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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the LOST episode “Confidence Man", which originally aired on November 10th, 2004.
Previously on LOST: Sun confides in Michael that she is fluent in English, a fact that her husband remains unaware of. Sayid gets his first real lead on the location of the French woman’s broadcast signal, but is knocked unconscious by an off-screen attacker.
Sawyer is without question my favorite character on LOST. That’s not to imply that I agree with everything he says and does, up to this point he has been little more than an obnoxious jerk selfishly accumulating as much salvage from the plane crash as possible. He’s rude, casually racist, and has contributed little to the group. His bad attitude continually draws the ire of Jack, which is further-fueled by Sawyer’s attraction to Kate. Jack, being aware of Kate’s background as a fugitive sees the island’s bad boy as a romantic threat, and in this episode his dealings with Sawyer will expose some moral blemishes for the camp’s doctor. Sawyer has the ability to strip the goodness away from his rival, doing as much for Jack’s character development as his own.
“Confidence Man” opens with Boone frantically searching Sawyer’s belongings in an attempt to locate Shannon’s inhaler after she suffers an asthma attack. Sawyer beats him Boone, sending him to Jack for medical treatment. As soon as Jack is made aware of Shannon’s condition and the fact that Sawyer supposedly has the inhalers he confronts Sawyer, and the two men appear close to blows before Kate shows up and completes the still-developing love triangle. She successfully defuses the situation but we can see that Jack has reached the end of his rope with the camp’s confidence man, and given the nature of the three characters’ relationship one has to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better if the two boys had exchanged punches. Kate is able to rile the two men up even as she’s trying to help, Jack and Sawyer are not only wage war over the inhalers, but also for her affection.
One of LOST’s greatest strengths is its ability to subtly build the foundation for mysteries before letting them blossom for a few episodes without an answer, and “Confidence Man” finally reveals the contents of the mysterious handwritten letter Sawyer is always reading. Kate approaches Sawyer to play good cop in an attempt to get the inhalers, but when he responds by offering the medicine in exchange for a kiss she turns his down. When she presses him about the letter he allows her to read it, and she is appalled by what it contains. The letter was written by a young boy, and it describes how Sawyer ran a confidence game on his mother, fleecing his family out of a large sum of money. This drove the man to kill his wife before committing suicide, which paints Sawyer as a rather despicable human being. His decision to expose Kate to the letter’s contents speaks volumes about Sawyer’s behavior on the island, this is a man that wants to be despised although at this point we’re not sure why.
With Shannon’s health deteriorating, Jack and Sayid decide that more extreme measures must be taken to extract the location of the inhalers from Sawyer. Sayid had recently spoken to Locke who put the idea in his head that it had been Sawyer who had knocked him out in the previous episode, and since the two men had already tangled multiple times Sayid has no trouble believing Locke. Without Kate’s knowledge, Jack and Sayid knock Sawyer out and tie him to a tree, and after Sayid reveals that some of his time in the Republican Guard was spent torturing people he gets to work on Sawyer. In a particularly brutal scene Sayid shoves bamboo slivers under Sawyer’s fingernails, which borders on torture porn. Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of this sequence is found in Jack’s reaction, as the man who is bound to the Hippocratic Oath finds himself an active participate in the torturing of another human being. Earlier in the episode Jack had tried beating the answer out of Sawyer but had stopped when the rest of the camp had looked at him with disgust, but apparently Jack is willing to endorse physical violence as long as someone else is getting their hands dirty. As I mentioned earlier, Jack’s motivation is only partially driven by a desire to save Shannon’s life, and while I believe that is his main reason for allowing this to happen at least part of the reason he’s there is to punish his romantic rival. Jack has a little bad boy in himself, just like Sawyer does.
Sayid threatens to remove one of Sawyer’s eyes and that proves to be too much for him, and he says he’ll hand over the medicine but only to Kate. When she arrives he once again demands a kiss in return for the inhalers, and this time she accepts the offer. The resulting smooch is far more than a casual peck on the lips, and we can see that whatever lead Jack has in the race to win her over is quickly evaporating. But it turns out that Sawyer hasn’t had the inhalers the entire time and has no clue where they are, which earns him a well-deserved crack to the head from Kate. Sayid makes one more crazy attempt to dig the answer out of Sawyer, but he’s freed himself and after the two tangle Sawyer finds a knife buried in his arm which has severed an artery. His fate now lies in Jack’s ability and willingness to save his life.
Sawyer wakes up on the beach with his arm bandaged and Kate by his side, where she’s been waiting to reveal that she has figured out that Sawyer was actually the author of the letter. The tragic death of his parents drove him to seek out the man responsible, but the pursuit was only successful in turning Sawyer into the same kind of con man that ruined his life. The lines have become so blurred that Sawyer that he has adopted the man’s name and con man persona, which explains his desire to make everyone on the island hate his guts. Since he’s been unable to get revenge the only way to punish the real Sawyer is to discipline him by proxy, and with no one else available he has nominated himself to bear the burden. The episode’s flashback does a great job of supporting this twist as we see Sawyer attempt to run a con on a young woman and her husband, only to abandon the money-making scheme the moment their young son appears. A slice of humanity still remains in Sawyer, giving us hope that he can still find salvation on the island.
A few other things happen in “Confidence Man” that deserve attention. Sun has come up with a solution for Shannon’s asthma, identifying the the eucalyptus plant can serve as a substitute for the missing medicine. Meanwhile Charlie and Claire have displayed a hint of chemistry in prior episodes, but here we see the former rock star step up his game in an attempt to get Claire to move to the safety found at the cave campsite. She’s desperate for a jar of peanut butter but unfortunately all the food from the plane is gone (revealed in a great scene between Charlie and Hurley, a preview of how effective the two characters will be at providing comic relief throughout the series), so he cooks up a scheme where he presents her with an imaginary jar. It’s a touching scene that makes it easy to forget that just one episode ago Charlie was struggling with heroin addiction.
The other item of significance comes at the episode’s end, where a guilt-ridden Sayid reveals to Kate that he’s decided to punish himself for what he did to Sawyer but going into isolation. She pleads with him to stay, but he reveals that his journey isn’t just a punitive measure. With no hope of immediate rescue someone needs to start exploring the island, and he’s decided to make up for his behavior by doing something positive.
Next week on LOST: “Solitary”, which follows Sayid on his island-inspecting journey.