Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heroes, "Villains": Back to before the beginning

Spoilers for last night's "Heroes" coming up just as soon as I figure out how much the American pie-makers lobby has paid to have its product integrated into so many shows in the last few weeks...

I have to applaud Arthur Petrelli for decapitating our African spirit guide/plot device, because hopefully it means we'll be spared any more episodes in which one character eats the special paste and then spends the rest of the hour watching flashbacks or flashforwards of nebulous plot or entertainment value.

Both "Villains" and "I Am Become Death" felt like clumsy attempts to recapture the magic of first season episodes like "Five Years Later" and, to a lesser extent, "Six Months Ago." It's like Tim Kring, Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander(*) got together and said, "Well, everybody's mad at us. How can we give the people what they want?" "Well, they liked some of those time-bending episodes we did back in season one. Why don't we do more of that?" "Brilliant!"

(*) The various stories about the axing of Loeb and Alexander aren't exactly filling me with confidence that this will somehow be a cure-all for the series. Not only will their absence not be felt until very late in this season, but it sounds like they're being scapegoated. In the New York Times story on all the changes, Edward Wyatt compares the axing of Loeb and Alexander to George Steinbrenner firing the Yankees' pitching coach in the '80s because the team was slumping.

I don't feel like we learned enough -- or enough of interest -- about our various villains to justify the time spent watching Hiro watch their stories, and other than a reminder that HRG used to be a very, very bad man, none of the stories were particularly entertaining. If anything, they served as a reminder that The Company, whether it's supposed to be good or evil, is among the dumbest ultra-secret organizations in the history of filmed entertainment, even though it employs some of the show's allegedly brainier characters like Angela Petrelli and HRG. Encouraging Sylar to become a power-stealing serial killer? Again, brilliant!

What did everybody else think?

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought the tone of this episode was better than most of the rest of this season -- it "felt" like one of the season one episodes where, for all of the show's many flaws, stuff was happening and things were moving forward. But the comic geek in me couldn't stop trying to remember whether and how well the events we were seeing matched up with the events from early in season one. Was there really time and space enough for all of this to be happening just offscreen?

Matter-Eater Lad said...

That first anonymous post was mine. Not sure how that happened.

Michael Cowgill said...

I agree with your overall assessment, though I was entertained enough (maybe because lots of Robert Forster and Kristen Bell getting to do a little more). I think the Company setting Sylar on the rampage had to do with the higher ups trying to set the season 1 apocalypse in motion, so it sort of made sense. Of course, they had to go to great pains to make it clear that a true agent is loyal without question in order to make HRG's willingness to do that plausible.

lungfish said...

I actually really enjoyed this episode. I like having the capable actors being involved in the weightier material. Also, very limited appearances by Peter, Claire, Mohinder, Parkman, Nikki/ Jessica/ Tracy helped as well. Their absences were not missed at all.

shara says said...

I was pretty delighted with this episode. I thought it was the first episode where Kristen Bell actually had material to work with that was worthy of her talents. I really liked how it focused more on characters, providing some interesting insights into Angela, Elle, Sylar, Meredith, and Linderman. Then, to have everything be brought full circle was pretty darn satisfying. Not a lot of focus on extraneous characters, just a focused examination of some moments and choices in the lives of a handful of characters that set the future in motion, and which helped put some stuff from Season One into perspective.

pgillan said...

I agree, I thought this episode was a vast improvement over recent ones.

If Patrelli takes Hiro's powers, does that mean there's no more time-travelers? By my calculations, the only one left (aside from Arthur Patrelli) who has any knowledge of the future is Ma Patrelli (and her powers seem prety benign- no one ever listens to the pre-cog). If so, this can only be a good thing.

I barely noticed, but this week they replaced the title card during the opening credits with "Villains" instead of "Heroes". This is was especially lame considering that this was a pretty standard episode. It reminded me, though, of that later-season, alternate-universe episode of Enterprise where they redid the entire opening credits in an "evil empire" style.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I continue to be impressed with how my take on each episode this season is diametrically opposed to most of the commenters. The episodes I come down harshest on, you enjoy, and the episodes I go easy on are the ones you bring out the knives for.

