Following brief appearances in the first season of the original Melrose Place, the character returned and began playing a far more prominent role in the second. Initially presented as an easy-going young woman with questionable priorities, she would gradually be developed into one of the series' most multi-faceted characters.
Sydney seems to be characterized popularly by five eras: The Brat Era, The Villain Era, The Victim Era, The Comedy Era, and The Romantic Era. During her introduction in the first and second seasons, Sydney is prone to making rash and irresponsible decisions. Though she often appears carefree and detached, she displays a sensitive side while enduring the consequences of her actions, and opens up further when sharing emotional moments with others. Later during the second season, Sydney reveals an opportunistic nature during her first blackmail scheme. This creates a situation in which the character, driven by power, embraces a highly playful and uninhibited demeanor.
Throughout a good deal of the third season, Sydney is more often presented as a victim, being subjected to much mistreatment and stress. During this period, she finds support from unexpected people, reveals a greater ability to endure, and eventually helps others during a chaotic event. The series' fourth season presents the character in a more humorous light, displaying comedic relief amidst her ongoing schemes and new endeavors. In the fifth season, following years of romantic interests, she appears to finally obtain a fulfilling but short-lived relationship. Afterward, she is seemingly killed after being hit by a car, but reappears alive in the follow-up series. During the spin-off, it is revealed that Sydney has a daughter named Violet.
The character's impact is generally held in high regard. In its biographical article on Leighton, Yahoo! labels Sydney a "begrudgingly beloved" character. While reporting on the series in 1994, American magazines Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and People all featured Leighton on their covers. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1995.
Motivation: The Brat Era
Sydney's personality differs from that of her sister Jane, as Sydney is generally the more light-hearted of the two. One thing that the women have in common throughout the series is an attraction towards Dr. Michael Mancini, who Jane was married to when the show began.
At times, Sydney's decisions are shown to lead her down reckless, troubled paths. When Jane and Michael's marriage ended due to his adultery, Sydney wasted little time getting closer to Michael, which quickly offended her sister. Following an abrupt move to Los Angeles, she became desperate for a job, and wound up turning to prostitution through Lauren Ethridge. Although introduced to the organization by her friend Ellen, Sydney was unaware of the activities she was asked to perform until she met Carl Canin in his home and was offered the money up front.
After they'd slept together, Sydney eventually told Michael of her deep feelings for him, but he soundly rejected her advances. In time, these rejections began to create a growing animosity within her. As Sydney explains at one point to Jane, one of the primary desires of her adult life is to be "wanted" and to feel loved.
Advantages: The Villain Era
Following a car crash as a result of Michael's drunk driving, his girlfriend Kimberly (the woman he'd been unfaithful with) apparently died after being transferred out of state while in recovery. To avoid criminal charges, Michael managed to have his alcohol records changed, and briefly moved in with Jane after being released from the hospital.
It was during this period that Jane had also begun seeing a divorce attorney. Eventually, a jealous Michael set the man up with a prostitute so that Jane would witness him cheating on her. To accomplish this, Michael called on a favor from Sydney, taking advantage of her connections. Later, a shaken Sydney revealed everything to Jane, who kicked Michael out. He then returned to the beach house he'd previously lived in with Kimberly.
Sydney eventually discovered the truth surrounding the car crash, and began blackmailing Michael soon afterward. With an increasingly pompous demeanor, she gradually forced her way into his life until they were married, wanting little more than for him to love her back. Though Michael was openly resentful toward her, and even considered pushing Sydney off a cliff on one occasion (ultimately unable to go through with it), she remained patient and determined to win his affection. In time, Sydney finally prevailed, with Michael declaring that he'd come to accept their life together, and that he'd reciprocate her feelings. Soon afterward, however, the presumed dead Kimberly returned, freeing Michael from the marriage.
