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Heroes: Season 3 Finale and the State of the Show

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Thursday, Apr 30, 2009

Here we are at the end of a rocky three years for Heroes. I was a big fan of the show in the first season. It was never a great show, but it had moments of greatness, was consistently entertaining, and had a cast of engaging characters. Sure, there were some troubling signs even then. Creator Tim Kring had never handled a genre project before, cutting his teeth as a writer on Chicago Hope and creating Crossing Jordan. But he filled the show with intriguing characters and gradually revealed their abilities as well as the plans of the shadowy organization behind the scenes. Despite Kring’s claims that he never really read comic books, somebody in the writers’ room certainly had. Plotlines throughout all three seasons have borrowed liberally from stories that would be familiar to any comic book geek, but at least the first season handled the stories with style.


Kring and his team started season 3 out with a lot of candid admissions about the problems of season 2 and a lot of promises saying that this season would be better. And while season 3 didn’t replicate the problems of season 2 (terrible pacing, characters literally off in their own worlds), it had a set of problems all its own. I was ready to give up on the show after Volume 3, “Villains,” ended in December, but since the season was divided into two different arcs, I decided to stick with it through the season finale and see where the show stood at that point. Well, here we are at the end of Volume 4, “Fugitives,” and I really am done with Heroes now.
  
“Fugitives” featured most of the cast on the run from the government. Nathan Petrelli, for some reason, thought that tracking down all of the super-powered people and putting them in the government’s care would be a good idea. This was in spite of the fact that his whole family, including himself, had abilities. So we had the one-dimensional character of Emile Danko doggedly hunting down the heroes and wasting the considerable acting ability of Zeljko Ivanek. Ivanek won an Emmy for his work on Damages and since then has had better roles in one-off appearances on House and True Blood. Danko was a one-note idea, a man driven to protect the country from the dangers of super-powered people. And, get this, he was also a single, lonely man! Amazing. Even so, at least the story arc started with a clear premise. Then it got lost in the middle and meandered around for a few episodes. It took the return of writer Bryan Fuller, fresh from the cancellation of his own show Pushing Daisies, to get the show focused again and pointed in the right direction for the finale. In the single best episode of the season, Fuller managed to kill off two major characters who had become useless. He also managed to recapture some of Hiro and Ando’s old spirit of fun and reveal the identity of the mysterious “Rebel” and make it believable.


Instead of taking that momentum and running with it, though, the rest of the writing staff continued to putter around for the next three episodes, spending way too much time on flashbacks to the origin of Angela Petrelli and various other (now dead) founders of The Company. Finally, though, we got to the season finale. Hiro, Ando, and Parkman were all on their way to Building 26 to rescue other super-powered people from the government strike force. Meanwhile, Sylar, posing as Nathan, was preparing to meet the President of the United States and literally steal his identity while the rest of the cast raced to Washington DC to stop him.


The third season finale was written by Tim Kring himself, and it is a nearly perfect illustration of why he was never the man to run this sort of show. Every good scene in the finale was matched by a bad scene. Every smart character action was matched by a stupid character action. First there was Claire. After barging into Nathan’s office she sees Sylar (pretending to be Nathan) and does the whole, “How do I know it’s really you?” spiel. Even though Sylar gives mostly right answers, Claire still looks suspicious, and the camera goes out of its way to emphasize the visible legs and shoes of the real, unconscious Nathan in the open bathroom behind Sylar. It makes it appear that Claire is going along with Sylar to keep an eye on him and prevent his plan from taking place. But apparently this was not the case because as soon as he has the opportunity, Sylar has revealed himself and gained complete control over Claire. So it appears that we were supposed to believe that Claire fell for Sylar’s trick, and director Greg Beeman emphasized the legs of Nathan in that shot to, what? Remind the audience that Sylar had just knocked out Nathan a few minutes earlier on the show and that it wasn’t actually Nathan? Does Heroes really have that little respect for its audience’s attention span?


The episode also spent a lot of time showing that Hiro’s constant use of his time-traveling ability is now giving him headaches, nosebleeds, and earbleeds. This plot development seems to have come from out of nowhere and appears completely arbitrary. This has always been a failing of the show- Kring and his team seem to throw ideas out there whenever they feel like it without regard to character motivation or long-term story arcs. Many other examples of this unfortunate technique in season 3 involve the formerly likable Matt Parkman: Parkman suddenly gains the ability to draw the future; Parkman falls in love with the speedster Daphne because he saw it in a vision; Parkman finds out his ex-wife has not only had a baby since they got divorced, but also named it after him. This last one was done solely as a plot device to give Hiro and Ando a case of mistaken identity and force them into wacky, baby-based hijinks for a few episodes.


But the kicker came near the end of the episode. Sylar killed Nathan Petrelli by slitting his throat. Nathan was absolutely, completely dead. But the producers apparently couldn’t bear to put actor Adrian Pasdar out of a job. So in a convoluted plot twist, Angela Petrelli and Noah Bennet badger Parkman into using his mind control abilities to convince Sylar that he was now Nathan Petrelli, with all of his memories intact. And as a tag at the end, feeze-powered Traci Strauss, presumed dead in Fuller’s episode, turned out to actually be alive.


These two plot twists were the final straw for me. I clearly remember, back when the show was first starting out, Tim Kring saying that he planned to do the show in “Volumes,” serialized story arcs that wouldn’t always involve the same characters. Some characters would drop out for whole arcs because they wouldn’t be needed and the cast would constantly refresh itself. When the show became a big hit, this all changed. Kring and his team have now become so attached to their actors that it’s hurting the story. At the end of season 3, the only cast regular who wasn’t in the show at the very beginning is Cristine Rose, who plays Angela Petrelli. The show has introduced plenty of new characters along the way, but inevitably, those are the ones they kill off. Ali Larter’s original character was killed off at the end of season 2, but for season 3, she was back as Traci Strauss, a completely different character. Strauss could’ve been played by literally any other actor and it wouldn’t have required an idiotic “long-lost triplet” origin story.


To top it off, these characters have been put through the wringer. The result of all this plot-first, character-second writing is that the characters’ motivations and points of view have been wildly inconsistent. As it stands, there aren’t any characters left in the cast that I find likable or even interesting anymore. Not only have all the plot convolutions been aggravating, it’s gradually decreased my enjoyment of the show to the point that I don’t care about the characters. So there’s no reason for me to keep watching. Heroes will continue next season, but I won’t be along for the ride. Two full seasons of wasted potential is enough for me.

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