Ever since a promising opening season ended with a whimper rather than a bang, Heroes has repeatedly failed to find its footing, offering promise of intriguing plots and ideas but never managing to deliver anything spectacular. Season 3 spent far too much time wrapped up in its own mythology, but concluded with the promise of a new direction – which is especially good, because Heroes has all-too-often lacked any direction at all.
It’s unfortunate, then, that things don’t really seem to have changed at all. The season opened with a double length premiere, which is instantly worrying. Heroes has almost never concerned itself with making individual episodes rewatchable, tailoring itself explicitly to sequential viewing. On one hand, this means no ‘monster of the week’ episodes, but on the other, it means every episode blurs together as a continuing morass of subplots that never quite coalesce – and a 90-minute opener offers no real benefits in terms of the story that can be told.
Indeed, it has the awkward effect of making Nathan (who has by far one of the most compelling stories going on) and Angela disappear halfway through the episode with no explanation or justification.
Season 3 also suffered massively with plots shifting constantly from one episode to the next, and the Season 4 opener has to do some reworking of its own. The last time we saw Tracy, she was being set up as the villain of the series – a plot rapidly side-stepped by the conclusion of this episode – and when we last saw the extended Petrelli family, they were going to set up the company as ‘a family’, yet Clare, Peter and Nathan appear to have no interest in being part of it, leaving Noah and Angela to go it alone.
Admittedly, these are plausible outcomes to those plots, but only in the sense that they obey the laws of reality, not because they seem like probable or natural developments. It contributes to a sense that the series is freewheeling and no-one’s really sure where it’s going.
So, while Noah gets back to setting up the company and Angela directs clandestine phone calls, everyone’s favourite indestructible girl Claire has been placed in a sort of Buffy Season 4-meets-Veronica Mars plot. I understand what they were trying to subvert the whole ‘irritating roommate’ trope by having her die in a shocking manner (although at this point, the subversion of that plot has become the norm…) but let’s be honest, I can’t be the only person who was actively hoping she was only around as cannon fodder, can I?
Claire’s new friend was a far more compelling character, purely because she managed to have an atypical personality without the work “quirk” being branded on her forehead, which is unusual for US drama. Unfortunately, it seems that right now her main purpose is to be Claire’s latest sidekick, following yet another accidentally-witnessed mangling. Haven’t we seen that plot before?
Indeed, if you’re looking for new plots, Heroes might not be the best show to watch. Once again, we have to deal with Hiro’s powers freaking out. Once again, we see Peter returning to his job and trying to live a normal life. Once again, the previous season’s villain gets shuffled off remarkably quickly to make the current one seem threatening.
Parkman, meanwhile, gets to be the star of this season’s suspiciously X-Men-like plot (a staple of Heroes since the start) as it seems that Sylar’s personality managed to cross over into Matt’s body during last season’s attempted mind-wipe.
It might be rather similar to an existing Xavier/Magneto plot, but that aside, it’s probably the most human and compelling story thread introduced in the episode. Matt typifies the ‘normal person with extraordinary abilities’ concept, and his temptation to abuse those powers is believable and real.
Zachary Quinto’s appearances are more confident and threatening than ever, and with the critical smash, Star Trek, under his belt, it’s not hard to imagine why. Last season, Sylar was over-used. This time around, his sparing appearances are the best moments of the entire episode. The promise here almost makes up for the way Matt’s colleagues were so easily able to ignore him shouting at people who weren’t there.
Similarly brilliant is Nathan’s dawning realisation that he might not be who he thinks he is. It’s impossible to tell where this plot is going, but it makes for enjoyably tense viewing and it’s a pity that it had to disappear without reference after the first half of the two-parter. It’s perhaps the only genuinely original idea in the episode, so let’s hope it’s explored further.
So far, the series has shown no sign of bringing back Mohinder. This is a good thing. Not because Mohinder is particularly poor, but because Heroes has often suffered to fit its sprawling cast into the story that it wants to tell, and it makes perfect sense to keep some of them away from the screen until there’s a use for them.
Unfortunately, we aren’t freed from the horrible opening monologues, and a particularly poor one was delivered by Robert Knepper, ostensibly as a graveside eulogy but unconvincingly so, given how it pertained far more to the montage of shots beneath it. Ah, well. Heroes wouldn’t be Heroes without the meaningless intro and outro voiceovers.
And so, we come to Robert Knepper’s carnival of the damned. Although the fake Olde Worlde accents are already grating and tattoo-based powers are a relentlessly terrible idea, there is at least some story promise in the characters, and the mystery behind their compass is a decent one to start off the series.
Knepper’s scene in the past with Hiro was another good moment, where he demonstrated how causality can be bent, putting new rules on the series’ time travelling, and indeed, Hiro’s painfully familiar ‘wonky powers’ plot is almost worth suffering through to see what the carnival’s plan for him is – though while I’m on the subject, Hiro’s “I’m dying” revelation was hilariously unconvincing. If I were Ando, I’d have at least asked for some details. What, exactly, is Hiro dying of? Nosebleeds?
So, that’s two episode’s worth of Heroes. Some good, some average, but as usual, perhaps a bit more rubbish than it’s willing to acknowledge. There are some steps in the right direction, though, and if the plots can stay coherent from one episode to the next, there’s no reason this couldn’t be the best series of Heroes yet. Let’s hope they’ve learnt the right lessons.