Spoilers: through the first episode of season three
Personal Website: Desiderium Caritas
Dark tree, still sad when others’ grief is fled,/The only constant mourner o’er the dead. - Byron, "The Giaour"
In 2000 CSI burst onto the scene, in large part revitalizing the flagging CBS network as well as breathing new life into the crime drama. They gave us the TMI cam, and they took the focus off the cops and put it onto the science of solving crimes. It was such a runaway hit that Bruckheimer and the network followed in Law & Order's footsteps and in 2002 began building their very own CSI franchise with the introduction of CSI: Miami.
The benefit of franchising, of course, is a built-in audience, and CBS made sure they had that by not just introducing a new series, but doing a crossover episode with the already successful CSI, in which a case that begins in Las Vegas ends up in Miami, and we meet the core cast of CSI: Miami through Catherine and Warrick's eyes. A sound marketing strategy, surely. But the drawback to this approach is that the writers often don't have a good handle on the new characters, and therefore what we get in the first season of the new series is sometimes much different from what we saw in the crossover episode.
Speedle, Miami. Speed, "Cross-Jurisdictions" (CSI 2.22)
Timothy "Speed" Speedle is first introduced to us in CSI episode 2.22, "Cross Jurisdictions". When we first see him he's sweet, very friendly, and quick to introduce himself to the visitors from Las Vegas. He comes off young and just a little clueless in his first scenes, although we do get a glimpse of his worrywart tendencies when he's lecturing Delko about germs in the bay. There's the tiniest bit of foreshadowing regarding the character that's to come, but for the most part the Speed we see in the CSI crossover episode is almost unrecognizable by the time we get to the first season of Miami.
Part of this is most likely due to the fact that the character was originally meant to be a former football star for the University of Miami. According to Rory Cochrane, the actor who played Speed for two seasons, those plans were scrapped as soon as they hired him, but the nickname stayed and he inherited a character with a very interesting backstory which has never been discussed in canon.
According to the show's official website, Tim Speedle was raised in upstate New York. His father owns at least two restaurants and his mother is active in local charity, particularly working with needy kids. He has a brother who's thirteen years his junior, and because of the age difference they've never been close. He was a loner growing up, preferring to spend his free time with his nose stuck in some book or another. Basically he was your average nerd.
Pretty run of the mill stuff so far, right? But here's where it gets interesting:
Also according to his official bio, when he was a teenager he met his male best friend (no name provided) in, of all places, the library. They were instantly inseparable and made plans to go to Europe together before they went off to college (also together), but during their senior trip the best friend was in a snowmobile accident and was paralyzed.
Speed's reaction to the tragedy was to enroll at Columbia University, majoring in pre-med and devoting himself to learning everything he could about paralysis so he could help his best friend. However, while he was still in school his best friend died due to complications during surgery, prompting Speed to take off and drop out of sight. No one heard from him until he resurfaced in Miami a year later on the doorstep of his best friend's uncle, who happened to work at the county coroner's office.
Speed started following him to work, where he met then-lead CSI Megan and struck up a friendship. She became his mentor, and eventually he went back to Columbia and finished his degree before returning to Miami and accepting a job with the Miami-Dade CSI department.
We see hints of Speed's connection to Megan in the first few episodes of season one; he tells Eric off for being insensitive when she comes back to work six months after the death of her husband, and although Megan's not the lead CSI when she comes back, she still treats Speed as her protégé. Unfortunately that and Speed's friendship with Alexx are the only nods we get to Speed's backstory during his entire run on the show. We never see the uncle who took him in, and we never hear him make reference to his best friend.
But the thing that makes Speed so interesting is what we don't hear about him, the things that made him so distrustful of people and so quick to judge. His backstory plays a major role in that, and it's impossible to get a complete picture of Speed without knowing how he ended up in Miami in the first place.
The problem with the obvious, Tim, is that it can make you overlook the evidence. Megan, "Golden Parachute" (1.01)
Speed's backstory (which is still up on the official site) is probably not meant to lay the groundwork for a queer-coded character. I imagine some writer just slapped that together when the football hero storyline flew out the window, and added the bits about the dead friend to make it more dramatic. Since it's never mentioned in canon (although it's alluded to in his relationships with Megan and Alexx) it would be easy to ignore those details. Ignoring his backstory does a definite disservice to the character, however, because knowing his history puts Speed's essential Otherness in context. If we know where he comes from we can understand better why he's always on the outside looking in, why he doesn't fit into the neat little box Hollywood likes to assign to television characters, and why what you see on first glance isn't even close to what you're getting.
There are a few mentions of Speed's romantic history, but they're always couched in terms of ex-girlfriends, and generally they're mentioned by other people, not Speed himself. We know he and Delko sometimes socialize ("Tinder Box", 1.22), and we've heard Delko, Horatio and Calleigh refer to at least one of Speed's past relationships. Speed's reaction to any mention of an ex-girlfriend is generally discomfort, however, and in one instance he tells Calleigh 'she hates me' in reference to a girl he used to date.
There's an effort in season one to code Speed as straight; Horatio mentions the fact that Speed shows up to work in the same clothes two days in a row, and in "Grave Young Men" (1.20) there's a flirtation with a murder suspect. Even that is a bit awkward, however, and by the end of the episode we're left wondering if he was ever interested, or if he was just stringing her along to get her to admit guilt.
Speed's notoriously uncomfortable with porn, and whenever it comes up in a case he makes a point of expressing his disgust with the industry as a whole. That alone doesn't necessarily make him gay, but his reaction to every woman on the show who's ever shown an interest in him is generally either a complete lack of interest, or confusion.
