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First Impressions of A Tale of Two Cities

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Timing is everything. We’ve waited months for a new Lost episode, and the anticipation built right up to the (U.S.) Season Three premiere on October 4. Waiting a week past the usual premiere date kept fan speculation and expectations high. ABC’s promos promised that the first five minutes would be remarkable television—something unforgettable and well worth the summer-long wait.

But even those promos, plus the tidbits that Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide dangled in front of us, didn’t prepare me for the first five minutes of "A Tale of Two Cities." I was prepared for escapes or violence, or double dealings from the Others. Not Petula Clark and Stephen King, muffins and book clubs. But the effect was still the same. The bottom dropped out of my preconceived ideas about the Others’ world, even if I’d expected it to be more civilized than the hut village shown last season. How like Lost to show how uncivilized civilization can be.

Timing within an episode is almost everything. The pace of a show, especially a serial, is crucial to its success. Most TV programs either move too slowly, or they feature quick cuts and abrupt scene changes to feed the short attention spans of casual viewers. Lost managed to convey an ever-deepening story (although it featured only four main characters in this episode), which should’ve slowed down the pace, but it also provided enough psychological warfare to please adrenaline junkies.

How did writers J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof do that? How did director Jack Bender succeed in providing agonizingly few clues to the island’s “truth” while keeping us riveted to the action? Lost succeeds because it sets up extremes - opposing viewpoints and agendas - and lets us play in the gray area between them. Just some of these oppositions in the first episode? Jack and Henry Gale/Ben, beauty and ugliness, civilization and barbarity.

Once again, we were treated to beautiful island scenery. A man sat before a beach banquet; under a canopy fashioned of bamboo and canvas, he awaited a lovely companion, pulling back her chair when she arrived and then serving her breakfast. The setting was a tourist agent’s dream: puffy clouds in a heart-breakingly blue sky, waves crashing on a white-sand beach. But then, the man (to Kate’s knowledge) was Henry Gale, and he provided not a banquet but a last meal for the condemned woman before she began her sentence, apparently at hard labor. Dressed appropriately for an idyllic island getaway in a sundress, Kate accessorized her outfit with a pair of handcuffs, which Gale/Ben politely asked her to tighten.

But scenery and scene alone don’t count for all extremes. Good and evil are the ultimate oppositions, and Lost shows us cinematically and conceptually just how lost we are if we choose to look at only the surface beauty of the world without delving into the messier realities of life. Lost makes us, like the castaways, choose which side to be on and decide who’s good and who’s not—and how far we’d go to survive. It looks like Kate, Jack, and Sawyer soon will be tested as they make their decisions.

"A Tale of Two Cities," as written by Abrams and Lindelof, held a mirror to show the similarities between presumed oppositions. Our city may be off island, but we have to face the same extremes - especially good and evil - so well illustrated through within the island’s suburbia.

Lost is timely TV, even if some themes are disconcerting. This episode was difficult to watch at times - I cringed just thinking about what Henry/Ben might be capable of doing. He was shrewd enough to pick the right type of “cage” for each captive; each enclosure symbolized a castaway’s past approach to life. Obviously he had no qualms about imprisoning these people. Yet he offered Kate a few moments of normalcy and was unfailingly polite. Maybe the division between uncivilized and civilized is narrower than we thought. ‘‘Lost’’ makes us wonder just whom we should trust, and why, and if we actually can determine who or what is good or evil, on and off the island. When Lost goes to extremes, it creates topical, intriguing TV. Thank goodness it’s time again for Lost.


Lynnette Porter 05:30, 5 October 2006 (UTC)

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