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Heroes, Season 2 – Broken Relationships? September 18, 2008

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I’ve been watching season two of Heroes over the past few nights, and I’m currently six episodes in. Oops—I mean six chapters. :)

I’m enjoying season two, but after last night, I find myself concluding that this season simply isn’t as good as the first one.

Why?

At first realization I couldn’t pin it down exactly, but it didn’t take long to realize the obvious: One of the primary strengths of season one was a focus on the relationships between the primary characters. In every single case (except possibly one), those relationships are not playing critical roles in season two. In some cases, they have even been ended, due to death, presumed death, or other reason.

To illustrate:

Matt and Janice Parkman

In season one, in spite of the fact that the two of them were having marital difficulties, it was made pretty plain that underneath it all they loved each other very much and preferred to continue their marriage. How did they go from there to divorce? The initial explanation was that Matt read in his wife’s mind that her pregnancy was attributable to an affair, but then it’s said that Matt should have known better than to believe that. In other words, the baby was really his, and the fatherhood issue was just a pretext for their split. Huh? How on earth did that happen? I’d speculate that the real-life reason was Lisa Lackey having a new baby of her own, meaning she couldn’t continue with a full-time acting job for the season, but damn, the shift was quite abrupt, wasn’t it?

Peter and Nathan Petrelli

How often have I seen a major television program deal with a relationship between brothers? Offhand, the only one I can think of was on Dallas, and not only was that a long time ago, but Bobby and J.R.’s relationship was hardly a stellar example of brotherly love, was it?. Nathan and Peter Petrelli felt like something new and important to me, especially since I come from a family where my brother and I are the only two children. Nathan and Peter’s relationship was a primary story point in season one, but now it’s virtually absent. Nathan mourns Peter’s presumed death, and Peter doesn’t even remember who he is. Obviously Nathan is really suffering, but it’s not a point that seems to be driving the story much. Peter himself, remembering nothing of his former life, is basically in isolation except for his new Irish cutie girlfriend. Obviously, something had to be done with him after the end of season one, because at that point he was getting to be too powerful. He would have been the “K-9” of Heroes, meaning the writers would have had to constantly come up with reasons for him not to just wave his hands and magically make it all better. Wiping his memory and forcing him to relearn the extent of his power is actually one way of doing that—they’re making him not really Peter, which means super-Peter can’t just swoop in and save the day. But it’s frustrating, because Peter was one of the best characters on the show.

(Incidentally, I have a theory about Peter’s memory loss. Recall he was blown up at the end of season one, but at that point, he had also assumed Claire Bennet’s regenerative ability, which includes the ability to regenerate severed body parts. So what if Peter’s head was blown off by the explosion, and his body grew a new head? Obviously the new head wouldn’t have any memories, would it? This would also explain his hair being different. :) One other thing about Peter—at what point did he gain DL’s “walk through walls” talent? Recall when he’s tied up and manages to dephase his wrists to escape? When did he pick up that ability? Did he actually encounter DL sometime in season one? Maybe I’m forgetting that meeting. Otherwise, that’s a continuity error. Ok, digression over.)

DL Hawkins and the Sanders family

This relationship actually includes four people: DL himself, Micah Sanders, Niki Sanders and Jessica. Yes, Niki and Jessica have a relationship, even though they are two fragments of the same person. Very early in season one, the Niki and Jessica thing was probably the most intriging aspect of the show for me. Rather than explicitly explain what was happening with them, the writers left us to puzzle it out over time. Honestly, it took me a good chunk of the season before I fully understood that not only did Niki suffer from multiple personality disorder, but that the disorder wasn’t really part of her power at all. Her power was actually pretty simple: superhuman strength. It just so happened that only the Jessica personality knew how to access it at that point, and the only times Niki was aware of Jessica was when she saw her in a reflection. The mystery was positively delicious, especially since, at the beginning, I thought something quite different was going on, something mysterious that I’m not even sure how to explain. The writers and directors deserve a huge amount of credit for making something so interesting out of Niki/Jessica, and Ali Larter totally rules for playing and differentiating the two roles so well.

