Character Development Case Study #8 – Sylar (Gabriel Gray)
(There will be spoilers!)
You don’t learn much about ‘Sylar’ until the very end of Season 1 of Heroes. He’s the boogeyman, someone in the shadows – a monster. What one of the last episodes of Season 1 does – very cleverly – is shock us with the revelation that Sylar is in fact Gabriel Gray, a watchmaker’s son with a mother who has ambitions for him to be something bigger and better. So much so, that she can’t accept and be happy with who he is. She’s not actively nasty – just encouraging to a fault. You start to see the psychology of who Sylar is, and how he became the man he is in the show.
By season 3 it’s revealed that Sylar is driven by a hunger that’s a part of his super power. It’s the power to understand how things work, particularly the powers of others. Sylar is driven to cut their heads off, expose their brains and study the differences that enable them to access their powers. In doing so, Sylar gains them for himself.
Later, he starts to be driven by a need to be seen as something more than just a killer, teaming with Mr Bennett to work for the Company. But more often than not it’s the hunger that wins out.
Because of Heroes’ time hopping narrative, we get to see a number of developments of Sylar’s character. Unchecked, he goes on to become president of the United States, taking on Nathan’s identity by using the power to alter perception. But the more interesting future is the one where Sylar becomes a loving family man, redeemed we presume by Noah Bennett, as Sylar’s son is named Noah. This iteration of Sylar is one who’s returned to the Gabriel Gray persona, having overcome the hunger that turned him into a monster. As is the nature of TV shows, they then turn this around and make it appear as though it will never happen, twisting and turning Sylar’s development, swinging him from good to evil and back again. It’s a testament to the development of the character that they were able to do that in a mostly realistic way. As far as Heroes was ever realistic anyway!