After a several month absence, I return with to 100 Days of Fan Favorites with one of my earliest ships and one that taught me a lot about what fandom could be.
As a young fangirl, I was fortunate enough to start out liking canon ships (or ones that would eventually become canon after several seasons of waiting). It was easy. There was a lot of material to analyze and appreciate and my patience was eventually rewarded with cute first kisses and proposals in beekeeping suits. Then I found Heroes and its fandom. This was not a show that was very good at creating compelling canon relationships. The writing for them was never very good and the characters in them often had more chemistry with characters outside the relationship than their partners. It was in this fandom that I first fell in love with a ship that was never going to be canon but presented me with a compelling relationship dynamic that I could not get enough of. It’s the fandom that gave me a deep love for non-canon ships and the possibilities they provide us as fangirls. It’s the one that brought me to my first fandom friend and one that I continue to hold close to this day.
There is not a version of Heroes in which Tim Kring meant to create a compelling relationship arc between Mohinder Suresh and Gabriel Gray (aka Sylar).They seemed intended to be simple foils, one looking to harm others and one looking to save them. Their pasts were some of the more entangled on the show, as Sylar killed Papa Suresh, but over the course of the show, their history together was all but forgotten. Which is unfortunate, not just for me as a shipper, but because there was a lot of interesting character development that could have been combined by placing these two in each others’ paths more frequently.
Regardless of what Kring had imagined for these two, I found two men who were both on a searching for acceptance. Mohinder lived his life feeling like he could never do enough to gain the approval of his father. He always fell short, despite his best efforts. Gabriel, on the other hand, struggled with the idea of being enough as he was. His mother, who loved him and saw a world of potential in him, wasn’t satisfied with his ambition to take over his father’s watch repair business. Chandra, who saw him as a test subject first and a person second, was ready to discard him when he failed to be useful in proving his theories.
If they had met at this point, they would have been two people who probably could have found a great deal of comfort in each other. Both had been rejected by Chandra for not living up to an ideal in his head. Both were searching for a place where they could be accepted and valued. But they didn’t meet at this point. Instead, Sylar killed Chandra and in doing so, unknowingly set Mohinder on a quest to complete his father’s research and avenge his death. At the same time, Sylar went off to become a serial killer and collect the powers of others for his own use. Their lives were now on very different paths, ones that seemed almost destined to intersect at some point.
And that is exactly what happened though in a very different way than Mohinder might have imagined and hoped for. Instead of merely finding Sylar and avenging his father, Mohinder accidentally befriended him. In his defense, Sylar was impersonating Zane Taylor at the time. In their first meeting, both men found something that they needed in each other. Mohinder found his first real proof that his father’s theories and everything both Suresh men had worked for in life was correct. There really were evolved humans and one of them actually wanted his help. After being dismissed by the others he tried to contact for so long, finding someone who not only believed him but was also grateful to him was refreshing and gave him the necessary hope to continue moving forward. And after his dismissal by Chandra for not being special or important enough, to have his son look at him with absolute awe and amazement gave him the validation and acceptance he craved from Chandra. And in that moment, despite his ultimate intention to either con or kill Mohinder in order to get the list, I think there was a part of him that wanted to hold on to that feeling as long as possible.
They set off on a roadtrip together to meet someone else and while we didn’t get to see the events that occurred, it’s safe to say that they bonded. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine they talked about their past and found common ground with each other. When we meet up with them again in Montana, Sylar acts like he thinks Mohinder hung the moon and while some of that is still an act, I’ve never thought it all was. He’s proven himself to be comfortable with killing at this point. It would be simpler to find out where the list was located and take it from Mohinder. Instead, he offers to essentially go on an extended road trip with him to locate the others (still with the intention of killing them and taking their powers). It’s a little much for Mohinder, who met the man less than a week ago, but there is also relief that he’s no longer alone in his quest.
It isn’t until they return to New York that Mohinder realizes the man traveling with him is not Zane Taylor. He realizes that he’s befriended the man who killed his father and is understandably horrified. By this point, Sylar has very comfortably settled himself into Mohinder’s life. He tells Mohinder how alone he used to feel and that Mohinder has given him hope. It’s one further moment of pain and betrayal for Mohinder who know can no longer believe that this is true. The bond he thought he formed and the genuine connection that was made was all a charade, something to manipulate him.
