I haven’t written anything in ages but this came to me after rewatching the Season 2 episode “Red Rock Jarod.” Jarod’s brother Kyle is shot right in front of him after they finally found each other again and it just hit me that there’s no way Jarod didn’t call Sydney at some point shortly after to talk. It’s kinda what he does. However this turned into more of a reflective piece from Sydney’s point of view than a Jarod-centric piece.
A little backstory is probably needed here. You can watch the video I made or read below.
Jarod is a Pretender. He can become anyone he wants to be. He was stolen as a child by The Centre and raised by a Psychiatrist named Sydney while they used his intelligence for their research. He escaped as an adult and is on an eternal quest to help others and find his family while at the same time being chased relentlessly by The Centre – but he still checks in with the few people he grew up with at The Centre, including Sydney.
Sydney is the only parental figure Jarod has ever known and is therefore like a father to him. What makes the dynamic work is that Sydney has an attachment to Jarod as a surrogate son as well, but is in no position to show it often and definitely not overtly.
Ps. English is still not my first language so keep that in mind.
The Fragility of Reality
Sydney busies himself with the data analysis late into the night, although he knows, that he is actually waiting for the phone call.
He has spoken to Jarod once, briefly, since Kyle’s miraculous reappearance and subsequent death two days ago but Sydney knows from years past that it will take Jarod a day or two to decompress and think about what his feelings are on the events of that fateful night. He will call. When it comes to family, he always does.
Sometimes Sydney wonders what will happen when the inevitable day comes when Jarod finds his living family; his sister and mother confirmed alive less than one year ago. Will Jarod finally let his sounding board go, and rely on his own instincts to resolve his conflicted feelings? Jarod can shrink himself, Sydney has always noted with amusement.
The Centre operates on the assumption that Jarod will sever his final links if he locates his family. But there remains a second possibility; that meeting his family will simply open up a new set of both anxieties and curiosities for Jarod to dissect. Sydney strongly suspects that Jarod has an elaborate fantasy constructed around his family, one that will inevitably be shattered by reality once he is confronted with the actual people who has missed him for thirty years. Maybe, in short, Jarod will always have some emotionally charged event to work through, right here on the phone with his old mentor.
Likely, this line of contemplation is his own vanity.
The wishful thinking of a lonely and regretful man.
Sydney can’t tell anymore.
Sometimes, too, Sydney feels like he himself is trapped in the middle of a giant simulation; one in which he is forced to care about catching Jarod. He dutifully tags along on retrieval missions, and passively allows his phones and email to be tapped. He writes reports to the Tower, in which he rattles off psychobabble detailing Jarod’s inherent fragility and emotional neediness. Even though all of these mouthed words are belied on a daily basis for anyone paying attention to Jarod’s frank thriving out in the world.
Once upon a time, Sydney believed it all, but not anymore. Not after two years. It was they who needed Jarod, and the idea that it was actually the other way around had never been anything more than a self-serving fantasy.
The phone rings.
Sydney doesn’t jump but stares at it for a full two rings before languidly picking it up.
“Sydney, how would your life had been different if Jacob had died?” Jarod asks without preamble or introduction, as is tradition.
Exactly the same, except I would have spent Christmases with you, Sydney thinks.
But what he says is; “The grief would have been briefer, Jarod. In some ways, Jacob has been dying for twenty-five years. Why do you ask this now?”
“I feel… nothing,” Jarod says. Sydney waits. There is always more.
Honestly, it surprises him how long it takes Jarod to verbally spin things out of his mind. It was tempting to imagine that thoughts in Jarod’s head were aligned neatly like a row of ducks, but long experience taught Sydney it was more of a maelstrom, one that somehow constructed an idea that was greater than its messy constituents.
“I should feel something, shouldn’t I, Sydney? My brother died, for real this time, confirmed. I gave his heart to another boy. So why don’t I feel sadness or grief?”
“You already processed your grief when you thought he’d died the first time around,” Sydney says. “It’s not unexpected for the response to be less pronounced this time. You didn’t add any new memories with your brother’s unexpected survival, so this is merely an extension of his previous death.”
On the terminal in front of him, Sydney’s messaging service begins to flash. IT has noticed Jarod’s call and begun the trace, and probably woken up Broots to drag him in at midnight. All futile. Jarod might let them trace the call or he might not, but either way, they weren’t going to catch him by surprise.
