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Confidence Man

January 25, 2010

I used to hate Sawyer. On first viewing Season 1 and Season 2, he was my least-favorite character. I’ve always had an aversion to rednecks, and with Josh Holloway playing Sawyer as a selfish bastard, it didn’t improve my opinion of him. But a funny thing happened between then and now. After having seen all the way through Season 5 now, and having seen Sawyer’s transformation, he suddenly does not seem like such a bad guy any more. Granted, he’s still a selfish, self-serving asshole, but that dimpled grin that all the women swoon over made me realize in my rewatch that he’s mostly just having fun screwing with people.

This, of course, is a Sawyer centric episode, and now that I’m watching again, this is the first one where there was a legitimate air of menace about him. Part of that was helped by Michael Giacchino’s score used in judicious scenes, and part of it was, surprising for me, Josh Holloway’s acting. Until his standout work in Season 5, I never really took him seriously. Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson, and Henry Ian Cusick were the actors I lauded. I never put much thought into Matthew Fox’s acting, because in LOST, it’s always been utilitarian and never showy. This is not to say he’s bad. It’s just that Jack is not really a juicy, showy, or quirky role, and in my eyes anyway, he just effortlessly sinks into the role. Which in retrospect is the sign of good acting, I guess.

But I had never really thought about Sawyer too much. He had always been like one of those flies you kept trying to swat and hoped would just go away. For the past few seasons, though, that fly is now Kate. But that’s a different post.

In any case, Sawyer’s flashback seems now that I’m looking at the episodes a bit harder to be a bit different than all the rest so far in this first season. All the flashbacks up until this one seem to relate to some aspect of what is happening on-island in terms of any given character’s struggles. This Sawyer flashback seems to exist to establish him as having the titular “profession,” and to lead up to the near-closing reveal that Sawyer himself wrote the letter instead of having received it.

Elsewhere in the episode, Sun’s independence is strengthened by helping Shannon with her asthma attacks, as well as continuing to establish her holistic approach to healing. Ironically enough, Jack’s reliance on pharmaceuticals (for helping others on the island, not his own reliance, which comes later) blinds him to Sun’s approach, which he even references directly. As an adjunct to this, Sawyer again makes the “We’re in the wild” statement. Which again, ironically enough, leads to his being tortured. Jack wants to build a functioning community to avoid the types of issues that “we’re in the wild” tend to bring. He even states earlier in the episode that “we’re not savages.” But here, he makes the choice to help Shannon and thereby submit to “the wild” when he authorizes Sayid to torture Sawyer. I love the “communications officer” euphemism that Sayid now fully explains.

Unfortunately for Sayid, reverting to “the wild” scares him. He is frightened of what he is again capable of after he had sworn it off. This sets up Sayid’s self-imposed exile, which has its payoff in the next episode.

Island mythology: 0 out of 10. Two in a row. This is another character-centric episode, with another requisite “problem of the week.” That does not make this any lesser of an episode. But nothing about the island or its mysteries is even referenced.

Philosophical concepts/themes: 5 out of 10. None of the bigger ones are explicitly referenced, but a smaller nature vs technology one (eucalyptus vs inhaler) and a slightly larger civilization vs “untamed savages” (“the wild”) one are brought up. As part of this, the ethics of the decision to torture someone for the benefit of someone else who is suffering are contemplated. And it’s funny that Jack, whose profession is to heal, whose major character flaw is the need to always fix something, and who is now and later portrayed as man of science (ie-rational thought) for the first time foregoes all of that and acts on pure emotion. And in Season 5, when Sawyer is now the leader as LaFleur, he makes direct reference to Jack’s making decisions based on emotion. Sawyer, as leader, tells Jack that he thinks before acting. It’s a nice subversion in that season that is just starting to reveal its origins now.

Character development: 6.75 out of 10. There was no major progression for any of the characters in this episode, although Sawyer’s character is explored a bit more deeply, albeit without any real relevance to the on-island story. His humanity is shown, however, in choosing to walk away from the con in his flashback due to the presence of the woman’s son. This is in direct contrast to his seeming inhumanity on-island. Sayid embarks upon his exile as well, and Jack is shown verring away from his typical rational decision-making. So this episode does contain a fair amount of fleshing out, just not a lot of progression.

Importance of episode to series: 5.5 out of 10. A bunch of small things are introduced or set in motion in this episode, but nothing that holds major relevance or importance to the series as a whole. I’m not going to call this a filler episode per se, but it seems to be the final episode before a shift in focus from daily survival and very narrowly delineated character drama to a broadening of scope and the beginning of focus on the island itself and its mysteries, starting with Solitary, the next episode.

Personal enjoyment of episode: 7 out of 10. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, Sawyer had formerly been my least-liked character, and as this was a Sawyer episode, I had previously thought the episode was a bit of a throwaway. On this rewatch, I had a much greater appreciation, not for the flashback, really, but for the episode overall.

As a final note, this is the exact reason I decided last May after Season 5 ended to do this marathon before the final season aired. It’s because I was confident that I would discover new things and have new insights into the show. And posting thoughts on each episode is helping with that immensely.

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