Sunday, September 16, 2007

Heroes Season 1

It’s been interesting reading the general fan reaction to this show when it first started airing. People seemed to be of fairly equal amounts declaring it to be one of the best shows of the decade, if not all time, or declaring it one of the worst piles of garbage spewed forth from the foul, bilgeous maw of the idiot box. Since the Internet is generally pretty renowned for its refreshing honesty and lack of hyperbolic statements, I was curious as to which camp I would fall under, since clearly there was no room to find it pretty good but not incredible. The episodes (hopefully I’ll be able to avoid overmuch plot summary, despite the plot-heaviness of the series):

Genesis: The series premiere, this had the thankless task of introducing roughly five hundred characters (remember, no hyperbole is to be found online). The episode largely focuses on Dr. Mohinder Suresh and his efforts to validate his father’s theories, and a political candidate (Nathan) and his brother Peter, while the other characters (Niki, Micah, Hiro, Isaac, Simone, Ando, Claire, Zach, and Claire’s adoptive father) mostly get five minutes or less to establish themselves before being shuffled offstage. On of my main pet peeves with this show starts here, also, with an opening and closing voice-over with Mohinder spouting faux philosophical nonsense (he does this to open and close almost every episode, and it’s a little much to get through). Still, it serves its purpose for an intro episode.

Don’t Look Back: We’re introduced to another character named Matt, a telepathic cop whose abilities get him drawn into the search for a super powered serial killer named Sylar, a manhunt that encompasses most of the season. This is a bit of a problem, as Matt is as vanilla a character as they come, and is probably my least favorite of the main characters. His newfound FBI partner who brings him in the search for Sylar, despite looking uncannily similar to Hilary Swank, is also rather bland. The portions of the episode following Niki and her flight from some mobsters and burial of same, and Hiro’s discovery of a pending nuclear disaster, work much better.

One Giant Leap: Claire’s healing powers come in handy here when a member of her school’s football team tries to rape her at a party, and accidentally kills her in the struggle. There’s a bit too much of Matt and his early encounter with Sylar here, but that’s more than made up for by Hiro and his early rescue attempts (and shameless product placement). If they do a spinoff show, it needs to focus on Hiro and Ando.

Collision: So titled because the various plot threads slowly begin to intersect here (and because of a little attempted vehicular homicide on Claire’s part), this one has Niki and Nathan meeting in Vegas, Matt, and HRG (Claire’s stepdad) meeting under rather less than ideal circumstances, and Peter running into a future version of Hiro. The various plot threads of the season really start to pick up steam here, and the show begins to really cook with this episode.

Hiros: Armed with a quest from Future Hiro to rescue the cheerleader, and thus save the world, Peter and Isaac team up to try to locate her and find out how she’s going to be killed. HRG and his silent Haitian partner also indulge in a nice bit of touching creepiness, as they set out to mindwipe Claire’s would-be rapist so that he can’t harm anyone else again. We also get yet another new character in DL, who’s been on the run from the law since escaping prison, but who’s decided now’s the moment to catch up on old times with Niki and Micah. We don’t really get to fully enjoy him until the next episode, though, as he’s more of a cliffhanger moment here.

Better Halves: This one’s all about the plot threads of Hiro/Ando, Claire and her efforts to learn more about herself, and Niki/DL/Micah/Jessica. Hiro and Ando learn the hard way just how difficult it is to be heroes, as they completely choke when faced with their first real danger, Niki discovers her husband was innocent after all, as it was her stronger split personality Jessica that was the real killer, and Claire meets her “bio parents” for the first time. One of the least plot-heavy episodes, this one’s mainly a character building one.

Nothing to Hide: The title here is, of course, ironical, as Claire is trying to hide a video of her surviving death from everyone, Nathan is trying to hide his family secrets while having brunch with some reporters, and Matt gets suspended for hitting a coworker after reading his thoughts. Micah is the only one that really feels he has nothing to hide, being a child, and so reveals some info that he absolutely shouldn’t, because he’s an idiot child. We also get yet another character in Ted the Nuclear Man, who unintentionally killed his entire family through radiation poisoning. Considering the familial interactions some of the other characters here have, he may have gotten off lucky.

Seven Minutes to Midnight: While Matt and Ted bond a bit over having both been abducted by HRG’s group, Mohinder goes back to India to scatter his father’s ashes and have a bunch of flashbacks about his dad like he’s on Lost or something. Hiro also fails to save another person, but this time is determined to use his powers to go back in time to save her. Because that’s how he rolls, yo.