It's like these reviews are all the introduction to the opposite sketches on "You Can't Do That on Television."

That First Andrew said...

I thought this was one of the better episodes this season (feint praise indeed), but the entire third that dealt with Claire's mom was a waste, since it answered questions no one had been asking.

My big pet peeve with this show (aside from the plot contrivances and poorly drawn characters) is the insular world that has been created. EVERYTHING that happens to these 15 or so characters was directly caused by one of the other characters. There is no one else who has any impact on these people. Does it make it better to know that the train accident from season one was caused by Claire's mom? Or that Nathan's car accident was a hit attempt from his dad/Linderman? Bad things don't just happen in the Heroes Universe. Everything has to be a part of a puzzle, even when the pieces don't improve the picture.

I will admit that Robert Forrester has been a good addition, especially since he has now neutered both Peter and Hiro (apparently).

Corvus Imbrifer said...

I'll side with your assessment of the lentil soup being awfully thin, Mr S. I found myself puzzled more than anything, wanting to reach for the Heroes Concordance to see what questions the events shown were supposed to be answering. I've been watching all along, but I suppose my investment is insufficient.

I do find it interesting to observe, however, and compare plot-driven to character-driven. I might have been interested in 'Lost' for the plot, but I didn't care about the characters. 'Heroes' should be about the characters, but this episode only dealt with the plot. I don't care 'what' happened, I want to know why. The emotional and psychological elements were so vaporous.

I do find that while the younger actors work very hard, I so like watching the grown-ups have at each other.

Anonymous said...

I watched Heroes last night for the first time in awhile, and I have to say there's no way they can bring back viewers and expect them be able to know what's going on.
I, too, felt like we didn't get nearly enough in return for the house of watching put in. And I agree that it's an extension of problems since the beginning of the series. Would it have been really that hard to add in a few fun HERO moments of people actually using and enjoying powers to, I dunno, save people?
- EmeraldLiz

Heather said...

The Meredith plot line could have been summed up in one scene, but I did get the chance to like Flint oddly.

The Petrelli plot line could have been summed up in one dramatic monolouge too.

Sylar into a shark? Uh... I wished he still just killed so he could kill, not because of the Company.

In addition, maybe one way to revive this show, which probably will not happen for another year meaning we have had 2 years of suckitude or 2 years too long and seems to repeat Lost's season pattern, is to bring a fellow pie-loving friend with abilities.

Ned. What I suggest is to transport all the best Heroes characters to Pushing Daisies and we can all live together happily.

Lizbeth said...

Yeah, I kinda laughed out loud when I saw the African spirit guide decapitated.

Two years ago that would have been one of those grotesque visual images that made me think Heroes was great (remember how shocking it was when Sylar killed the cheerleader?) Now I just found it laughable.

I guess the all-wise spirit guide and his annoying mumbo jumbo couldn't see Papa Petrelli coming. Yeah, I too was tired of his character and the recycling ability of painting the future.

I think I'm starting to root for the villains.

Stef said...

Alan, I agree most of this episode was pretty pointless and/or unnecessary. But, I also enjoyed the chance to Kristen Bell actually work with some material again, rather than lurking in the background or having some bizarre frenemy plotline with Claire.

How horrible was Milo's wig, btw? Trying to recapture that season 1 "male nurse and okay with it" floppy do just didn't cut it.

I'd still love to see about 1/2 the characters eliminated, or have their powers neutralized and just go back to regular people lives. The interconnectedness, like first andrew said, has just gotten ridiculous. There are more than 20 people in the world, yet all of their actions solely are connected? Harrumph.

Debsa said...

I am just stumped to see that "Heroes" this season and last is the same show. What happened? Last night episode was a waste of time. Unless I am really dumb, what exactly is Arthur's power?? They really need to axe the majority of characters and focus on say Jessica, Peter, Nathan, Clair and HRG...

