Renae and I don’t really follow the television season all that closely. However, we were definitely excited about the new season of Heroes. We came to show a little late, but quickly caught up via Netflix, and in the process, developed a new TV addiction. Superhero stories are a dime a dozen these days, but Heroes took the novel approach of exploring the more mundane side of superpowers — how suddenly finding out that you could bend the space-time continuum, or fly, or walk through walls might affect your normal, everyday life, your relationships, your job, and your family even as you’re trying to save the world.
It wove in such time-honored clichés as secret societies and conspiracies, fate and destiny, sacrifice, and the necessity of allowing evil to be done in order to achieve good — clichés that never really go out of style. And it did so while containing a certain sense of whimsy and fun. Which is not to say that Heroes was a whimsical series, by any stretch of the imagination. There was plenty of darkness and disturbing content, but the series never forgot its comic book origins, and primarily through the character of Hiro Nakamura, it managed a certain levity that was certainly crucial to the series’ success.
You’ll notice, though, that I’ve been speaking in the past tense. I realize we’re only five episodes into Heroes’ third season, but so far, it’s been pretty disappointing. While the series was never lacking in ambition or epic scope, the two-hour season premiere reached ridiculous heights, cramming in plotline after plotline and revelation after revelation at a pace so relentless, it would have The Dark Knight calling “time out.” And it’s never really settled down since. Indeed, it’s so exhausting, I feel like I’ve seen twice as many episodes as I actually have.
Of course, one of joys of watching Heroes was trying to follow the myriad conspiracies and mysteries, trying to make sense of them and eventually, just sitting back and enjoying the reveals. But this time out, it feels like the writers have completely lost track of where things are going. As a result, the series continually spirals out of control — and no, time travel isn’t a convenient way to explain everything away. Like magic, there has to be rules, but it seems as if the rulebook has been tossed aside and instead, a page or two has been cribbed from the Lost writers’ manual circa Season 2. Worst of all, this is being done at the expense of Heroes’ two greatest strengths: its characters and that aforementioned sense of fun that was always lurking in the background.
So far, there have been several times in each episode where Renae and I look at each other, and ask “Why on Earth did he/she do that?,” unable to fathom yet another twist in a previously beloved character. IGN’s Robert Canning put it well in his review of the season premier:
[O]ne major problem I have with this premiere is that some of the choices made by major characters are a bit hard to swallow. Hiro and Mohinder in particular have frustrating starts to this new volume. These two characters have been through many major life altering events, yet their actions in “The Second Coming” do not seem to reflect anything they would have learned from their past experiences. Hiro’s choices are especially annoying. Though he has seen many horrors, even the death of his father, he still acts like an exuberant schoolboy… except when a serious Hiro is needed to advance the plot.
That’s exactly right, and unfortunately, it hasn’t improved yet. Mohinder’s character arc is so antithetical to what we’ve seen and know of the character so far, it’s utterly ridiculous. And I simply can’t understand the writers’ desire to turn Hiro into a bad-ass — to quote the most recent episode (may contain spoilers) — thereby shedding any familiar traces of the nebbish-yet-beloved time traveller. Put simply, I miss the old Hiro, oftentimes the series’ one source of light and innocence — the one who struggled to understand and use his powers with a sense of hope, destiny, and even joy.
But “joy” is in short supply these days. It should be expected that things get darker this time around, what with the season’s “Villains” theme and all. But do things need to get this dark? It almost feels like there’s an unspoken competition with shows like Fringe to see how gory or disturbing things can get. (Though, in Heroes’ defense, it’s nowhere near as execrable as J.J. Abrams’ latest.) And it doesn’t add to the show’s intensity one bit, it just gets irritating after awhile.
I suppose I should give the writers the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how they produced two solid seasons of entertainment. (Even Season Two, truncated as it was, still had some of that old Heroes magic.) And the final events in the most recent episode give me some hope that we might start seeing some resolution, some amount of pay-off for all of the muddling about.
But as each episode spins off the tracks with yet another preposterous twist, or another time travel quandary, or the continued short-shrifting of well-established (and promising) characters, my expectations get a little lower and I find myself wondering if there’s anything else worth watching in the timeslot — or if I should just curl up with a couple of good comic books instead.