In viewing “The Fifth Stage,” the last episode of “Heroes” until 2010, I thought of the five stages of grief to which the title alludes. Because let’s be honest here: the majority of this show’s fans are in one of those five stages. If the show we loved died in Kirby Plaza in the Season 1’s “How to Stop an Exploding Man,” then those of us that have soldiered through since must be somewhere on the Kübler-Ross model.
Now that we’re at the nominal halfway point of “Redemption,” it’s high time to take a look at the volume as a whole, using those five stages of grief as a way to look at the ups and downs of the volume so far.
[Recap of Monday's (Nov. 30) "Heroes" after the break...]
Look, at least we’re not dealing with another omen of future doom and gloom, right? In the past, we’ve had Isaac’s paintings, Hiro’s time travels, and Parkman’s spirit walks to give us a glimpse into a future that needed to be avoided. This time around, we simply have a charismatic madman trying to carve out a niche for an oppressed minority. Sure, he emotionally manipulates people into doing his bidding and occasionally manipulates plate tectonics into doing his bidding, but hey, haven’t we all been there?
But this volume has presented us with another, more damning form of denial: the denial of a consistent set of characters presented on a weekly basis. The sprawling cast of “Heroes” is so immense that it can’t possibly fit them all into a 40+-minute episode on a regular basis. The montage that played over Samuel’s final speech reminded us all of how many characters were offscreen this week, last week, and maybe even the week before it. The accumulation of characters has bloated the show’s purpose, leaving Samuel and Sylar to essentially dominate screen time with other fight for a chance to be part of the story.
Don Henley once wrote, “The more I know, the less I understand.” And that sort of applies to my view on Samuel: the more we know about his backstory, the less anything he does makes sense. Had he consolidated power over a matter of years in the wake of Joseph’s death, maybe the strength of his position and the sway he holds over the carnival would make sense. But instead, we’ve learned that he’s gone from Johnny Rotten to King of the Hill in roughly eight weeks. Why he would want to be head of the carnival makes sense, given his lust for power. But why the other carnies fall in line so willingly makes less sense.
All this brings me to the true anger of this week: watching the smart, funny, capable Claire Bennet of “Redemption” get flushed down the toilet as Samuel brings her into the fold. Her friend Gretchen essentially stood in as audience proxy this week, asking all the type of questions we at home were asking ourselves. Of course, she didn’t deliver those lines at the top of her lungs while lacing them with obscenities, so maybe she and I deviated in that respect. But trying to square this Claire with the one that casually distracted Samuel in her dorm room to buy time for Noah’s return just didn’t fly for me.
Essentially, Claire needed to join the carnival to ramp up the show’s dramatic tension, introduce a new mystery (who is she supposed to lure in?), and give Noah a focus for his investigation into the carnival. But when I describe these elements, I am consciously aware of the plot creaking away onscreen. These are not organic character choices that lead to interesting situations. The tension between Claire and Noah only erupts when the show needs it to do so. Putting her into the carnival serves to increase Samuel’s power, but doesn’t help Claire’s character. In fact, it does her a disservice. Watching her smile at her new savior while the image of the dead ex-minor league ballplayer lingers in our brain puts her on the level of Mohinder in terms of stupidity.
Lydia makes a bargain with Samuel this week: while she knows that he committed fratricide, she’s keeping her mouth shut in order to protect her daughter. Granted, you really only know anything about her daughter if you watched those Sprint commercials. Which I don’t. So, all that worry and fear from “Thansksgiving”? Yea, don’t worry about it. Just like you shouldn’t worry about Claire’s personality transplant this week.
Here’s the bargain “Heroes” wants to make with you: it wants us to all be Haitain’ed. In short, we’re Lauren Gilmore: forget about what went on last week (or at Primatech), let’s forge ahead boldly into the future and maybe good things will happen. But as “Heroes” constantly notes, the truth (and/or memory) will out. Lauren’s can-do attitude is both commendable and actually downright charming upon realizing Noah’s need to find Claire, but it also served as the prelude to the sucker punch. Just like Lauren, we’re unable to ever forget what’s come before, even if we want to do so.
In Peter’s case, bargaining comes at the price of absorbing the Haitian’s powers, which consist of mind wiping, power dampening, and power tool expertise. (OK, fine, YOU explain the nail gun skillz.) He convinces Sylar to cede control of his body lest the whole situation turn into “The Last Temptation of Gabriel Gray.” Taking the Home Depot approach to family reunions works temporarily. But Nathan’s memories can’t forget his body in the storage unit.
So, Adrian Pasdar’s death: let’s discuss! I separate scene from story. The latter was always covered in a heaping helping of weak sauce, yet another example of the show refusing to truly kill off its main characters. Had Nathan’s initial death stuck, it would have served as an abrupt and shocking moment, and potentially signaled a new direction for the show. Instead, it took the show eleven episodes to undo this terrible decision.
As such, we as an audience were compelled to take the same point of view as the Petrellis in terms of dealing with Nathan-in-Sylar: should we mourn the loss of what is essentially a biological hard drive? Nathan’s memories seem better equipped to deal with the dissonance better than either of his living relatives, with Angela and Peter anxious to take the facsimile in lieu of the real thing. (So, I’m guessing they are pro-cloning, the Petrellis.)
The question then becomes: did this story present wish fulfillment within the world of the show? In other words: “Heroes” strives to place extraordinary abilities into everyday people in order to see what might happen. Perhaps this storyline was the “Heroes” version of the Dollhouse episode, “Haunted,” in which a woman downloaded herself after death into Echo’s body in order to solve her own murder. The ability to commune with the dead is undoubtedly powerful, and not one I easily dismiss. What I am trying to work through here is if Nathan’s “death” this week was actually powerful. And I think it was more powerful for Peter, having only come to acceptance at the place the two first used their powers, than for the audience. While Peter cried tears of sorrow as Sylar walked away, finally free from psychological contamination, we at home cried tears of joy, finally free from this storyline.
With Sylar finally free to be Sylar, perhaps at last his storyline can intersect with Samuel’s in a meaningful way. Sure, there was the brief dalliance between the two earlier, but that was a muted, impotent version of the character. Samuel’s final speech asserts that it’s time to gather more people with abilities to the camp, which I thought he’d been doing all season anyways. (Was he Haitian’ed as well?) But Sylar won’t stand another superpowered alpha dog on the scene, so look for them to start a collision course come January.
The show luckily already has a way by which to get every disparate character pointed in the right direction: the compass. In Season 1, they were all pulled by destiny towards New York City, guided by an unseen hand towards a mutual meeting place. While Samuel has dominated screen time, he hasn’t necessarily dominated the minds of the majority of the show’s characters. If Samuel kicks the speed of his plot come 2010, look for a lot more compasses to end up in the hands of familiar faces. Hopefully, in tying the characters more closely to the show’s Big Bad, they will find a more organic way to find screen time for its major players, show them working in unison, and then have the type of epic battle a show full of superheroes should have.
Oh wait, I’ve circled all the way back around again to denial, haven’t I? Rats.
“Heroes” comes back January 4, 2010. Will you?