At first glance, 'Outlaws' doesn't seem like as important episode as any of the previous two. There's no big development like with the hatch or the building of the raft, or repercussions for the murder of Ethan, and the character who is the focus of the episode is someone whose nature we already understand. However, as far as character development, as well a more critical moment for the series, it is absolutely far more important to the series.
The focus of the episode is Sawyer's quest for the boar which destroys his tent, eats his food, and seems to be going directly after him without touching anything else. Yet it's clear that this is more than a wild pig to Sawyer. The real reason Sawyer was in Sydney was to kill the man he has been hunting for the past twenty years. We learn first from his lips and then from the flashback, how and why this happened, and though he never says so, it's obvious that he believes that this boar is a reincarnation of the man he killed. However, Sawyer rather than try and redress the wrong he did has decided to chop the Gordian knot by killing it--- again.
The early sections of the episodes are very funny as Sayid's amusement at Sawyer's failure, and his early ineptitude at tracking the animal on his own, leading Kate to find him after he spends several hours running around in circles. But the mood changes when Kate agrees to help him in exchange for carte blanche. Kate may say she's doing this to get something out of him, but Sawyer (and the viewer) know better.
This leads to one of the longest and most memorable scenes in the show's first season, as Kate and Sawyer sit around a campfire, he hands out liquor bottles from the plane and they play 'I never'. Equal parts flirtation, humor, and pain, the game becomes more and more serious--- until the final revelation. Now both Kate and Sawyer have owned up to these to other people, but considering the obvious attraction that's been between them since the series began, this is a pretty painful moment for both.
Another wrinkle is added the next morning when they run into Locke (who obviously doesn't want them to know what he and Boone have been doing) and he tells them another story about the death of his sister and the appearance of a golden retriever some time later that gave comfort to his mother. He stops just short of telling them that he believes this, but it's clear he does, and it actually raises a question that even here is more than a little crazy: Is the boar the man Sawyer killed? Jack has already seen his father, Walt has created a polar bear supposedly out of something he saw in a comic book, and Boone hallucinated his sister's death. Could this island have channeled the spirit of this innocent man into a boar and put him in Sawyer's path to test him? Maybe it is, and maybe that's the real reason that when he confronts it, he can't bring himself to kill it. But by far the most important essential part of Sawyer's flashback when we see him in a bar drinking with Christian Shephard. In it Christian admits some things that he could only tell a stranger: that he is a weak man, that he doesn't blame his son for doing what he did in the deposition, and that he is beyond redemption. The encounter is full of irony for both men--- Christian gave advice that he thought would help ease Sawyer's burden, but instead led him to commit a murder that haunts him to this day. Sawyer thought leaving the bottle was a reward and a thank you, but it's pretty clear that after this Christian drank himself to death. This is the first direct link in a flashback between two of the characters (and one of the few that will be picked up on later) and one of several that will involve Christian. Many of these links are so subtle, you have to really be paying attention to get them (I missed a bunch in the second season), but it does seem to indicate that these are the real reasons behind who survived the crash. Was the island picking and choosing?
While the major focus of this episode is on Sawyer, we do spend a little time with some of the characters. Having shot Ethan a few days before, Charlie seems to be a shell of himself. He can barely look at Claire and he can't talk with Hurley, the two people he has grown closest to on the island. Some of the castaways were murderers in their past lives, but Charlie is the first to become one because of the island. Charlie managed to survive his near death experience because of his faith; now it's clear that he feels he is no longer entitled to it. Sayid, who was haunted by his own demons himself, tries to help Charlie, and it does seem to lighten his burden a little by the end of the episode. However, one could make the argument that this death reawakened some of the darkness inside of him that will lead to the major downturn of his character in the second season.
Though his screen time in this episode is limited, Jack is a crucial part of this episode as well. Jack will never know that his father is proud of him for what he does, but given what we learn about him in future episodes, I doubt he would have accepted if he had. Both he and his father say "That's why the Sox will never win the Series, but both have completely different interpretations, Christian believes in destiny, while Jack believes it is an expression of defeatism. The irony is, Jack is more in kin with his father than he would care to admit. This will become clearer as the show progresses, and will explode by Season 3 in two critical moments.
And then there's Kate, who is still balancing between Jack and Sawyer. Though it's clear that she is drawn to Sawyer, it's also apparent that aspects of his personality repulse her. (They also probably repulse Sawyer, but he hides it better.) She probably would have done this without any possibility of payback, but it's also clear that right now, she isn't ready to admit her own feelings, perhaps because she's still not there yet.
The final revelation is critical--- when he goes out into the woods the first time, Sawyer, like Sayid did before---- hears the whispering in the woods. However, like Sayid, he is inclined to dismiss the noise as his imagination. Apparently, while he is willing to believe in the reincarnation of the soul of the man he killed in this boar, he isn't willing to admit to this particular mystery of the island. (Then again, neither is Sayid) One wishes like hell there was some way to translate the whispering, because I'm pretty sure that it's different than what we heard in 'Solitary'. Are the Others looking down on this and judging? Who is?
'Outlaws' is one of the best episodes of the season. Well written and superbly acted by Holloway, Lilly and Mongahan, it is an example of what the series can rise to when the writers decide to occasionally ignore the larger mysteries and deal with character development. The revelations of the episode are critical, but what it tells us about Sawyer, Charlie, Kate and Jack is just as important and equally fascinating. You might want to see this one twice