Without him there is no LOST.
If nothing dwelling within drives us to commit foul acts, there is no tragedy, no drama, and no story to tell. If we do not cultivate a noble heart, there are no accomplishments, no drama, and no story to tell. But humanity has ever been and always will be a chaotic mixture of good and evil, selfishness and nobility. LOST is the greatest of stories, for it explores every dark corner of the human heart, and brings out every one of the good and better angels of our nature. Two players, two sides, one light, one dark. In Sawyer we have both sides—every darkness, every angel, in a turbulent broth of pain, vengeance, and deceit. Sawyer is LOST, because Sawyer is tragedy, comedy, and complexity. We think him selfish, but without his selfless leadership, the time-travelling survivors would not have endured Dharma times. We think him narrow-sighted, the cause of the submarine explosion, but without his broader vision, no one would have survived the sinking.
Despised and rejected, adored and respected, Sawyer is the most interesting character in LOST, and a most difficult subject for an essay. Here’s a short take on the long con.
What are the forces that drive the human heart? I suppose we do not have to become psychologists or priests to understand that the boy sitting outside the church is suffering pain we cannot even imagine. Will the pain motivate him to excel? Will sadness overwhelm him in an adulthood of depression and drugs? Will he be driven to crime?
Or perhaps he will seek out that which gives his life greatest meaning. We accept this option as a good and perhaps even noble undertaking. We say she is driven to paint. It has been her passion—her obsession—since childhood. He was born to practice law. His mother was a court judge, his father was a lawyer, the law was all he ever knew growing up. In both cases these noble pursuits were not noble at all, but simply the most visible and accessible components of childhood. We are what we eat, and we become that which we are most aware of.
James Ford was most aware of Tom Sawyer, the man who talked his mother into adultery, who stole his father’s life savings, who so enraged the man that he shot his wife and then himself. James was left without parents, without a home, and with a very large empty place in his heart. He had to fill that empty place, and it could only be filled by the most prominent thing in his boyhood awareness. He filled that empty place with Sawyer.
James Ford did not intend to obsess on vengeance. He did not intend to become that which he despised. His uncle must have done his best, but anyone’s best could not have been enough to deter James from focussing on the single greatest presence in his childhood. Tom Sawyer was the boy’s passion—his obsession—it was all he ever knew growing up. He had to find the man who killed his parents. What better way to locate a man skilled in the art of deception than to become an accomplished deceiver oneself? Birds of a feather flock together, and even if confidence men could not stand each other’s presence, they surely hunted the same prey and frequented the same types of seedy establishments. James would find Sawyer, because James would become Sawyer.
The Island dispatched its representative, Christian Shephard, to take Claire’s baby from her (for my understanding of Christian Shephard’s post-death role in LOST, please see my essay on Christian, http://pearsonmoore-gets-lost.com/WhiteRabbit.aspx). We don’t know to what extent, if any, Christian had an independent awareness of what he was doing. If he did have any uncoerced means of seeking understanding, he may well have wondered at the Island’s very specific instructions: Find some way to take the boy from Claire, get her away from the immediate vicinity, then leave the baby on the path to the survivors’ camp.
Why would the Island ask anyone to leave a defenceless child in a place where predators might take him? Because the Island knew who next would walk down that path, and that man had already proven he would not allow children to be harmed by predators. The Island knew this because it knew Sawyer, and knew also that he had reneged on a deal to make hundreds of thousands of dollars. He refused to take the money from David and Jess only because of their eight-year-old son, and the realisation that in taking the money he would have caused the boy as much pain as he was still experiencing, twenty years after the same event occurred to his parents. The predator from whom he protected the boy was himself.
It is certainly not coincidental that the two individuals on the Island most devoted to the welfare of children were the Island’s two greatest deception artists, Benjamin Linus and James Sawyer Ford. The lesson is worth absorbing: Even the worst scum of humanity are likely to possess at least a few of the greatest virtues.
