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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 “Outlaws", which originally aired on February 16th, 2005.
Previously on LOST: The enigmatic Sawyer shares some of his backstory with Kate, including the fact that his parents were killed by a con man.
We’ve reached a point in LOST’s maiden season where there is a lot going on. Locke and Boone remain hard at work trying to crack the hatch open. Michael is determined to escape from the island, putting his engineering talents to work by building a raft. And Claire’s abduction introduced The Others, a mysterious group of people that the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 are sharing the island with. But all of those story threads get put on hold in “Outlaws”, an episode that does little to advance the show’s narrative but still manages to deliver a captivating forty-two minutes of television.
The true heartbeat of a good story isn’t an exotic setting or a strange event, these are but simple ingredients designed to strip away the walls that the people in the tale have spent years constructing. A story’s pulse is found by turning the spotlight onto the characters that populate it, and the fact that LOST can actively ignore all the mysteries it’s currently juggling for a week and offer a character-driven episode speaks volumes about how interesting the island survivors are to the audience.
In less-skilled hands “Outlaws” could’ve come across as pointless filler, but the episode finds the show runners at the top of their game. We immediately travel to the past as we join a young Sawyer in his bedroom, quickly joined by his mother who is in a panic. She tells him to hide under the bed before a man enters the room and shoots her, before sitting on the bed and taking his own life. Not even five minutes into the episode and we’ve witnessed the formative event in Sawyer’s life, a tragedy that would completely disrupt his world, driving him to obsess over the man responsible for taking away his parents to the point where he becomes what he hates the most.
This particular flashback was also a dream had by Island Sawyer, who awakens to find a boar in his camp. The wild animal quickly destroys all the possession he has hoarded since the plane crash before running off with Sawyer in pursuit. He soon finds himself alone in the jungle before hearing the same strange whispers that Sayid encountered after his escape from Rousseau, only this time the phrase “It’ll come back around…” is clearly heard. The following morning Sawyer asks Sayid about his experience with the whispers, but doesn’t reveal that he witnessed the strange phenomenon himself.
Further flashbacks reveal that a man named Hibbs approached Sawyer claiming that he had located the con man responsible for the death of his parents, who was now running a food truck down in Australia using the name Frank Duckett. The revenge-obsessed Sawyer heads down under, and after acquiring a handgun on the black market he visits Duckett’s mobile shrimp restaurant with the intention of killing the man. But after conversing with Duckett and ordering a basket of seafood he leaves without exacting his revenge before heading to the closest bar to look for answers. There he finds none other than Christian Shephard, who is already many drinks into the binge that would eventually claim his life. This is the second time we’ve seen one character’s flashback bleed over into another’s, and both of them have involved Sawyer who made a brief appearance in Boone and Shannon’s backstory in “Hearts and Minds”.
The already-drunk Christian open up to Sawyer, revealing that he’s proud of his son for exposing him and ruining his career. He tells Sawyer that he must summon the strength to deal with what ails him, which inspires Sawyer to return to Duckett’s shrimp truck. Driven by Christian’s advice he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger, shooting the man in the chest. As Duckett dies he tells Sawyer that he was going to pay Hibbs, making Sawyer realize that he has been used as a pawn to execute a deadbeat for the loan shark. The con man has been conned, the deception only making Sawyer more jaded. Duckett’s dying words are “It’ll come back around…”, the same phase Sawyer heard in the jungle whispers.
The connection leads Sawyer to believe that the camp-trashing boar is Duckett reincarnated, and he quickly becomes obsessed with killing the man for a second time. His tracking skills prove questionable though, but luckily for Sawyer Kate has been stalking him as he chases the boar, and agrees to help him on his quest in exchange for the promise of a favor to be named later. The two make camp for the evening, and as the campfire dances before them they play a game of “I Never”, which proves to be an effective and entertaining way for the show runners to provide some exposition on the two A-list characters. We learn that Kate had been married and Sawyer once wore pink, and that both of them have killed a man.
The next morning Sawyer awakes to find that the boar once again has destroyed his possessions, further fueling his desire to kill the beast. With Kate’s help he eventually tracks the animal down but when given the opportunity to shoot it he chooses not to do so, making amends for his past mistake by letting “Duckett” live this time. The episode closes with Sawyer handing his pistol over to Jack, and as the two converse Sawyer is able to deduce that the man he met at the bar in Sydney was the father of his on-island adversary, a fact that he chooses to keep to himself for the moment.
As I mentioned before, “Outlaws” does very little to advance LOST’s narrative as key story threads are either glossed-over or outright ignored. But it does a fantastic job of fleshing out Sawyer and ends up being one of the best episodes of the season so far, although that might be due to the fact that I’m such a big fan of the character. What makes the show so memorable is that the writers have enough confidence in these characters to take a week long detour like this, which not only lends a sense of spontaneity to the show but also strengthens the bond the audience has with the survivors.
Next week on LOST: “…In Translation”, an episode that explores more of Jin and Sun’s life before Oceanic Flight 815.