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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

LOST Retrospective: “Confidence Man” (Season 1, Episode 8)

By on July 6, 2010

(This post is part of a series. I’m blogging through all the episodes of LOST, taking a new look at them in light of what we know now that the series is over. Click here to read my introduction to the series and my thinking behind it.) Click here to see all my LOST posts.

Warning! If you have not watched LOST all the way to its finale, this essay contains spoilers!

Kate: “What do you want, Sawyer?”

Quick synopsis: Focus: Sawyer. Shannon is having severe asthma attacks, and her medicine has disappeared. Several of the group come to believe that Sawyer has the medicine in his possession. After refusing to give it up unless he gets a kiss from Kate, Jack consents to Sayid’s torturing of Sawyer. Fueling Sayid’s desire to hurt Sawyer is Sayid’s belief that it was Sawyer who knocked him unconscious at the end of the previous episode. After Kate finally gives Sawyer his kiss, he reveals that he never had the medicine, and later Kate surmises that he has been deliberately trying to make everyone hate him. In flashbacks, we witness a con that Sawyer set up to defraud a wealthy couple of their savings.

Sawyer“What do you want?” is the question asked several times in this episode, but it has an unspoken second clause: “And what would you do to get it?”

By now the careful viewer has discerned that many lost episode title have double meanings, and that is certainly the case for “Confidence Man.” The obvious meaning is a reference to Sawyer’s pre-island profession. But we are also meant to be thinking here about the things that give to (or rob from) each of us the confidence to take on our roles in life. Each of our main characters has faced something before coming to the island that has shaken his or her confidence, and perhaps even will to live. Will the challenges of the island help them regain that confidence?

Even though so far only Jack has had a hero’s call, gone through rejecting it, then finally accepted (at least as far as to take leadership responsibility for the group), collectively the Lostaways who are on their way to the Church of the Heavenly Portal are well into the beginning of their journey. In this episode we learn what demons torment Sawyer, but he is not alone in the bones in the closet category.

in “Confidence Man” we find out why Sawyer has been exhibiting such aggressively anti-social behavior: he wants to be hated as punishment for the things he knows he’s done. Having dedicated his life to finding the con man who took his parents’ lives, he ended up becoming that man, even to the point of assuming his name. It is obvious that at this stage he has convinced himself that he is irredeemable. When Sayid cuts open one of his arteries during a fight, he even begs Jack to let him bleed to death.

Sawyer the Con ManWe know now what Sawyer wanted (revenge on his parents’ murderer) and also what he was willing to do to get it (become a con man himself). But we also see that his heart has not gone as stone cold as he himself thinks. In the midst of his con he catches a vision of himself as a little boy, and it causes him to walk away from the money.

As I said above, Sawyer is not the only one faced with the questions, “What do you want and what would you be willing to do to get it?” Locke wants to stay on the island, and he’s willing to lie and implicate someone else to get his desire. Jack wants to save Shannon, and he’s willing to violate his oath as a doctor by assisting in the torture of Sawyer. Kate wants to get to the bottom of Sawyer’s anti-social behavior, so she gives in to his desire for her to kiss him. At this stage, each of the main characters is being faced with numerous moral choices. By the end, the successful ones will have learned that the ultimate thing you must be willing to do is sacrifice yourself.

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