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Heroes: a Television Rantrospective

I was on Netflix yesterday and stumbled through some of my recently watched and noticed some of the reviews. I started writing one but then realized it was way too long for Netflix, so I brought it here instead.

So let me just say that I loved Heroes. I caught up to the weekly episodes on episode sixteen and watched it every Monday after that. Every episode, I was excited to see what would happen next, and as a week-to-week show, it was excellent.

Looking back though, I’m a bit disappointed. Resolutions were always too easy, certain character deaths were pointless and there was some Recurring Character Syndrome at the heart of that.

In this blog post, I’m going to rant about that. AT LENGTH. I even cut a massive ol’ thing about time travel, and this post is still gigantic.

Season One set up this beautiful story, with a single dilemma: An explosion. The culprit, unknown. Future Hiro tries to save the cheerleader, present Hiro grows as a warrior, Peter learns to use his powers, Claire and her father clash over his efforts to protect her.

The problems really start in Season Two when the writers reset everything. The original plan for Heroes was to abandon most of the main cast and introduce several new heroes at the beginning of each volume. The main cast was a hit, however, so the writers kept all but a couple on. Unfortunately, this meant they just did what they were planning on doing from the beginning with the characters we had just grown to like. They essentially bring them down to beginning levels, rather than building on them. Claire and her father class over his efforts to protect her, Peter learns to use his powers, Hiro grows as a warrior WOW THESE SOUND FAMILIAR.

The Peter one is a bit forgivable, but mostly because the reveal at the end of “Four Months Later” that he is 1) in a shipping container in Ireland, 2) has electric powers, 3) remembers nothing and 4) is wearing the Haitian’s necklace.

In fact, now that I think about it, the best thing about Season Two is the reveals: Adam being Kensei, Peter in the container, wait, that’s it, I guess. Huh. Okay, so Season Two was pretty weak. The worst thing about it, in my opinion, is that Peter caught the vial and Nathan got shot. By Season Three’s beginning, I really wanted Nathan to just… die already. Or at least reveal that he has a secondary power that makes him unable to die or something.

Here’s another problem with Season Two, that tons of people have griped about before, but I HAVE OPINIONS so Imma write a really long paragraph about it now. Making a plot device that’s able to bring people back from the dead ruins all suspense or all suspension of disbelief from that point on. Because either you say “hey who cares, they’re dead, just bring ’em back” or “hey why aren’t they bringing them back, they can just bring them back, this is stupid”. Note: During Season Two, it’s usually the first one (Nathan’s healed, Noah and Maya come back to life). After Season Two, it’s always the second one (Nathan after being shot, Niki after dying, Nathan after dying). I think it only comes up once. In a scene in Season Four, Noah and Peter discuss using Claire’s blood to save Hiro, but realize it will only make his tumour regenerate. They do not, however, discuss ripping the tumour out of him and then using Claire’s blood to heal him, and there’s still all this suspense at the end of the season when the doctors take the tumour out and it’s like oh nooooo is Hiro going to die during surgery oh nooooo.

Instead we get a hallucinogenic court room drama with the best moment of intertextuality in the series.

They also don’t discuss using Claire’s blood to save the kid who dies in the EPISODE AFTER THEY DISCUSS USING CLAIRE’S BLOOD ON HIRO. I mean, all of those things I just suggested as solutions would be dramatic stupidity. “Nobody Dies And Everybody Regenerates” is not a way to write a story with life-and-death stakes. Which is why you shouldn’t introduce a plot device that can allow people to come back to life and then just never use it again without explanation.

I mean, here’s what you can do to make the Claire’s Blood storyline go away: have it so Claire’s blood is still a catalyst for the antidote to the Shanti virus. That’s fine, sorta believable, whatever. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about that whole storyline. But what’s that? You still want to shoot Noah in the head? DO IT. Just leave him dead. Alternately, DON’T DO IT. Not that hard a choice really. There wasn’t really much drama in OH NO HE GETS SHOT WHAT WILL HAPPEN anyway. Like, there was some. But not as much as there should have been, I guess. Want to have Sylar kill Maya? Yeah, me too. DO IT. She’s not good with Mohinder, and her only redeeming moment was her getting to be happy and away from it all after Arthur takes her power (which I don’t believe he ever uses???) and that’s not really that exciting, because the character wasn’t interesting enough for me to care. Have Elle survive powerless and walk away from it all. She deserved it a lot more, that would have been kinda heartwarming, actually.

