JAMES "SAWYER" FORD and the Art of Illusion
In past articles, I have complained about the willingness of some ”LOST” fans to make excuses or dismiss some of Kate Austen’s more serious mistakes and crimes. But after a debate on the ”TELEVISION WITHOUT PITY” about the character of James “Sawyer” Ford, I now realize that Kate was not the only popular character that fans tend to defend. One other character has been defended just as much, or perhaps even more than Kate. And I am referring to one James “Sawyer” Ford.
I suppose it made sense that Sawyer’s profession happened to be a con artist. Several years following the deaths of his parents, he proved to be quite adept at deceiving and swindling a good number of people for his benefit. After surviving the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, it did not take long for the series to display Sawyer’s talent for deceiving his fellow castaways, several other inhabitants on the mysterious island, and more importantly, himself.
As a child, James had endured a traumatic tragedy after another confidence man had swindled money from his family. That tragedy soon followed when his father murdered his mother (who had an affair with the con man) before committing suicide. These tragic events not only led Sawyer into eventually becoming a con man, himself; but also a very unpopular character with the fans – especially during Season One. He was a surly and sardonic man with a tendency to antagonize other characters, think only of himself and dump some of the silliest nicknames upon the other castaways. However, once the fans became aware of Sawyer’s childhood tragedy in episodes like (1.08) “Confidence Man” and (1.16) “Outlaws”; he became something of a fan favorite – especially in his relationship with Kate. Fans soon began to appreciate Sawyer’s nicknames for others (why, I do not know), his sardonic sense of humor and Southern charm. When Sawyer began displaying signs of heroism in Season Four episodes like (4.09) “The Shape of Things to Come” and (4.12-4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home, Parts I and II”, certain fans began to view him as the overall hero of the series . . . or perhaps someone who should be the series’ hero.
One of the results from the Ford family tragedy was James’ search for the real “Sawyer”, the man who had swindled his parents. Young James had dumped the blame for his parents’ deaths completely on this con man’s shoulders. Not only did he write a letter to the man (which he kept on his person) at the age of eight, promising revenge for his family’s tragedy; he finally got the chance to exact his revenge. In the Season Three episode, (3.19) “The Brig”, fellow castaway John Locke was ordered by Ben Linus of the Others to kill his father – a confidence man named Anthony Cooper – in order to prove himself a worthy member of their group. Unfortunately, Locke could not get himself to kill Cooper, despite the latter’s taunts. But when Locke learned more about his father’s past, he found someone who could do the job for him. Namely, one James “Sawyer” Ford.
I suppose no one should have been surprised that James would end up murdering Cooper. I certainly was not surprised. But I also felt a great deal of disappointment and contempt toward the con man. For 28 years – since the age of eight – James had solely blamed Anthony Cooper for his parents’ deaths. In other words, he used Anthony Cooper as a scapegoat for all of the hurt he had experienced during that troubling time. Yes, Cooper had been guilty of swindling the Ford family and having an affair with Mrs. Ford. But that was the extent of his guilt. As he matured into an adult, I wonder if James ever bothered to wonder about his parents’ action. Look at Mr. Ford. How did he expressed himself after realizing that he had been swindled by Cooper and cuckolded by Mrs. Ford? He murdered his wife in cold blood and then committed suicide; instead of reporting Cooper to the police and divorcing his wife. Sawyer could blame Anthony Cooper for swindling his family. But apparently, he seemed incapable of realizing that his mother was guilty of adultery with Cooper . . . and his father was guilty of murder. Even worse, James refused to admit that his father had reacted to his wife’s infidelity and Cooper’s deception with vindictiveness and cowardice.
When you think about it, one could say that Sawyer is almost a chip off the old block. His determination to solely blame Cooper for his parents’ deaths not only led him to eventually murder the con man on the island, it also led him to commit another murder before he had boarded Oceanic Flight 815 in Sydney, Australia. Back in the United States, a fellow con man named Hibbs informed James that Cooper is living in Australia, under the alias of Frank Duckett. After catching up with the man in Sydney and shooting him, Duckett revealed that his name was not an alias and that he owned money to Hibbs. In other words, Hibbs had used James’ desire for revenge to murder an innocent man. And in ”The Brig”, Locke used that same desire to manipulate the Alabama native into committing another murder. Many fans have claimed that James’ murder of Cooper allowed him some form of solace over his parents’ deaths. For me, his solace is false. The murder only allowed James to ignore the fact that his parents – especially his father – was even more guilty for leaving him in an orphan state. In fact, James’ desire for revenge allowed two men to make a chump out of him.
