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One Equal Temper of Heroic Hearts

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Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Ulysses

The End of the World
"Dear Dad, It's been fifteen years since a strange disease wiped out all the adults and left us kids to fend for ourselves..."

It happened in 2004, when an experimental bio-weapon developed by the U.S. Government managed to escape its controls and infected the world's population with a deadly virus for which there was no cure. It spread quickly and killed in a matter of days. Only children who had not reached puberty were spared.

Now, it's fifteen years later. The world has gone to hell in a hand basket, and the orphaned generation of an entire planet is coming of age. Most of them are feral to one degree or another: illiterate, ignorant, just trying to survive. But a few young people remember another life, and they haven't given up hope that they still might bring order and decency back into the world. One of these is Jeremiah, a taciturn loner still trying to find out what happened to his mother and father, who disappeared in the last days of the Big Death. Haunted by snatches of memory that tell him they may yet be alive, he searches for evidence that a few last bastions of the old world might still exist. He survives on the road by scavenging, hunting, and fishing where he can, writing letters to his dad and burning them by way of keeping hope alive. The "Ulysses" quote above is from the page of a book he carries with him.

One fateful morning while swimming naked in a river, he makes the mistake of leaving his string of cleaned of fish unguarded, and a thief makes off with his catch. Not to be so easily robbed, Jeremiah hunts the thief and ties him to a tree, menacing him with a skillfully handled knife. But, point made, he releases the stranger and invites him to share his dinner. The stranger's name is Kurdy; neither of them knows that they are about to become a part of a chess game much larger than either of them; perhaps larger than mankind. So begins Jeremiah and Kurdy's story.

The Partnership
In the pilot, our guys sit by a barrel fire in an alley, shooting the shit. Kurdy tells Jeremiah that he's kind of odd, but "not in a bad way." He says most guys act like they know what they're doing, but Jeremiah really does. "You got a lot happening up here... you definitely got something going on, and I like that." He offers to watch Jeremiah's back if he'll let Kurdy join up with him, and Jeremiah says he'll think about it. As he's walking away, Jeremiah is attacked by the local thugs. Trying to talk himself out of getting involved, Kurdy mutters, "He didn't say yes, he just said 'I'll think about it.' I sat here pouring my heart out and he says 'I'll think about it.'" But the writing is on the wall, and it reads like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Recruiter Episode: "Journeys End in Lovers Meeting"
I watched the original 90 minute pilot of Jeremiah in 2002, and was immediately captured by the music, the look of the show, the caliber of the acting, and the emotional maturity and vulnerability of the characters. I wasn't a Babylon 5 fan, so I wasn't familiar with J. Michael Straczynski's writing, but it caught me right away. It's very rare that I find a writer who can hit my angst and melancholy kink so well and who also makes me laugh out loud, but most of all, what grabbed me in the pilot was the instant connection and chemistry between the two main characters. Their meeting sparked and sparkled, and what slasher worth her salt wouldn't be charmed by a character introduction that involves one of the guys being tied to a tree and held at knife point by the other one, only to have them talking intimately over a fire and smiling shyly at each other while discussing moral choices a few moments later? It didn't hurt that Malcolm-Jamal Warner had grown up into a beautiful man, and that I'd recently done a 180 on my opinion of Luke Perry after seeing his fantastic work on Oz. In fact, take away the 90210 attitude and roughen up that voice of his a little more with age, and I suddenly had the feeling I was going to be actually falling for this guy Jeremiah.

I couldn't have been more right. Like many of us who watched the initial pilot, I found that I liked the next episode, "Man of Iron, Woman Under Glass," even more than the first one. It was tighter in concept and execution, and the vulnerability of these characters and the harshness of their world spoke to me. Jeremiah and Kurdy already seemed like guys who'd been together for years, and Meaghan and Markus's thwarted love story about a woman trapped behind glass and in love with a man fifteen years her junior was compelling. Unfortunately, I'm always slow to commit to a new show, and after the third episode fell a little flat for me, I failed to tape the next few. It wasn't until I happened to catch "Journeys End in Lovers Meeting" (episode 9) that the fannish love really got me, and I think so much of what I love most about this relationship and these characters can be seen in that episode.

