-Hiro Nakamura, Heroes
There was a time, as fuzzy and distant in the rear view mirror as it seems these days, when Heroes was one of my favorite shows on TV. It started life as a series about ordinary people coming to grips with their extraordinary powers, but as each meandering season dragged on and on, Heroes decided to settle instead for ordinary people doing awfully ordinary things. It got to the point where it was pretty much Passions with an effects budget. These characters could rarely be bothered to do anything particularly heroic, content to just stand around and mope, trapped in glacial plotlines recycled from previous seasons that were never really nudged forward until the anticlimactic season finalé...y'know, the finalé where the big battle royale would take place off-screen. Someone would peek through a keyhole, and you'd see flashes of light creep out from under a hotel room door or something instead of seeing anything resembling action first-hand. Every episode seemed to hemorrhage more and more viewers who gave up waiting in vain for something to happen. When I think of Heroes anymore, the first thing that springs to mind isn't "save the cheerleader, save the world"; it's making-it-up-as-you-go plotting, directionless pacing, characters that are unrecognizably different from one episode to the next, and instantly abandoned storylines. Oh well. At least NBC finally dragged the series behind the barn and at long last plugged it in the head, so after this fourth and final season, our long national nightmare is over.
I already churned out an epic rant last year about everything that's wrong with Heroes in general, so this time around, I'll just stick with where it goes wrong this season.
Like pretty much every volume of Heroes, season four opens with everyone's lives returning to some semblance of normalcy.
Hey, remember when Parkman was standing in front of the White House with a bomb strapped to his chest? Remember when he was head-over-heels in love with a twentysomething speedster because he'd had a drug-induced daydream about her? Turns out...? No one else does either. Nope, he's returned to life as a cop in L.A., shacked up again with his wife and that Stop-and-Go baby. If you couldn't get enough of Willow's "magic is like drugs!!!" afterschool special subplot from season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can thrill to Parkman slogging his way through some kind of substance abuse program. Plagued with guilt over pushing Nathan's memories into Sylar's body, he hasn't used (HIS POWERS) in a month now, and it's a daily struggle. He's tormented by more than just guilt, though: when Parkman shoved Sylar's consciousness out of his own body, it had to go somewhere, and that psychopath has set up shop inside Parkman's meaty head. Think Jiminy Cricket with bushy eyebrows and a body count. Because Sylar does have his hands wrapped around Parkman's powers, he's able to manipulate his unwitting host's perception of the world around
So anyway, while Parkman's sworn off using his powers, preferring to be a hero in a more traditional sense, Peter has fully embraced his. He's still limited to mimicking one ability at a time, and he's continued to hold onto Mohinder's speed and strength...not to fight crime or anything, but to help save lives as a paramedic. He's routinely pulling triple shifts to rescue every last person he can, alienating just about everyone he cares about in the process. When Peter does get sucked back into playing superhero for Bennet and company, he sees it purely as a means to acquire more useful powers...as a way to save more lives. Despite the fact that the title of the show is "Heroes", most of its characters are self-absorbed and do their damndest to avoid doing anything vaguely heroic, so the emphasis on this side of Peter is greatly appreciated, and the fact that it's become an obsession that's slowly consuming him is more intriguing than someone just wanting to put on Superman Underoos and playing hero.
Removed from the rest of the "action" (if you want to call it that) as always, Hiro and Ando have launched their own Dial-a-Hero empire in Japan. Before they can even polish off their first gig -- rescuing a kitty cat, like the cliché goes -- Hiro finds himself frozen stiff. Yup, he used to have total mastery over time...now time has total mastery over him. Turns out that Hiro's dying. He has an inoperable brain tumor, the end is very quickly drawing near, and he no longer has control over his powers. Hiro becomes convinced that manipulating the past isn't such a bad thing as long as he's careful about which butterflies to crush (although that's not what the Butterfly Effect is, but whatever). After rejiggering things so that his sister and Ando fall madly in love -- which somehow has absolutely no other side effect on his life -- Hiro scribbles down a bucket list of all the wrongs he wants to right before keeling over.
