The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

NBC’s Heroes: A Look Back at Season One

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

Image The last time I wrote about Heroes, it was right after the season premiere in September. At that time, I stumbled on the show almost by accident, and was extremely excited at the notion of a full season of hour-long shows in a similar vein to M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. (Read this piece by clicking HERE ) My review was laudatory, and yet if I had been pressed, I would have predicted an early demise for Heroes; it’s hard to foresee a show working when its target audience is seemingly fanboys and comic book geeks. In FACT, not only would I have predicted this show’s cancellation, but I would have gone one step further and lamented its imminent death despite the breakaway success of the show that followed it, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip .

What a difference a year makes. Studio 60 never found an audience, and barely earned the right to a full season on the network. Heroes, by contrast, has become this year’s unparalleled success story. Its stars have graced the covers of all the magazines, and Executive Producer Tim Kring has reached a cult celebrity status typically reserved for only the hottest shit Hollywood players. With this success, the writers got progressively bolder throughout the season, and plans for future plot development (so the rumors state) are now well into the third season. And so, with all this forward momentum, why not take a look back at Season One, and break down everything that worked, as well as the few things that didn’t.

The Best:

Hiro Nakamura – Easily the masterstroke of the entire series. At this point, we have seen many times over the story of a “normal” person discovering super powers, and all of the angst and confusion that comes with them. However, with Hiro, we get to see what it would be like if someone like US got powers. (By “us,” I’m referring to pop culture savvy people who either do or did read comic books. I know this includes me, and forgive me for extrapolating that you, the reader of this piece, shares this trait with me.) Hiro’s unabashed joy at the powers he discovers is captivating to watch, and when he begins to figure out his capabilities using an old X-Men comic book as a reference, it was one of the most giddy and fun post-modern moments of the year. And then, as if he were not already every fanboy’s ultimate personification of cool, it goes one step cooler: right at his darkest moment, he gains perspective and skill from his father, who it turns out is a FUCKING NINJA! Which came first as a child: imagining that you had powers, or that your parents did? Hiro gets both. BEST MOMENT: In the season finale, Hiro looks determined and resolute as he prepares to take on Sylar. Just before he leaves, his friend tells him that he looks “badass.” The look of “Aw Shucks” elation that passes his face for just a moment, before returning to seriousness, defined his character perfectly.

Noah Bennett (Horn-Rimmed Glasses Guy) – We didn’t know what his agenda was, who he was working for, or exactly how much he knew about any of this. In fact, it is entirely possible that the actor himself did not know whether his character was evil or not until late in the season. It is difficult to pull something like that off, but HRGG ended up being the character that begged for more screen time, despite being one of the few leads with no powers whatsoever. At times despicable (callously erasing the memories of his family, as well as Claire’s friend), and at other times altruistic (ordering his henchman to shoot him and erase his memory so his hunted daughter could get away), he was the one we started out hating, but ended up being the glue that kept the entire storyline together. BEST MOMENT: During the standoff at his house, when radioactive Ted was threatening to blow everyone up, HRGG silently screamed at Parkman (who could read thoughts) to shoot his daughter (whose power would allow her to survive it), to buy them all time.

Mohinder Suresh – As the son of the geneticist who first “discovered” mankind’s potential for super powers, Mohinder was both the ultimate believer and the ultimate skeptic in what was happening around him. As Heroes’ Mulder AND Scully, he was able to understand and explain the show’s early events, even as he struggled to accept that they were happening, thus proving his disgraced and deceased father correct all along. Despite his strange lineage and medical background, he was us in that world, taking it all in and struggling to make sense of it, simultaneously hoping and dreading that it was all real. BEST MOMENT: Beyond his narration (I could listen to that actor recite Goodnight Moon and be captivated), it was the smoothly controlled way that he let it be known that the man he was traveling with was none other than…

Sylar  Sylar’s evil presence was felt from the show’s first moments (it was he who killed Mohinder’s father; look it up in the online comic), yet when we finally learn something about him, we see that he was just a painfully ordinary guy willing to do anything to be special. We never learn exactly what it is that he does with his victims’ brains to take their powers (a great idea; whatever we think he’s doing is far worse than seeing what he does), but what we do see is a character whose self-loathing grows exponentially with his superhuman abilities. BEST MOMENT: As good as Zachary Quinto was at portraying Sylar, nothing could be better than the character’s impact before we saw his face. The best example of this by far was when the cop was chasing him down with her weapon drawn, and she was suddenly frozen, with her own hand pointing her gun at her temple. When Parkman then arrived to gun Sylar down, we got to see him rise like a vampire from his coffin before he disappeared without a trace.

The Mythology – Tim Kring and company did two things perfectly with the show. Firstly, by making our heroes’ powers genetic in nature (as well as giving us a scientist who understands this, and a list of souls identified as having the gene), they now how have an unending supply of new characters, whenever they need them. This in turn allows them the freedom to kill off established characters as needed, making the show both supernatural and “real” at the same time. The second thing only happened later in Season One, and only gently at that: setting the stage for a far deeper layer of mythology not yet discovered by the viewer. The most prominent example of this is when the older generation of characters revealed that they too had abilities (some shown, some hidden, some occurring only from beyond the grave) AND that they were all manipulating our current heroes to their own (never made fully clear) end. This brilliant move, as well as several other more subtle touches sprinkled throughout the series, allowed the show to adequately tie up the first season’s story arc, while simultaneously leaving a lot of compelling questions for the future. BEST MOMENT: In the season finale, several characters implore the little girl who can find anyone in the world to locate Sylar. They are aware that she might not be willing to do it, since he kidnapped her, and killed her family (she calls him The Boogeyman.) However, she assures them that she’ll do it, and that as scary as he is, there is one person out there who is scarier: someone who, when she thinks about him, can see her too.