Homecoming: With Hiro still gone, it’s up to Peter and HRG to save Claire from Sylar. Peter does this in the only way he knows how, by almost getting his dumb ass killed because he has no idea what he’s doing. It’s a nice, tense way to finish off the first act of the season.

Six Months Ago: We get to see what happened to Hiro here, as his efforts to go back in time a day to rescue Charlie fail miserably, and he actually goes back six months. We get a lot of backstory here, the biggest of which is seeing Mohinder’s dad trying to contact various super-powered people, and in doing so inadvertently setting Sylar down his path. This episode is one of the weakest in the season for two reasons: one, it shows half the cast finding out about their powers for the first time all at the same time six months before the main story, despite other characters having had powers decades prior, and two, it shows the writers being thoroughly unequipped to handle time travel stories, and so they construct clumsy artificial rules around Hiro’s abilities so that they don’t have to deal with any of his stories getting too out there. Case in point: here we learn that he’s somehow physically unable to change the past, as despite spending a few months with Charlie (and learning how to speak English from her), he’s warped back to the present weeks before her death, and just writes it off as something he’s not meant to be able to do. It’s a really forced and lame way to weaken Hiro’s powers, and if this wasn’t bad enough, they do it again later in the season.

Fallout: We finally get back to deal with what happened at Homecoming, as Claire tells her father about herself, Matt and his partner interrogate Peter, and attempt to question Claire and her dad. Claire also learns for the first time just how creepy her stepfather is, as he goes to cover up the situation before it can spread. We also close on a major plot element of the season, as Peter has a prophetic dream in which he learns just how the nuclear disaster that destroys the city occurs: he blows up.

Godsend: Another good episode, this one has more of the Heroes meeting up, Claire getting some reshoots done to counter the effects of her father, and Hiro and Ando go on a quest to retrieve an ancient samurai sword to properly channel Hiro’ power and save the world with. Also, Ted the Nuclear Man returns, which is always good for a laugh, and Peter finds a new Hero. Because, y’know, not cluttered enough yet.

The Fix: A lot of poor solutions to various problems are attempted here, as Nathan and Mohinder team up to try to find a cure for Peter’s condition, Micah uses his powers in a rather unscrupulous way to help with his family’s money troubles, and Hiro’s dad (George Takei) tries to get Hiro and Ando to return home and avoid this life of herodom.

Distractions: There’s two main reasons I like this episode – it’s got a nice bit of training, as Claude tries to teach Peter how to properly wield his powers, in the hopes that he then won’t blow up and kill everyone, and Sylar makes his grand escape from HRG’s company and immediately rushes off to menace HRG’s family. I’ve been neglecting Niki, DL, and Micah’s storyline, as I wasn’t really too into them (perhaps because they don’t start connecting with everyone else until the last couple episodes), so let me add that Jessica has fully taken over Niki’s body, and Linderman (more on him later) gets her released from prison. We also find out who Claire’s birth father is, and it shouldn’t be too much of a shock that it’s Nathan, since he slept around behind his wife’s back once already this season.

Run!: Hiro and Ando get back to Vegas to get the sword from Linderman, and Ando decides to take up the worst possible charity case along the way and nearly gets them both killed. Jessica finally gets to interact with one of the other Heroes, as she’s assigned by Linderman to kill a man that’s hired Matt as his bodyguard. Matt, of course, due to his intensely lame nature, completely fails as a guard, despite being able to read her thoughts and figure out exactly where she’s looking for them at any moment. Completely rubbish hero. Also, Mohinder, trying to finish his father’s work, begins tracking down other superpowered individuals, only to meet Sylar, who suggests they team up to find the others that much faster.

Unexpected: Ted gets recruited by a woman whose brain emits Wi-Fi, which is as thoroughly nerdy a power as one could possibly have. Claire’s mom meets with tragedy, after years of memory removal, and Hiro’s journey takes another awesome turn, as he comes face to face with a surprise cameo by Stan Lee. The episode ends in theoretical tragedy, as Peter and Isaac get into a big fight, during which another character that I never liked is shot to death. C’est la vie.

Company Man: The big episode revealing HRG’s backstory, where we really don’t get to learn that much. Apparently he started out with the company partnered up with Claude, he and Hiro’s dad are colleagues, and he’s been hiding Claire’s abilities so that she wouldn’t be taken in by the company. Beyond that, total mystery man still. We also get to see, in the present day, why it’s not necessarily a good idea to shoot a man that’s basically a walking nuclear reactor, and after Claire saves the day and shows everyone what she can do, it’s up to HRG and the Haitian to spirit her away so the company can’t have her. The bits in the present day were really good, but the backstory bits, as is par for the show, were really a bit clumsy and didn’t serve to accomplish much.

