Sylar and Specialness

I’m bound to have a number of reflections on episodes of Heroes over the coming weeks and most likely months (I will need to return the DVDs to the public library before I’ll have time to watch the whole first season). In this post we reflect on the revelations in the episode “Six Months Earlier” about the character “Sylar”.

Is there anyone who doesn’t feel at some point the way he did, that that they are “meant for something more”, that they are supposed to be special? Is there anyone who doesn’t hope at some moment in childhood if not in adulthood that they are a chosen one, like Will Stanton in The Dark Is Rising series, like Anakin Skywalker and later his son Luke in Star Wars? The reason these stories resonate with us is that these are classic mythic themes, that seem to touch on human universals.

So what makes this messianic impulse into heroism or homicidal insanity? The key seems to be self-centeredness versus self-sacrifice. Peter Petrelli was willing to fall to his death to save the world. Gabriel Gray (aka “Sylar”) was willing to kill in order to have a greater sense of self-importance. Luke Skywalker makes the distinction clearest when he is being trained by Yoda: yearning for adventure may lead to some excitement, but if excitement or a personal sense of self importance is our goal, then any specialness we may have (and we all have some, although we usually crave for the specialness that others have) will serve the dark side.

The Bible also touches on this topic, in the case of all the would-be heroes and deliverers who first need to be humbled, to the point where they are so conscious of what they are being called to do and their own inability that they are reluctant to follow the path. Then and only then can their potential for greatness be a greatness for the greater good, rather than a self-seeking one that ultimately leads to one’s own harm as well as that of others.

In other words, one thing I like about Heroes so far, is that it explores what it in fact means to be a hero, in all the shapes and sizes that heroes come in. There are an infinite number of ways to make a difference.

The Bible and the TV series Heroes can, in the right hands, challenge us to true greatness and accomplishment of genuine value. They can also inspire delusions of grandeur that are ultimately self-seeking. The Bible can challenge us, but can also encourage the darkest sides of our characters, our most violent impulses. Yet although it is tempting to suggest that we merely find in the stories we read that which we bring with us, the truth is that a good story – wherever it may be found – is powerful when it does more than merely reinforce what we already know, but has the power to challenge our deep instincts towards self-centeredness. The Bible, in spite of its flaws, clearly has the ability to do that. So does Star Wars. I look forward to exploring Heroes further and finding out where its story leads, and what it has the power to do once it is complete. What makes some stories great is not the heroes they describe, but the heroes they challenge and inspire us to become.

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  • Drew Tatusko

    I like the tension in Sylar between being the best person he was created to be and being the person he idealizes himself to be but is not. His relationship with his mother is particularly fascinating there as you will see if you have not already.