A lot of TV shows are bad. Some of them start off bad – you watch one episode and you know it’s wall-to-wall, endless awfulness in front of you, and you never revisit that boiling hell again. Some start good and descend into bad, and these are hard to let go; it took me years to wean myself off of “The Simpsons” after it became both a photocopy and a parody of its former glory. Some flirt with goodness and badness until you and most other viewers get bored of their indecision and stop watching, and they get cancelled – forcefully and with great prejudice. And no one mourns their deaths.
But what do you make of a show like “Heroes”?
Here’s a show that does some things right. The camera work is usually confident and just comic book-clever enough to serve the premise. Production values are high. Select actors are capable and interesting to watch – to these eyes, that would include Kristen Bell and Jack Coleman, and when he’s on his game (which is about half the time), Zachary Quinto. The basic idea of the show is a good one: do small screen superhero stories like “Smallville” but interesting, and mix in lots of plot twists and conspiracies like “X-Files” but planned out more than three minutes in advance, or “Lost” at 120 mph. You could see how this would be intriguing to a certain nerdy sub-section of the TV-viewing population. Through most of season 1, hype on “Heroes” was through the roof.
Naturally it was promising more than it could deliver. If I may pat myself on the back here, I saw this all along; for whatever reason it took most “Heroes” watchers about 15 more episodes to notice the flaws. Which I will get to in a second. What’s fascinating about “Heroes” then is how it’s such an appealing mess – a show that does many things right and just as many (maybe more) things absolutely wrong. You could say it’s addictively crummy like “Melrose Place” in its heyday, but that’s not really the truth. The truth is, every single episode of “Heroes” has at least five or ten minutes of stuff that is very well-executed – funny, dramatic, surprising, exciting; all the qualities it wanted to have throughout – but also at least twenty minutes of stuff that makes you cringe and give up religion. (The other twenty minutes of show is just boring filler, usually the parts that center on Parkman.)
The biggest problem with “Heroes” – a problem which is increasing in size like The Blob and threatening to eat the show whole, if Steve McQueen doesn’t do something about it – is that the plot has stopped making any damn sense. There were plot holes a-plenty in season 1, but the strike-abbreviated season 2 was like walking through an old mine field. If you weren’t breaking your ankles in melon-sized craters, you were getting them blown off by the remaining live munitions. The writers created this problem in the most predictable way: they kept giving the characters reset button powers (regenerative healing a la Wolverine, time travel, teleportation, mind reading, mind control, memory-erasing, the ability to absorb everybody else’s powers just by being near them or – in the case of moderately-super-villain Sylar – dissecting their brains), and they added more layers to the background conspiracy, and they kept jumping around chronologically, and… and… and suddenly nothing hung together any more. A show that badly needed tightness and coherence to work is now an unravelling ball of yarn. (It’s like the “X-Files” in that respect too, except it’s unravelling a lot faster.)
By the time “Heroes” reached the season finale (intended to be a mid-season cliffhanger, but slightly retooled to be more conclusive due to the writer’s strike) it was easier to keep track of the things that made sense than the things that didn’t. Here is only a partial list, off the top of my head, of plot holes and character contradictions that came up in “Powerless”:
~ Why was the invincible man Adam trying to wipe out the world? They spent many episodes constructing a backstory where he became a hero due to the intervention of Japanese cuddlyball Hiro, then felt betrayed by him when Hiro kissed his girlfriend (yes, that’s actually what happened – no, it wasn’t any less stupid on screen). In another few episodes we learned he had survived hundreds of years and had killed Hiro’s father. All dramatic momentum indicated that Adam was out for revenge on Hiro – idiotically motivated though it may have been. Then at the last second, the show utterly ignores that thread (to the degree that with Hiro at his mercy, Adam does basically nothing to him) and gives us a one minute, completely sketchy explanation for why he’s trying to unleash a world population-killing virus. Um… what?
~ In the end of the episode, Peter (who is basically Superman, but with more powers and emo hair), his brother Nathan, and useless lump Parkman decide to announce to the world that Nathan can fly. Nathan is the mouthpiece, I assume, because he was recently elected to Congress – though he lost the seat for reasons that went largely unexplained. That’s reasonable. In the closing minutes he gives a dramatic but intentionally vague speech over which the show gives us a lot of shots of the other heroes. Whatever. Just as Nathan gets to, “I have the ability to -” BANG! POW! Shot repeatedly in the chest. Buh-bye, Nathan. The mysterious Company shut him down so he wouldn’t talk to the public. But here’s my bifurcated question: 1. His basically immortal brother Peter is standing right… next… to… him. And Parkman the Hutt is on the other side. Either one of these guys could still spill the beans, and Peter is unkillable. Let me repeat that: unkillable. Can’t be killed. So doesn’t the company think, hey, maybe killing Nathan is not actually going to accomplish anything? 2. And also, since we know Peter and Claire can heal themselves, and Claire’s blood can heal others, even WHEN THEY ARE DEAD (and Peter’s may as well) – don’t they realize that even Nathan himself may well be alive and talking to the press in five or ten minutes? I mean, they came up with the whole “heal people with Claire’s blood” thing for Christ’s sake. …In a nutshell, this is the most pointless and least dramatic assassination ever.