A big part of what made Niki/Jessica interesting was the completely different ways that the two women related to DL, and even to Micah. However, DL is dead now and Micah has been shipped off to live with relatives in New Orleans. Setting aside for a moment my enthusiasm for the New Orleans idea and the new characters it brings into the show, not having Niki and Micah together is definitely a loss, as is the comparative lack of interplay between Niki and Jessica. In fact, when Niki showed up as Mohinder’s new foil at The Company, I admit I wasn’t entirely sure if it was her or Jessica. Ali Larter was playing her like Jessica—that much was obvious—and yet I got a lot of Niki vibe from her too. Have Niki and Jessica been successfully integrated through psychiatric treatment? Who knows. Whatever has happened, the new season has left Niki with very little to do. The situation with her and Mohinder could prove to be interesting, but so far there hasn’t been much.

Hiro and Ando

This one is bad. Hiro is stuck in 17th century Japan, and Ando is left where? Reading scrolls and trying to look surprised? Season two isn’t working out very well so far for Ando, and without him, Hiro is diminished as a character. Not having the two of them together is sort of like giving each of the Smothers Brothers their own, seperate shows. Or Penn and Teller. Name your comedy duo of choice, really. Sure, Hiro and Ando are nice enough characters, but they work so much better as a team, when they can play off each other. Their ongoing repartee was a highlight of season one, and now it’s just gone. Hiro’s not the happy-go-lucky guy he was first season, either, which is also a significant loss. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all in favor of character development, and if Hiro has to evolve from happy-go-lucky guy to someone resembling the future-Hiro we saw in season one, that’s fine, but that needs to be done in a better way. It would be more fun if Ando was there, not reading along from 300 years in the future.

Simone Deveaux, Isaac Mendez, Peter Petrelli

Two of them are dead, and Peter I already talked about. This triangle, which played such an important part of season one, is just plain gone. I miss Simone and Isaac. A lot. Simone was wonderfully fabulous. I admit I am biased, because out of all the female characters on the show, she’s the one who set off the most “potential girlfriend!” alarms in my silly male brain. As for Isaac, once he got off the drugs, he was a seriously cool guy. It would have been great to see something sweet-yet-tortured develop between the two of them, as they struggled to reconcile their love for each other with the fact that they probably weren’t all that good a match. I also loved Isaac’s paintings, and loved seeing more of them come into play with each episode. In season two, the writers have been digging up heretofore unknown Isaac Mendez paintings as continued plot devices. How much longer are they going to be able to continue doing that? Already it has a feeling of contrivance to it, so I hope they stop soon. Besides—Peter and Sylar can both do that too now, and Sylar has a really interesting style. :) (But first, he has to regain his power! Oh well.)

Claire Bennet and Zach

Thomas Dekker (Zach) unfortunately left the show in the middle of season one, and besides that, having the Bennet family forced into hiding made the continuance of that very important relationship impossible. So instead we get another guy, West Rosen, and he annoys me. Who knows why. Is it because he flies? Probably not. Flying is a pretty cool power. Maybe it’s because, unlike Zach, he hits on Claire constantly. Or perhaps it’s because what I was really hoping for was an exploration of what might happen if Claire and Peter Petrelli had a chance to get to know each other. When they first met in season one, we didn’t yet know that they were uncle and niece, so there was the possibility of some forbidden love between the two of them, which I’m sure would have played really well on this show. I could easily see Claire developing a huge crush on Peter, and given his empathic nature, there’d almost certainly be some strong feelings on his part too. Even after Peter was revealed to be a relative of hers, what passed between the two of them during their brief meeting in “Homecoming” was something substantial, for both of them, so it would have been great to see some type of enduring relationship form between them. It could yet happen, I suppose. But for the time being, Claire is stuck out in California, at a new school, with annoying fly-guy. She even has to deal with a new head cheerleader bitch. Which reminds me, why are we being subjected to another head cheerleader bitch in season two? Wasn’t the one in the first season enough? Do the writers of the show have something against cheerleaders? I realize Cheerleader Bitch is just a plot device, a way to draw Claire and West together (which is annoying because I have no interest in seeing that happen) but why did they have to smack us over the head with the “stuck up cheerleader” stereotype again?

Anyway, I miss the Claire/Zach thing. That was cool, even after Zach’s memory was wiped.

