Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Sylar
Volume Two Summary: Woke up in the middle of nowhere, injured and minus his powers, in the care of the illusionist Candice. Murdered Candice with a coffee mug. Got picked up by Maya and Alejandro. Wooed Maya. Murdered Alejandro. Kidnapped Mohinder and Molly. Discovered the Company infected him with the Shanti virus. Murdered Maya and forced Mohinder to test the virus-curing life-restoring heal-anything blood on her. Got chased away by Elle. Used the virus-curing life-restoring heal-anything blood to get his powers back.
Analysis: Out of necessity, Sylar was pretty much sidelined for Volume Two. As Zachary Quinto’s availability would soon be jeopardized by his role in the Star Trek movie, the second season featured just enough of everybody’s favorite brain-stealing serial killer to keep him in the mix without giving him a center stage in the action. While this was less satisfying than having a fully powered-up Sylar causing havoc in a big, juicy, dastardly, epic plotline, it was a far better solution than having no Sylar at all.
Much as with Peter’s amnesia, the loss of Sylar’s powers gave the character an effective reboot at the start of the season. However, unlike Peter, who spent the season adrift and unfocused, Sylar managed to retain his core characteristics: even without his powers, he was narcissistic, egomaniacal, and dangerous.
Sylar’s thread in Volume Two mostly intersected with that of Maya and Alejandro, the much-disparaged super-powered twins, who have been widely singled out as representative of all that was wrong with Heroes’ sophomore season. The twins were played by a couple of likeable, attractive actors (Dania Ramirez and Shalim Ortiz), and their codependent abilities had a lot of potential, but their plotline suffered from too much repetitive action. (This problem could have been eliminated if their introduction had been delayed until fourth episode when their paths crossed with Sylar’s, as everything we’d learned about them up until that point -- that they were on the run from the law, that Maya depended upon Alejandro to neutralize her deadly power, that they were heading for New York to seek help from Chandra Suresh -- was rehashed at that time.) After they met up with Sylar… well, it might not have been the most fascinating plotline in Heroes’ history, but it worked out fine.
In Volume Two, Sylar traveled thousands of miles in the hopes that Mohinder could somehow help him regain his powers. In the context of their encounters last season, this made sense: Mohinder is the only character with whom Sylar has any kind of connection, and if it’s not exactly friendship, it’s something other than the flat contempt and disdain with which he regards everyone else. We saw this last season in the bleak alternate future of “Five Years Gone” where we discover that Sylar, in the guise of President Nathan, has spent the past five years messing with his advisor Mohinder’s head, and in “.07%”, where Sylar, upset about the suggestion that he’s destined to destroy New York, reflexively calls Mohinder for guidance. (In one of the show’s best visual gags, Mohinder answers the phone while standing amongst the wreckage of his apartment, which Sylar recently trashed in the process of torturing him, and listens, aghast, while Sylar obliviously yammers on about needing his help. When it dawns on Sylar that Mohinder is secretly calling for backup, he seems embarrassed and surprised, as though it hadn’t occurred to him until that moment that Mohinder isn’t actually his friend and ally).
Sylar had a series of divine moments at the end of Volume Two: calling Mohinder from Mohinder’s apartment to offer up veiled threats while stroking sleeping Molly’s hair (yes, it was dumb of Sylar to give Mohinder this advance notice of his presence, and yes, it was dumb of Mohinder not to take advantage of the warning and summon the cavalry, but it was such a cool, chilling moment that I’m willing to extend my credulity a bit), offering Mohinder breakfast while introducing him to a cheerily oblivious Maya, trying to intimidate Mohinder in the laboratory while Mohinder stalls for time. All of this came complete with enough meaningful eye contact and charged dialogue to make even the most oblivious of viewers start to wonder what the heck was up with those two. (Everything in the world is not always about sex -- I know! That surprises me, too! -- but, given Mohinder’s riotous beauty and general desirability, it’s one obvious explanation for Sylar’s Mohindercentric behavior).
Prognosis: Brimming with possibilities. After having spent a season in limbo, Sylar is back up to speed and ready to start raising hell once again.
Suggested Course of Action: There’s a subtle yet critical moment in “Powerless” when Sylar takes the remaining vial of blood and turns to leave, right before Elle bursts in and blasts him. This is our first-ever glimpse of a reasonable Sylar: having taken what he wanted from Mohinder, he’s willing to let Mohinder, Maya, and Molly go free, even though he clearly has the upper hand. This is all the more remarkable since he made it clear he was planning on murdering Maya after he got his powers back, and since he’d previously tried to kill cute little Molly for her ability in Volume One. Obviously, something in Sylar has changed, and, just as obviously, Heroes wants us to take note of it.
This has the potential to be interesting -- characters have to change and evolve in order to keep audiences interested -- but I’m going to raise a warning flag and hope Heroes keeps in mind a key point: a redemption arc for Sylar might have great dramatic potential, but a complex, multi-layered character does not necessarily mean a sympathetic character. In the case of Sylar, it’s far more important to keep him complex than to try to make him sympathetic, because the latter is doomed to failure. We can like Sylar and be entertained by him, and we can understand how he rationalizes the awful things he does (it’s a credit to Heroes that we do like him, and we do understand him) -- but we can’t sympathize with him, nor should we ever be expected to, no matter how much Sylar evolves. His actions are irredeemable. We’re never going to reach the point where we think, “Yeah, I totally would have cut open Isaac’s head and stolen his brain if I’d been in that situation!” He’s a villain, not a tragic figure or a victim of circumstance. Give him overwrought motivations and make him larger than life, but don’t try to make us believe he’s not as bad as we think he is. He is, and we know it.
Like Peter Petrelli, Sylar has both a strong belief in destiny and a ferocious need to be special. Let him find a purpose above and beyond stealing brains and accumulating powers. In Volume Three, Sylar needs to: a) find a goal, and b) focus his obsessive, maniacal energies on accomplishing it, whatever shape it takes. Becoming President. Taking over the world. Destroying the Company as revenge for infecting him with the virus. Killing Peter Petrelli. Playing endless mind games on Mohinder. Something.
Here’s hoping sweet-natured Maya gets a chance to take her revenge against Sylar for preying on her affections and murdering her brother (and, yes, for shooting her in the chest). Maya, for all her incredible power, has been a bit of patsy up to this point. It would be nice if Volume Three saw her realize her potential as a force to be reckoned with, and let’s face it: Sylar owes her.
Let Sylar use more of his powers. Sure, the telekinesis is cool, but it’d be awesome to see him freeze or melt someone every once in a while, just to mix things up. Like Peter with his flapping long coat, or Hiro with his samurai sword, Sylar was an iconic figure in Volume One. Remember the image at the end of “Landslide” where Sylar stands on a rooftop overlooking New York, his hands glowing with Ted Sprague’s radioactive power? Volume Two drifted away from the use of such singular, startling images, which was a disappointment. Sylar is a super-villain, and as such is deserving of the occasional epic beauty shot.
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