Like I mentioned a couple paragraphs up, Sylar's consciousness is now trapped inside Parkman's noggin. Sylar's body, meanwhile, is a meatsuit that what's left of Nathan is trotting around in these days. As was hinted at in the last few minutes of season three, the suppressed elements of Sylar have already started to re-emerge. "Nathan" knows something is off -- he's discovering new powers with each passing day, and he literally doesn't feel like himself -- and as he tries to investigate who he really is, some dark, long hidden secrets from his own past once again bubble back to the surface.
Y'know how in pretty much every episode of every season of Heroes up to this point, Claire Bennet mopes about how she just wants to lead a normal life? This time...? She does! Kind of. Claire-Bear has just started college, and she's getting the full experience, complete with an annoying roommate (who just can't get enough of Activision's Guitar Hero III, in stores now!) and some
So, who else is left? Angela Petrelli sits out most of the season. Tracy Strauss is...well, Tracy, so she's as pointless as ever. With Primatech a bunch of smoldering embers somewhere down in Texas these days, Noah Bennet tries to start a shiny new life. For a hefty chunk of the season, he's just sitting around in some dingy apartment waiting for characters with actual plotlines to drop by. The badass Bennet from years past is a fuzzy memory, now neutered into something a lot more limp and lifeless. He does get a fling from the past (played by Elizabeth Rohm ) retconned into the show, and you learn all about his days as a used car salesman/wannabe-playwright. Yeah, I don't know what that's all about either. Mohinder Suresh doesn't pop up until halfway through the season, but it turns out there's a reason for that... Oh yeah, and The Haitian finally gets a name this season, although he still doesn't really do anything other than show up like a good lapdog when he's called, and I think "Haitian" is used as a verb repeatedly for the first time too.
Even though Heroes has a kind of an unmanageably sprawling cast as it is, there's always room for more, right? One of this season's newest introductions is Emma Coolidge (played by Deanne Bray), a deaf file clerk at the hospital where Peter works. Emma latches onto her inability to hear as an excuse to further isolate herself from the world around her. Emma's own power starts to manifest itself; she can't hear sounds, no, but she can see them...taking the form of dancing streams of light. She's equal parts fascinated and unnerved by this newfound ability, which at first seems benign but later proves to be one of the driving forces of the season. We're also introduced to the Circus of Crime! Oops, I mean the Sullivan Brothers Carnival. Samuel Sullivan (Robert Knepper) is picking up where his late brother left off, using the carnival as a sort of refuge for superpowered outcasts. He himself wields the ability to control the earth beneath his feet, and he's already taken in the likes of Lydia (Dawn Olivieri), the frequently topless tattooed lady who can sense what others most desperately crave, and Edgar (Ray Park), a knife-throwing speedster. The carnival allows Samuel and his family to hide in plain sight, and they can teleport the entire show clear across the world whenever undue attention is drawn their way. Samuel is hellbent on bringing in even more new blood...Claire? Sylar? Tracy? Peter? Emma? But who, and why? Are his motives as pure as he claims, or is there something far more sinister at work here...? Generally, if someone asks if something more sinister is at work, the answer is "yes, obviously", so...yeah. He clumsily says something like "I'm not a good guy, but I'm not all bad either" at one point, so there's the usual moral beigeness that defines half the characters on this show.
HEROES IS BORING AND REPETITIVE!
The biggest misstep that Heroes makes this time around is that...well, nothing happens. It's agonizingly, excruciatingly, indescribably boring. At this point, all but just a tiny handful of characters have some kind of superpower, but rather than do much of anything with 'em, they prefer to just stand around and talk. That's doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, at least if you have the right writers. I mean, one of my favorite comics these days is Matt Fraction's run on "Invincible Iron Man", and that's an intensely dialogue-driven book. Tony Stark has barely suited up for several issues straight, and when he does, it's either been to do something mundane like open a crate or to fly off and talk to someone somewhere else. ...and you know what? It's one of most endlessly thrilling and engaging series I read. That approach demands skillful writing and sharp characterization, and clearly, Heroes isn't capable of either. All of this -- chucking out the action to make way for boring people having boring conversations -- culminates in a Thanksgiving episode with three separate segments of people...well, sitting, talking, and eating (See? Eating! They liven up the formula a bit) in the bleakest and most blandly dressed sets in the annals of network television.
