More Heroes episodes- and while there may be a few improvements, we are still drifting into the arena of the mediocre.
HEROES: S02 E05-07, “Fight or Flight”. “The Line”, “Out of Time”
In an article in Entertainment Weekly here, Heroes showrunner Tim Kring has officially gone on the record to say that he realises they’ve messed up the beginning of season 2. As when Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore does this kind of thing, it’s refreshing to see a showrunner being this honest (For example, I couldn’t imagine Russell T. Davies saying that New Who is anything other than fantastic, fantastic, fantastic), and it’s also a sign that despite the massive positive reaction to Season 1, the series’ future isn’t written in stone. Right now, we’e staring down the barrel of the writer’s strike, meaning it’s likely that the eleven episode Volume 2 “Generations” is likely to be the entirety of Season 2. An alternate ending for episode 11 has been shot to turn it into a season finale, and the strike doesn’t look to be ending soon. The good news is that in the most recent three episodes, there are genuine signs the series is beginning to twitch its way out of the lethargic near-coma it spent much of the first four episodes. Dramatic traction is being attained, and there are some developments that look potentially interesting. The bad news is that despite all this, Heroes is still experiencing some very sluggish patches, the show hasn’t yet worked out a way of doing action without looking shockingly cheap, and is also tripping itself up with its own poor writing at every step.
The worst sign is the ridiculous amount of expositionary dialogue characters are spouting- whether it’s Mr Bennet’s Russian trainer helpfully reminding him that his partner was invisible, Peter giving his Irish girlfriend a breakdown on what happenned before their time shift (“I know,” I wanted her to say, “I was there!) or Sylar going into full “I’m evil, me!” mode by explaining to the non-English speaking Alejandro exactly how damned evil he’s going to be, despite the fact that Maya had gone to fetch something from the car’s boot and was still technically in earshot! (As a side-note: the fact that Sylar is back in full manipulative villain mode is both predictable and rather disappointing. There was the potential for his wound and the loss of his powers to push the character in a different direction, and Sylar has been most interesting when he’s been justifying himself as a good guy. Seeing him do the right thing for a change would be interesting, but doesn’t look like it’ll be happening soon.). Much of this exposition has also been rehashing what we’ve already been told in the episode recap, often within minutes of each other, and it simply lets the writing slip down further. The abscence of Bryan Fuller seems to have harmed them even more than I expected, and even by DC Universe comic book standards (the level at which I saw most of Season 1), Season 2 is looking downright shaky.
Helpfully, at least, episodes 5-7 have seen several plot threads being brought to an end (including Hiro’s Interminable Adventures in the Past, thank heavens) and a sense of development, although the structure of the storytelling is still far more disparate than Season 1. Seeing Morry ‘Nightmare Man’ Parkman defeated so quickly was something of a surprise– especially as his reveal in episode 5 had at least provided us with the first intimidating bad guy of Season 2– but the momentum of the story wasn’t helped by the plot thread vanishing for a week, and would have been far more effective if it had led in from episode 6. The nightmare sequences in episode 5 were the first point where Heroes got anywhere close to some of its eerier moments in Season 1– and it would be nice if we got a better explanation of Nathan’s evil monster-face duplicate than a Superman III-style Id/Ego punch up– and it’s hard not to think that this story would have been better given time to breathe. Going from Matt being told about nightmare powers to being able to actually use them effectively enough to trap his father within such a short period was pushing their luck, and considering what a build up we got, for it to be wrapped up so quickly is nothing short of annoying.
Heroes now seems to be mainly defined by the characters making illogical, irrational or plain idiotic decisions (Exhibit 1: Claire deciding that making out with her boyfriend in her own frontroom, with the possibility of her dad arriving home unexpectedly, was a great idea) when one of the best things about Season 1 was that, for the most part, it was a comic strip show rooted in realistic reactions. Now, reality is being thrown out of the window with such wild abandon it’s hard to get through an episode without guffawing at least once – my favourite moment being in episode 7, where West exclaims “What is this- some kind of trap?!?” (Yes, that’s right– she trapped you into stalking her for three episodes and trying out your “Embarrass a girl into submission” chat-up routine…). It’s also going for the most painfully obvious option in most cases– when Nikki went wild with the needle, it was blatantly obvious that (a) she’d inject herself and (b) the virus would mutate and wouldn’t be curable. (Another side-note: despite being the weak link in Season 1, Nilkki still had her interesting moments– but now, instead of exploring the idea of evolving her relationship with Jessica, they’ve written out the multiple personality. She’s now a super-strong Sarah Connor- just a lot less interesting…) And, the revelation of Takezo Kensei turning out to be the killer really hasn’t been a surprise since the discovery of his regenerative powers in episode 2 (although it would have been nice if they’d changed his hairstyle slightly over 400 years, or done something to make it seem like he hadn’t just walked from one set to the other). Even the journey through time to the virus devastated New York simply feels like retreading old ground– combined with some genuinely appalling background CGI (almost as bad as the sequence with Mr Bennet and the Haitian in Russia, which brought back memories of creaky back projection in Hitchcock movies. If they haven’t got the budget, they shouldn’t try shots like these…)
The insane rollercoaster of quality seems to be Heroes primary feature now- that there are still moments of fun (especially the reunion between Hiro and Ando, which managed to be more entertaining than Hiro’s previous seven episodes), but we’ll have to wade through an awful lot of nonsense to get there. The show may have been embraced by the geek press and be the show that ‘normal people’ can excuse themselves watching, but episodes 8-11 are going to have to be pretty damn exceptional to rid me of the feeling that the bubble has already burst, and that the previous heights of Heroes- episodes 4-11, ‘Company Man’ and ‘Five Years Gone’- are as good as it’s going to get…