Wednesday, December 5, 2007 by

It’s been a while since I’ve been this apprehensive about the broadcast of the finale to a US import – and it’s been a while since a series has been trailed by this much critical acclaim from professionals and bloggers, professional bloggers and people with access to broadband saying in unison, “Great series, shame about the ending”.

You could see their point for various reasons which will be become clear, but thankfully, the close of “Volume One” of Heroes was really not as bad as reports suggested, and provided enough gob-smacking moments in its final two chapters to continue stroking my fan gene.

Not that this has been a perfect series by any means. Although the dynamics of the development of super powers in the real world was an interesting idea, whole episodes would pass when the abilities of some of the characters would be talked about an awful lot yet not actually seen in action – undoubtedly for the same budgetary reasons David Banner could only become the Incredible Hulk once an episode. Too often the narrative would drop into a meander, with some stories – such as whatever was going on with Niki that week – dragging somewhat without a clear impression of how they fitted into the main arc of the series. Thankfully there were enough twists to keep things interesting as familial and professional relationships were revealed – Nathan is Claire’s real father! RGB works for Hiro’s Dad! That’s why Sylar kidnapped Molly!

So it’s been a series which has frustrated as much as excited, but these concluding two episodes repaid those viewers who’ve been paying close attention. From incidental pleasures such as seeing heroes who up until now have been living in their own little worlds, no longer isolated and gathering together at the poignantly named Kirby Plaza (a homage to legendary late comic artist Jack Kirby, following on from his collaborator Stan Lee’s cameo in an earlier episode), to the iconic moments expressed in the late artist Isaac Mendez’s paintings throughout the series transforming into film frames. But overall there was a new found fluidity to how the powers were portrayed, with the impression all of the characters have now come to terms with their abilities.

Significantly the much heralded destruction of half of New York did not happen, which is perhaps why some felt short-changed. This, though, is a series about hope, forever reminding its characters that the future is “not set in stone”. Unfortunately this puts fans of time travel fiction into a head-spin as they consider how Future Hiro could visit Peter Petrelli in the train car and warn him to save the cheerleader if said future no longer exists. How come Petrelli didn’t helpfully absorb his time travelling powers at this early stage (unless he did and wasn’t aware of it)? How could Contemporary Hiro visit futures that won’t happen in order to become motivated to change them? And, for that matter, how could the Hiro of the first episode call Ando and get the reaction he did if that Ando had gone through all of those experiences?

With so many of Isaac’s other predictions coming true, it’s entirely possible the holocaust is still to come, especially since Zachary Quinto’s Sylar, like all good villains, managed to slither away. From his initial appearance as late as episode nine, Quinto has been the breakaway star of the series, his sanguinary presence leading to the inevitable impression in most scenes a much-loved character is about to exit the series. Perhaps one of the disappointments some fans had with his vanquishing is that despite his many powers it seemed to come too easily. The smackdown with Peter should have been of Superman II or The Matrix proportions – two titans breaking up the place, and not simply the former nurse pummelling the former clock maker into the ground.

Series creator and writer of this closing episode, Tim Kring, has spent much of the show keeping these heroes hidden from the rest of the world, no doubt so their emergence into the wider public can be worked into a future storyline. Everything from murder to mind control have been used to keep their presence a secret, with sinister individuals and organisations such as the Company and Lindermann on hand to control and take advantage of the situation. Perhaps he’s been eyeing the X-Men film franchise and deciding he doesn’t want to deal with the Heroes version of mutant registration just yet (give it five years).

Nathan Petrelli’s Mika-aided political ascendancy in this closing episode continued the political thread which has run through the series. It seems entirely correct powerful people with actual real power encoded into their DNA would try and influence the decision makers in the country and so the course of humanity’s development. Nevertheless, Petrelli is the ultimate expression of “power corrupts”. One of the most heartbreaking moments of the series occurred when Hiro shouted, “You’re a villain!” at him – the exact opposite of his earlier realisation this was the “flying man”. Nathan seems to be a character who will forever be drifting back and forth from the dark side, his reptilian mother whispering in his ear.

Which isn’t to say these final two episodes weren’t without some eye-popping incidents, from Lindermann’s death by brain-hollowing (Malcolm MacDowell will be missed – this was his best performance in years) to Sylar’s predicted murder of exploding Ted (an amazing, if computer-aided, stunt featuring a rolling van). And those closing moments in which Hiro finally fulfilled his potential in saving the world only to then find himself lost in what looked like a Kurosawa movie was probably and rightly, the cliffhanger of the series hinting Future Hiro might not be the misnomer he at first appeared.

Incidental characters such as Christopher Eccleston’s invisible Claude and Missy Peregrym’s misdirecting Candice were welcome distractions (in more ways than one), but apart from Sylar, Hiro and Ando have been the most compulsively interesting characters. Indeed, Masi Oka and James Kyson Lee’s double act has been one of the joys of the series, and actually it’s those episodes in which they didn’t appear or had little to do which have dragged the most. Predictably Hayden Panettiere did find her feet making Claire Bennet deeply watchable, but who would have thought Jack Colman’s RGB would be so useful? A tragic anti-hero willing to murder a small child to save his adopted daughter.

Of the other regulars it’s a pity Milo Ventimiglia wasn’t allowed to inject more of the dark charisma we saw in Future Peter into the rest of his performance, which generally consisted of mild panic. Similarly, it’s regrettable Jessica appears to have gone since Ali Larter was clearly having much more fun with her deviousness than the rather wet Niki. Mohinder (or as Pete calls him MO-HIN-DAAAH) failed to live up to his potential simply because by design he’s been rather dull, generally buffeted about by the three main sources of villainy, and only really coming out of his shell in the moments he’s been awestruck by the abilities of others – such as discovering the ease with which Molly can find her own kind. However, it’s Greg Grunberg who seems hardest done-by – always exuberant and charismatic during spin-off documentary Heroes Unmasked, his character Matt was too often seen being told what to do by someone, or else standing with a stoop trying to read a mind.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Tim Kring’s public apology for the quality of the second series of the show already reaching its abbreviated run on US TV (made shorter because of the current writers’ strike). Certainly reports haven’t been good, suggesting the narrative meander which infected the first series continues into the second, with a fair few reset levers having been pulled despite the events of this closing episode.

Nonetheless, the short discussion between Claire and Peter in which she favoured going on patrol with her powers, and he said spandex isn’t for him suggests Kring isn’t interested in taking the series in the direction of Sunnydale or Smallville, and has a grander, more realistic, narrative in mind. He just has to be careful not to contract repetitive Lost syndrome, asking too many questions and not providing enough answers, hoping all of the shiny things will distract the viewer from an underlying lack of imagination. Heroes needs to keep moving forward, but reports suggest this might not be the case.

Although, not to the point I won’t actually be tuning in for the rest of “Volume Two” …


Comments are closed.