Tracey said...

This episode finally convinced me beyond any doubt that this series suffers from Twin Peaks syndrome. The writers are just making this up as they go along, without any regard for what came before, and solely focused on making the here and now cool. I think that's why some people (here and elsewhere) like it: because it was kinda cool. But when I got on board this series two years ago, I expected the storyline to go somewhere, I expected to get answers to questions, and all I'm getting is more questions, with all sorts of incoherent nonsense thrown around to fill in the old gaps.

In response to matter-eater's anonymous comment: no, I don't think anything here matched up at all. The thing that leaped out at me and smacked me 'til my head hurt was Mohinder in the cab. No, sorry, that just doesn't fit the timeline. They make it seem like this is only Sylar's second kill, like he's not really evil yet, like he's still redeemable... and then HRG gets into Mohinder's cab. But Sylar was evil long before Mohinder came to the U.S. Remember: Mohinder came to the U.S. after his father was murdered by Sylar. Papa Suresh cut off contact with Sylar because he already knew that Sylar was evil. Frankly, I expected the cab driver to be the father, not Mohinder, and was appalled at that total disregard for past events displayed by that scene.

Somebody needs to remind the people behind this show that SF fans pay attention to the details. You simply cannot get away with sloppy continuity in a genre show.

Stu said...

Sorry if I missed it, but who said this was Sylar's second kill? I thought the recap at the start made it clear that the scenes here happened after Sylar had met with Mohinder's father. I don't think The Company would have been following Sylar if he'd only killed one person. Enough time had passed that they had worked out that he could somehow transfer powers.

Also, the timeline is quite obvious here. The episode "six months ago" which gives us Sylar's origin and killing of Mohinder's father happened just under six months before this episode which takes place just before season 1. The captions here tell us that a year has passed since we started following these characters.

For all the flaws I will agree with about this show, continuity is something they do well.

Phew, now I've got that out of the way I want to say that I really enjoyed this episode. Tying the car crash in with Nathan's dad was a surprise to me. I don't care about some of the other reveals and I agree that we could do with an outline of Papa Petrelli's powers but this is the sort of episode I really enjoy.

Alan, as much as I agree with your opinions of other shows, I usually disagree with you completely about Heroes ;)

dez said...

@stef, I kept getting distracted by how bad Peter's wig looked. They did a terrible job of integrating the new scenes with the old. His hair wasn't even the same color or consistency!

Pretty cool that Colossus showed up briefly, albeit not Russian, old, and bearded, heh.

Pa Petrelli is frickin' awesome, but he better not steal Hiro's powers. I'm sure Ando will rescue Hiro, but still...ugh. Hiro's the only character who seems to enjoy his powers and likes to use them to save people. They can't neuter him!

hellblazer said...

(de-lurks)

Episode: meh. Sylar timeline retcon? Boo. Robert Forster and Cristine Rose? Yay.

"Shock" ending? Well, I didn't see that coming, and Forster got one of his better moustache-twirling lines. But afterwards I remembered that the scene where Angela is put into a coma, while having her vision, had similar features... so I suspect that the next episode may start with a "things are not what they seem" cliff-hanger resolution.

T said...

I don't get it: What was the point of the fire siblings (Claire's bio mom = "Asshole!" from Nip/Tuck and Flint from Splinter Cell) subplot? Just the connection to Claire rescuing people from the train wreck? The what-it-means-to-be-an-agent parallels and hero/villain gray areas? Felt like a waste of time.

If ever a series was crying out for a reboot (Knight Rider's doing it), this one is, IMO. There's no a priori reason this show should suck; in fact, quite the opposite. The producers have all the elements at hand (well, I guess _almost_ all; something must be missing: common sense or I don't know what). Seriously, I don't get off on criticizing shows; I would much rather outright enjoy it. I wish they wou, um, FIX IT! already.

JD said...