That deeper betrayal hangs heavily over Mohinder’s actions. He tries to distance himself from the hurt by falling back on the comfort of science and his father’s research. He tells himself that everything he does is for revenge for his father’s murder. That’s certainly the emotion on the surface of everything but by digging a little deeper, this scene becomes even richer. Despite the fact that nothing else in the show points to Mohinder being a naturally cruel and vindictive person, he tortures Sylar and takes pleasure in his pain. It goes beyond revenge and coupled with Sylar’s taunting about Mohinder’s inadequacies in his father’s mind and his insignificance (things that it seems were confided during their road trip), speaks to a more intimate form of betrayal, which may explain the odd eroticism that many found in the scene. It’s entangled with his father’s murder but it’s not the sole force driving his actions.
Even after Mohinder tries to kill him, Sylar gives him a second chance. He tries to appeal to Mohinder and asks him to redeem him. It’s undercut by his frustrated plea for the list but once free, he again returns to the idea that perhaps the story isn’t over for these two as a team. He explains that he wasn’t begging for his life, but rather, offering Mohinder a chance to keep his. It’s a seemingly weird choice for Sylar to even consider not killing the man who just tortured him and who would now be actively working against him. But it’s fitting for the complicated history and attachment these two seem to share. Mohinder, understandably, does not take Sylar up on his offer and more torture ensues before an injured Sylar flees Mohinder’s apartment.
Even after all of this, Sylar can’t let go of the lifeline Mohinder offered him as Zane. When he’s scared that he might blow up New York, it’s Mohinder he calls. When Mohinder isn’t feeling particularly helpful or trustful toward him, he returns home. He tries to go back to just being Gabriel Gray the watchmaker but once again, his mother pushes him for more. In his rage and frustration he kills her and in the aftermath, begins to fully embrace his role as a villain. He could justify his previous murders but this was a step beyond that. He decides that maybe he is destined for greatness but in a darker way than his mother envisioned for him. He’s now killed two of the three people who have expressed any form of interest in him and the third no longer wanted anything to do with him. He’s lost the few things tethering any sense of morality than might have remained and his feelings of entitlement continued to grow. Only he was worthy of the powers others possessed and he would do whatever necessary to obtain them.
Aided by the newly acquired powers of Isaac Mendez, he has a vision of the future in which he has assumed Nathan Petrelli’s identity and become president of the United States. In this future, guess who is right there by his side as lead scientist working to control the evolved human program? If you guessed Mohinder, you’d be right. Once again, under this assumed identity, they are friends. Sylar is familiar enough with him to be concerned that he’s not sleeping properly and to trust him above nearly everyone else. It is still a con to achieve his own ends, but these cons always seem to end up with him being friendlier with Mohinder than is strictly necessary.
But of course, this is a superhero show and the villain doesn’t win. He’s defeated by Peter and presumed dead by everyone, including Mohinder. He wakes up in Mexico without his powers and in a desperate attempt to regain them, sets off on another road trip, this time to find Mohinder in New York. Mohinder is understandably shocked to hear from him but agrees to help in order to protect his adopted daughter. Once at his lab, he reveals that he has little desire to comply in the way that Sylar would like and they engage in a battle of wills. Mohinder is insisting on a blood draw and stands there, tourniquet in hand with a look of extreme impatience on his face until Sylar acquiesces. Their facial expressions make this scene much more dramatic than was likely intended, but it illustrates the fact that Mohinder is entirely unimpressed by all of Sylar’s posturing to be the most feared. When the results show that Sylar was deliberately infected with the virus taking away his powers by the Company Mohinder is now working for, they were momentarily united in their outrage. Nothing ever came of it because the season was cut short by the 2007 Writer’s Strike, but I would have been interested to know what would have become of their story had the season continued as originally planned.
Seeing the two of them pair up to take down the Company’s control over the evos and regain the shaky friendship that had previously existed between them would have been more satisfying for each of their character arcs than what actually occurred. It still allows for the back-and-forth of Sylar’s redemption arc that would take place over the next two seasons and would have given Mohinder something more substantial to do than give himself powers and turn into a bug out of a desire to be one of the evolved humans he was studying. Sylar would have recognized that drive to be special and there are a number of interesting conversations that could have taken place between them about self-acceptance and finding your own place in the world.
They were never going to be simple. How could they be with the weight of their particular history hanging over everything they did? But they did inadvertently find a kindred spirit of sorts in each other. They found someone who made them feel less alone and at least in the first season, that was the message of the show. It was this basic need to connect with another after separate lifetimes of feeling set apart from those around them, never able to fit in or gain acceptance, that they were able to give to each other. It would have been a long journey toward friendship and true trust and while I’m a little disappointed we never got to see it, their stories continued to exist and be explored in fandom and it was more than enough for me. The dynamic I found may not have been intentional but it didn’t make it any less real or valid to me and my own enjoyment.