Retroview: 1.8 Confidence Man

Briefly, what happened?

Shannon suffers serious asthma attacks and it seems that Sawyer has her inhaler and won’t give it up. Driven to extreme measures, Sayid and Jack take Sawyer aside and torture him only for it transpire that he never had the inhaler all along. Sayid, guilty for his extreme actions, takes himself on a self-imposed exile.

Kate learns Sawyer’s history – that he adopted the name ‘Sawyer’ when he became the man he was hunting, the man who was responsible for his parents’ tragedy. In flashback we see him in action and only a crisis of conscience causes him to withdraw from conning a married couple.

Note: Retroview posts are written with full awareness of everything that happens during the entirety of LOST and will contain SPOILERS.

Thoughts and Analysis

Sawyer’s first appearance in his first centric episode sees him emerge out of the ocean naked in full view of Kate. As well as being a thrill for the ladies it’s wholly symbolic; Sawyer is literally baring himself to Kate physically – during the course of the episode he will also bear his soul to her. The confidence man will, in fact, take Kate entirely into his confidence and in doing so earn more than just a kiss – he will earn her understanding and her longterm affection.

Confidence Man is actually a very strong episode. The flashback story is played out nicely against the gradual reveal of Sawyer’s truth. First time around we believe we may be watching Sawyer conduct the con that will ruin the lives of two people and prompt a young boy to write him a letter. The clever twist is delivered towards the end when we learn, through Kate, that Sawyer himself was the small boy that wrote the letter and he is a man with conscience after all. As Kate rightly stated at the beginning, his bad boy fa├žade was an act that covered a real human being.

Sawyer’s pugnacious and repellent attitude, however, was more than just an act to disguise his emotions. His actions here are one of a man seeking persecution for his sins. As a con man his actions are always perpetrated with knowledge a couple of steps ahead of the consequences. He knew that pounding the snot out of Boone when he caught him looking through his stash would have the consequences of raising anger from the likes of Jack. Note how, when Jack was beating him in the cave, Sawyer wasn’t fighting back. He goaded him, asking him if that was all he had got, because Sawyer was a man that wanted to be punished.

Every man has his limit, of course.


Sawyer could just about endure Sayid’s excruciating fingernail torture technique, but the threat of losing an eye was his breaking point. Sawyer wanted punishment, but that didn’t extend to permanent and damaging disfigurement. So what was it that was driving this persecution complex? Kate surmised in the previous episode that Sawyer was a man that had nothing to live for, no one to miss him in the world beyond the Island. He used that remark against her and stated he was a man that had nothing to live for so they could do what they wanted to him – but we know that’s not true.

Kate would learn the truth that Sawyer had devoted his life to tracking down the real Sawyer and had become the very thing he was hunting. He had become the very thing he hated more than anything else. So we have self-loathing, right off the bat. Tie that in with the sense that Sawyer must feel that now he is trapped on the Island he has no chance of ever finding the real Sawyer again. His entire life’s purpose is, indeed, lost and then you have despair. Self-loathing and despair are good ingredients to put a man in a mindset where he feels like he has nothing to live for.

Unbeknownst to Sawyer, however, is the future truth that the Island will actually deliver unto him ‘the real Sawyer’, captive and helpless in the Season 3 episode The Brig.

However, the true fuel to Sawyer’s desire to be beaten and punished doesn’t really lie with his self-loathing or his despair; later this season we will discover that shortly before boarding Oceanic 815 he had murdered the man he believed was the real Sawyer. Only he had the wrong man.

The dying shrimp-seller, Frank Duckett, gasped out his last words to a shocked Sawyer as he realised he had the wrong man. “It’ll come back around.” The threat of repercussions for his foul deed. Sawyer is a man of conscience as well as confidence, and this weighs heavy. What he wants is for his punishment to “come back around” as his just desserts for what he has done – but on the Island penitence isn’t found so easily or cheaply. Sawyer faked reasons why Jack and Sayid could dish out their own brand of justice but fundamentally whatever they do to him won’t take away his guilt about what he has done. Sawyer must confess his crimes and seek forgiveness in his soul, and he takes the first steps to finding his confidante for that in Kate.

