After a pair of lackluster seasons (the second, in my opinion, being worse than the much-maligned third), NBC’s Heroes ended its third “volume” this week and will resume in January with a fourth—this time titled “Fugitives.”
Based on the teaser run at the end of this week’s episode, the premise of this new story arc is that Nathan Petrelli, one of the central heroes of the first two seasons and one of the central villains of the third volume, has taken his case that the superhuman population needs to be brought under control to the President, effectively rendering our central characters—many of whom don’t even have powers anymore—enemies of the state. Under threat of internment, Nathan’s brother Peter (as well as Hiro, Parkman and a number of other still-living characters in the wake of the finale’s tertiary-character bloodbath) will be pursued by law enforcement who have, thanks to Senator Nathan Petrelli, detailed information on all of them.
Aside from the fact that this seems like a fairly standard retread of an X-Men story we’ve all see about forty times before (including, notably for mainstream non-comics readers, in the X-Men films that really jumpstarted the superhero-movie craze), this series seems to be chock full of interesting decisions, which may or may not pay off.
One of the things that turned a lot of longtime viewers off of this season, frankly, was the confrontational dynamic that existed for most of the story between Hiro and Ando. In the worst of times, their friendship was still warm and believable, and gave a four-color fantasy on film a little heart and something that ordinary folks could relate to, even if they never read Watchmen or The Dark Phoenix Saga. My guess is that the scene Hiro thinks he saw—with Ando blasting him into oblivion with red energy—will be an effort at some key point next season to jumpstart Hiro’s pilfered powers using Ando’s newfound ability to “lend” juice to the powered people around him. It’s interesting because while they attempted to give Ando the power of time-travel, operating on the strange logic that the formula that lends abilities would give him whatever he wanted because the powers imbued to Parkman and the speedster he’s dating resemble so closely what they’d always wanted to have, that attempt failed and instead gave him a power that is useless on its own, but locks him into permanent “sidekick” status. Uselesss on his own, he’s now indispensable to most of the heroes, who have taken a pretty decent beating at the hands of Arthur Petrelli this season.
Look for Ando’s and Hiro’s relationship to get better next season, and expect the writers to know better than to screw with that comfortable dynamic in the future. Also: don’t be surprised if poor Ando becomes somebody’s battery. Think about Alex Luthor’s Multiverse tower, powered by superheroes from multiple different “earths” during Infinite Crisis or even the Kimiyo “Doctor Light” power source that Max Lord used in Booster Gold’s “Blue & Gold” arc. This is a familiar gimmick, and his powers are EXACTLY what you’d expect from somebody like Sylar, who already has a ton of power and wants a ludicrous amount instead.
Another interesting choice on the part of the Heroes folks is that they appear to be setting it a little more firmly in the “real” world now. While I have never been a religious watcher of the show, so maybe there were Bush references that I missed, the Obama appearance at the end of this week’s episode was a bit jarring. This poor guy is just a mess, as far as the superhuman community is concerned: naming Norman Osborn to be head of S.H.I.E.L.D. over at Marvel and now attacking the good guys on national television? And all this before he’s even taken his oath of office. This isn’t the kind of change I can believe in!
Joking aside, though, one of the things that DC and Marvel have done over the years (especially as continuity got to be more of an issue) is to divorce themselves from “real” political events and figures, only really using them in special situations (such as the recent Amazing Spider-Man Iraq War story). While I guess part of this is to keep the characters from aging—something that you can’t do on television with real actors—it does seem unwise when the politicians are doing something very unsavory to put “real” figures in that position.
Overall I think the finale was pretty good, considering how miserable the show has been more or less constantly for about a year and a half now. It’ll be interesting to see if this new, more seemingly tame storyline can right the ship or if this is, Lost-like, destined to be a phenomenon that fades quickly and has to be put on life support and die gracefully.