Or you could have this guy come back:

 Invisible hobo and Paragon of Wonderful.

I mean, that’s not related to the blood thing. I just really wanted him to come back. Seriously, every episode I tuned in fingers crossed for some more delightful Christopher Eccleston-Raines. BUT NOPE.

Now, a bit of a long topic:

SYLAR: GOOD/EVIL

Hey, Gabe, I’m okay that you were a bit back and forth with your evil/good allegiance. I mean, as much as people portray him as being wishy washy, really, in Season One, he had enough remorse to consider giving everything up to be normal with his mother. Because as much of a monster as Sylar was, he was always human. Season Two, he was mostly a monster. He used Maya, killed Alejandro, killed Maya, got his powers back. I remember being happy when he had his powers back, because telekinesis is awesome and there’s just something about a good villain.

This brings us to Season Three. In the first episode, Sylar attacked Claire! Woah! Awesome. Still very evil. He attacks the Company, but gets taken down by Elle. Then Angela Petrelli walks into his cell and tells him that she’s his mother. Alright. I remember being like WHAT WHAT WHAT at the time, but on a more objective note years later, that’s kinda a twist that’s completely out of nowhere. Then Sylar joins the Company and tries to be a good little boy for his mother. Alright this is where the train jumps the rails a bit. But not because it’s completely unbelievable. Sylar killed one mother, it makes sense that he would be a little willing to help another, especially one who can appreciate his powers – and someone who’s his evil equal in many ways. She FEEDS HIM SOMEONE, I mean come on.

 Pictured: Motherly love.

My only problem with it, and this is my problem with all of Volume 3: IT’S TOO FAST. He literally gets out of the cell her company put him in and works for her.

(Then we see Sylar in the future as what an angry reviewer called “atomic waffle man” which is sorta jarring and interesting. But it’s a bit too much all at once. I feel like this creepishly happy father-with-a-Pomeranian would have fit a lot better in a different alternate future, in a time in the series when Sylar wasn’t going through a personality crisis. It just kinda dull the weirdness of it if we see him slowly trying to become a better person and then WHAM he’s a better person. It would have been super effective at a time when he was just the cold-blooded killer. Imagine if we had seen waffle!Sylar smack dab in the middle of Season Two, seconds after he stabbed Alejandro and kissed Maya. That would have been incredibly unsettling. OR if say we had a storyline about the dangers of time travel, where Hiro changed something and the world just kinda… screwed up. Nothing says “this is not right” than Sylar and Mr. Muggles havin’ a waffle party.)

Although, the Heroes wiki has proven that Waffles are a sinister plot. (Bonus points for the 30 Rock reference at the bottom of that screenshot)

Alright back to the present now, where Peter copies Sylar’s power and gets the HUNGERRR or whatever, because apparently it’s Sylar’s ability that makes him crazy. Not really sure how I felt about that. That seems like another thing that would have been interesting at a time when Sylar was straight evil. Peter could have been copying his power to understand (look, that works on multiple levels, Heroes writers!!) his enemy a little better, and get in his head (also sorta works symbolically cause of the brain stuff). And so, they head to the other company, Pinehearst. The one that Arthur Petrelli runs, and Arthur Petrelli uses Sylar by telling him Angela tried to kill him as a baby. Here’s the thing. We learn later in the season that Sylar was abandoned by two fathers: his genetic one, and his adoptive one who is also his genetic uncle. Yet, he believes Arthur instantly, and again just… works for him. This is another thing where the speed of the story is what screws it up. MAYBE if Arthur convinced Sylar a little more that Angela was just using him, then I might believe his switch.

Then he meets Elle and instantly falls in love with her. Although I suppose that’s not too far fetched, as they’re both pretty broken people. He kills her two episodes later, so that kinda proves me point. Also because I’m pretty sure he thinks she’s just using him like Arthur and Angela, when she was really reaching out to him.

Here is where I start liking Sylar again because he gets ANGRY and efficient. He hunts down a woman with a lie detector ability and kills her (and her entire office, apparently). Then he hunts down Arthur Petrelli right as Peter is about to shoot him, asks if he’s his father, and then moves the bullet into Arthur’s head. YEAH. This is Sylar. It still feels rushed though. Imagine Volume 3 if it had taken up all of Season 3, rather than just the first half. That would have been nice.