I've pretty much given up on Heroes after last night's episode. I finally reached the point where I didn't care about any of the characters and what happens on the next episode. It's a shame, but I was never fully on board I guess, especially after the first season's finale.

filmcricket said...

What was learned from last night's show: Any episode involving the senior Petrellis, Nathan, Elle, Bennett and Sylar, and not featuring Mohinder, Peter, Claire, Nikki/Tracey or Parkman is automatically going to be better, regardless of the content of the show.

Thanks to both Stacey and Stu re: the Sylar timeline - that there might be a problem hadn't occurred to me, but I agree, it's ambiguous.

What bothers me the most is that we still don't know what this "visionary" plan is. It involves... the destruction of New York? A virus that takes over the planet? Everyone and his dog getting "abilities"? We've seen so many versions of the future, all of them bad, apparently, and we still don't know why this is central to the Elder Heroes' plan.

A couple of things I did enjoy: that Meredith caused the train crash where we first met Claire, that Pa Petrelli was responsible for the car crash that caused Nathan to manifest, and that Elle was still vaguely boy-crazy before she turned completely psycho.

Things I didn't enjoy: that we'd never had any occasion to believe Bennett and Elle had worked together, that Eric Roberts had enough compassion in him to let Meredith go, and that Ma Petrelli was unthorough enough to not insist on seeing a body once Pa was declared dead. Seems uncharacteristically sloppy, to me.

sarge said...

Am I the only one who keeps hoping Josh Radnor shows up some day as a fourth Petrelli son, given that Christine Rose played Ted's mom on HIMYM?

Or is the crossover audience between the two shows too small?

That would qualify as best episode ever for me.

David J. Loehr said...

It's like these reviews are all the introduction to the opposite sketches on "You Can't Do That on Television."

I'm with you there. And I'm stunned that I remember those as well as I do, it's been what, 25 years since I paid any attention to that show...

But no, I'm off the Heroes wagon. Whether or not the direction of the show was Loeb and Alexander's fault, it's not a good sign when it's the comic book writers that get fired from the comic book show. Especially with Tim "I never read comic books" Kring, creator or not.

As for Cristine Rose crossovers, I've been waiting for a HIMYM / Flying Blind crossover. (That's only, what, 16 years back?)

T said...

"I don't know." [gets slimed]

Z said...

As much as I love seeing Kristen Bell get more material, didn't her entire story run contradictory to the character's origins laid out in Season 2? For one, she was pretty much a total sociopath and super awkward around most people before Midas Touch Bob got killed and she was forced to grow up. So her acting pretty normal around Sylar and HRG felt off. More importantly, in the Four Months Ago episode, the gap between Seasons 1 and 2, she tells Peter she's been living in the Compancy's facility for 16 years, ever since she caused a blackout at age 8. So when exactly was she allowed out to do field work with HRG before this?

pgillan said...

So when exactly was she allowed out to do field work with HRG before this?

The first time we met her, wasn't Elle on field duty in Ireland to retrieve amnesia-Peter? OR something? And she may live at the Company facility, but that wouldn't preclude her from leaving- I don't think they said she was imprisoned there for 16 years.

Anonymous said...

a friend turned me on to this site and im glad he did. didnt know that many people had a problem with the direction of this show. couple of questions i have: 1. where did mohinder's indian accent go? 2. why is the haitian just whored out for his ability as a plot saving device when he has no real allegiance to anyone in the show. 3. how did the writers not have enough foresight to get some help with managing characters with some ridiculous powers. (ie. peter)

Tracey said...

@Stu: It certainly seemed to me that Sylar hadn't yet gone all serial-killer. His second-thoughts about killing people for their powers seemed more likely if he hadn't already killed many. But if I am mistaken and he has indeed already been killing people right and left, then we're back to the same old problem: why did he suddenly get a conscience? No explanation of this change of heart is offered or even vaguely implied.