"Journeys End..." is pretty much nonstop slash joy, for me. It has everything. The goodness starts with the teaser, which is the scene where we see Jeremiah and Kurdy sitting back to back next to a fire, each writing, the wonderfully intimate image providing a great literal reminder of the "watch my back" theme that appears again and again as the touchstone of their friendship.

After the credits, atmospheric visuals open the episode, with Jeremiah and Kurdy driving down a snowy road in the woods. They're arguing like an old married couple over whether to turn left or right at a fork -- until we find out that Kurdy's just yanking Jeremiah's chain to wind him up. This is vintage Season 1 Jeremiah/Kurdy, and prompted me to dub them 'the post-apocalyptic Starsky & Hutch.' (For fans of S&H, this scene is Jeremiah and Kurdy's version of "...and you're not even a good kisser.") 

"Okay, did I miss a meeting or something? Because people are not supposed to have conversations like this unless they're married, and they've been married like five years or something, and they've got kids in the back seat screaming, you know? On their way to Disneyland and they're lost because there's kid puke on the map and he's too stupid to pull over to ask for directions and it's a hundred and fifteen degrees in the shade—now, Kurdy, we're close, but we are not that close."

"You know what your problem is? Repressed hostility."

—Jeremiah and Kurdy, Journeys End in Lovers Meeting

They meet up with a group of pilgrims on the road, and Kurdy is immediately taken with Constance and the welcoming companionship she and her friends offer. Jeremiah, ever the cynic, mostly wants to get on with their assignment -- but Kurdy leaves him, getting out of the jeep and joining the others as a flummoxed Jeremiah looks after him. It sets up what plays out to be a beautiful exploration of the forces that drive each of the two guys, the demons they struggle with, and the degree to which they need each other.

Kurdy:
"You're looking for Valhalla Sector. You're looking for your father. You're looking to rebuild the fucking world—I'm just looking for someplace to belong. I'm just looking for somebody to talk to."

Jeremiah:
"I thought we could talk."

Kurdy:
"Yeah, but it's different. She listens."

Jeremiah:
"And I don't?"

We get to see Kurdy's creative side, and so does Jeremiah. His reaction is heartfelt and unselfconscious, and squeezed my heart with its honesty. You can't blame him; Kurdy's reading of his poem about what he's searching for is achy and compelling. If I hadn't been mostly in love with Kurdy before I saw this scene, I was after it. The look on Jeremiah's face says it all.

I fell for Jeremiah hard in this episode, too, as it builds on the bitterness he feels toward God (stemming from Michael's death) that we saw in "Man of Iron," and reveals to us how emotionally vulnerable he still is despite the cynicism -- most particularly where Kurdy is concerned. His reaction in the scene where Kurdy tells him that he's going to part ways with Jeremiah and go with his new friends is all a slasher could ask for. I didn't think it could get any better until Jeremiah, left to complete the assignment on his own, realizes Kurdy and his new friends are in danger and decides to risk his neck, his muttered "This is not a good idea, Jeremiah," a great parallel to Kurdy trying to convince himself that Jeremiah's problems are "not my problem," in the pilot.

Kurdy's reaction when he spots one of the bad guys wearing Jeremiah's boots and realizes his friend is in trouble, or worse, is also a thing of beauty. He loses control and attacks the guy, demanding to know where Jeremiah is; when forced to choose between the acceptance of the group and Jeremiah in trouble, he says goodbye to his new friends and rides to the rescue. 

"I have to go get him, Constance. This is my fault. When we teamed up, I promised him that I would watch his back, and he said he'd do the same for me. Now, if I was there, he wouldn't be in this situation."

"...Are you a violent man, Kurdy?"

"Sometimes."

