As the strike-shortened second season of Heroes meandered on, characterized by mediocrity punctuated with random cool moments, I found myself thinking that Heroes was slowly slipping into Smallville territory. That is, that the characters were acting stupid or out of character, ignoring past experiences or abilities, due to the demands of the plot. It reached the point on Smallville where I basically stopped watching because of this, and look, I read comic books: I can forgive a lot of nitpicky things, but it got bad. As the third season of Heroes dawned, I was worried that this show would also cross the already-high threshold of forgiveness I have for sci-fi related plothammering.
With three episodes of the new season in the bank, how are things shaping up? Better than I feared, but still not great. Thankfully, I still get a charge out of watching the show: its always fun to watch people using super powers, and I still care about some of the characters. I'm also accepting this show might never be a "great" one. It won't ever be Lost, but there's still hope it won't become Smallville.
Let's take a look at good and the bad of the last three episodes. Or, in the spirit of the show, the Heroes and the Villains.
Hero: Quick Resolution
Right off the bat we find out who shot Nathan at the end of last season, while he was on the verge of revealing his super power to the world: A time traveling Peter from a dystopic future (is there any other kind?) in which Nathan's revelations led to the prosecution and internment of all the powered people. Peter shoots Nathan to prevent his future from coming to pass.
Villain: Future Peter and Future Claire
The season opens with Future Peter running furiously to a warehouse. Um...Dingus? You can teleport. If I could teleport, I'd rarely walk, let alone run. Inside, he meets a dystopically-darkened Claire, pointing a gun and determined to stop him. Apparently, the audience is supposed to be so shocked and intrigued by a badass Claire that we don't ask why in the world Claire, of all people, thinks a gun would intimidate, let alone stand any chance of stopping, Peter. Um, Claire? He can telekinetically grab that gun from you, or melt it, or teleport away, or phase so that the bullets pass through him, or stop time, sip his way through a twelve pack, read a book and then causally grab it from you, or, you know, just let himself get shot because he can heal, using your power.
Villain: No limitation on Peter's power
Still no limitation on Peter's power (aside from his existing limitation of not being able to do anything significant unless Nathan or Adam tells him to). Peter is simply too powerful: he almost renders all the other characters obsolete. For awhile, it seemed like he could only use one power at time, which was an adequate enough limitation. But last season debunked that notion. Instead, it seems that the writers like to "trap" Peter to prevent him from having the full range of his powers. In the first season, he was confused and unpracticed, last season he lost his memories, and this season he got trapped in someone else's body. At least until that plot resolved itself in one episode, anyways...
Hero: A limitation on Hiro's power
Hiro pronouncement that he will no longer travel back in time due to the consequences involved was a welcomed limitation. From now on we'll be spared wondering why, whenever something doesn't go his way, Hiro doesn't just go back five minutes into the past to ensure that it will. Sure, one can argue the morality of this self-imposed limitation (should Hiro stick to it even if it means costing someone their life?) but in the meantime, it effectively ends an entire avenue of nitpickery and plothammering for the character.
Villain: Hiro's regression
In an attempt to recapture the glory of Season One the writers apparently decided to transport the Hiro of the first episode into this season, because all the character development he's gone through seems to have vanished. He's trained at his father's side, saved the world (twice), experienced a doomed love affair, and buried his father, yet in the last three episodes he's acted like the goofy office drone he was before all that. I can understand his desire to be a hero and not a sentinel (that certainly fits his character) but beyond that, all of his actions this season clearly show he hasn't learned anything from the last two seasons, which is increasingly frustrating.
Hero: Sylar stalking Claire
A suspenseful homage to classic horror flicks, with the silent and unstoppable killer relentlessly pursuing the teenage girl. And Sylar's ultimate victory and violation of Claire, and the fallout from it, was an obvious metaphor handedly with a deft touch by a show that usually handles such metaphors with a much heavier hand.
Villain: Claire as the teenage victim
I can wholeheartedly endorse Claire's newfound desire to become more offensive: she is in danger of being defined only by her damsel-in-distressness. I was okay with her not just jumping through the blinded windows (she was scared and not thinking clearly) and I was okay with Sylar getting 'stopped' by the cupboard door (he wasn't, really. He was just having his idea of fun). But I've had enough with Claire constantly being the victim or the object of salvation. Give the girl an empowering storyline already!
Hero: Linderman's back
It's great to have Malcolm McDowell back as Linderman, particurlarly since we don't know in what capacity he's back: a ghost? A figment of Nathan's imagination? An illusion or shapeshifter. It's a mystery I'm interested in seeing resolved, but in the meantime, its fun to watch Linderman interact with Nathan again, something they didn't get to do nearly enough in the first season.
