world from any perspective other than his own, who is willing and able to wound those closest to him without thought or real regret. It wasn’t John Locke’s faith that caused the Jack of Season 2 to sneer and pop his eyes hilariously, not really, it was Jack’s inability and lack of desire to try and understand that faith.
• The reveal that the Hydra station is at least partially underwater remains great.
Sawyer: “You okay, Freckles?”
Kate: “Yeah. You?”
Great Sawyer Line: “Just swell. I requested that cage, but whatever. Nice dress.”
The way that Sawyer and Kate connect here, and the way in which Ben earlier notes that Kate places Sawyer before Jack in her concern, are nice touches that continue to emphasize the attraction between them. Going back to Sartre for a moment, the trio of Jack, Kate and Sawyer certainly resemble the trio of “No Exit.”
Juliet: It doesn’t matter who we were. It only matters who we are.
Exactly. If the purpose of Lost’s flashbacks needed to be summed up in one sentence, you could do a whole lot worse than quoting Juliet here.
• We learn here that the Others have detailed dossiers on Jack, Kate and Sawyer – dossiers that reach into what seems like every conceivable area of their lives. It’s a wonderfully invasive touch. We know that the Flame Station has been used to gather information about the crash and presumably about the castaways, but the sheer depth of information that they seem to obtain on Jack suggests that the Others may have ventured out into the world in order to gather up the data on the castaways, and this impression is reinforced when we learn how easily the Others can apparently move to and from the Island when needed/wanted.
Sarah: It doesn’t matter who he is. It just matters who you’re not.
Putting aside the fact that Sarah is something of a terrible person, she takes the time to again underline Jack’s lesson for this episode: It doesn’t matter who she’s seeing, and knowing his name won’t change the fact that Sarah has made the choice to let go, to move on. I’m suddenly seized by an urge to listen to “Sunday In The Park With George,” and if you got that reference you’re as big a geek as I am. Congrats?*
Jack’s breakdown at the end of this episode moves me. The idea that, when we’re reduced to our essence and broken down past our defenses, we simply want to be assured that those we love and have loved are happy is one I’d like very much to believe in.
*The first person to point out the teeny Sondheim reference I slipped into the Rewatch Column for “Live Together, Die Alone” wins an as-yet-unspecified prize.
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Missed a column? Catch up here:
• Season 2 finale
• Three Minutes (S2 ep. 22)
• ? (S2 ep. 21)
• Two for The Road (S2 ep. 20)
• S.O.S. (S2 ep. 19)
• Dave (S2 ep. 18)
• Lockdown (S2 ep. 17)
• The Whole Truth (S2 ep. 16)
• Maternity Leave (S2 ep. 15)
• One of Them (S2 ep. 14)
• The Long Con (S2 ep. 13)
• Fire + Water (S2 ep. 12)
• The Hunting Party (S2 ep 11)
• The 23rd Psalm (S2, ep. 10)
• What Kate Did (S2, ep. 9)
• Collision (S2, ep. 8)
• The Other 48 Days (S2, ep. 7)