Though it wasn't the first episode to do so, it was the first one I saw that made explicit the loyalty and mutual responsibility these guys feel for each other and the fact that it supersedes the differences between them. It also sets up beautifully the essential conflict of interests that leads to the heartbreaking meltdown of their friendship at the end of Season 1: Kurdy's idealism and longing to believe in something are painfully at odds with Jeremiah's cynicism and driven obsession. Emotional performances by both actors give the rich character exploration a wealth of subtext and nuance. Even the guest actors turn in wonderful performances, and I love how Constance and David serve as mirrors for Kurdy and Jeremiah, asking them the tough questions to which for both of them the answer seems to be, incontrovertibly, "yes, this is my struggle, this is the heart of what I'm searching for -- but when push comes to shove, the commitment I made to this friendship comes first." It's the same answer they'll eventually come to the hard way late in Season 2, and it's foreshadowed beautifully here. This is still one of my favorite episodes.

Understanding the Characters: Looking Deeper
One of the fascinating things about most of the main characters of Jeremiah is that the Big Death and its aftermath meant that nearly all of them grew up without anyone older to guide them or to provide insight that would help them understand themselves and their place in the world. As a result, there is a kind of common aspect of arrested development in their personalities, and understanding them is intimately connected to understanding that particular watershed event that they're still trying to reconcile. This is especially true of Jeremiah and Kurdy, and I think it's one of the reasons they connect so powerfully: each sees in the other that role model, that confidant, who can help them come to terms with their unanswered questions.

The pilot episode gives us the essential pieces of Jeremiah's psyche; to get him, you need to know two things. First, his relationship with his father is crucial. His dad may have been one of the scientists ultimately responsible for the Big Death—something Jeremiah suspects but won't admit. The brief scenes we're shown of young Jeremiah fishing with his dad show an awkwardness between them that gives us a picture of a father whose first priority is his work, and whose efforts at relating to his son are rather forced and frequently interrupted by his job. (Deleted scenes from the DVD solidify this impression.) Nevertheless, young Jeremiah is a serious boy who takes his father's words to heart, and lives his life as if he's still trying to make his dad proud.

Kurdy:
"The only world that matters is this one, because this is the one I've got to live in. Now, what came before, what comes after, other people's problems, that's not my problem, you know?"

Jeremiah:
"Sometimes. Other times... you know, my dad always said that other people's problems are everybody's problems. Otherwise, it all falls apart."

Kurdy:
"Yeah, well, I don't mean to alarm you, or anything, but it already has fallen apart."

—The Long Road

Unlike most of the survivors of the Big Death, Jeremiah lives with an agonizing uncertainty about what happened to his parents. Though nearly everyone in this world must deal with powerful and lifelong feelings of abandonment, Jeremiah has it harder than most, because his mom and dad left him and his brother Michael alone in the midst of a riot and never returned. I think it's fair to say that every kid who survived the Big Death probably feels a certain deep down anger at their parents for leaving them; Jeremiah's anger runs deeper than most, because he must live with knowing that his parents chose to leave them and because he may never know why they didn't come back, as they promised they would. I believe this rage is at the heart of his anger at God; in Jeremiah's mind, God and his dad seem to be proxies for each other, and the issue of broken faith is at the heart of his relationship with both.

Which leads me to the second essential component of Jeremiah's personality: the importance of promises. The last thing Jeremiah's dad said to him was that he was responsible for looking after his younger brother Michael, who was perhaps four years old at the time. But as Jeremiah tells Kurdy in the pilot, he failed, and Michael was killed in the street because Jeremiah let his attention wander; the flashbacks of this scene are wrenching, and we return to them again and again in Season 1 as Jeremiah relives the moment of his failure. Michael's death and his mother's broken promise that they'll be back mean that promises are vitally important to Jeremiah, and his word is probably the most valuable thing he carries. It's his promise to Simon in the pilot that brings him to Thunder Mountain, and it's his need to confess his failure to save Michael to his father that drives him so obsessively in his search for the elusive 'Valhalla Sector' that he knows is somehow connected to his parents' fate. His shame over that failure and his need to understand why his parents left them (and to know what happened to them) are the primary forces that compel him.

Kurdy's story is both simpler and more universal, but no less important to understanding what makes him tick. We're given only curiously contradictory glimpses of his family history in the pilot. He tells Jeremiah that he doesn't remember his father or anything before the Death, but later, at the club in Clarefield, he quotes his dad, and we see him remember his dad holding him, the two of them looking at the stars. Because he has blocked the events of the Big Death out of his memory, we don't get the whole picture until episode 6, "City of Roses."