It's also frustrating that Heroes continues to be stuck in second gear or however that line in the Friends theme song goes. Every season, Hiro loses control of his powers, goes on a quest to have 'em restored, and generally devolves into some kind of grating, double-digit IQ manchild. Yes, all of that happens yet again this year too. To try to pander to fans, I guess, Hiro's muddled brain gets trapped in a fanboy loop, so he's stuck for two episodes straight spouting off dialogue like "Sancho, the swamp dragons have surrounded the castle Arkham where Dr. Watson is being held, and it's all because of me. Hailing frequencies are open. Sancho, why won't you respond? I have betrayed the rebellion. Sancho Panza, you're our only hope!" Somewhere around this time, I ran a warm bath and contemplated opening a couple of veins. There's even a trial-in-his-own-head episode -- set in the Burnt Toast Diner, with a shaker of cream used for a gavel and all -- that reveals some previously undiscovered circle of hell for me. Also, every season, Hiro's given some other backstory about why he's compelled to play superhero, and he gets origin #7 (sorry, I've lost count) this year. Forget
Another Heroes mainstay is that Sylar has to waffle back and forth between GOOD! and EVIL! fifteen or sixteen times an episode. Yeah, there's a whole hell of a lot of that this season too. You know how everyone griped about the second season of Heroes where for something like five episodes in a row, you'd be treated to virtually identical scenes of Maya going apeshit, her powers killing everyone within a few hundred feet, and Alejandro coaxing her into easing up on the whole bleeding eye thing? I mean, essentially the same exact sequence replayed over and over and over and OVER? That's pretty much how Heroes is this season with Emma and her music visualization power. Streams of light suddenly start beaming around her, Emma's entranced, and then she has to wait until the next episode to lather, rinse, and repeat the same thing verbatim. Tracy shows up every four episodes, does essentially nothing, and disappears. Claire and Nathan-Sylar wander around aimlessly, waiting for the carnival to do something. Why are there nineteen episodes this season? There are maybe seven episodes' worth of development and the rest is nothing but repetitive filler. Even when something truly impressive happens -- there's a moment between Parkman and Sylar that's genuinely astonishing and a potential game-changer -- it's immediately undone. Hell, it's announced a few minutes later with the "next week on Heroes..." promo that one of the most amazing moments in the entire run of the show will be reset. Either no one does anything or whatever happens has no permanence.
Man, and if I were slapping together a Heroes drinking game, you'd have to take a shot everytime Bennet reminisces about the past and says some variant of "bag and tag", but I'll file that one away for later.
OH YEAH! THE CARNIVAL!
All of that's a shame because Robert Knepper couldn't have been more perfectly cast. Knepper plays Samuel as more of a charismatic cult leader than a moustache-twirling villain, and as much of a hyperconfident façade as he showcases in front of his family, more solitary moments reveal a quiet woundedness he tries desperately to mask. All of those different elements -- the murderous compulsion to protect those he cares about, the seductive thrall he holds over his flock, and his own internal torture -- make for an extremely compelling character. Again, though, because Heroes is so hellbent on refusing to advance Samuel and his plotlines for the overwhelming majority of the season, even that quickly grows tiresome.
HEROES' WRITERS DON'T ACTUALLY WATCH THEIR OWN SHOW!
