In ads and trailers, prior to the series debut, NBC heavily marketed the opening scene, in which “Jane Doe” appears naked out of nowhere in the middle of Times Square; and wisely so. For it contains a veritable mythologem.
In literature, the best-known birth-from-a-handbag is that of the titular character of Wilde’s “The Importance of Being E(a)rnest”; he was discovered therein, at a railway station, provenience unknown.
For “Paddington Station”, the American update is “Times Square”. (Note, by the way, the universal appropriateness of that name.)
Now, if Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank had put their heads together, they would doubtless have deemed this motif a wish-fulfillment reworking of the Birth Trauma. The Newcomer appears suddenly in a bruising world of blooming-buzzing confusion (as each we must); but as compensation, this rude Awakening is Immaculate, ex nihilo, with none of the dreadful ickiness of having been whelped by one’s parents, Mom and Dad, via some penis-and-vagina action too terrible to contemplate.
It is a satisfying fantasy; thus Minerva, born from the brow of Zeus.
But now there is a twist; and it deepens things. Born from a bag, as though from empty space, she nonetheless comes “with baggage”, in the form of intricate enigmatic tattoos. Like "Memento"s Leonard, alone in his hotel room, having his (latest) very-first moment of conscious self-awareness. Born with a mission.
He awakens each day to a world new-made; he spots the writing with the same surprise that Crusoe spotted footprints in the sand. He cannot really recognize it as his own: even those he wrote himself, he stippled into the skin – it won’t resemble his normal cursive – and others he left to the tattoo-artist. The writing must therefore confront him like that at Belshazzar’s feast. It is otherwordly. He is wreathed in cryptic admonitions, some penned in a Gothic script like that of Scripture. He might almost be forgiven for fancying himself a prophet. And yet – for here the story is bleakly modern. He pays no mind to the source of these writings, just takes them for granted. He simply takes the next step forward, in his appointed task. That Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin has no resonance, divine or diabolocal.
The show so far is stupid; but I am probably going to watch another episode, simply from the power of this underlying motif -- this motivating motif. For it applies very broadly: These amnesiacs, with their strange “Thou must” inscribed scrolls, are like each one of us, adrift in the randomness of this sublunary life, yet with a sense, that somehow, all of it somehow means something.
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