Season three of Lost began with an episode called “A Tale of Two Cities,” the two “cities” being, I have assumed, the suburban neighborhood inhabited by the Others and the beach camp where the survivors live. It was a clever title for an episode that gave us our first look into the world of the others while continuing the Dickens references that cropped up throughout the season two finale.
I read A Tale of Two Cities (probably excerpted or abridged or both) back in eighth grade and only have dim memories of the story. It was the best of times and the worst of times, and some guy went to the guillotine doing a far better thing than he had ever done.
Memories come flooding back like a flashback to my life before the island (helped by a quick trip over to SparkNotes), and I recall that the doomed man a scoundrel throughout his life willingly chose to die in place of another man. He made his choice because they loved the same woman and he knew that the other guy was the better man. Or something. The whole ruse worked, of course, because the two men looked very nearly alike.
So, as usual, what does A Tale of Two Cities have to do with Lost?
A Tale of Two Cities focuses on the reinvention of the self, moving from the selfish to the selfless and from the scoundrel to the hero. Interestingly, this is the trajectory that nearly every character on Lost experiences.
The other observation relates to the idea of the two men looking alike. We’ve seen this throughout Lost characters looking very much like other characters even when they are unrelated. Ben told Jack that it was no coincidence that Juliet looked a lot like his ex-wife. Who also looks like Desmond’s love, Penny. There is also the book Bad Twin, which obsessively twins both people and ideas.
I suspect that if I reread A Tale of Two Cities, I’d probably find it there two too. I mean, two cities. Come on. If that ain’t twinning I don’t know what is!
Finally, the most compelling connection, and the one that didn’t play out fully on Lost until the end of this first mini-season, is the self-sacrifice angle. Sawyer, the resident scoundrel, has finally learned to think of someone else first. In fact, he seems completely willing to sacrifice himself to save Kate. Is this a far better thing that he does now than he has ever done before?
Here’s a link to a fascinating post at Quigley that explores the mythological references in Lost. Really interesting thoughts about the spiritual nature of the “polar” bears.