Parasite: Nathan’s true dealings with Linderman are revealed, and Mohinder shows he’s not completely retarded after all, drugging Sylar and tying him up. A new character shows up in Candice the illusionist to help Isaac cover up the body. Also, after hearing his name a dozen or more times every episode, we finally get to meet Linderman, and they pulled out all the stops and got Malcolm McDowell to play him. That’s even better than when Dennis Hopper showed up in 24.

.07%: According to Linderman, that’s the amount of the world population that will die in the nuclear explosion, a perfectly acceptable loss if it will rally humanity together. HRG, Matt, and Ted all try to break out of prison together, in what is my favorite subplot of Matt’s the entire season (probably because of his close proximity to two characters I love), Peter gives Sylar his first real challenge before getting his as kicked, and another character, this one not exactly unexpected, dies. Hiro also screws up his time travel again, this time taking Ando with him five years into the future. A great episode all around.

Five Years Gone: Another time travel episode, as Hiro and Ando team up with Future Hiro to try to save the past. This one suffers from the same problem as the last time travel episode, in that the writers are afraid to do anything too wild or out there, so they just settle for making the future into a nightmare Bush Administration parable, with Matt heading up a division of Homeland Security charged with hunting down “terrorists” (anyone with super powers), under the command of the villainous President Nathan and the Linderman Act. Hiro’s my favorite character in the series, but they really do seem like they’re on a concentrated mission to make any episode primarily about him and his powers crap.

The Hard Part: Back in the present, and armed with a comic by Isaac showing how to defeat Sylar, Hiro vows to put an end to the danger facing New York City. Peter also learns about Ted from Claire, and figures out how he's going to go nuclear. Meanwhile, Sylar, now with precognitive abilities, is terrified he’s going to be the one to go nuclear and kill a bunch of innocent people (as opposed to the merely quasi-innocent people he’s been killing all this time), and goes to his mom for advice, only to meet with tragedy. Hiro’s initial effort to kill Sylar ends poorly, with his hard-won sword getting broken in two, much like his self-confidence. Poor guy, you kinda just want to tousle his hair and say “Good try, man”.

Landslide: Linderman gets Micah to use his computer powers to get the electronic voting machines to elect Nathan in a landslide victory (remember, no paper trail equals evil conservative villainy), and all the characters finally make their way to New York for the big predicted throwdown in Kirby Plaza. The lesser villains start getting taken down now to clear the way for Sylar, as HRG takes down his old boss, and Jessica and DL kill off Linderman. It’s not all fun and games, though, as my hero, Ted the Nuclear Man, gets killed by Sylar, who’s now evidently okay with wiping out the city.

How to Stop an Exploding Man: Everyone finally gets tied together, as they all meet in Kirby Plaza for the late night showdown against Sylar. Each man gets to take him on as per their own abilities (Matt, showing his own level of abilities, tries to shoot Sylar, only to have his bullets come back at him and gets taken down without accomplishing anything, much like in the rest of the season). We also learn that apparently every older person on the planet is in on this grand conspiracy, as Simone’s dad that died before the show even started was apparently in on things too. Nathan makes good by his brother and saves the day at the end, showing everyone he’s not the villainous politician type everyone had come to believe he was. It’s a good resolution, while leaving quite a few plot threads open, in the grand serial storytelling fashion.

Overall: This was a fairly enjoyable season, and I’m looking forward to the next. That is not to say, however, that there are not some glaring problems that need to be corrected. The first is the lame voice-overs that open and close the episodes that do nothing at all. The next, and also easily correctable, is how late in the season they began reusing material from the episode prior to start off the new show. That is incredibly lazy, and needs to be stopped. I also have one nitpick, and that is that, for a show that’s all about people developing superpowers, the show doesn’t really seem to want to use them all that often. The big fights between super powered individuals tend to only go on for a minute or two at a shot, and in between is just a lot of talking and angst. Even a character that enjoys using his powers, Hiro, is stuck spending half the season unable to use them for no discernible reason, beyond, presumably, that Sylar would be stopped too easily otherwise.

That’s not to say that this is all bad; as I said, it does a good job at developing the characters (for the most part – Matt still blows), and it knows how to drag out a mystery while still knowing when to finally pull the trigger on it, unlike Lost. It’s a pretty fun show, you should go check it out.

Also, one formal request to the show's creators for season 2: Given that you already had a couple big Star Trek cameos in George Takei and Malcolm McDowell, would it be too much to request the appearance of Jeffrey Combs for this new season?

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