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Three episodes ago, in an episode called “Lighthouse,” Jack and Hurley found an inhaler on the ground right in front of the caves where they used to live, way back in the early island days. Hurley identified it as Shannon’s. You might remember that in season one, Shannon had to conquer her asthma attacks with the help of Sun’s eucalyptus and Jack’s relaxation techniques alone, because her inhaler was nowhere to be found.

And yet, in “Lighthouse,” there it was, more than three years later (in Lost time) — just sitting on the ground, plain as day.

This is just one small example of the mysteries being solved this season on Lost. Answers galore! That’s what the previews promise, right? I always wondered what happened to that damn inhaler. Well, not really.

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But I did wonder why Sawyer went to so much trouble pretending he had taken it. That was in the eighth episode of the first season, called “Confidence Man,” and it was a mirror image, if you will, of last night’s “Recon” (this season’s eighth hour).

“Confidence Man” revealed Sawyer’s cunning conning abilities for the very first time. It showed the lengths he’d go to in order to get what he wanted. When Boone found Sawyer’s tent full of passengers’ possessions, including medications, he assumed that Shannon’s missing inhaler must be in the mix. He reported that to Jack, who agreed with Sayid’s idea to question Sawyer, and when Sayid says “question,” you know he actually means “interrogate.”

LOST’S LAST CALL: A BETTER BEN

This was the first episode to give us a small taste of what Sayid was capable of as a torturer, as well. But Sayid couldn’t get Sawyer to give back the inhaler; the only way Sawyer said he’d return it was if Kate would kiss him. When she saw how much Shannon was suffering (and it’s very hard to just kick an inhaler habit Goonies-style like that — Shannon’s recovery ultimately must have been due to Island magic), Kate acquiesced, only to learn that Sawyer never had the inhaler to begin with.

In that episode’s flashback story, we got to see one of Sawyer’s typical con jobs — he wakes up with a woman, realizes he’s late for a meeting, “accidentally” drops an opened cash-filled suitcase on the bed, explains how he needs more money so he can make a deal with someone and then manages to convince her to get her husband in on it. By episode’s end, we saw why Sawyer never followed through on that con — the couple had a young son. He was too much of a reminder for Sawyer, too similar to how he had felt as a boy when a con man caused his parents’ deaths.

Also featured in “Confidence Man”? Sawyer confiding in Kate about what had happened to his family and why he carried that 30-year-old letter around; Sayid leaving the group to go map the island, ashamed that he had gone back to his torturing ways (he had stabbed Sawyer in the arm and nearly killed him); and the book Watership Down in its first Lost appearance.

“Hell of a book,” Sawyer explained to Kate when she found him reading it on the beach. “It’s about bunnies.”

LOST’S LAST CALL: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR

Despite his downplaying, Sawyer has proven himself to be the most literate character on the show, by far. Lostpedia hosts a whole list of books mentioned on Lost, and Sawyer’s probably read most of them.

And part of Sawyer’s appeal for a lot of female viewers is that while he may be a con man and a convict, he’s also a connoisseur — he likes a good book. His street smarts aren’t the only reason nobody ever gets one over on him. Anyone who reads as much as he does surely has a good grasp on “the human condition” and can, if you can excuse the idiom, read a man like a book.

And speaking of wordplay, Lost is doing a lot of it this season. It’s a big part of their repeating themes and story lines, their winking attempts at closure for these long-suffering characters. If opposite things are happening to these characters in their new “Sideways” reality, we need familiar and yet opposite phrases to describe it. If Sawyer was a confidence man, now he has to do recon. If Sawyer said in a recent episode (while dealing with Juliet’s death) that some people are just meant to be alone, Miles has to ask him in this episode, “Do you want to die alone?” Not to mention Jack’s familiar rallying call, “Live together, die alone,” which Sawyer exemplifies in Recon.

And so forth.

Another part of Sawyer’s appeal is that thanks to his experiences on the island and his relationship with Juliet, he’s now a reformed con man. And no matter how much the Smoke Monster/Flocke/Man in Black/Johnny Cash might want him to be “the best liar he’s ever met,” he’s just not going to go back to being that dude. And women eat that up.