Random out-of-character behavior has been a problem for the last two seasons. Actually, it was a bit of a problem in the first season, where Nathan's behavior seemed to be somewhat random, but now it's spread to just about everybody. When Angela started making soup this week, I rolled my eyes, "here we go again," because it seemed completely out of character for her to be cooking from scratch. I was actually relieved when it turned out that she had poisoned her husband, because at least it provided a reason for her to be doing something out of character.

For the last two seasons, character behavior has been dictated by the needs of the story, rather than by the character's history and personality, and that's just plain bad writing. Most successful fiction writers can tell you about a time when a character that "refused to do" what they wanted the character to do -- that is, the writer was sensitive enough to recognize that the action the writer wanted wasn't something that fit the character's personality. Many TV actors can tell stories about an episode being altered because the character "wouldn't do that." The writers of Heroes lack that sensitivity, and I find it very frustrating.

Dan said...

Slighty OT, but why are there no True Blood reviews? I agreed with your early sentiments, but the show improved markedly around ep4 and is now a weekly highlight for me.

Honestly, there are Dexter season 1 levels of pace, excitement and entertainment. A great show, deserving of more debate. A crying shame if you shrugged it off so early, but stuck with Heroes, Alan! :)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Slighty OT, but why are there no True Blood reviews? I agreed with your early sentiments, but the show improved markedly around ep4 and is now a weekly highlight for me.

I've checked back on occasion, and it's still not doing anything for me. Sorry.

Dan said...

Oh well, fair enough. Must be a taste thing. I can't stand anything Buy More-related in Chuck, for example. :)

Ingrid said...

Continuing with the OT, I love True Blood. It's a much better show than this Heroes crap.

I agree that the fact that Claire, Nicki/Jessica/Tracey, Parkman, Peter and Mohinder were not at the center of this episode automatically reduced its sucking intensity. But it still sucked.

Michael 8-) said...

Sorry, Alan, I thought this was one of the best episodes in ages!

Then again, I don't hold it up to the same sort of criticism that I might some other TV shows. I take it as a live comic book to watch, which is probably why a seemingly random subplot with background on Meredith doesn't bother me, because it's interesting and provides me with some character background -- even if it's not advancing the main plot anywhere.

Of course, this also makes me very concerned about the staff shake-up...

sphalen said...

Why didn't Arthur Patrelli just use his mental powers on Nathan to get him to leave the investigation?

zodin2008 said...

Here's my advice for "Heroes": Have Patrick Duffy waking up in the shower to realize that the entire 2nd and 3rd seasons of this pathetic show were a dream (oh, and that Mohinder never really existed) and go back to Season 1, kill off Sylar, cut this show down to a handful of heroes (HRG, Clare, Peter, Arthur, Hiro and Ando) and for God's sake, maybe we'll care again.

dez said...

^I like your list, but I'd swap out Peter for Nathan and add Elle :-)

Anonymous said...

whats the whole "fix it" thing?

theres nothing to fix. the show is dead. a zero.

it told every story about these characters it could in season 1.

his original plan of having new characters every season was right. only when some became semi household names and nbc pushed it did he think about the future.

And we've all seen how good thats been.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. The plot hole for me that sticks out the most is that Sylar and Elle had interactions in both seasons 2 and 3, and Sylar never once acknowledges that he recognizes her from this "one year ago" period.

You want this show saved? If "Pushing Daisies" gets the axe, NBC should hire Bryan Fuller to be the "Heroes" showrunner.

T said...

That _is_ pretty glaring. There are just so many macro things failing to deliver that I don't even have the energy to look for consistency.

Put another way, I analyze and obsess and nitpick only if there's a baseline level of enjoyment--which, at present, is missing with this show.

H E Pennypacker said...

This aired just now in Australia and I can tell you it was much better than what's been coming down the satellite in recent weeks, if only for finally clearing up the mystery of Dad Petrelli's 'suicide'. There was a nice touch with the box car on fire, I'd forgotten all about that scene from year 1, and finally the ending was jump out of your seat fantastic - the last three weeks of this show have been an improvement over the opening of the season - here's hoping they continue this upward trend.