(Meta comment: according to the show, Kurdy is younger than Jeremiah, perhaps 5 years old at the time of the Big Death. This would make him 20 or so at the time of the series, while Jeremiah is 26 or 27. They frankly both seem older than this, and, in fact, many of the characters seem older than you might think they should. You pretty much just have to go with it, and assume that constant exposure and the hard life they've all led have aged them faster than you might expect.)

In "City of Roses," a chance event triggers suppressed memories to start surfacing in Kurdy's mind, and he begins having flashbacks of being locked in a closet and writing "somebody come and git me" in crayon on the wall, interspersed with flashes of his mother sobbing and his father firing a gun. As the episode unfolds, Kurdy returns to the building where he lived with his parents, and with the help of a young woman who used to be his babysitter, finds out the truth about how his parents died.

My feelings about the subtext in this episode are that the Big Death was even more of a shock for Kurdy than for most kids, and that his parents were very much in love and adored their son, giving him a lot of security and physical affection. He's shown happy and playing moments before the violent events he's suppressed, so it seems they kept him completely sheltered from any concerns about the virus, making his unwitting witnessing of what he sees from the closet all the more traumatic. Because he then blocks it from his memory, I think the hazy, idyllic feelings he has about his childhood are even more idealized in his mind, and for Kurdy, the world is divided into two starkly opposite poles with that gunshot a shattering break between them: the warm, loving family that embraced and nurtured him, and the bitter, violent world that came after.

The forces that drive Kurdy, then, are easy to understand. A five year old alone, he somehow managed to live to maturity, which speaks volumes about his ability to survive. In fact, he is breathtakingly good at doing whatever it takes to survive—something that's explored in the Season 2 episode "The Past Is Prologue." He's big and strong, and a formidable fighter, which doesn't hurt. But underneath that expertly honed survival instinct, the beloved, sweet, and loving little boy is still at the core. He's become a part of the violence that shattered his world, but he can only cope with that by telling himself he doesn't care about anyone but himself. 

"You're a Protector. You'll never admit it, but you're a Protector. Most of the Protectors I know got that way because the world was so cruel to them, and they couldn't do anything about it. So, they work it out by trying to make things easier for everybody else. But they deny it, because saying it means admitting they need to touch other people. And because they've been disappointed so many times, they've learned to live without."

—Constance, Journeys End in Lovers Meeting

That denial is an almost desperately thin veneer, and it takes about five minutes hanging out with Jeremiah—someone who actually cares about something—to let the real Kurdy shine through. That Kurdy quickly sheds even his own self-illusions about being tough and callous, and becomes the voice of compassion in the partnership. Within a handful of episodes, Kurdy is revealed as a self-educated, self-aware, insightful soul with an achingly deep hunger to belong, and to return to that loving and beloved state he knew as a little boy.

Two wrongs make a right, or, Finding the Slash

"You remember when you were a kid, and there were always two or three kids who sat at the back of the class, and you had to keep them apart or nothing ever got done?"

—Markus, State of the Union

You don't have to look very hard to see that Jeremiah and Kurdy are close. Considerable chemistry aside, it's made explicitly and implicitly clear in more episodes than not that these two guys have a special connection. It's understood by all the characters including the guys themselves; when the chips are down, there's little doubt that they'll go to the mat for each other. Jeremiah's physically affectionate with Kurdy in a way that he isn't with anyone else, and though they're not overly demonstrative, their easy handshakes, back-pats, hugs and so forth aren't uncommon, and stand out rather strikingly compared to the emotional isolation of most of the characters in this world. They're comfortable sharing space, seem happiest spending time together, and in fact share a room at the Mountain, where they sleep (apparently naked, or mostly so) in a bunk bed.

