With its embarrassment of riches in the extras department, and its episodes' more unified storytelling, the Heroes: Season 3 DVD set is well worth watching, no matter how you may have felt about previous seasons.
Last year, in my review of the Heroes second season DVD, I predicted that the third season would have the show again finding its footing and recovering its golden glow. Though I wasn't quite wrong, I wasn't exactly right, either.
Although Heroes: Season 3 DVD set has more overall content and its 25 episodes definitely present more complete story lines than its truncated predecessor, Season 3 still seems to be missing something, somehow. In the two parts of this season—"Villains" and "Fugitives"— the indefinable element that elevated the original concept and super-charged the critically acclaimed and commercially embraced first season isn't readily apparent. One has a sense that it's still here, somewhere, but it never fully materializes. It's almost as if it's hovering just off camera, slightly beyond the reach of the cast and creators like a power that even Sylar can't possess.
Still, there are several things to covet about this six disc set, even beyond its bonus features, which we'll get to later. Yes, the initial episodes of the "Villains" volume start off a little shaky, immediately following up on the rushed season two finale in which Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Padsar) was shot moments before revealing to the world that he, and others, had powers. We discover the shooter is a future version of Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) who travels back in time to stop this revelation, which apparently leads to some great calamity in years to come.
Recovering from his wounds, Nathan begins to think he's been chosen by God courtesy of advice from the late Mr. Linderman (Malcom McDowell), and becomes a Senator courtesy of Nikki Sanders look-alike and political power player Tracey Strauss (Ali Larter). All of this is a bit tedious, as are the repeated warnings and flash-forwards to the outcomes Peter's meddling has wrought. Yeah, yeah, the butterfly effect, we got it, get to Hiro and Ando or Sylar already, will you?
Thankfully, Sylar (Zachary Quinto) shows up shortly. He is after Claire (Hayden Panettiere) and her healing power again, and this time he manages to get it. Unlike his previous victims, however, Claire manages to survive, with one little side effect: she can't feel pain anymore.
Hiro (Masi Oka) and Ando (James Kayson Lee) are charged with protecting a power-giving formula that’s immediately stolen by Hiro's nemesis, the super-speedster Daphne (Brea Grant). Hiro and Ando are still the show's comic relief, and they are brilliant in that capacity (especially the Buster Keaton cinema and baby Matt Parkman scenes), but they are also representations of the heart of the show in this volume (whereas, originally, that was mainly Peter's role). Hiro goes to a future in which Ando uses a power to kill him, and this not only gives them greater impetus to recover the formula while it creates a humorous new dynamic between them, but it also reinforces their relationship as friends. Meanwhile Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is working on his own version of a formula and foolishly injects himself with it, causing mutation.
Noah Bennett (Jack Coleman) is forced to work for the Company again when Sylar inadvertently affords several Level 5 detainees—including one who is actually Peter stuck in the body of another man by his future self—a means to escape. He must partner with Sylar ("One of us, one of them.") as part of a grand plan orchestrated by Angela Petrelli (the ever-fabulous Christine Rose), who claims that Sylar, in fact, is her son. Angela, however, doesn't know that she isn't the only Petrelli pulling strings behind the scenes.
Arthur Petrelli, family patriarch and all-around baddie, isn't dead, after all. Through a series of neatly tied up (but slightly incongruous to events in season one) flashbacks, we see his deceptions are darker and deeper than anything Angela has ever dreamt. Now, he's set up Pinehearst, a company to rival the Company, and he's recruiting. He's also absorbing the powers of everyone who goes against him. He employs Daphne, he uses Matt Parkman's father and he's even behind Linderman's ghost appearing to his son, Nathan. He dangles the promise of a cure to lure a desperate and disfigured (not to mention dumb) Suresh to his cause, which seems to be to collect every power there is and remake the world in his image.
Arthur imprisons Angela inside her own mind, and begins a search for "the catalyst", which could be Claire or Hiro, or maybe a myth. He steals all of Peter's powers and turns Sylar into his right hand man. The oedipal issues abound. He even convinces Nathan his cause is just, which sets in motion the events that carry the second half of the season. But first, everyone must lose their powers during an eclipse. And then regain them, in various forms, when the eclipse ends. The eclipse episodes act as more of a transition than they further the storylines, which is not to discount them, but really the most interesting occurrences in them are Claire's suddenly succumbing to a system-wide infection from a gunshot wound as a result of not having any normal immunities and Peter's ability to borrow powers from whomever he touches, but only one at a time.
Nathan, in his new senatorial seat, convinces the president (Michael Dorn!) to fund an operation to capture and sequester people with powers (giving Claire immunity, while keeping his own power under wraps). He is assisted in this project by the military attack dog mentality of The Hunter, Emile Danko (Zeljko Ivanek), who becomes the principal bad guy as the season progresses. Naturally, as with all attempts to immorally incarcerate "other-ness" by government, Nathan's program crashes and burns, he is outed, Claire is no longer safe, Danko is on a mission to exterminate what he sees as a terrorist threat and the rest of our heroes are in hiding, in flight or fighting for their lives. And so, Volume 4: "Fugitives", has begun.
So many things happen so quickly at this point in Season 3, that it's difficult to keep up. One has the feeling that the writers were working furiously to fit in everything they possibly could to make up for the second season's abridgment. To their credit, many of these things are tied to the central plot of the governmental round up, so, even with the information overload, it still feels more cohesive and compelling than Heroes has in quite some time.