A great example of this occurs in the opening scenes of Recon. Sawyer is seen on his own, gathering water outside of what is revealed to be Claire’s nuthouse. He gives the water to a sleeping Jin, who wakes up and asks where Claire and Locke are. Sawyer tells him they said they’d be back by sunup, reminding viewers of the recent episode, “Sundown,” in which MIB/Flocke annihilated the remaining Others at the temple and then led his rag-tag group through the night. The black of night. The dark (k)night, even (but more on that later).

LOST’S LAST CALL: FLOCKE AIN’T NO SHEPHARD

For some reason, in that opening scene, Sawyer tells Jin, “I’m with Locke.” Jin points out how it’s not really Locke, since Locke is dead; Sawyer acknowledges that and explains that he really just wants off the island.

Whew. So Sawyer has been planning a long con on MIB (and if it’s a con on him, it’s really an okay con, an inherently good one, right?), which is something that’s been up for debate ever since the end of “The Substitute.”

Then Sawyer tells Jin something that really proves his reformed con-man status: He promises that he will help him find Sun.

Would the old Sawyer ever have concerned himself with something like that? Would the new, grieving Sawyer, who cares about his friends — and knows what love is (he doesn’t need anyone to show him?) — care about helping Jin find his soul mate? Hell, yes.

Meanwhile, in the Sideways world, another reformed version of Sawyer exists, but not happily. Does anyone but Kate and Jin even call him “Sawyer” in this episode? It seems he loses that nickname more and more, maybe further evidence of his redemption. How funny is it that the guy responsible for all the comical nicknames on Lost now simply goes by “Jim”?

In the Sideways world, we find Sawyer post-coitus, on the verge of what appears to be another long con but turns out to be quite the opposite — a sting operation. Hilariously, “Lafleur” is Sawyer’s code word for the rest of his team to bust in and make an arrest. And just like in Sawyer’s Dharma days, Miles is his sidekick in the Sideways world. The fact that the two most smart-mouthed, cynical characters on this show could be police partners is just brilliant. But if Sideways Sawyer’s a cop, it begs an important question: Why would he have helped Kate get off the elevator at LAX, knowing that she had handcuffs on?

LOST’S LAST CALL: CON-DUIT KATE

Considering how comic-book crazy the Lost writers have proven to be, I think it’s safe to make certain superhero comparisons at this point. Back in my recap of “The Substitute,” I mentioned how Sideways Locke was a bit like Superman without his powers. And if that version of Locke is a disabled Superman, then Sideways Sawyer is … you guessed it: Batman.

Look at the parallels. He lost his parents as a child (and watched it happen). He became a crime fighter, using only his wits (no super powers there) to save people from his own heartache and eventually catch his Joker. His love interests are fleeting. He hides things in drawers and gets super mad when women meddle in them. He’s extremely elusive. He lives a life of private misery. The only thing missing there is the butler (as evidenced by his retreat into a TV dinner and a night of Little House on the Prairie). But he certainly has a Robin.

And if Sawyer is also a version of Batman on the island, it’s mainly evidenced by his swift maneuvers. Last night’s episode featured his most creative, clever work yet. Creativity only thrives in positive impulses, never negative. Perhaps this new, reformed Sawyer is working toward a positive end now —protecting his friends from a common enemy. And honoring Juliet. Remember how Ben sent Juliet over to the castaways’ camp to do reconnaissance on them? To gather information about the women for her fertility studies? And Juliet turned on Ben and ended up siding with the castaways?

Sometimes when people we love pass on, some of their best character traits live on in us. This selflessness was just one of many of Juliet’s gifts to Sawyer.

And speaking of common enemies: Did anyone buy Man In Black’s explanation of how he had to create an enemy for Claire, to drive her to go on when she was so devastated over losing Aaron? Kate sure isn’t believing it. “That’s very insightful coming from a dead man,” she says. To which he replies, “Nobody’s perfect.”

It was just one of MIB’s many attempts to persuade Kate to follow him.  But she won’t hold his hand no matter how much he flashes his “knowing” grin, and something tells me she never will. Kate has a lot to be angry about, but this version of Kate cares too much about her friends to let her anger control her, and therefore, to let MIB control her.

Because, really, MIB has proven at this point that he feeds on anger. Look at the chaos that ensues in his newly formed camp: Claire jumps Kate and puts a knife to her throat; Zombie Sayid just sits and watches; MIB pulls Claire off, slaps her and says, “I’ll deal with you later.” Um, hello, abusive father figure?