Around the end of Season One, James managed to win a seat aboard a raft constructed by another castaway – Michael Dawson. Along with Michael, the latter’s ten year-old son Walt Lloyd, and a fourth castaway, Jin-Soon Kwon; James sailed away from the island in (1.23-1.25) “Exodus: Parts 1 and 2”. As everyone knows, the raft passengers failed to get very far after young Walt was kidnapped and James was shot by Tom Friendly and the Others. James, Michael and Jin washed up on the other side of the island; was briefly held as prisoners by surviving Tail Section passengers led by Ana-Lucia Cortez. The three men and the Tail Section survivors eventually reached the Fuselage passengers’ camp. After James was nursed back to health, he noticed that a good number of belongings had been taken by the other castaways. But he did or said nothing . . . until Jack violated his privacy by taking a bottle of aspirin from his tent in (2.13) “The Long Con”. What happened? Sawyer decided to take control of the guns through a con job that involved Charlie Pace’s assistance and scaring the hell out of Jin’s wife, Sun-Hwa. Not only was he pissed at Jack for entering his tent without permission, he was angry at the other castaways for going through his things after he left the island on Michael's raft:
”That's right, Jack. He's as stupid as you are. You were so busy worrying about each other you never even saw me coming, did you? How about you listen up because I'm only going to say this once. You took my stuff. While I was off trying to get us help -- get us rescued -- you found my stash and you took it, divvied it up -- my shaving cream, my batteries, even my beer.”
One, Sawyer could have simply taken the pills back from Jack, through a fist fight, if he had to. But his anger at the other castaways bordered on the ridiculous . . . at least to me. Sawyer originally had no intention of returning to the island in the first place, when he left on that raft. Why on earth did he expect the other castaways to keep their hands off his belongings, when he had left them behind without any intention of using them again? Did he expect them to erect some kind of shrine in his memory? Not only could the entire con could have been avoided, it initiated a storyline that went nowhere.
The events of ”Exodus” led to another result – Sawyer’s murder of Tom Friendly in the Season Three finale, (3.22-3.23) “Through the Looking Glass”. Some fans had claimed that the death of Tom, one of the Others that followed Ben Linus’ lead, had been necessary measure to prevent Tom from becoming a possible threat. Others claimed that the castaways were in a “war” and Sawyer had every right to murder Tom in cold blood. I find the last argument a joke and a horrifying example of excuses human beings will use to condone violence. The argument that Sawyer had defended his fellow castaways from the threat of Tom did not resonate with me. As far as I am concerned, Sawyer was defending squat. A former member of the Others who had joined the castaways, Juliet Burke, had already prevented Tom from grabbing a gun. Then Tom surrendered. And what did Sawyer do? He shot Tom in cold blood, when the guy was defenseless. And Hurley protested his act of murder. Which did not strike as an act of defending friends to me. The murder seemed like an obvious act of revenge, sparked by Sawyer's own vindictive personality. He eventually admitted it seconds later:
SAWYER: That's for taking the kid off the raft.
HURLEY: Dude it was over, he surrendered.
SAWYER: I didn't believe him.
Bullshit!! I suspect that Sawyer believed that Tom’s surrender was genuine. He simply wanted revenge. And I am beginning to wonder if he only wanted revenge for Walt’s kidnapping. After all, the moment he, Jack, and John Locke had encountered Tom in (2.11) “The Hunting Party”, the first words that came out of his mouth were:
”He's the son-of-a-bitch that shot me on the raft.”
One, Sawyer did not even mention Walt. Two, Tom never shot Sawyer. In fact, he never ordered someone to shoot Sawyer. The latter got shot, because he was stupid enough to try something when Tom and the Others had guns trained on him, Michael and Jin. Tom did not even have to say a word. The same thing occurred in ”The Hunting Party”. Even worse, James was determined to use Tom as the scapegoat for Walt’s kidnapping. Yes, Tom did lead the kidnapping mission. However, by ”Through the Looking Glass”, both the fans and the series’ characters that Ben had been the one who ordered Walt’s kidnapping. And was Ben who decided when and how Walt would be returned to Michael. Tom was guilty of following orders. Yet, when Sawyer had the chance to attack Ben for Walt's kidnapping, Sawyer did NOTHING. Instead, he attacked Ben for making innuendos about Kate preferring Jack's company to his in the Season Four premiere, (4.01) “The Beginning of the End”. Did that mean Sawyer was afraid to force Ben to pay the price for Walt’s kidnapping? Or did he allow his mind to focus upon the illusion that Tom was solely to blame, because he needed a convenient scapegoat to feed his vindictive nature?