Villain: Claire's Mom's back
Look, I'm as big a fan of bringing back old characters as anyone, and I was excited, in theory, to see Claire's real mom back. But since when is she some kind of Zen instructor? Even before it became apparent her fighting lessons were just a veil to force Claire to work through her Sylar issues, what was Claire expecting this woman to teach her? The last time Claire (and the audience) saw her, she seemed perfectly happy living the trailer trash lifestyle, milking Nathan for hush money. Now she's suddenly Yoda? And, nitpick here, how was she breathing while in the super heated container while Claire, who theoretically, may not even need oxygen to live (Adam clearly doesn't), was having problems doing so?
Hero: Ma Petrelli
From the smooth way she took charge of the Company and smacked down Future Peter to her revelation to Sylar (whether she's telling the truth or not), Ma Petrelli continues to be one of the more interesting characters to watch. Plus, we got confirmation of her power, even if Noah seems to think she's normal (he said to her "one of us, one of them" not "one of you, one of me.").
Villain: Mohinder's still a moron
No character has suffered from the demands of plothammering more than Moronder, and he's off to a great start this season. I can buy him being so overcome with scientific zeal that he'd create a power-granting formula despite the fact that, seriously, its going to cause more problems than it could solve. I could even see him injecting himself with it in the right circumstances (Maya is in danger, Sylar comes back, heck, change his "mugging" scene so that he injects himself as a result of the mugging) but injecting himself with an untested serum after a contemplative nightime gaze across the water? Moron, or slave to the plot?
Hero: Bennet is still a badass
From cooling tossing the Steve McQueen ball in his level 5 cell, to springing into action when Sylar attacked to reluctantly donning the Company suit again to track down the escapees, Bennet is still cool, calm and pretty badass.
Hero: Noah's new partner
In theory, the idea of teaming Noah with Sylar to hunt down super powered villains is such a good one I'm willing to overlook the plothammering inherent in making it work (Bennet's really going to be strong-armed into working with the man who metaphorically raped his daughter? The Company is really going to set Sylar loose leashed by nothing more than Ma Petrelli's manipulation?). All that aside, Sylar using his previously-seen acting skills to take charge of the situation was priceless and it was great seeing him wipe the floor with some bad guys for a change. Seeing how Bennet struggles to keep him leashed will be interesting and will ultimately determine how good this storyline is in practice.
Villain: Parkman's in Africa? Here we go again...
One of the biggest problems last season (aside from the Dunder Twins) was Hiro's prolonged stay in feudal Japan, which had the fan favorite isolated from the main cast for most episodes. Now, Parkman is no fan favorite, but I like him, and part of what I liked so much about the first season was watching how all these disparate characters came together against a common foe. Again, the second season faltered because, after bringing them together, it tore all those characters apart. This season, there's far more character interaction but once again, there's the that one character who is too far removed from the main action. Look, writers, we want to see these characters form a league of...justice, or something, not wander around the world meeting new people and increasing the cast size.
It's nice to have some bad guys for our heroes to fight that aren't Sylar or apocalyptic futures.
Villain: Wait, they're captured already?
My understanding was that this volume was "Villains" and it would use, at least as a backdrop for whatever the "future we must prevent" plot would be, the idea that a bunch of superpowered criminals were loose and needed to be hunted down. We see them escape in the second episode. In the third, two are dead and the rest recaptured. That was...quick. Hopefully there's more to this plot-maybe some other villains escaped that still need capturing? Otherwise, that was just one big tease...
Hero: Time Travel. Again.
Yeah, that's right. I'm going to make a stand and be the lone voice on the internet saying that yet another overarching plot involving the prevention of an apocalyptic future is a "pro." I'll be the first to admit that such stories play to my bias, but beyond that, in a show that features two characters that can do it, time travel HAS to be involved in some capacity. And while the whole "prevent the future from occuring" plot seems hackneyed by now, each time it's been done, it's been done a little bit differently. In the first season, the tragic future was avoided. Had the second season unraveled as planned, the tragic future would have come to pass. And this season, it seems, one tragic future is averted but in doing so, a worse one is created, calling into question the mechanics of preventing it in turn: in doing so, couldn't things just get progressively worse? Perhaps that will be the out the writers use to do away with this kind of story entirely, making most everyone else very happy. Am I making excuses for this plot device? Definitely. But I still like it, damn it.
Whew. I didn't intend for that to be so long. But it does cover three episodes. I'd like to do some kind of write-up for each Heroes episode but I'm not sure what format to use. They certainly don't warrant the kind of involved (read:long-winded) analysis I give episodes of Lost.
So I ask you, our loyal readers, what kind of format would you like to see? A continuation of this Hero/Villain dicthomy for each episode? Simpler "what I liked/didn't like" in the episode bullet points? Plot recaps? Or would you rather I just shut up about Heroes?