In fact, the only relationships we ever see Speed have with women are those he has with his coworkers. He and Calleigh are colleagues who respect one another, but there's no indication that they've ever been friends. His relationship with Megan (what little we see of it) is obviously that of a mentor/student dynamic, and he does a lot of sticking up for her when she comes back from bereavement leave, but when she finally leaves the department for good she doesn't even call him to say goodbye.
Coming from someone he looked up to, that had to be painful. The fact that he lost his only real friend in such a painful way has made him careful with people and personal relationships in general, and losing his mentor that way must have affected him a lot more than we see on the show.
His other major relationship with a female on the show is with Alexx, the county coroner. She treats Speed much like a son, and considering his estrangement from his parents, it's not hard to imagine that he thinks of her as sort of a surrogate parent as well as a colleague.
His background is never mentioned, but it's alluded to in his relationships with Alexx and Megan, as well as his often misanthropic approach to people in general. Given his reactions to the women he encounters in the course of his work and the intense pre-canon relationship with his best friend, it's hard not to infer that Speed isn't as straight as Hollywood would like us to believe.
It's just a job. It's not my life. Speed, "Wannabe" (2.18)
The attempt is definitely made to cast Speed in a traditional, Hollywood-approved heterosexual role, but we know that he has an entire life offscreen that we never get to see. In season two's "Wannabe" he tells us that being a CSI is just a paycheck. It's not his passion the way it is for some other people, and while he's good at his job and takes it seriously, there are certain aspects of it that don't appeal to him at all.
In season one he's shot during a robbery ("Dispo Day", 1.18), and we find out during that episode that it's because he hasn't been properly maintaining his gun. The 'cop' part of the job is something that Speed's obviously not comfortable with; the science appeals to him, but it's clear that he's not that crazy about people and he'd be just as happy in the lab as he is out in the field.
We don't know what his life outside the lab is like, however. We know he goes to clubs and we know that he dates occasionally, but as to what he does with the rest of his time we can only speculate. Maybe he's dating woman after woman in a vain attempt to erase the pain of his past. Maybe he's still that bookish nerd from high school and he spends a lot of time at home reading and watching the Discovery Channel. Or maybe he's got a whole other life he doesn't want anyone at work to know about, one that involves dating men.
An argument could be made for Speed having a crush on Delko in season one (and who could blame him). He teases Delko more than he does anyone else at the lab, makes more sarcastic comments about his social life and his work habits, and he's quicker to call Delko on bad behavior than anyone else. He seems to hold Delko to a higher standard for reasons that are never explained, and their banter continues through season two.
There's also queer coding in his interactions with Detective Bernstein, particularly in season one's "Grave Young Men". He refers to Bernstein as 'my' detective in that episode, an obvious sign of propriety that we don't see in any of his interactions with women. Bernstein disappears after season one, unfortunately, but his interactions with Speed during the course of the first season lend a certain amount of credibility to the theory that Speed might not be as straight as the writers would have us believe.
You go home, you get some rest, and you come back to work.
Just like that.
It's not that easy, is it?
No…no, it's not.
Horatio and Speed, "Wannabe" (2.18)
But regardless of writer intent or backstory, the fact remains that Speed is an interesting, complex character made even more so by the story we don't see on the show. He's got a painful past, one that goes a long way toward explaining why he is the way he is by the time he dies at the beginning of season three.
The truth is that it would be easy to hate Speed. I wasn't that fond of him myself at first; he's negative and quick to judge, he's sarcastic and impatient and a bit of a misanthrope, and his bad attitude just gets worse as the series wears on. Not much to love, right? But there's something about him, about the reasons why he is the way he is, that makes him irresistible.
He's a curmudgeon, and he lacks any real faith in humanity. But he's a curmudgeon with a tremendous sense of loyalty to the people he cares about, even if he has a funny way of showing it. We see that in his attachment to Megan and Alexx, in his relationships with his coworkers, in the obvious pain he carries around after the loss of the most important person in his life.
He's crabby and usually thinks the worst of people, but when he cares about someone he'll go as far as it takes to make sure they're safe. In season two's "Wannabe" he develops a tenuous friendship with a young CSI wannabe, and when the kid kills himself Speed takes it personally. The death of this kid he barely even knew hits him hard, and he admits to Horatio that it's hard for him to compartmentalize that pain and just move on. But he's had experience with moving on from much worse pain, and in the end that's what he does, because he knows he doesn't have any other choice.
The circumstances surrounding Speed's death ("Lost Son", 3.01) are incredibly out of character. It's hard to talk about it in the context of what we learned about him in the first two seasons, because he's shot in exactly the same way he was shot in "Dispo Day", only this time he's not lucky enough to be wearing a vest. So he dies because of a stupid mistake that the character we've come to know over the past two years would never have made twice, and most of the Speed fans I know are still angry at the writers for showing him that little respect.
The truth is that Rory Cochrane wanted off the show, so the writers took the easy way out. As a fan it's hard to swallow, but unfortunately we're left to deal with messy writing sometimes. Personally, I prefer to remember Speed for what he was, both onscreen and off.
Was Speed gay? That's a question you have to answer for yourself. There's a definite sense of Otherness about him; he's the anti-hero, distrustful and emotionally closed off and quick to push away anyone who tries to get too close. He's private about his personal life, and he keeps even those closest to him at arm's length. Whether this is because he's afraid of being hurt again or if it's because he has something to hide we'll never know, but I suspect it's a little bit of both. It's an interesting question, certainly, and one that canon never adequately answered for us, but there are plenty of fans out there who are still exploring the mystery of Speed's life even after his death. After all, that's what fan fiction's for.