As we saw in "Journeys End," they're protective of each other, sometimes to comic extent as in the episode "Ring of Truth," where Kurdy cold-cocks Jeremiah to stand in for him in a ring fight when it's obvious Jeremiah's about to get the shit kicked out of him. That protectiveness extends even to periods when they're mad at each other; during Season 2, when their relationship has been seriously strained, Kurdy seems to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about Jeremiah and defending him if necessary. In "City of Roses," Jeremiah has to visit an enclave he fears may be infected with the virus, and he risks their friendship to drive Kurdy away so that he won't be exposed. It's one of the most explicit moments of the feeling between them, in fact; when Jeremiah returns, and apologizes for hurting Kurdy to keep him safe, Kurdy says, "Everywhere I look, love and dying are wrapped up together. Do you think it was always that way?" They've known each other only few months, but Kurdy isn't ashamed to call Jeremiah's action what it is: an act of love.

"The two in charge of things here, Jeremiah and Kurdy, have the easy, relaxed relationship of old friends. They seem to have a kind of shorthand with each other. They must have gone through quite a bit to learn it."

—Frank, Interregnum Part I

But it isn't all best buddies and banter. The crucible for the J/K relationship happens at the end of Season 1, when Jeremiah's obsession with finding his father escalates, and it drives him to start burning bridges with Markus and Thunder Mountain, without regard for Kurdy's choices or his relationship with Elizabeth. When Elizabeth is gunned down seemingly as an indirect result of Jeremiah's crusade, Kurdy, furious and desperate to get Elizabeth to medical help, tells Jeremiah they're finished and leaves him by the side of the road. Events continue to spiral out of control, and both are swept up in the tides of the continental power shifts that follow. Kurdy, reluctantly heeding Elizabeth's last wish, goes after Jeremiah only to get there too late, arriving in time to see Jeremiah kidnapped by military helicopters.

From this disastrous series of events, it's a long, hard road back to the trust they shared in Season 1, and though it takes most of Season 2 to get there, the journey is worth it. By the end of Season 2, the guys have been through hell and back together several times over, and Jeremiah's reliance on Kurdy during the series of bitter losses and revelations that unfolds is unhesitating. Kurdy has at last put his own anger behind him, and in the final episode, it's plain that their relationship is made of tougher stuff than even they thought. In one of the last (and best) scenes of the series, they look wryly at each other and acknowledge it 

Jeremiah:
"Hey, how'd we get into all this in the first place?"

Kurdy:
"You tied me up."

Jeremiah:
"You stole my fish."

Kurdy:
"Two wrongs don't make a right."

Jeremiah:
"Maybe not. But in this case, maybe it will."

—Interregnum, Part II (series finale)

Um... So Why Isn't Everyone on the Planet Slashing These Guys? 

"Come on, man. You really think they're gonna let two guys like us move in here? No way, baby. Nobody gives you a free ride. My entire life, everything I ever wanted, I never got. We're still on our own. Always will be."

"Fuckin' A."

—Kurdy and Jeremiah, The Long Road

I really wasn't kidding when I said these guys remind me of a post-apocalyptic Starsky & Hutch. Like the original prime-time homos, they eat off each other's plates, finish each other's sentences, call each other "baby," get down with women in the same room, occasionally act like little boys, and spend months on end driving around in a car together and still have things to talk about. It's very obvious that they love each other. The world they live in provides more than ample room for creative storytelling, angst, humor, and big drama. So where, by the name of all that's fannish, is the slash?

Sexuality in the world of Jeremiah is somewhat quirky. There are a few references to homosexuality, though not many, and they tend to invite examination for subtext. For example, in the pilot, Simon finds Jeremiah in the club at Clarefield, and asks him to come with him to meet some friends. After Simon mentions Jeremiah's intervention in town earlier that day, and how he's unusual for trying to help people, the exchange is: 

Simon:
"My name's Simon."

Jeremiah:
"Jeremiah."

Simon:
"Jeremiah, my friends and I were thinking that we could use a man like you."

Jeremiah:
"My gate doesn't swing that way."

Given the first part of the conversation, it's quite the non sequitur, and I find his immediate assumption curious in what it implies about his past experiences. Ostensibly, though, both Kurdy and Jeremiah like women, and each has one serious het relationship within canon, though neither woman survives to the end of the series. Kurdy's love for the refined Elizabeth takes a long time to come to fruition (most of the first season) and is tragically cut short by her death in the Season 1 finale. Jeremiah's love for Libby is more ambiguous, and ends in bitterness and disillusionment. Interestingly, it's Elizabeth's death that drives Jeremiah and Kurdy apart; it's Libby's death that brings them back together.

