"Baby, I am tied to a tree in a jungle of mystery. I just got tortured by a damn spinal surgeon and a gen-u-ine I-raqi."
LOST, Season One, Episode 8, Confidence Man takes a slightly darker turn following the events of The Moth by tackling the topical theme of torture.
This, of course, tapped into events of the day and American intervention in Iraq. What better way to revisit the theme than turn the tables and have an American tortured by a bona fide "I-raqi?" Was this the writer's room's attempt at asking how would Americans feel if roles were reversed? If so, it's not particularly clever, as more than enough Americans or American veterans could attest having been held in captivity. It's not a revolutionary idea or concept but with LOST it's still dramatically interesting if severe in the context of plane survivors. At the very least one of the torturers was an actual torturer and lends the scene the needed credibility.
LOST infuses the scene with unsettling, unnerving, and desperate conviction. LOST takes these always relevant concerns further in Season Two and beyond.
The focus of the story, the appropriately wild James "Sawyer" Ford, is tortured by an Iraqi, Sayid Jarrah, in concert with an American, Jack Shephard, with the two men working as a team. Now that's what you call international relations.
Throughout Confidence Man, the facts reveal Sawyer, not surprisingly, to be a fairly complicated, psychologically tortured creation of events that happened while he was a young boy.
The actual torture of Sawyer at the hands of Jack and Sayid is a physical manifestation of those damages and his own inner demons. In fact, Sawyer continues to self-inflict those damages particularly throughout Season One with Josh Holloway (Colony) truly injecting a bit of empathy and humanity into a fairly unlikeable scoundrel in the early going. Holloway proves to be perfect in layering an initially or seemingly one dimensional character with so much more.
LOST offers another connection to the world of literature or philosophy (a la John Locke) in Sawyer by marrying some of his qualities to literary character Tom Sawyer. Also notable is the comparison of a tricky character like that of rabbit folk hero El-ahrairah, from Watership Down, as we noted in Episode 5, White Rabbit here where we spot Sawyer first reading said book.
Highlights: Confidence Man is yet another strong entry in Season One.
The handling of Sawyer's decision to simply withhold the facts about medication he doesn't have to forcibly project the kind of disdain upon himself that he has for the man for which he seeks revenge is nothing short of profoundly painful.
Sawyer is a guarded, walled off mystery man who relishes self-torture in and of itself. His pursuit of revenge has turned his journey into a sad reality of harmful self-loathing. "Is that the best you got?," begs a self-pitying Sawyer hungry for self-persecution. Sawyer is riddled with so much guilt and self-loathing he is becoming what he once perceived as repugnant, the very confidence man himself.
As Sawyer declares with a hint of self-disgust to Kate, "It was his name. He was a confidence man. Romanced my momma to get to the money, wiped them out clean, left a mess behind. So I wrote that letter. I wrote it knowing one day I'd find him. But that ain't the sad part. ... So I found a pretty lady with a dumb husband who had some money. And I got them to give it to me. How's that for a tragedy? I became the man I was hunting --- became Sawyer. Don't you feel sorry for me?"
Yet, the flashback ends with a note of hope for the innocent boy that still dwells within the damaged man. Sawyer is clearly conflicted and Holloway walks that tightrope with relish.
Additionally, that kiss. There is a lot of emotional power and human subtext in that kiss when you consider the circumstances of these potentially doomed survivors.
The kiss between a hands-tied Sawyer and Kate Austen to reveal a hidden truth is beautifully handled. So much of the moment is telling of both Sawyer, a man who at once distances himself but yearns for a connection, and Kate, at once drawn to and disgusted by Sawyer. These are two highly complex characters. Kate actually enjoys the kiss as much as Sawyer.
When the kiss is over Sawyer finally reveals, after getting what he wants, that he has absolutely nothing (asthma inhalers) the other crash survivors have sought for Shannon Rutherford. Confidence Man delivers brutal but gripping stuff.
Sayid makes off along the beach to find the Frenchwoman and ultimately set the stage for Episode 9, Solitary.
Each episode continues to flesh out these vastly layered characters and portray them in morally ambiguous dimensions. The righteous, the evil, and the assholes aren't always what they seem.
What makes LOST so adept as a television anthology series is its ability to balance the on island events and information with each fascinating back story. LOST mostly gets the balance right between the two normally making both portions of the episode wildly thrilling television regardless of any applied TV parameters by the powers that be.
Guest: Michael Deluise (NYPD Blue, Stargate SG-1).
Writer: Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers).
Director: Tucker Gates (The X-Files, Carnivale, Homeland).