Season finale: Heroes 4×18 – Brave New World

A look at the season finale and Volume 5 and what went right and wrong

Brave New World

In the US: Monday 9th February 2010, 9pm, NBC
In the UK: 15 (?) weeks from now

So here it is. The end. Possibly the last ever episode of Heroes. It’s been a rocky season – indeed seasons – but here we are at the end. Will it go out with a bang or a whimper?

Possibly useful information? The episode is written by Tim Kring.

Plot (for once not total lies)

In the climactic season finale, everyone bands together in an effort to stop Samuel (Robert Knepper) from taking the lives of thousands. Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) joins forces with his most unexpected ally to save Emma (guest star Deanne Bray). Meanwhile, H.R.G.’s (Jack Coleman) life hangs in the balance as he and Claire (Hayden Panettiere) find themselves trapped underground with oxygen quickly running out. Elsewhere, Hiro (Masi Oka) starts to come to grips with the decisions he has made and is called into action to help stop a disaster. Greg Grunberg, Ali Larter, Zachary Quinto and James Kyson Lee also star. David H. Lawrence XVII, Harry Perry, Todd Stashwick also guest star.

Was it any good?
Actually, compared to previous volumes’ finales, this one wasn’t bad. I actually thought it was very good in fact. It could have done with a bit more action and it was a touch anti-climactic, but compared to the second half of the volume, it was involving and reminded me of the better Heroes episodes.

And praise be, it actually had a whole load of heroics and heroes in it.

Claire/HRG/Not TracyLauren/Tracy
Last week, Samuel marooned HRG and Claire underground in a souvenir shop. How very dare he. Stuck 30 feet underground with no air and no way out, HRG realises he’s going to die and Claire is going to live no matter what, so they have a heart-to-heart about her staying hidden if Samuel exposes ‘specials’ to the world.

Fortunately, the whining ends quickly as Lauren’s phone call pays off and fully-clothed Tracy comes to the rescue (how does she turn her clothes into water now?). With a little bit of improvisation, she uses her watery powers to push a hole back up to the surface, through which Claire and HRG swim.

Then she mysteriously disappears. Presumably they decided to spare Ali from a chilly December location shoot, but it would have been good to have had Tracy turn up for the final showdown.

Using the supersonic helicopter the CIA have secretly been working on using stolen alien technology (or maybe they really did manage to get the blueprints for Airwolf back after all those years trying), HRG and Claire fly over to New York to help stop the Carnival. Claire gives another one of those moving speeches of hers and with the aid of a little thing called ‘evidence’, Edgar and multiple Eli (more on him later), shows that Samuel’s up to no good. The Carnies turn against him but it’s too late: Samuel’s going into meltdown.

It’s hard not to be a little sick of Claire and HRG after their bickering, emoting and general plot-hogging for the whole of the volume, but this was all handled reasonably well and at least Gretchen was ignored the whole episode. Well done, Tim.

Meanwhile, following last week’s strange activities in Sylar’s head, Peter and Sylar have escaped, and only half a day has gone. But multiple Eli has turned up. Apparently, Samuel has been in contact with Matt at some point – we know not when – and tried to get him to join the Carnival. But despite Sylar being once integral to Samuel’s plan, now he’s a threat so Eli’s here to stop Sylar getting back to the Carnival.

Despite Matt’s best efforts with telepathy and a knife, the Elis get the better of him. But in a typically off-screen fight (given how poor the Eli mattes have been, maybe that’s a good thing, although it would have been cool to watch), as predicted, Sylar and Peter beat the crap out of the real Eli in about three seconds flat and the other versions disappear.

Peter reads Eli’s mind and discovers Samuel’s plot. Matt’s not willing to let Sylar go at first, but Peter gets Matt to read Sylar’s mind and Matt becomes semi-convinced that Sylar’s five years in mental prison have reformed him (that makes a change) so let’s them go.

Peter grabs Nathan’s flying power from Sylar and the two fly supersonic to New York (presumably with Eli on their back, presumably after using telepathy to convince him to turn good). And that’s the last we see of Matt. Huh.

At the carnival, we actually get an honest to goodness climactic fight between Peter and Samuel using Samuel’s earth-moving powers. Samuel’s powers give up (more on that later) so Peter knocks him out with a punch.

And that’s where we leave Samuel, just sort of powerless and flailing before he’s rushed off in one of Lauren’s Company car somewhere. If there is a Volume Six, presumably he’ll get killed somewhere midway, as per Adam Monroe and Danko, or just ignored completely.

