Needless to say, SPOILERS ahead
During a Crosstalk on the best TV of 2006 back in early January, I wrote the following about Heroes, the Fall season’s lone breakout hit: “I have a feeling this show is going to make us pay for our devotion in the end, because there are termites eating away at its foundation.” And later in the paragraph, “I find myself hoping that the show's creators, having concocted an irresistible premise and a gratifyingly complex story structure, will just hand the whole enterprise off to Joss Whedon, so we can at least have a little color in the writing.” Basically, I was predicting that what had been an engaging show would eventually jump the shark, because eventually its serialized nature would lead to an inevitable loss of narrative momentum and the writing just wasn’t strong enough to carry the day, especially when a good percentage of the characters (I said 70% at the time, but it’s probably closer to 50%) are not that interesting.
Since then, I’ve happy to report that my fears were largely unfounded. And after last night’s episode—by far the strongest of the season—I’m now hooked for good. It often takes a good show half a season or more to find its groove, and Heroes is a perfect example: The business of establishing all of these intersecting subplots and characters—much less providing reason for viewers to care about them—can be a taxing labor, but now that this big machine is up and running, I think the writers have found their groove. Perhaps they’ve been reading critics and message boards before story meetings or something, because recent episodes have turned former liabilities into assets and fortified the strong elements that were already in place.
Let’s start with the liabilities. Again, I quote myself in early January: “I don't care about the boring Petrelli brothers (though Adrian Pasdar's Nathan could break out of his shell soon), or boring mind-reader Parkman, or boring Niki/Jessica (Ali Larter won't have to do those good-girl/bad-girl mirror images forever, will she?) or the ultimate bore, Mohinder, who's presumably the Professor Xavier of the bunch, but has to go through obscure dream sequences and fits of self-doubt first.” I wouldn’t say that these characters are suddenly my favorites, exactly, but look at what’s changed:
1. The closer Peter Petrelli has come to finding himself, the less whiny and insufferable he’s become. The presence of darkhorse “invisible man” Christopher Eccleston, who’s been attempting to help Peter harness his immense (and potentially apocalyptic) power, has whipped that character into shape. Now, Peter is slowing becoming a counter-balance to the dreaded Sylar: Both can absorb and exploit the individual strengths of other heroes, but to opposing ends.
2. Greg Grunberg is a very funny and likable actor, but his Parkman had been bogged down in a marital crisis that managed to be both pedestrian and unbelievable. Parkman’s ability to read other people’s thoughts should put him at a distance from other people—didn’t anyone see that Buffy episode in which she can hear everyone’s thoughts?—and would likely spell the end of a marriage that’s already in trouble. Besides, why limit his powers to a run-of-the-mill marital crisis? In recent weeks, Parkman has finally found his purpose—first, with that gripping showdown with Niki/Jessica, and now with his unlikely pairing with Horn Rimmed Glasses.
3. Ali Larter’s good girl/bad girl routine had gone a little stale for me, but her internal struggle has intensified significantly lately. The aforementioned sequence with Parkman was terrific, as was her exchange with the psychoanalyst who insisted (to her peril) that bad girl make an appearance.
4. Poor Mohinder has gone from a self-doubting dope to a blinkered fool now that he’s allowed Sylar to join him in seeking out people on “the list,” but there’s certainly plenty of suspense in his obliviousness. If he’s going to become the Professor Xavier of this motley bunch, he ought to really wise up soon about his traveling companion, but their scenes together are undeniably riveting.
As for the strengths, the show has made the right choice in centering the action on Horn Rimmed Glasses (brilliantly played, it should be noted, by Jack Coleman). Their diligence paid off last night in the incredibly moving finale, which found HRG making a self-negating sacrifice on his adoptive daughter’s behalf—all while still keeping us in the dark about what he and his organization are ultimately trying to do. And the cliffhanger is a doozy: With HRG left gutshot and bereft of Claire memories (at least for the time being) and Claire suddenly without a place to call home, it’s really hard to guess what’s going to happen next. One thing’s for sure: I’ll be tuning in next week to find out.