I am sure that many ”LOST” fans are aware of the latest tragedies that occurred in the most recent episode, (6.14) “The Candidate”. Due to a bomb planted on a submarine that the remaining castaways had planned to use to leave the island, Sayid Jarrah, Jin and Sun Kwon and pilot Frank Lapidus lost their lives. In (6.01) “LAX – Part I”, thirteen episodes before this tragedy, James’ then lady love, Dr. Juliet Burke, had lost her life after triggering Jughead – an atomic bomb that the U.S. Army had brought to the island in 1954. She had followed a plan originally initiated by Daniel Farrady and followed through by Jack after Farrady’s death to use the bomb to change the timeline in the hopes that Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 would land in Los Angeles. The bomb did three things – create an alternative timeline; sent the time traveling castaways back to the early 21st century (2007); and slowly killed Juliet. Sawyer resorted to his old game of using convenient scapegoats and solely blamed Jack for her death; completely ignoring the fact that Daniel had created the plan in the first place, Sayid was just as enthusiastic to carry out the plan, and Juliet changed her mind and made the decision to trigger the bomb herself. Was Jack guilty of Juliet’s death? Yes. Was Jack solely guilty of Juliet’s death? No. But Sawyer did not care. With both Daniel and Juliet dead, he needed a scapegoat for his pain. The surviving Jack Shephard was that scapegoat.
For the next thirteen episodes, James harbored a deep and lingering anger and resentment toward Jack. It all came to a head aboard Charles Widmore’s submarine, when the castaways discovered that the entity known as the Man in Black (MIB) had planted a bomb. Most of them aboard were candidates to replace another entity known as Jacob, who had ensured the MIB’s presence on the island. With Jacob and his candidates dead, the MIB would finally be able to escape. What happened after the discovery of the bomb? Jack realized that if they allowed the countdown to continue, nothing would happen. After all, the MIB – for some reason – could not directly kill any of Jacob’s candidates. But due to his lingering distrust and anger toward Jack, James refused to believe him and tried to deactivate the bomb. Instead, the bomb’s countdown accelerated. Realizing that they were all about to be killed, Sayid grabbed the bomb and raced to the other side of the submarine to ensure they would not be in direct fire of the blast. Sayid was immediately killed. Frank was knocked out cold from the blast and no one could find him. He was eventually found floating on the water's surface by Miles Straume and Richard Alpert, who were on their way to Hydra Island and the Ajira 316 plane. Sun found herself trapped by wreckage. But since James was knocked out cold, Jack had to help him escape from the submarine (Hurley had already assisted a wounded Kate into the water), while Jin tried to free her. Unable to do so, he decided to remain by his wife’s side, until their deaths. The episode ended with an unconscious James and the grieving Jack, Kate and Hurley on a beach.
Some fans had supported James’ decision not to trust Jack, claiming Juliet’s death as a good reason for him not to do so. Perhaps. But James and Jack have been enemies ever since Oceanic 815's crash in September 2004. A great deal of their enmity had to do with their rivalry for the affections of one Kate Austen. And the two have a history of rarely trusting one another in the first place. And considering all that has occurred on the island, I believe that James could have tried to put aside his remaining feelings and realize that Jack could have been right about the MIB. He also could have opened his mind and realized that Jack was not solely responsible for Juliet’s death. But due to James' habit of using someone as a scapegoat for his pain, he solely blamed Jack for Juliet's death. James was also a pragmatic man. Perhaps too pragmatic for his own good at times. He has never been in the habit of immediately giving anyone the benefit of the doubt. And it is possible that not only did he not trust Jack, he was unwilling to consider the supernatural as an excuse for anything or anyone they had encountered on the island. It is possible that he wanted to flee the island and his memories of those three years with Juliet so badly that he was unwilling to listen to anyone – except for the Man in Black, who insisted that he could get all of them off the island. Perhaps Jack’s willingness to carry out Daniel Farrady’s plans regarding Jughead may have led to that moment when James pulled the wires from that bomb. But I believe that James’ own emotional demons, his desperation to flee the island and his inability to instinctively give others a chance may have sealed the Kwons and Sayid's fates.
Considering James' reaction to his discovery of the three deaths following his action aboard Widmore’s submarine, I wonder if he had ever learned to let go? Did he finally learned to at least give others a chance, if not immediately trust them? Did he finally realize that he had acquired a great deal of blood on his hands over those three years, due to his own demons and a tendency to form immediate scapegoats for the problems and pain he has experienced? Did he ever learned to finally learn to let go of his illusions and face the reality of his situation . . . and himself? I hope so for his sake.