When Peter first discovers that Hiro's dying, he immediately goes on a quest to find someone with healing abilities he can swipe. There's a weepy subplot about the kid that he and Bennet find -- a teenager who can't control his powers and is consuming life rather than restoring it -- that could've met with a much happier ending if anyone on the show had leaned on common sense. Get this: Bennet and Peter teleport to some sleepy Midwestern town to locate this healer, Peter copies his powers, and then tries to catch a plane back to the hospital where Hiro's interred and may croak at any moment. ...or, y'know, he could've
There's at least one fan service episode every season, and this go-around, it's "Once Upon a Time in Texas". Hiro travels back three years to once again see the love of his life -- that impossibly cute waitress named Charlie, who I think is now some kind of germaphobe high school guidance counselor or something -- and prevent her from being killed by Evil Brain Man Sylar. Only the thing is...y'know, Hiro already prevented Sylar from butchering Charlie. Did the writers not bother to go back and rewatch the entire episode from the first season? He seriously already did that! The whole point of the original episode is that sometimes things are fated to be...that it was a lesson to Hiro that the past cannot always be changed. Once again, Hiro stops Sylar from doing the skull-slicing routine on Charlie, but remembering that she still has an aneurysm that could burst open at any moment, he makes a deal with Sylar to fix it. If Sylar saves Charlie, Hiro will fill him on what the future holds. ...and to keep from disrupting the space-time continuum any further, Hiro leaves Sylar to go on his merry way and slaughter however many hundreds of people from then on. What a guy! Afterwards, Hiro gets ready to step out for a long, happy life with his one true love, only...audible gasp! She's gone! Samuel has swiped Charlie, hiding her somewhere in time to force Hiro into doing his bidding. So, what does Hiro do? Travel back another couple of minutes to keep Charlie from being snatched? No, of course not. He spends the rest of the season barking "I want Charlie!" at Samuel. He'll cheerfully travel back in time because a Deal or No Deal model shows him some side-boob (and, again, can't be bothered to prevent a murder from happening right before his eyes), but he can't make the same effort for someone he supposedly loves so deeply. Stupid, stupid rat creatures. He'll travel back in time 47 times to try to stop a guy from photocopying his butt at one office party or another (yes, this is seriously a plotline, and one written by supposed Heroes savior Bryan Fuller, even), but Hiro can't make the trip back to the Burnt Toast Diner a second time. Worst. Character. Ever.
When we first catch up with Angela and Bennet this season, there's talk of getting a new company off the ground to take the place of Primatech. I don't think this is mentioned again at all after their first appearance, and Angela only manages to show up a handful of times throughout the season as a whole. Everything with Samuel is clearly being made up as it goes along, and there's zero consistency about the way his powers function or his shadowy motivations from one episode to the next. I'll try to dance lightly around spoilers, but the denoument in the finalé is wholly and completely out of step with what we've seen him unleash THREE TIMES with his powers elsewhere in the season. I could keep this list going, but...no. Need to move on.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT WIN OUT!
As tough a time as
I learned that the CIA can triangulate cell phone signals, but if a colossal government agency wants to see where the target is, they hafta pull out Google Maps. Also, if you want to seduce people into joining your teleporting carnival of superpowered people, the biggest selling point is your popcorn. It's also okay to rig carnival games as long as you give a stuffed pony to a seemingly orphaned child. Peter walks into a deaf woman's apartment, makes a beeline for her cello, smashes it, and then signs "I'm sorry" when she's not looking. Also, he tells her "I'll call you later" on his way out the door. You do know how this whole thing works, right, Pete? I think my favorite might be when Claire cuts herself slicing up limes at a wake, grabs a bandage, and then goes back to hacking apart fruit with the same bloody knife.
Oh well. To be fair, this season of Heroes does one thing in the finalé that the show had never attempted before: the good guy and the badnik squaring off against each other with actual, special-effects-reliant superpowers. Of course, it's still Heroes at the end of the day, so it comes down to Peter and Samuel pushing a clod of dirt at each other, looking more like Bugs Bunny is trying to tunnel his way to Piscataway than a superhuman battle royale.