In the future episode Outlaws Kate and Sawyer will share something of a guarded fireside confession about their previous misdeeds, but here, first of all, he has to open the door and let her see him. A common misuse of English is with the word ‘naked’, generally apportioned to people being unclothed. The correct word for this is actually ‘nude’. Naked actually means vulnerable. To say Sawyer emerged out of the ocean ‘naked’ is still true; he was nude, yes, but moreover he was making himself vulnerable. It is only Kate that gets to see this side of him; more to the point, it is only Kate that Sawyer permits to see that side of him.

Remember Sawyer is the confidence man that thinks many moves ahead. Second-guessing behaviour and predicting responses has been his stock in trade since his first grift when he was nineteen-years-old. When he thrusts the letter into Kate’s hands and demands she reads it he is knowingly giving her the means to figure out that the letter isn’t exactly as it first appears. It’s as much a ruse as the old ‘briefcase full of money’ routine.

Sawyer may droll out the iconic line, “You weren’t exactly supposed to see that”, but he means the exact opposite. Kate, you were supposed to see that letter and you were supposed to figure out the truth of it. It was what Sawyer wanted, and he wanted it from Kate alone. It wasn’t through flippancy had he said they have a connection, and nor was it flippant that he suffered agony for the chance to get a kiss.

And boy, what a kiss.

Sawyer said that all Kate had to do was nothing more than a little kiss to get the truth out of him, but theirs was more than just a little peck on the lips. It was repeated, intense, with a hint of tongue. Sawyer wasn’t lying – Kate did receive the truth from the kiss. The actual truth was that Sawyer didn’t have the inhalers all along. But the real truth Kate learned was that Sawyer was right – they did have a connection. A love triangle begins here and, you know, when you see the passion and power loaded between the two of them it’s hard to deny that they make for a scintillating couple. This one’s for the Skaters.

The whole business of Sawyer’s torture was fundamentally set in motion by Locke. He only got the one scene, but Locke stole the show in Retroview respect. Sayid initially came to him to check his alibi as he tried to discover the identity of his mysterious attacker. Locke perhaps did the smartest thing and covered his lie in truth; considering Sayid is the foremost authority in spotting liars it was a wise move. Locke stated that he had no one to verify his whereabouts because he had been hunting boar, and then quickly deflected Sayid’s attention on Sawyer being the likeliest culprit.

What followed was Locke’s darkest moment so far. I have said it elsewhere but the one thing a Retroview does prove time and again is that, in the early days, Locke was quite a devilish figure. He coolly incriminated Sawyer’s own alibi with the suggestion that anyone could put a delay fuse on the rocket he fired, and also cited that the person who perpetrated the attack on Sayid was only going to be someone that had a good reason to stay on the Island, and Sawyer seemed to be doing well for himself. . . And then Locke went and handed him a shiny knife, casual as you like.

Let’s just examine Locke’s actions here for a moment. Let’s not forget he was the person who attacked Sayid, so he lies to save his own skin. Not only that, he then deliberately leads Sayid to believe it was someone else, someone innocent. Furthermore, Locke then hands Sayid a knife so that he may dispense his own brand of justice. Isn’t that just gasp-inducing? Anyone who likes to think of Locke as the cuddly, wise and unfortunate man could do well to take a long look at this scene and re-appraise their view. He puts another man’s life in the balance to dodge attention from his own misdemeanours. Dark, dark deeds.

Interesting point Locke made about Sawyer being one who had a lot to gain by remaining on the Island. Obviously Locke himself has far more to gain, as he had been gifted the use of his legs once more and, furthermore, been allowed a lease of life to unleash his hunter personality that had remained frustrated and contained. The only other person at this point that has perhaps just a little more to gain by remaining on the Island is Rose, who has had her late stage cancer cured. I say it’s an interesting point because obviously the Island bestows these miraculous healing properties, and yet this episode was fuelled by Shannon suffering from her own asthma ailment that had evidently not been cured.

It’s near-impossible to ascertain what credentials a person must have in order to qualify for the Island-healing treatment. Locke got it. Rose got it. Jin and his low sperm count got it. Shannon, not so much. Why? Don’t know. I suspect a mixture of writing inconsistency (though this episode was written by Damon Lindelof himself!) and that huge grey space of ambiguity LOST provisions for all its unanswered mysteries is where you’re likely to find a reason.