Let us not start bubbling over in our appreciation of the man. Sawyer was no hero at this point; he hadn’t even the rudiments of the sacrificial temperament required to care for an infant. In the last twenty years a few high schools in the United States have begun to teach teens about parenting by giving them a five-kilo sack of flour for a week. Hold the sack wherever you go, or make sure it is safe; if you lose any flour, you’ve harmed the baby. Sawyer, surely, would have had flour all over the ground and an empty sack after a week’s time. But Sawyer was not alone, and the Island did not intend for him to raise the infant, only to rescue it. He handed off the boy to his sweetheart, Kate—and the remainder of this chain is an entirely separate story (for my essay on Kate, see http://pearsonmoore-gets-lost.com/FinalStand.aspx).
Winston Churchill is the most admired European leader of the twentieth century—on this side of the Atlantic, anyway. I have no feeling for his stature in his home country or on the continent. But over here in North America you’d better have an exceptional basis for comparing anyone to the man who stood up to Hitler and wouldn’t give an inch, even when London was in flames. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore—never made ‘em like that, actually. Winston Churchill was a breathtaking accident of history, and the primary reason little girls and boys in London schools are not reading and writing and singing in German and being taught about the superiority of Aryans and the inferiority of Englishmen and Scotsmen.
JACK: So where do we go from here?
SAWYER: I’m working on it.
JACK: Really? Because it looked to me like you were reading a book.
SAWYER: [Chuckles] I heard once Winston Churchill read a book every night, even during the Blitz. He said it made him think better. It's how I like to run things. I think. I'm sure that doesn't mean that much to you, 'cause back when you were calling the shots, you pretty much just reacted. See, you didn't think, Jack, and as I recall, a lot of people ended up dead.
JACK: I got us off the Island.
SAWYER: But here you are... [sighs] right back where you started. So I'm gonna go back to reading my book, and I'm gonna think, 'cause that's how I saved your ass today. And that's how I'm gonna save Sayid's tomorrow. All you gotta do is go home, get a good night's rest. Let me do what I do.
Saying what Sawyer did takes balls, as they say. But did he have a basis for comparing himself to the man who saved the Western world from the goose-stepping nonsense and sheer terror and inhumanity of Nazism?
Our first thought is, of course, no. Sawyer was known almost entirely for one quite unsavoury quality of character. If anyone was above reproach in this regard, surely it was Winston Churchill. Churchill would never have deceived to advance his own selfish projects, as Sawyer did.
But we need to look closer. Churchill did deceive, and he performed such deeds on a regular basis. He was a master manipulator. He routinely lied to his own people about their capabilities and the extent of damage inflicted by the enemy. One of the greatest lies, in which the Americans’ own Franklin Roosevelt was an enthusiastic participant, was Lend-Lease. Roosevelt gave Churchill ships, jeeps, war matériel of almost every kind (though not airplanes as far as I can tell. Perhaps a student of WWII can correct me—I believe the only Lend-Lease airplanes were provided to Russia) with no expectation of full reimbursement. The matériel was not given gratis—Great Britain paid dearly for Lend-Lease, making the final payment just four years ago, in 2006. But payment was less than ten cents on the dollar. The deception was in presentation. Roosevelt compared the attack on Britain to a fire at a neighbour’s house. If the neighbour needed my garden hose to put out the fire, I wouldn’t charge her fifteen dollars for the hose, I’d just ask for the hose back when she was done. Britain kept the equipment, of course. But it was a marvelous and necessary deception.
All leaders in war need to deceive. Roosevelt deceived. Churchill deceived. In fact, these leaders fabricated more deceptions than Sawyer could ever have hoped to create in his three years on the Island. In retrospect, and from a strictly logical point of view, we understand a wartime leader’s need to deceive. But we understand, also, that the leader is acting on behalf of an entire country, not on the basis of selfish whim.
