January 19, 2012

Television as a Mirror

I enjoyed the season finale of Hell on Wheels. (If you haven't been watching, you've got a few months to catch up on reruns before new episodes begin.) There was a lot of action and drama, including an actual tar-and-feathering, but the scenes that have stayed with me are the ones of Lily at the party. She's dancing with Durant, talking with the railroad VIPs, but the whole time she's really hoping that Cullen will show up. Dominique McElligott doesn't have to say a word to make it clear this is what Lily is thinking: it's obvious from the way she's acting.

The reason these scenes affected me so is that I've been in her shoes. I've gone to the party only because I thought someone I really wanted to see would be there. Then I spent the whole evening distracted, waiting for him to arrive. (It probably helped that Anson was the man Lily was waiting for.) But I never realized how obvious it would have been to everyone around me that I was not entirely present. Watching those scenes, seeing the resignation on Durant's face as he watches Lily waiting for Cullen, I saw how I must have made the other people around me feel when I disparaged their company in favor of someone who wasn't even there.

This is what good art does: it holds a mirror up to life, letting you see it from a new perspective.

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