In Volume 4, Sylar hunts down his father, who was in Gremlins 2 and then became a serial killer. He works for Danko, then ends up fighting Nathan, and killing him, and then Sylar gets turned into Nathan which I actually thought was a pretty cool twist (although the Claire’s Blood thing kinda ruins it), even if it meant Nathan survived YET ANOTHER DEATH. Seriously, it would have had a bit more meaning if he didn’t die at the end of EVERY SEASON. I bet that’s why Heroes was cancelled. There was no Nathan-is-dead cliffhanger at the end of Season 4. NBC execs are big Adrian Pasdar fans.

Anyway, the main problem I have with Season 4 is that Sylar redeems himself by… not being Sylar anymore. Guys… Sylar is cool because he’s a bad guy. And look, I’m alright with him being a hero. But some heroes kill their enemies.

Note: After shooting four people over a minor offence, this character later starred in the sequel as “The Good”.

Think about the last scene of Season 4, but a little differently. Enter Peter, to see what Sylar has done to Doyle. He sees Doyle strung up in Christmas lights just like in the original version… but the top of his head is cut off. Sylar turns to Peter and explains that he is still a hero, just a different kind. He stalks off into the night to go find Danko and Adam Monroe because this is a better cut of Heroes where they didn’t die really crappy deaths just to make the next villain look cool.

So, TL;DR of the last few meandering paragraphs: I would have accepted Sylar’s character arc a lot more if Volume 3’s stuff had been slower, and he had have killed Danko in the Season 4 (and also Series) Finale.

I mentioned how I didn’t like some of the seasons’ resolutions, but after reading that I realized: That’s one thing Season 3 got right! In Season 1, Nathan returns and flies Peter away (without ever having influenced by a time traveler, so why didn’t he do this in another timeline??) because he loves him awwwwww. In Season 2, Peter catches the vial of virus. In Season 4, Hiro teleports the supers away to depower Samuel so Peter can punch up his face and whatnot.

In Season 3 Part 1 (vol. 3), they still succeeded, but it was exploding buildings and characters dying left and right (all just recurring, mind you. There’s that RCS again). In Season 3 Part 2 (vol. 4), Nathan died For Realsies (that’s a medical term).

However, in none of these seasons did the heroes fail. Not once. My term for this is Empire Strikes Back Deficiency. Because in Empire, the heroes LOSE. Han Solo is in carbonite, Luke gets his hand chopped off, Lando’s city is taken over and it’s the only one of the trilogy where a gigantic Imperial space station does not explode. And you know what? People consider that the best one of the whole series!

Partially because it spawned some great cat macros.

Heroes writers, I gave this note to a friend of mine recently while reading a story he wrote in which the characters had accomplished things very easily time and time again: “You don’t want your audience to stop caring about your character’s outcome because they feel safe.”

Now, to be fair, the Heroes writers did originally plan for Peter to drop the vial in Season 2. Which would have been awesome, simply because I remember sitting at home watching the predictable slow motion as Peter burst into the vault and reached for the vial of virus and just caught it, like everyone knew he would. Then some inexplicable Future Peter shot Nathan, who really cares, we know they’re going to win, they always win! Imagine my face had I been blindsided and the vial broke.

Yeah. That’s pretty much it.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough, and remember – this is a show I LIKED. I watched this every week, it was excellent. I just think it had a lot more potential than it lived up to. It’s certainly a must-watch for any budding storytellers, as it’s essentially a gigantic dos and don’ts list about how to make a TV series. I’ve really only begun to scratch the surface here. I’ve got tons of pet peeves beyond this about the series (Peter’s synthetic “one ability at a time” power (and his terrible choices with it), Sylar having melting/shattering/disintegrating powers and not using any of those) but I really don’t have the time or energy to list them all.

But Heroes writers, know that I appreciate all your work, and any ranting tips I give are because I appreciated it so much. So I leave you with this message:

Keep working for more Heroes. I’d love a conclusion to Brave New World, and even with all the flaws of the past, I’m sure it’d be pretty great.

Also don’t equate scientific superpowers with moon magic. That’s just silly.

That is all.

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