Heroes… No More?
Let me first rant about this – high-concept shows like Heroes or Flash Forward should not be so formulaic that you can see plot twists coming. But FF made a fatal error recently in broadcasts all of its twists in the teaser the previous episode, and also went ahead and answered a lot of big questions first introduced in the pilot (making us wonder what’s really left to keep watching). You can’t build a show for smart audiences and then pull bush-league marketing mistakes like these.
Anyway, on to what I am really here to talk about. My sister and I just finished the third season of Heroes on DVD. It was hard for us to finish, and we are debating whether to even watch the fourth season, much less care whether they get a fifth. (Like FF, their survival despite low ratings may depend on how many returning shows are left standing by season’s end.)
Season One of Heroes kicked ass. Everything built into the final episode quite nicely. Twists, even the predictable ones, had a purpose and built the story. You cared about the characters, understood their purpose and their goals. I even found myself rooting for the villain Sylar because his role fit perfectly well with the story. And we even got a nice, tidy finish to the nuclear bomb plot while plowing the seeds for other stories. (For example, Isaac giving away his sketch book comes in handy a few seasons later).
Season Two, shortened by the writer’s strike, felt like a sad echo of season one (except it’s a virus in Texas instead of a bomb in NYC) with a few new characters thrown in, the purpose for which was never really made clear. The most important part of Season 2 is we learned that Claire’s blood was regenerative for anyone who got a transfusion.
Season Three is the season whose plot was, largely, a waste of time. We’re introduced to a bunch of bad guys who seem just as dangerous, if not more so, than Sylar – even as the good-guy Sylar idea was trotted out for a spin. We learn a lot about The Company, find out it had a competitor organization, and then burned them both down. Nathan has the government go after the Heroes, only to learn the government tried this before, and by the end that too has ended – with The Company reconstituted. Sylar hangs out with a creepy kid while looking for his father and amasses more powers, such as shape-shifting, as Peter or Hiro lose nearly all of theirs
What really bothers me about Season 3 is not the plot. (Spoiler alert.) It’s that the writers kill off Nathan and have Sylar change to look and think like Nathan. Did they think doing this would trap Sylar and protect everyone – even if it meant keeping Nathan on ice? Or did they just forget Claire’s blood could save Nathan? Apparently it’s the latter. And it bothers me more because this could have been done for the sole sake of the cliff-hangery moment when “Nathan” fixes a clock like Sylar as his “mother” looks on in horror.
That’s just the biggest of the show’s problems. Between using shape-shifting (always a dubious plot device – just ask Star Trek DS9), between the plots that never go anywhere or matter in anyway, between the seemingly dozens of characters we need to keep in mind, between the constantly shifting powers (and the increasingly strained ways they found to keep Isaac’s precognitive ability in use by other heroes) and all of the false memories, it’s enough to drive you insane.
Sometimes an idea works as a movie and sucks as a television show. Sometimes an idea works as a short-run series instead of an ongoing story. And sometimes a show comes along with an awesome premise for the first season but begins to breakdown when it tries to live up to its own expectations for a sequel.
I think Heroes has reached a point where it either needs to recapture the spirit and intensity of the first season – perhaps through a truly integrated story arc that has high stakes to it – or it needs to find a way to wrap things up and call it a day. Frankly, there’s even a third option to consider – I could easily see Heroes doing well as a movie franchise.
But I’m with the network. I’ll give Season 4 a chance. I’ll even watch a Season 5 – but only if nothing else shows up that’s better worth my time.