MIB could have caused all the daddy issues on Lost all by himself.

LOST’S LAST CALL: THE FINAL SEASON BEGINS

And what’s this story of his about having a “crazy mother” all about? He tells Kate about her in a poor attempt to explain that he knows how she feels about Claire and Aaron. I’m sure the “Aaron-must-come-back-to-the-island” enthusiasts out there will probably say, “MIB is a time-traveling Aaron! His mother was Claire! He just slapped his own mother!”  I don’t think that’s the case, though.

In fact, I don’t think MIB was ever a man, which means he also never had a mother. I think he’s more abstract than that. He just makes up whatever story he needs to in the heat of the moment, just to manipulate people. His story is different for each possible recruit. And it’s really quite genius, even if it is an example of “evil” genius.

Strangely enough, he seems the most honest when he talks to Sawyer, who, as mentioned earlier, he calls “the best liar he’s ever met.” Maybe he means in exception to himself. When Sawyer asks MIB how he protected all the people in the temple, MIB flat-out tells him that he’s the “smoke thing.” “They’re convinced they’re protecting the island from me when in fact all I want to do is leave,” MIB says. “So it’s either kill or be killed, and I don’t want to be killed.”

In contrast to all the mirrors in the Sideways story lines (Sawyer punches one in “Recon,” disturbed-superhero style, and who couldn’t see that one coming?), MIB is sort of like a cloudy mirror … he reflects the castaways’ spirits to them, but only the blackest parts. Whereas Jacob tries to bring out their strengths. And in the Sideways world, seemingly absent of Jacob and MIB, the characters are only faced with themselves.

My favorite line last night had to be Sawyer’s reaction to MIB’s request that he go undercover for him: “That sounds safe!” I assumed we might see the end of Sawyer last night, with all that talk of “dying alone.” Back when Ben had moved the island and he and the left-behind castaways were jumping through time, Sawyer and Juliet fired at a boat in the distance, never knowing who they had shot. Something tells me the person time-traveling Sawyer shot was himself.

But maybe we’ll see that in a later episode.

In a strange Cold Case turn, minus the corny music and nostalgic re-enactments, Sideways Sawyer’s still looking for the man who conned his parents, Anthony Cooper (Kevin Tighe), Locke’s dear old dad. But he hides his pursuit from everyone, even his partner.

PLAYING CATCH-UP: THE LOST DIARIES

Sawyer’s not a very good liar in the Sideways world. He even says to Miles at one point, “Why the hell would I lie?” which is usually a sure clue that someone is lying. That whole blind date Miles fixes him up on is cute — although disappointing that it’s redheaded Charlotte (Rebecca Mader) and not Juliet! — but even she can tell that Sawyer has a deep, dark secret that he’s just dying to tell. And when Charlotte gets a little too close (she is an archaeologist after all, who works with Dr. Pierre Chang, so it’s no big surprise that she’d dig something up so easily), Sawyer kicks her out of his apartment — an act that even a sunflower can’t fix.

Anyone notice Watership Down on Sawyer’s dresser? I’m betting he actually owns every book he found on the island in this Sideways reality.

Back on the island, Sawyer’s reconnaissance mission proves exciting … that is, until he runs across that boring Widmore employee, Zoe (Sheila Kelley), pretending to be an Ajira passenger. And he discovers the Ajira plane, which landed safely on the runways he was forced to help the Others build. His interaction with Zoe is just too boring and insignificant to discuss. But it does introduce another plot twist: It’s not just MIB versus Jacob on this island. It’s Widmore and his team, too. We’ve yet to find out which side Widmore is on. But he did tell Locke in a past episode that a war was coming, and if Locke wasn’t on the island, the wrong side would win. What should we make of that?

The best part of Sawyer’s interaction with Zoe is when she says, “Thank God.” And he replies, “God’s got nothing to do with it.” Sawyer’s on to MIB.

And in another humorous turn, as mentioned earlier, the butler-less Sideways Sawyer finds consolation in the late Michael Landon’s speech on a Little House on the Prairie rerun.

“You hear that, that’s what life’s all about,” Pa Ingalls says. “Laughing and loving each other. You know, people aren’t really gone when they die, we have all the good memories to sustain us.”