Claire and HRG (aka Noah Bennet)

It could be argued that their relationship is the one relationship among all the first season primaries which still survives and is continuing from where it left off. It’s hard to specifically disagree with that position, but I still find myself thinking there’s something missing between these two. The circumstances of the story have reunited them, after the painful parting at the end of “Company Man”, but it’s also throwing them back into the state of lying and distrust that existed for much of the middle of season one. It seems like that should be a good thing, but somehow, it’s not really working for me. I haven’t figured out why yet. It’s not that I want Claire and HRG to be all happy and lovey-dovey all the time, it’s more that things just don’t feel right between them. I don’t mean that in the sense that the writers are cooking something up, either. I mean it in the sense that the writers have messed something up about the relationship. Perhaps the next episodes will clear this up. I hope so.

The problem with all of these changes is that characters are largely defined by their relationships with other characters, and that is especially true on a show like Heroes, where relationships play such an important role in the storytelling. Take away the relationships, and what do you have left? Parkman’s is who, without his wife? A telepathic guy with a roommate, and both of them try to take care of an orphaned girl? And by the way, he’s now on the NYPD? Well, that’s interesting enough I suppose, but it doesn’t have the depth or the pull that his marital relationship did. Who is Nathan Petrelli in season two? So far, he doesn’t seem to be much of anyone: He’s a lonely guy, a drunk, a nobody who’s not allowed to talk to his own kids, and who hallucinates visions of some horribly burned person who appears to be either his brother or himself (I can’t actually tell for sure who that’s supposed to be). Again, there’s just not as much to grab onto as there was first season, when the question of Nathan’s motivation was one of the big issues of the show.

There is also another difficulty with this season: With the exception of Peter (and initially Monica), all the characters in season two have a good understanding of their abilities and have made a lot of progress in integrating those abilities into their lives. Getting to that point was virtually the essence of the show for much of season one. The lack of it leaves a pretty big hole in season two. So far, I don’t see that hole being filled.

Still, I do think Heroes is a great show, and I’m certainly planning on camping out in front of the TV again tonight to watch the three episodes on the next DVD. I’ll be there for the season three premier next week, too. It’s possible I may have something to say about it, even. :)

Heroes – various thoughts from late in season one September 11, 2008

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been enjoying watching the first sesaon of Heros, which I’ve been renting. I’ve been averaging four episodes a night, on nights when I have a fresh DVD available. I love this show. :)

Right now I’ve got five episodes left in season one. In the previous episode—sorry, I mean the previous chapter, Claire Bennet leaves home, and it is revealed that her father Noah, who is surely one of the most ambiguous characters I’ve ever seen on television, may actually be the biggest hero on the show. At least, from her perspective he is. In other respects, is he working for or against his company’s interests? I admit I’m still a little fuzzy on that one, especially when he goes to New York to deal with Isaac, and he’s right back to his old, ruthless ways. I suspect what he’s doing is working in his company’s interests when it suits him to do so. What an intriging character. I love it. Jack Coleman is quite an actor.

I wanted to talk a little bit about Sylar mostly. The maker of timepieces, who goes on to become the murderer, the psycho, the boogeyman creeping out of the closet to suck out your brains. He’s such an ironic character. With his ability, he could be a healer, a fixer, he could solve the problems of so many people, and be the biggest hero of them all. For those looking in vain for a “cure” to their abilities, I have no doubt that Sylar could figure out how to cure them. He could cure them all, even Nuclear Ted. All he’d have to do is look into their brains, see how their abilities work, and figure out a way to turn them off. Problem is, he couldn’t do that for himself. I wonder if he realizes that at some level, and that’s what drove him mad.

Since I have five episodes left in this season, it won’t surprise me if there are further revelations about him or other characters. I wonder if I’m right about this? Anyway, as I left the last episode, Sylar was about to gouge Peter Petrelli’s brains out. What an awful cliffhanger. I knew I should have called it a night at the end of “Company Man”, but I just couldn’t help myself. There was one more episode on the DVD, and I just had to go and watch it, didn’t I? I’m a junkie for this show. :)

One other thing. In “Company Man”, it was revealed that Hiro’s father (George Takei!) is the power behind “the company.” Add that together with this helix icon that’s been appearing in various places, including on the hilt of an ancient sword that is supposed to bring superpowers to its bearer…and things really seem to be taking shape now. I think tomorrow is going to be a long day, as I wait to watch those last five episodes. (And then I heard there’s a gigantic cliffhanger at the very end. That just hurts. But oh well.)