There really are some things that I like. Madeline Zima as Claire's confidant/roommate/kinda-sorta-girlfriend is an inspired bit of casting, and her crush and infatuation come across as surprisingly genuine, considering that the whole lesbian kiss thing is such a shameless ratings grab. The season does take Parkman to some very dark places, and those sorts of moral compromises are frequently impressive to watch. Robert Knepper is pretty terrific as Samuel, as wasted as he ultimately is in the part. The series' sense of humor seems sharper here than in previous seasons, from a speed-dating sorority get-together to Claire having her leg flash-frozen off. There's part of me that thinks that even as deeply and profoundly flawed as it is, this might even be the best season since Heroes' first, although that's clearly not saying much. Seasons two and three were both trainwrecks, sure, but there were stakes...there was ambition. Season four doesn't take any chances, so it CAN'T fail as profoundly. This year, essentially nothing happens, and what little DOES happen doesn't matter. This is one of the most inconsistently and incompetently written television series I've ever suffered through. I kept tuning in anyway, hoping in vain that Heroes would somehow manage to right itself...to recapture what I loved so much about the bulk of its first season. It never did, and with the series' long-overdue mercy killing, I can stop waiting. This fourth and final season is for completists only. Skip It.
Heroes made the move to AVC encoding on Blu-ray this season, and even with the pervasive gritty texture of the series' film grain, I never once noticed the compression sputter or stutter. No edge enhancement or overzealous digital noise reduction ever creeps in either. The only glaring flaw is some extremely heavy aliasing in what I'm hoping is stock footage in "Strange Attractors", but nothing like that ever caught my eye at any other point. It's probably a safe bet that anyone reading this review has already watched season three of Heroes on Blu-ray, and you can expect the quality of this follow-up release to be very comparable to that.
Heroes reportedly had to slash its budget pretty severely to get a fourth season off the ground, and I can't help but wonder if the sound team was hit particularly hard by all of that. As many problems as I had with season three of the show, I'd chalk it up as one of the most cinematic sounding television series I've ever watched. With season four, the whole 5.1 thing comes across as more of an afterthought. Heroes by television standards sounds perfectly adequate on Blu-ray, but after being spoiled with something more along the lines of feature film quality last season, this is a steep decline.
There aren't any dubs or downmixes this time around, but subtitles are served up in English (SDH), Spanish, and French. The previous season of Heroes had been enhanced for D-Box rigs, but that got the axe for season four.
Heroes' last go-around on Blu-ray piled on more than twenty hours of extras. Meanwhile, you can knock out all of the extras on this set in a single evening with plenty of time to spare. As unredeemably awful as the 'Slow Burn' webisodes were, I'm kind of surprised none of them found their way to this boxed set. The number of picture-in-picture commentaries plummeted from twenty-five to just four. To be fair, there's still more here than I've been getting with a lot of the other shows I watch -- look at the pretty much barren Chuck and Supernatural season sets coming out next month -- but I can't think of the last time I saw the number of extras careen off a cliff like this from one volume to the next.
The Final Word
The closest thing to praise I can really muster about Heroes' fourth season is that it's not aggressively awful the way the previous two sets had been. I guess you could chalk that up as an improvement, but even with everything seasons two and three got wrong, at least they were fascinating failures. Heroes' fourth and final season is just boring. It's the same drab, uninteresting characters slogging through the same drab, uninteresting plot lines for the fourth or fifth time now. The edges of the show's most vicious characters have been dulled completely. Sylar trots through the same he's-evil-no-he's-good-no-he's-evil-no-he's... routine for the eight quadrillionth time. Claire mopes about how she wants to lead a normal life while also wanting to be accepted for the superhuman she really is. Hiro loses control over his powers, devolves into an eight-year-old man-child, and shouts "yatta!" a lot. You know how this song goes by now. The fact that they're superpowered is almost incidental -- I think your average episode of Guiding Light has more incendiary special effects than what Heroes bothers with anymore -- and even the potentially intriguing sinister-carnival angle turns into another mopey relationship drama. If you were keeping your fingers crossed and eating all your vegetables and praying really, really hard that season four of Heroes would return to the dizzying heights of its first year, then prepare to be disappointed yet again.
The completist in me feels like I ought to own season four of Heroes on Blu-ray just because I already have the high-def releases of the three seasons before it. That's the only particularly compelling reason I can think to pick it up, and the limited selection of extras this year doesn't help much either. There were still enough moments I liked in season three to find it worth a rental, at least. It's kinda funny that the title this season is "Redemption", but this year...? There's not much of anything that actually redeems Heroes as it limps to the finish line. Skip It.
I Snapped Too Many Screengrabs