*SPOILERS EVERYWHERE* Don't read this post if you haven't seen Lost before. This is intended as a retrospective review from someone who has seen the show before, and so will not resonate as well or be particularly revealing for someone who hasn't.
Sawyer is a character who, while always amusing, is generally predictable. You can always look to him to make up ridiculous nicknames, to show macho bravado, and to flirt incessantly with any woman who looks remotely attractive to him. He's the jerk with the heart of gold, the rogue with a past, the one who refuses to take any dangerous situation seriously. These traits define his character for much of the series, though one can definitely observe a change from think-for-your-selfer to defender of the group, like any good Han Solo.
But what I want to talk about here is how his relationship with Kate seems to change him. From day one, we know that Sawyer has the hots for her, but we're never given much of an impression that he would genuinely change himself in order to get her. Yes, he says that he loves her but, hell, so does everyone else on the island. More seriously, despite what he says in how much he cares for her, you're never really convinced that the two of them hooking up will make him become anything but what he appears to be: a charismatic, happy-go-lucky, independent philanderer.
However, this seems to change subtly in season 4. Presented with the opportunity to finally leave the island, Sawyer tells Kate that he's going to stay. What's more, Sawyer asks Kate to join him, to move in with him, and to make a life on the island together. Given the context, this is tantamount to a marriage proposal. Kate is unable to take the offer seriously, but Sawyer looks as serious as we've ever seen him. When she later spends the night with him halfway through the season, Sawyer is happy as can be, viewing it as her being close to taking up his offer to live together on the island, no matter what others say. But then he discovers that the truth is anything but. In a bittersweet scene, Sawyer tries to reason with Kate about what's bothering her, but fails to reach her (mainly because she's there to spy on Locke's group and has to manufacture an excuse to leave). I found this poignant because, of all people, Sawyer tries to solve a problem just like someone in a marriage or relationship would, by talking about what Kate really wants and how he can factor that into his own point of view.
Why the change?
This isn't something I really noticed the first time I watched Lost, but Sawyer here genuinely tries to shape himself into something solid and lasting. Faced with the choice of the island or the real world, Sawyer chooses the island and, in that choice, it's as if he's decided to grow up. Instead of going with the flow of things, rejecting to look out for others, and following his own interests, Sawyer embraces as his own those who chose to stay on the island. And he tries to get the one person he truly loves, Kate, to be a part of this with him.
As for why, I think that Sawyer wised up. From conversations with Ben and others, Sawyer can see that what Kate wants is someone who is good at heart, caring, and selfless (like Jack). This shift in his goals and interests, this maturing, is what he believes Kate will stay for, and so he makes that change his number one objective. It's hard not to appreciate how much this says about the depth of his caring for her. It's frankly adorable, like watching a gruff hairy dog that never listens to you suddenly trot up to a cute dog, lick her, and quietly walk along beside her.
Dog analogies aside, I thought the change in Sawyer's character worthy of note. For a character defined by his independence, it was surprising to see him try to stretch as far as he could to sway Kate to spend the rest of her life with him. It doesn't work out for Kate and Sawyer in the end, but it is the first change we see of what results in him becoming a responsible leader of all the others remaining on the island after the main survivors split off.
I actually don't plan on writing much about Desmond himself here so much as I want to point out why it is that he's everyone's favorite character. The funniest part is that the reason for this is because the writers failed. They tried to write him a certain way, but screwed up. The result is to ironically make him better than he would have been if he had 'worked as intended'.
Lost is defined by showing us characters who are inherently flawed. Nobody is perfect. The average character of the show is a person who tries to do good but is prevented from easily doing so by a crippling imperfection, usually deriving from a past experience. Here are some examples:
- Jack – Great, determined, good leader. Doesn't know when to quit, hates leading, and cries a lot.
- Locke – Capable, caring. Rejects the status quo if it doesn't have something he is driving towards. Needs lessons in anger management.
- Jin – Entertaining. Resolved to do the right thing. Occasionally forgets that he can be a good husband.
- Sayid – Great guy. Has trouble not torturing people.
- Charlie – Cool dude. Drug addict.
- Claire – Cute with baby. Unspeakably annoying.
- Hurley – Adorable heart of the group. Technically useless.
- Vincent – Dog. Never around.
- Michael – WAAAAAALT!
I could come up with more, but the point is that every character has at least one clearly negative trait that prevents them from being fully admirable.
Pictured: Vincent, who tragically never gets his own episode
But what about Desmond? What makes Desmond an exception (and a writing failure) is that the audience is informed that Desmond's weakness is that he is a coward, but he is clearly anything but. There is nothing this guy does that doesn't reek of courage. When Locke flips out because he messed up the hatch, Desmond takes charge and risks his life to save everyone on the island. When Desmond receives visions of Charlie dying, he goes out of his way to stop fate itself from succeeding. When presented with the fact that the love of his life is out in the real world and far away from the island, he does everything within his power to reunite them both while simultaneously saving everyone he can.
Even in moments where we are supposed to view him as a cowardly failure, we see him as anything but. Any scene he has with Charles Widmore is indicative of this; Widmore tells Desmond why he's useless and Desmond stands up to him and refuses to say the same. When Widmore tells Desmond that he isn't worthy of marrying Penny, Desmond completely ignores him. If this is cowardice then how are we supposed to tell when Desmond is being courageous??
This is why I say that the writers failed. Unlike the other characters, whose flaws we can visibly see, we are simply told that Desmond is a coward but not given any actual evidence. It's like George Lucas telling you that Darth Vader is intended to be a super cuddly nice guy and then him putting you in a chair to watch Star Wars for the first time; it just doesn't make sense! Consequently, because Desmond is arguably the only character in the show without a genuine flaw, he becomes everyone's favorite guy, the character you can always root for, with an epic romantic odyssey besides.
I have less to say about how the overall story of season 4 progressed because it was relatively short and wasn't objectionable. Well, let me correct that: everything that happened on the island was pretty cool. We see Jack's camp versus Locke's camp, the warring factions of Ben's Others versus Widmore's freighter mercenaries, and we start to see interesting manipulations of the island's supernatural side-effects, such as time travel.
By contrast, everything that happens in flash-forwards was a pain in my ass. Seriously, if it had been less of a chore, I might have skipped these scenes. It isn't necessarily because the events within them are uninteresting, it's because the characters themselves moan endlessly about how we should go back to the island, just like I am. This show is based on weird stuff happening on the island, so why the hell are we off it? Flashbacks are one thing, but to have actual plot occur off-island when the real important stuff is what happens on it made it feel like a depressing waste of time. It also features Jack at his most annoying (beardy alcoholic).
On the bright side, I'm really looking forward to season 5 because, flash-forwards aside, I want to see the progression in Sawyer and Juliet (who was ridiculously hard to write about and pin down, if you couldn't tell). More to come soon!