“That’s the rub, isn’t it?” Jarod says bitterly, his anger showing through. Sydney considers that progress. Jarod always needed to let out whatever was bothering him, lest it emotionally festers. In the past, The Centre had often taken Sydney’s tolerance of Jarod’s outbursts to be coddling, but Sydney knew it to be vital for Jarod’s continued functioning.
Too much internalization of the Pretender abilities was how you got an Angelo – all intuition, very little coherent output, a being overwhelmed by the sheer stimuli assaulting him.
“I never had a chance to get to know him at all.” Jarod continues. “You know… he told me he was looking for me, but following you? If you hadn’t been chasing me, perhaps we could have had some time together, to get to know one another. But the chase has stolen that from me too.”
Sydney suddenly notices the shift in Jarod’s train of thought and straightens up in his seat. Normally Jarod enjoys stringing them along, even when he complains about it; it’s part of the game. Expressing regret for maintaining contact with The Centre marked a new and dangerous turning point for Jarod. As Sydney had warned The Centre on many occasions, Jarod could decide to walk away at any time, and they would have no hope of finding him, were he to choose to really hide. Only his connections to the team hunting him down, Miss Parker included, kept him in contact.
He was still on the phone though. That meant something.
It wasn’t an end to their relationship, not yet.
“I wonder if the rest of my family is looking for me too, and can’t find me,” Jarod says after a few seconds of silence. “They looked like they wanted to see me, you know, that day.” Still biting, bitter, not sorrowful. This is not grief.
“I’m sure they are,” Sydney acknowledges. “They’ve been looking for you a long time too.”
A soft platitude, but one he chooses to share at this moment, resisting the long habit of deflection. One of these days, The Centre was going to have to face its decisions, in regards to Jarod’s family. He had advocated for giving Jarod some of his history in the past, on the grounds for just such a scenario – one in which Jarod was tempted to cut himself off; hopeless that his contact with The Centre would lead to any productive information. Carrots and sticks, it wasn’t a difficult concept. But besides the one picture that one time, The Centre was adamant that no scraps of information get through.
Jarod pauses on the other end, evidently unsure what to do with this platitude, mild as it is. “You’re being unusually honest today,” he counters. “Is The Centre trying a different tack after all? Radical honesty?”
“Not particularly,” Sydney says, smiling, although Jarod can’t see it. More honesty. It was refreshing. “But you know The Centre and I are not the same, Jarod. Perhaps it is I who is tired of falsehoods.” Now he has moved on to a dangerous line of conversation, given that he is probably actively being spied on and certainly being recorded.
“Do you have any additional information for me Sydney? About Kyle, my family, anything?”
“If I had anything, I would have told you already, Jarod. You know that.”
“Do I?” Jarod wonders softly. “If The Centre held a gun to your head, would you choose me or choose yourself? I think we both know the answer here.”
Your survival is my survival, Sydney thinks. The thought of Jarod getting hurt sends a cold wave through his heart and the acknowledgement of this raises a question in his mind; Who is dependent on whom, the mentor or the brilliant student?
At that moment, Sydney has a rush of insight: The Centre doesn’t refuse to give Jarod any information on the grounds that he will run away and never come back. They choose to do so because they are afraid that Jarod’s anger would be sufficient to bring the whole complex down. He could destroy them, once he had what he wanted. And Sydney’s ongoing job was to tame that anger, again and again.
“The guns are always present, even when they’re not,” Sydney tells him.
“My brother couldn’t take it,” Jarod says, soft as a bird. “They put the gun into his hand, and it was too much. Do you still think it’s too much for me as well?”
No, Sydney thinks. No hesitation. How obvious could it be after two years? Out loud, he hedges. “I used to think you were more fragile than you turned out to be, Jarod.”
Although you still need midnight hand-holding phone calls.
There is another long pause on the other end.
Sydney wonders if Jarod still considers himself fragile; if he ever really contemplated it in light of his actions in the outside world. A terrible word, a terrible concept to lay on someone with the level of hidden strength as Jarod. But Sydney needs to do it, to keep the phone calls coming. A seed of doubt somewhere in that towering edifice, like the tiniest crack in a foundation, waiting for stress to spread.
“I was never really fragile at all,” Jarod says at last, and the phone beeps on the other end. He has either reached some self-imposed time limit, or he has simply had enough of honest talk therapy for one day.
“Good night, Jarod,” Sydney says into the ether. Jarod apparently did contemplate it after all. Dangerous, and exhilarating. He lays down his receiver and clicks on the screen in front of him, readying the expected report.