"Don't blame Jeremiah for this. It wasn't his fault. I've always had this feeling that as long as the two of you were together, you'd be safe. But apart... don't let what happened to me tear you apart, okay? I need to know you'll be safe. Please, Kurdy. Promise me you'll find him."

—Elizabeth, Things Left Unsaid

In writing Jeremiah/Kurdy, the toughest obstacle to overcome isn't Kurdy's love for Elizabeth or Jeremiah's love for Libby. Like many great slash fandoms, these relationships are part of the tapestry of these complex characters. The toughest obstacles, in my opinion, are Kurdy's obvious delight in, and love for, women in general. He's quick to be charmed by a pretty face or, by his own admission, "a sweet smile." (The Long Road) He falls in love with Elizabeth at first sight—and it makes sense that he does, given his hunger to find that elusive "something" he's looking for. He takes great delight in the opposite sex in general, and is quick to comfort them, make friendships with them, and win their trust. Kurdy is, in my subjective opinion, possibly the straightest guy I've ever tried to slash.

Jeremiah, on the other hand, is (as Kurdy would say) something of an interesting cat. His liaisons with women are relatively rare, and fascinating to watch. In the bordello in "Ring of Truth," he seems to be completely oblivious to the girls attempting to seduce him; meanwhile, Kurdy puts up little resistance a few feet away. Jeremiah, convinced that he and Kurdy have in fact died from an overdose of poisonous mushrooms, gets up and presents his rear end to the indolent Kurdy:

"Pinch me."

"You got all these beautiful women around, and you want me to grab your ass?"

—Jeremiah and Kurdy, Ring of Truth

On the few and fleeting occasions when he does make connections with women, he burns on what I would call a very slow wick. He tends to make no moves of his own until the girl has taken the lead, and from what we see, he tends to be excruciatingly gentle with his partners. Even Libby has to spend considerable energy and time seducing him before he catches on, and she pretty much gets him half naked and into the bedroom on pretenses of bandaging his wounds, then takes the situation in hand. This seems to be a theme with him, and I think it's pretty easy to make a case that Jeremiah's sexual response to women is fairly mild. He's also a delicately-built guy who was extremely pretty when he was younger, living in a post-apocalyptic anarchy where race hatred is canonically common and homosexuality is very likely to get you killed. Any slasher with an ounce of determination can work with that, I think. More than that, Jeremiah is canonically a character who seems to take sex very seriously, and has a hard time pursuing it except as an extension of strong trust, friendship and personal connection -- and whether or not you throw sex in the mix, it's hard for me to watch him with Kurdy and not read him as a man in love. His emotional vulnerability is the biggest turn-on I see in him, and Kurdy brings that out in him like no one else.

So, you ask, what about painfully straight Kurdy? Can anything be done? And yea, verily, I think there is hope, for Kurdy has three things going for him in the slashability department. One, he has an extremely open mind, and is emotionally self-aware and comfortable in his own skin. Two, he's generous to a fault, and compassionate right down to his toes. And three, he loves Jeremiah. And in my humble and biased opinion, the whole delicious package adds up to one of the most seriously neglected slash pairings in all of fandom.

Fiction:
"Cold" by Katie
It pains me to say that Katie has written the only Jeremiah/Kurdy stories I know of. I've read this one right down to the nubs of the internet, though, because it's wonderful, and just right. Beautifully embodies Kurdy's hunger for connection, and makes my heart ache. I'm also in love with her enigmatic Jeremiah. And when you've read that one, there is the beautlful "Memoria," which just wrenches my heart and makes me wriggle with happiness. Her view of these guys and their relationship rings absolutely true to me.

The Tenth Muse, which is the home of about ten Jeremiah/Kurdy stories. Yay!

Montana by saddle_tramp. This is amazingly wonderful. Perfect voices, both in dialogue and internal, for both of them.

Vids:
Morgan Dawn's vids
Home of "The Highway," a powerful vid about Jeremiah that illuminates some beautiful ambivalence and longing in the J/K relationship. You'll need to write her for a password.

Where to watch the show currently:

Jeremiah on Hulu