When Sawyer—Jim LaFleur then—deceived during his time with the Dharma Initiative, he was not saving only his own skin. His deceptions saved everyone else with him, and that was Jim LaFleur’s intent. Like a wartime leader, he was not motivated to save himself first, but to ensure the safety of everyone in his care.
The comparison with Churchill may be a bit lopsided, but we ought to take a fresh look at the way Jim LaFleur operated during those critical days in 1974. LaFleur created for Horace a magnificent deception, a grand lie, about having been shipwrecked on the Island. But the bit of oratorical artistry that truly saved him, Faraday, Juliet, and Miles involved only a white lie and a great deal of truth. The event occurred in the summer of 1974, on a park bench in the middle of the barracks commons area. Sawyer went to see the Leader of the Leader of the Others, the ageless one, Richard.
SAWYER: Hello, Richard.
RICHARD: I'm sorry. Do we know each other?
SAWYER: I'm the guy that killed your men. Heard some gunshots, saw two men throwing a bag over a woman's head. Gave 'em a chance to throw the weapons down and walk away, but one of them took a shot at me, and I defended myself.
RICHARD: Is that so?
SAWYER: That's so.
RICHARD: Your people know that you're telling me this?
SAWYER: They ain't my people, Hoss. So if you got some kind of a truce with them, it ain't been broken.
RICHARD: If you're not a member of the DHARMA Initiative, then what are you?
SAWYER: Did you bury the bomb?
RICHARD: Excuse me?
SAWYER: The hydrogen bomb with "Jughead" written on the side. Did you bury it?
SAWYER: Yeah, I know about it. I also know that 20 years ago, some bald fella limped into your camp and fed you some mumbo jumbo about being your leader. And then poof... he went and disappeared right in front of ya. Any of this ringin' a bell? That man's name is John Locke, and I'm waitin' for him to come back. So... you still think I'm a member of the damn DHARMA Initiative?
Sawyer didn’t have to take responsibility for killing Richard’s men, but in doing so he deflected Richard’s anger away from Dharma. Sawyer was not deceiving here, but he was manipulating. I think in these types of exchanges Sawyer was demonstrating a kind of kindred nature with Churchill. He was using language to effect change and influence people in much the way Churchill did during the war.
LaFleur et la fleur
Sawyer proved his mettle by building a life—“and a damn good one”—in Dharmaville, and in so doing, saving Juliet, Faraday, and Miles. He proved it again by saving Kate, Jack, Hurley, and Sayid. But more than anything, he showed us his true colours in his relationship with Juliet. Sawyer’s colours, we learned, were yellow and green. He was LaFleur—the flower—at heart, and it took Juliet to make him and everyone around Jim LaFleur realise the kind of man he was.
Jim LaFleur didn’t have to try to save Sayid, but he did. He didn’t have to risk his life and Juliet’s life, but he did. Juliet joined the martyrs—Charlie and Locke—and the future martyrs—Sayid and Jack—who gave their lives for the Island. Jim LaFleur paid an even steeper price than Juliet. But because of his selflessness, Sayid lived through the Dharma days to be on the submarine. Because Sayid was there to give up his life, Jack and Kate lived to kill the Smoke Monster.
It worked. The candy bar fell, and Jim LaFleur recognised the woman he loved, the woman he was destined always to love, the one who pulled him away from morbid intent on vengeance and into liberating appreciation of amorous fidelity.
Without him, there could have been no LOST.
Rogue, villain, leader, scoundrel, and hero. He is the worst and the best, selfish and selfless, a brute, but at heart a flower, waiting to be appreciated for his true worth. Juliet found this rare flower, and when she did, neither she nor the flower was Lost anymore. His story was tragedy, comedy, and complexity, and the most interesting and compelling story of LOST.
Posted by DarkUFO at 11/07/2010 08:16:00 am 54 CommentsPearson Moore , Sawyer