Does Sawyer still have a death wish?
When Sawyer faced down that polar bear in the pilot, it seemed more like him being a badass rather than some kind of death wish. It wasn't until "Confidence Man" that we learned that he had so much self-loathing that he was willing to be tortured and possibly killed for something he didn't do. And then in "Outlaws" we found out that in trying to complete his lifelong quest for revenge, he'd murdered the wrong man. That, more than his realization that he'd become the man he blamed for ruining his life, was why he seemed to actively be courting death. And when he's bleeding out after Sayid stabs him, he tries to goad Jack into just letting him die. In retrospect, his trying to put the marshall out of his misery involved not only mercy and compassion but I think a good deal of projection.
If Sawyer no longer wants to die, at what point did that change? I think that scene in "Solitary," where Kate and even Jack -- who had earlier told him no one cared and refused to keep changing his bandage -- welcome him with smiles, is a turning point. Over the course of his time on the island, Sawyer faces death several times, but it's under different circumstances. He takes a bullet to protect Walt. Even though he's been shot, he saves Michael from drowning. And when they're all captured by the Tailies, he refuses to cooperate because he thinks his friends are in danger. Somewhere along the line, he stopped being about every man for himself, and started putting his friends first, even when it turns out they don't put him first and don't even consider him a friend. Which is the most frustrating thing: no one else can see that Sawyer has changed.
Sawyer readily volunteers for any risky mission, partly because I think he hates being left out and he's desperately seeking Jack's approval. (C'mon, that's totally canon!) It could be argued that he considers himself dispensable and that's why he's so eager to saddle up for each showdown.
By the time he gets captured, Sawyer appears to just be looking out for number one again, telling Kate that Jack might be dead for all they know. He does not try to rescue Jack but -- he also makes no effort to rescue himself or Kate. He's been robbed of hope and at that point, I think his only thought is to just face death like a man. He tells Kate that Jack is making the right decision in not doing the surgery. He doesn't expect Jack to do anything to save him. I like to think that, at that point, Jack and Sawyer were both convinced that The Others were likely going to kill them anyway and that refusing to cooperate was the only way to go out with dignity. But Sawyer's determined to not deliberately put Kate in harm's way, which escaping surely would. He doesn't run and when Pickett is about to kill him, he doesn't fight. Jack making that deal saves Sawyer's life. But I like to think that it's partly the knowledge that Jack is cooperating rather than see him killed that finally spurs Sawyer to act, that and making sure Kate is safe. And that's why he won't let her go back for Jack immediately.
Does he really not care about Jack? I'd say his being so choked-up when admitting to Hurley that they had to leave Jack behind is proof he does care. And I do think he still regards Jack as his best friend on the island, even if that's never going to be reciprocated. Which is a sad recurring motif for Sawyer: Every time he does something unselfish, he's rebuffed. No wonder the guy wants to give up.
I think whether Sawyer wants to live or die depends on how accepted he feels by his fellow survivors. It's not just whether Kate loves him or Jack thinks of him as a friend, but that Claire trusts him with Aaron and Hurley stops by to hang out. Hurley seems to be the only one who can see through his jerky act to see that he's really just lonely. It does bother me that Sawyer is denied the chance to even choose whether he'll go on the mission to save Jack. For now it's just lovelorn, lonely, selfish Sawyer and that feels like a step backward for the show. But Sawyer put himself out there for Kate and since she made it clear she doesn't care, it does make a kind of sense that he'd retreat. So I guess he's always been a "one step forward, two steps back" kind of guy.
It's been suggested many times that Sawyer's ultimate fate is to sacfice himself to save someone else, that that is his redemption arc. Sawyer's self-esteem has never been very solid but (*tears up as I type this*) that is the one thing he could do for someone else, is to die for them. I don't know that's how it's going to go but I wouldn't be surprised, either. So, I think that, much like Jack Bauer, Sawyer never sets a high value on his life and that at any moment, it could be forfeit. And that he would be okay with that. I get the idea that Sawyer feels like he's been living on borrowed time since his father surely would have killed him if he'd found him under the bed that night.
This one's much shorter!
And I typed up a long meta about Kate's loyalty (or lack of it). But it boils down to the fact that, no matter how doggedly determined she is now in getting Jack back, she hasn't always taken his side. Even more than Sawyer, I think she's about "every woman for herself," all her attempts to reinvent herself as the island go-to girl aside. From manipulating Jack and Sawyer to get to her case, to poisoning Michael to get his spot on the raft to siding with Locke over Jack in opening the hatch, she routinely sabotages her friendships to get what she wants. Her current brushoff of Sawyer is just the latest trend in her switching loyalties. I don't see that loyalty to Jack and Sawyer needs to be mutually exclusive. At the end of the day, I think Kate is ultimately out for Kate. And the idea that only *she* can save Jack (like in the cave-in) is just the worst kind of Mary Sueing.
A lot of this is bad writing, to be sure, especially in the interest of keeping the triangle fluid and never settling on one definite pairing. But Kate is definitely the one who comes off the worst. It's not just romantic fickleness. It's her inabilty to be there for someone else.
And where might that come from? Her mother lied to her about who her real father was, and when she realized that her real father was an abusive scumbag, she snapped. Despite Kate's canon denial, I do believe she was molested by her father, otherwise her actions are just too extreme. Her attempt to save her mother backfired horribly and her mother ended up despising her. The woman definitely has trust issues. And then again, every time she gets close to someone (like Tom) they end up dead. So, yeah, she has all kinds of intimacy issues and she's had to learn to be cold and manipulate people to survive. I guess that's why I can't just take her fluctuating devotion to Jack or Sawyer as true love because she is so opportunistic. I ask myself if she would die for either of them and you know, I can't answer that, whereas I am positive either of them would die for her, or each other.
ETA: True, she didn't leave Sawyer when he told her to run and she refused to leave Jack behind. When anyone is hurt or in trouble, I think you can count on her. (Unless you spook her and remind her of her father.) So she's good in a crisis. But the rest of the time? Not so much.
And yet she's still the female I like best on the island! The others seem reduced to just being mommies, or they have to carry this whole character load of being leaders that comes off really forced. Maybe because Kate was there at the very beginning, I've just been imprinted and I can't ever give up on her entirely.