You want a fast and loose explanation? The Island only immediately cures ailments a character has the moment they arrive. Locke’s broken spine, Rose’s cancer, even Jin’s low sperm count. Shannon wasn’t having an asthma attack during the crash (we can actually know this for a near-fact because we’ll see Boone hand over her inhaler during the Exodus flashback montage!) and so it wasn’t an affliction to be cured. Anyone can get ill once they are on the Island (Charlie and his drug withdrawal, for example) so that’s why Shannon still suffered.

Hey, I told you it was fast and loose.

Season One does appear to be a more brutal and gruelling affair than later seasons. Last episode we had Charlie having to pop Jack’s dislocated shoulder back into place (maybe you don’t mind that kind of thing but that’s always been something I’ve found very uncomfortable to watch) and this episode Sawyer had sharpened stalks driven behind his fingernails before Jack was gouging his fingers into a knife wound in an artery. Even if you shut your squeamish eyes you’d still hear Sawyer bitterly retorting to Jack that if their roles were reversed he would let him die. Add in Locke’s previous cold-hearted treachery and, all in all, our Oceanic 815 survivors exist in quite the savage and unpleasant environment all of their own design without the need of Black Smokes, Others and Dharma Station issues.

I suppose Nameless had a point when he once told Jacob about how people come to the Island with their destructive, evil ways. . .

To counter the nastiness there was some  levity. I liked Hurley’s reactions to Charlie’s remarks about how he must be holding out on food supplies since he didn’t appear to be losing much weight (which also served as an in-show retort to audiences posing the same question about why Hurley didn’t appear to be dropping any pounds – thankfully Dharma ration drops would emerge to prevent the issue becoming a fully-fledged plot hole!). Charlie and Claire also had a minor subplot with him getting her to move to the caves if he managed to get her some peanut butter. The scene where they eat the imaginary treat is a little too mawkish for my tastes but there’s a place for such moments during an episode, I feel, and it’s the kind of beat later seasons will be devoid of.

The episode closed out on a music montage which, for the first time, didn’t qualify itself as having the source of the music be from Hurley’s CD player. He is never shown listening to music when the music plays so, in effect, this is actually the first instance of having music on the show that isn’t part of on-screen events or from the incidental score. For the record, it really bugs me. It’s an inconsistent mis-step from a time when LOST was finding its feet, using music with a series of dialogue-free scenes to tie up the episode. All it would have taken was a quick shot of Hurley listening on his headphones for it all to gel together, but there isn’t one. Annoying. Later seasons don’t make that mistake.

Sayid sent himself on an enforced exile as his own penance for what he had done, linking into the theme of Sawyer’s own persecution. It was interesting to see that he required Jack’s permission to torture Sawyer (the soldier in him deferring to a chain of command) but the disquiet in his heart was unleashed when he believed Sawyer was lying to him (fuelled, of course, by the belief that Sawyer had been the one to attack him previously, courtesy of Locke’s hushed suggestion). Sayid used the knife Locke had handed to him and would have surely killed Sawyer had Jack and Kate not stopped him.

Unlike Sawyer who will, over the course of the first three seasons, find resolve for his demons, Sayid will never truly reconcile his darkness. Even here, at this early stage, he must set himself apart out of awareness that he harbours a nature dangerous to others. Opportunities for redemption will be thwarted: happiness with Nadia will be shortlived with her death; Ben will twist him into his own right-hand assassin and when he retreats to find inner peace Locke will seek him out to return to the Island where he will shoot young Ben and, fundamentally, never recover the necessary piece of his soul required to make him whole.

It’s a subtle triumph of the usual form (characters find their arcs and resolutions, for good or otherwise) that LOST delivers with Sayid – at least whilst he’s alive. Only Ben will remain absolutely unresolved even in the afterlife. . . but that’s a long, long way ahead from here. Here Sayid bids farewell to Kate as though he may be leaving the show for an immeasurable hiatus but he’s really headed for an imminent rendezvous with an extremely lonely French woman who is a dab hand with a booby trap. . .

Best Part

Sawyer and Kate. Their first kiss. It was only a kiss and yet it felt X-rated. Juliet could never compete with this.