~ It came out that the Company knew all along how to kill Adam, and we know they have killed repeatedly to protect their interests and further their cause; in fact, in this very episode they killed Nathan just to keep him from saying “I can fly! Wheeee!” on national TV. So did they kill Adam? Nope – instead they kept him locked in a low-security room for 30 years, and then imprisoned Emo Superman in the room next to him, separated only by a concrete wall and a vent they could talk through. They did this even though they knew Adam wanted to escape and use the deadly virus that they held on to all these years, and also knew that Peter was one of the few people that could help him get it. And they basically let Peter control his own power-suppressing medication, giving him pills rather than forcefully injecting him or pumping it into the air. In addition, even though it’s been well-established that they kept surveillance cameras in their offices to spy on the colossal idiot Mohinder (a character so incompetent and gullible that people online have started calling him “D’ohinder”) and in the secured vault that held the virus, they did NOT have cameras watching Peter or Adam – so, y’know, they might have some idea if they were going to escape and unleash said virus. This is the dark, intelligent conspiracy we’re supposed to be afraid of? They’re morons!
~ Did they really just have Hiro, the most lovable, sweet, and innocent character on the show bury someone alive? Really? I don’t care if he killed Hiro’s father; that adorable little koala bear would never do that to him. It’s supposed to be dark and cool, but it violates the character completely. I think they were going for a “Giles suffocates Ben at the end of ‘Buffy’ season 5” effect, where a previously-harmless and upright guy does something nasty for the greater good. But in the context of “Buffy” we had foreshadowing to let us know that Giles wasn’t all innocent and pure, and the suffocation scene was succinct and in a way merciful (since Ben was the host body to evil god Glory). It was shocking but believable. In the “Heroes” version, instead of a quick lights-out, Hiro BURIED THE GUY ALIVE. And since he’s immortal, we’re supposed to think he’ll be in there basically forever, screaming and clawing and… yikes. It also raises an unfortunate practical question: did Hiro really stop time, put the guy in a coffin, find an unused plot of land (or buy one), and bury him? It’s hard to imagine anybody taking the whole day it would require to do this, let alone an innocent like Hiro who should be prone to near-instant bouts of remorse. This made sense as the end of “The Vanishing,” but not so much as the end of this season of “Heroes.”
~ Back to the Nathan assassination. We know it was the Company that did it, and possibly Jack Coleman’s “Horn-Rimmed Glasses” character, since he’s now back in their fold (which is another plot thread that drives me crazy, but this post is already filling up most of our ever-expanding universe). What’s interesting-slash-retarded about that is that Nathan’s press conference was held in a police station, in front of a large crowd of press, TV cameras, photographers, etc. And this takes place in Texas. The gunman, whoever he was, shot Nathan over the heads of the crowd, and walked out through the front doors of the station. Are we supposed to believe that this slick individual would not be caught, tried, and executed within about 18 seconds? Could this scene possibly be any less plausible? (Although it does go hand-in-hand with the various other plot holes which can only be explained by saying “The Company is completely inept and are intended to serve as comic relief more than as THE major threat to the titular heroes.”)
I could keep going, but maybe I’ve proved my point. All I can add is this: “Heroes,” you’re about to lose me and my (somewhat more dedicated) girlfriend. We can’t take all your shenanigans just for the two Kristen Bell scenes per episode, and that rare plot twist that is both surprising AND makes sense. You’re already forcing us to watch Parkman (oh, how I loathe your boring, schlubby ass, Parkman) and The Continuing Dull Adventures of Multiple-Personality Girl Who Hasn’t Had or Used Any Superpowers for a Number of Weeks Now; there should be a prize at the end of this maze, not a bottomless pit of pretzel- and non-logic. Get your crap together, “Heroes,” or I’ll dump you off my DVR in favor of something more intellectually stimulating, like “Mind of Mencia.”*
* I beg you: do not watch “Mind of Mencia.”