Quick synopses: Mysterious "Rebel" is saving people with powers by warning them that agents are coming; Claire begins to help these people at Rebel's request, even helping Doyle, the "creepy puppet man" who held her and both of her moms captive earlier in the season; Sylar meets his real father and picks up some more nifty tricks and nasty habits; Mohinder, Matt and Peter kidnap Noah Bennett to find out what he knows about The Hunter; Sandra Bennett becomes Claire's unlikely ally in outwitting the agents who are watching her; Tracey Strauss comes to Rebel's rescue in a spectacular, and spectacularly selfless, fashion and Danko teams up with Sylar to capture a shape-shifter, which turns out to be a very bad decision on his part.
Meanwhile, Angela Petrelli leads her clan to Coyote Springs, the site of a 1961 government project which, you guessed it, rounded up people with abilities to disastrous result. She knows because she survived it. Angela, Nathan, Claire, Peter and, later, Suresh dig through the past's mistakes to reveal the origins of the Company. The flashbacks for this part of the story are wonderful to watch, but they don't quite move the plot along when placed here. In fact, their purpose seems to be less about what they reveal or what they could mean to the series, and more about conveniently taking these pivotal characters away from the action, thereby easily explaining away the things that begin to happen in their absence. The hunt for "fugitives" has spun out of control and, consumed with power (and consumed by powers) Sylar has assumed the shape of Nathan Petrelli with the intention of becoming President of the United States.
Of course, our heroes wouldn't be heroes if they didn't discover Sylar's plan and try to stop him. The final episode of Season 3 follows Sylar's actions in the hours before his attempt to take that chair in The Oval Office and Claire, Nathan and Peter's attempts to foil him. Whether you can consider what happens in the final moments of Season 3 success or failure remains to be seen, because these heroes wouldn't be interesting if they were totally infallible or entirely invulnerable, and Heroes wouldn't be Heroes without leaving loose ends and open options. So, there is hope that the fourth season—currently airing—will find new and exciting ways to reclaim the power of its phenomenal debut season (and one could argue the direction of the last half of Season 3 points toward just such a possibility). Until it does, there are more than 20 hours of special features on this set.
As with the previous DVDs, the commentaries are probably the best of the wealth of bonus materials. Once again there is commentary for every episode, and commentators run the gamut from creators and cast members, to writers and directors, from producers, editors and art directors to DPs, production designers and visual effects artists. During the "Villains" commentaries, a recurring theme is, of course, how this volume had to be changed and various stories and subplots were dropped because of season two's shortness. Tidbits and behind the scenes trivia (Brea Grant, who plays Daphne, once waited on Kristen Bell, for instance) are interspersed with details of shooting many of the more challenging stunts and explanations of how and why certain things changed during shooting (such as why it was decided that the finale's big fight scene would occur off-screen).
Beyond the commentary, 36 deleted scenes are divided across all six discs. Though mostly alternates and extensions of scenes that appeared in the broadcast episodes, such as the Buster Keaton scene with Hiro, Ando, the Haitian and Daphne, there are a few entirely new scenes. Most notable are a scene in which Micah Sander (Noah Gray-Cabey) questions Noah Bennett’s motives and a comical scene with a drunken Nathan and a frantic Claire fighting those frat boys in Mexico. In addition to deleted scenes, the DVDs contain two of NBC's web-isodes (apparently the Blu-Ray set contains a third). "Going Postal", features a mailman with some sort of sonic boom power, while "Nowhere Man" focuses on everyone's favorite creepy schmuck, Doyle the puppeteer (David H. Lawrence) as he tries to resume a normal life and records video confessions addressed to "Barbie"/Claire. This is a real treat for anyone who missed it online, it's subversive and sweet all at once, and Lawrence is absolutely superb as Doyle walks the line between eliciting compassion and evoking revulsion.
Bonus featurettes on this set include "The Super Powers of Heroes" with stunt coordinator Tim Gilbert; "Completing the Scene" with visual effects supervisor Eric Grenaudier; "The Prop Box" gives a tour of the prop department with its character-and-time labeled boxes (just in case the crew needs something for a flashback episode) and "The Writers' Forum", features Tim Kring, Adam Armus and Aron Eli Coleite discussing the season's overall arc and the choices between various heroes and villains, particularly Sylar's journey and the decision to abandon the idea of some heroes being hunted, some fighting and the rest attempting to escape a super prison in favor of everyone being on the run.
"Genetics of a Scene" is a four-part feature with each part exploring how a specific piece of a scene or a stunt was created. Exploring Claire’s Mind shows the body and head casts used in the show and reveals how the scene in which Sylar cuts into Claire's brain was done. Speedster Steals the Formula breaks down the time-stopping sequence in Hiro's office, and it's probably the most interesting of these segments. Throwing Thoughts explains the process of getting Matt Parkman's mind control power to come across visually. Lights, Camera, Beeman dissects Greg Beeman directing of a key scene with Sylar, Nathan and Danko. It's an involved process, and as we see, it can be frustrating. But it can also be rewarding as well as spontaneously collaborative, as it is when Zachary suggests Sylar move Nathan telekinetically rather than drag him, and that suggestion is then set up and shot. To conclude the special features, there's also a gallery of Tim Sale's brilliant artwork from the show and the full commercial for Pinehearst.
With its embarrassment of riches in the extras department, and its episodes' more unified storytelling, the Heroes: Season 3 DVD set is well worth watching. It also presents a show that, this time, really does show the potential to find a formula with which to reclaim its former powers. Let's hope Season 4 of Heroes contains a catalyst.