The Worst

Nikki/Jessica Sanders – Ali Larter’s dual personality ass-kicker started out compelling enough: when some generic assholes show up at her webcam stripping garage and begin to force her to submit to them, she passes out, then wakes up to find them all dead, most probably by her own hand. But by the end, this character was all pathos with no payoff. She was whiny and skittish as one, and a super-strong badass slut as the other, and as a result she spent the entire season either killing people with a grin, or fearing for her son through her tears. When the inevitable “the power was in you all the time” moment occurs, it was too quick, too little, and too late to save the storyline. WORST MOMENT: Discovering that Jessica was Nicki’s former twin sister, now deceased. So…are they two people in one body? Is this one of those convenient “multiple personality” scenarios that are pure Hollywood? Before this, she was an unconscious ass-kicker with a mystery. Afterwards, she was talking to herself in mirrors.

Claire Bennett – The indestructible cheerleader herself was not the problem so much as what they did with her. First of all, the series began with this girl getting offed every week; an accidental tackle breaking her neck, a tussle with a date rapist ending with a stake in her head, etc. I know cheerleading is more demanding a sport than we give it credit, but this might be a bit extreme. Secondly, the cute but cloying “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” catchphrase made her the focal point of the entire show for months, which at times slowed the show down a great deal. Lastly, and I mean no disrespect to Hayden Panettiere, but I simply do not understand asking a seventeen-year-old actress to pull off the most dramatic final moments of the season. WORST MOMENT: Any of her angst-filled speeches from the season finale.

Linderman/Mrs. Petrelli – Again, the concept behind these characters is wonderful – a mysterious previous generation of “heroes” plotting a world catastrophe so that they can then save it – but for a series that seemed to pride itself on tight plotlines, the holes with these two characters were simply enormous. These two characters acted the entire time as though they had already foreseen everything that was to come, right up until their vision failed to materialize (which, unless I misunderstand something…they should have foreseen). But are we really to believe that Linderman coerced Nikki and D.L. to get together, so that they’d have a child, and that child would have the power to speak with machines, so that ten years later they could use this child to manipulate an election? Did Mrs. Linderman really foresee the explosion all the way up to her son becoming president, but then fail to see that it was actually Sylar who assumes the role, which we learn will happen if this explosion goes off? Questions abound, and while I have my doubts, I will reserve judgment for this until next season, when this will HAVE to come up again. WORST MOMENT: Linderman offering a suitcase of cash to Nikki to kill her husband, then turning into a common thug with a gun when his brilliant plan backfires.

The Viral Game – During the flashback episode, HRGG hands Mohinder a card, and we were given a glimpse of the website that was listed on it. Savvy viewers logged onto that site, and found themselves applying for jobs, calling the company toll-free, and seeking out passcodes that would grant access to hidden material. GREAT start! But the makers of the show apparently did not want to trust their expensive web endeavor merely to people who could think, and suddenly those people who signed up for updates on HRGG’s company site found themselves sent email “hints” from a hero whose power was the ability to read electronic emails from the air. (She even showed up in an episode, for one second, as though to validate everything that was going on.) The mystery and excitement of discovering what was going on was automatically replaced with a metaphorical spoon feeding you exactly what you were supposed to type in next. WORST MOMENT: During one “secret” message from the email lady, she mentioned a hidden code that she planted in an earlier clue. In the VERY NEXT SENTENCE, she wrote “For those of you who missed it, here it is:”

The Season One Climax – A great deal of time was spent leading up to the climactic battle between our heroes and Sylar. Peter Petrelli prepared himself not only to battle his nemesis, but also to make sure he’d be killed if he failed to control his powers. Hiro struggled to regain control of his powers so he could fulfill his destiny as the one who kills Sylar. And Mrs. Petrelli and Linderman put all the pieces in place to ensure that this tragedy WOULD occur, for whatever reason they had. And then…what? Two things:

1.      Peter punches Sylar, which causes his radioactivity to kick in, and then Hiro teleports to the scene and stabs Sylar with the sword. After all that, Sylar dies seconds later.

2.      As Peter loses control, he begs Claire to shoot him before he blows up the city. However, before she does, Nathan swoops in and flies them both into space, where he explodes harmlessly. End Season One.

I understand why they killed both Sylar and Petrelli, in that the two characters were both way too powerful, and thus would tip the balance of any situation irreparably in their favor (think Doctor Manhattan from The Watchmen). However, Sylar’s death was extremely anti-climactic after all the build-up, and Petrelli’s was riddled with problems. Why couldn’t Claire shoot him and temporarily kill him (he absorbed her regenerative powers, and thus would recover minutes later) to stop the radioactivity from building up too strongly? Why did Nathan have to fly Peter to space, when Peter absorbed that power too, and thus could have sacrificed only himself? After so much excitement leading to it, the event itself felt pretty empty. WORST MOMENT: Adrian Pasdar’s Nathan Petrelli had a great steely stare that communicated both a lust for power and a desire to do the right thing. However, his last line of dialogue: “I love you Peter.” might have been his worst.

I recognize that my list of worsts seem nit-picky, and they certainly pale in comparison to everything that went terrifically right with the show. In fact, my disappointment with the last chapter of Volume One was mitigated completely by the brilliant decision to jump right into a snippet of Volume Two before the credits rolled. However, it’s important to point out the weaknesses along with the strengths, because while perfection might be impossible, the pursuit of it is what makes us mere mortals heroic.


Click Here to discuss this article in the forums