New leaf: The Victim Era
Sydney eventually had a brief romantic relationship with Jake Hanson, who'd come to her aid on certain occasions after she had tried to turn over a new leaf. At this time, Sydney's character became portrayed more and more as a victim, being sexually harassed (and briefly abducted) by Jane's boyfriend Chris (after Jane wouldn't believe her pleas), being sucked into a cult and buried in a pit, being framed by Kimberly for trying to kill Michael, being briefly locked up in a psychiatric ward for a crime she didn't commit, and tricked into handing Jane her half of Mancini designs, among several other catastrophes. Sydney played hero, however, when she became suspicious of a mentally unbalanced Kimberly, and discovered that she was attempting to set off explosives in the Melrose Place complex. Though Kimberly managed to thwart Sydney at first, Sydney was later rescued by Michael, and the pair quickly alerted the building's tenants, calling them from their apartments before the explosives went off.
Old habits: The Comedy Era
As the fourth season began, Sydney's persona morphed into more of a comedic relief type of character, with Sydney changing her fashion to more of an Anne Margaret, '60s parody style, complete with gogo boots and ratted hair. Her lines were also written more for comedic effect than ever before, which provided a release from the revolving story lines that were, at the time, very dark and serious.
After catching Amanda Woodward in a potentially criminal position, Sydney returned to her old tactic of blackmail. However, Amanda was more clever than she'd anticipated, which resulted in Sydney gaining very little by the time her leverage had expired.
Sydney later worked for Michael and his fellow doctor, Peter Burns, serving as a receptionist at their firm. After Jane decided to move back to Chicago (where she and Sydney had grown up), Sydney was the last person to see her off, and the two sisters acknowledged their bond and parted ways on good terms.
Searching: The Romantic Era
Following a series of unsuccessful romantic pursuits (including falling for Kyle McBride and Carter Gallavan), she eventually fell in love with—and was loved by—ad executive Craig Field, who she teamed up with in an effort to take down Amanda's business. Finally, the recently hopeless-romantic Sydney had found love.
Laura Leighton's departure from the series prompted the character to be written out. Just as Sydney and Craig had married, Sydney was hit by a car driven by Samantha Reilly's ex-convict father which had crashed the outdoor wedding, and presumed dead. Years later, however, it would be revealed that she was in fact still alive.
Melrose Place (2009)
A New Chapter
In 2009, Sydney was revealed to be alive in the follow-up series, having faked her death with the help of Michael. She was also shown to have become the landlord at Melrose Place. Additionally, Sydney was revealed to be the mother of Violet Foster, a new tenant at the building (which was said to have happened while Sydney was in college).
Flashbacks revealed that Sydney thought that someone was after her (when in fact it was Samantha's father who had run her down), so Sydney convinced Michael to change records indicating that she was dead. After the truth was discovered, she spent six years in prison for faking her death. She declined to reveal Michael's role in assisting her, but showed up on his doorstep when she was released and began blackmailing and having an affair with him. During this time, Michael had married a woman named Vanessa, with whom he was raising a young son named Noah. Following the end of Sydney and Michael's affair, Sydney began a brief relationship with Michael's grown son David, a tenant at Melrose Place, who he'd long been separated from. Sydney was later found murdered in the apartment complex. The killer was eventually revealed to be Vanessa, who'd acted in response to Sydney's knowledge that Noah may have been fathered by David. After Vanessa became a suspect, David temporarily left Noah in Violet's care. When Vanessa confronted Violet with a gun, Violet pushed her into the complex's pool, where Vanessa drowned during their struggle. Amanda Woodward, Sydney's old associate, witnessed the event and told the police that Violet had acted in self-defense.
In a flashback, Sydney and Violet were eventually shown to express affection for one another during their brief time together.
ReceptionIn its biographical page on Laura Leighton, Yahoo! declares that she gave the character "expressive facial movements, fiery intensity, and a surprising likable quality." The article also states that "despite all her misdeeds, Sydney invariably became sympathetic when the show's treacherous tide turned against her." Amidst the original series' popularity, the show received attention from Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and People magazine, with Leighton being featured on every cover. Leighton was also nominated for a Golden Globe award in 1995.
The decision to kill the character in the 2009 series was poorly received among some critics. Amy Amatangelo of the Website Zap2it labeled the move a mistake. Alan Sepinwall of NJ.com called the decision "a poor way to use one of the more memorable vixens of '90s Melrose." In a 2009 interview, posted on the Website tvseriesfinale.com, producer Todd Slavkin stated that there was a possibility of Sydney making a return.
When the follow-up series premiered, Entertainment Weekly placed Leighton's portrayal of Sydney at the top of their weekly "Must List."