It’s advice Sawyer’s heeding on the island now. It’s one of those classic transferences between Sideways world and Island world that the writers keep implying.

When Sawyer meets Widmore, he proposes that he bring MIB to him so Widmore can kill him, but in exchange, he wants to have free passage off the island for his friends, with not “one hair touched on their heads.” Not one hair. Not one hare. More rabbit symbolism, like the teamwork displayed by the rabbits in Watership Down.

How does Widmore know who Sawyer is? Why does he seem to have files on everyone, just like the Others did? And why does he choose to trust Sawyer? In another shady deal, occurring presumably at the same time, Claire thanks Kate for taking care of Aaron for her. She cries and hugs her, which is clearly all fake and probably brought on by MIB.

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When Sawyer returns to the other island, he tells MIB what he saw on the Hydra and MIB thanks him for his loyalty. Sawyer’s response to that is “You said you’d get me off this island. A deal’s a deal,” emphasizing that he’s not doing any of this out of loyalty to MIB.

And in typical Sideways-world style, Sawyer finds closure to his lifelong pursuit of Anthony Cooper by sharing his story with a friend: Miles. Sideways world is basically like Lost in therapy. Everything can be solved in it through heart-to-hearts. And of course, Sawyer ends up being the only person who could ever catch runaway Kate, a great metaphor for how he catches her heart on the island.

Anyone have any theories as to why Kate cooks rabbit at the end of “Recon”?

At Kate’s campfire, reminiscent of past campfires the two have bonded over, Sawyer reminds Kate how he’s not aligned with MIB/Locke or anyone else. He tells her that he plans on getting the two of them off the island in the submarine. This is interesting, considering that Kate was the one who stopped Sawyer from leaving via submarine with Juliet, back in the Dharma days. It seems Kate and Miles replace Juliet’s role for Sawyer in this episode. His redemption comes from being able to love and trust someone so much … it enables him to trust himself. And open up to others. And not be ruled by his anger.

MIB is defenseless against him.

And yet he keeps on trying? Why?

So far, it’s seemed that surviving the Smoke Monster meant that he no longer had any use for a character. He seemed to play a part in the theory that the candidates, the ones Jacob touched, can’t die until they’ve found their purpose on the island. But Smokey/MIB is filled with false promises, whereas Jacob promises nothing. He only offers choices.

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One thing that seems to hold true for every Sideways story line so far is the lesson that certain events in life are inevitable as tests of our character (fate). Some things that occur in the Sideways world are exactly the same as they originally occurred. But some things are choices (free will). In a world where the island is underwater, these characters choose one road instead of another. And as Robert Frost wrote, it makes all the difference.

A quick recap of the options not taken: Sideways Locke doesn’t meet with Jack, when the old Locke could never accept that he was handicapped; Sideways Sawyer doesn’t kill Anthony Cooper, which used to be Sawyer’s driving force in life — also notice how his folder in “Recon” is adult-like and not a note scrawled by a 9-year-old; Sideways Jack doesn’t drink, a choice that got castaway Jack into a lot of trouble and affected his relationship with his dad — it characterized both of them; Sideways Sayid doesn’t go after Keamy on his own and he doesn’t claim Nadia for himself; Sideways Kate doesn’t abandon Claire — “What Kate Doesn’t Do” is what that episode should be called, since Kate used to abandon or kill anyone who got in her way of escaping the law; and finally, Sideways Ben doesn’t sacrifice Alex in pursuit of his own power.

In this Sideways world, did Jacob never touch anyone and that’s why they’re so much healthier psychologically? Or are they making good choices because when Jughead blew, their island spirits and memories got zapped into their Sideways-world bodies?

Sounds like a preposterous theory. And next week should be filled with more of the same — it’s a Richard-centric episode. Prepare for his guy-liner to finally be explained. It should be an exciting one.

Kudos to Naveen Andrews, Emilie de Ravin and, of course, Terry O’Quinn for making their bad selves so enjoyable and believable, once again. And how the writers manage to make Sawyer’s bait-and-switch schemes so interesting and unpredictable is amazing. He’s a pretty complex character. It’s not easy to play Batman, after all. Josh Holloway does it incredibly well.

As usual, comments, questions (and hopefully, answers) are welcome below.

By Laura Carney

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