This strand did go a reasonable way to convincing that Sylar could be a good guy. It still feels very wrong though, and it actually makes Sylar kind of boring. He’s redeemed but dull. What’s he going to do now? Repair watches?

It also finally gave Peter a chance to have ‘an epic fight’. Thank God for that. The mysterious dropping of Matt was slightly odd. Nevertheless, a good bit of work.

Sylar, however, has been having a tussle with Doyle, who’s been using his puppetry to force Emma to keep playing her cello if she wants that tiny hamster to liveto bring people to the Carnival so they can be killed off by Samuel’s great demonstration of his power.

Sylar, despite having bested Doyle easily in Volume 3, tries to talk Doyle into stopping – that’s how nice he is now – which leaves it up to Emma and her magic music to knock Doyle out, so Sylar can keep him in check.

With it all over, Emma is reunited with Peter and it looks like they’re going to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Ah. Just pray he doesn’t leave you in some alternative future and forget all about you, Emma.

We also get a little hint that the Sylar of old is still in there with his ornate positioning of Doyle as per Exposed last volume. But for now, it looks like Sylar and Peter are going to become a crimefighting team, with Sylar’s Swiss Army knife of powers available like so many Thunderbird 2 modules for Peter to use at his whim, seeing as it doesn’t look like he’s going to get his multiple powers ability back (shame).

Not quite the epic fight you’d have hoped super-Sylar would have been up for, unfortunately, but it was good that Emma got to be heroic – and realise several dozen episodes after everyone else had that Samuel was evil. Doyle did a quick change of personality back to evil, too, but good to have Peter actually have a romance with a chance (even if that chance is likely only to be between volumes).

Hiro has emerged from his surgery and his dream trial to discover that his power is back at full strength and his long lost love Charlie is in the room opposite him in the hospital. Blimey, that was easy.

Unfortunately, Charlie was marooned in the year 1944 by Samuel and is now 90-odd (a great bit of acting by K Callan of Lois and Clark). After telling Hiro all about her life, Hiro at first considers going back into the past to rescue her, but Charlie enjoyed her life, her four kids, her seven grandkids and working in a World War II munitions factory so much that she asks him not to.

Now, in temporal mechanics terms, that’s an easy fix – she’d obviously never know about her non-existent future life in Hiro went back to save her. But emotionally, it completes Hiro’s journey and it does help get round the fact that Jayma Mays is on Glee so unlikely to want to be in Volume Six of Heroes, settled down comfortably with Hiro. It’s tear-jerking and once again it puts Hiro through the love-wringer (cf Volume 1, Volume 2), but it worked.

HRG has called Ando, however, expecting good news from the surgery, and has told Hiro to get his arse down to Central Park to help stop Samuel. Once there, Claire tells him to teleport all the Carnies away from the Carnie, since that will diminish Samuel’s powers. At first he doubts he can, but with Ando super-charging him (ooh, they remembered!), he’s able to take them all somewhere else – we know not where – and Samuel’s powers evaporate.

So yes, Hiro gets to be a hero and Ando gets to be a hero, too. Good work, Tim. I’m not quite sure how Samuel managed to sink that house way back when without having all those other carnies around him if he’s near-powerless when they’re not around, but I’m sure there’s some NerdFilla™ that can be used to explain it.

All in all, a decent enough finale for the volume, which of course led directly into the opener for a potential Volume Six – Claire chucks herself off a ferris wheel in full view of the news cameras, meaning the whole world now knows about ‘specials’. It’s a game-changer all right, although one has to wonder if Claire ever learnt anything from Volume 1, Volume 3 or Volume 4 to think it a good idea. As a potential finale for the series, it’s a fitting conclusion, too, and ties in neatly with the first episode.

But it wasn’t truly epic, there were odd jumps (Tracy disappearing, Matt disappearing) and in a lot of ways, Samuel was a villain who could have been stopped by any single hero at almost any point during the episode or even the season. His demise wasn’t exactly spectacular and without that expected link-in to the ‘world cracking open’ graffiti of volume three, the prospect of a few hundred people dying from the ground opening in Central Park looked relatively inconsequential.

We also failed to tie up a large number of season plot threads. Where was Gretchen? Where was Angela? Where was Mohinder? Where was Janice? What happened to the ‘new Company’? Where had Tracy been this whole time – you’d know if you’d read the graphic novels (setting up a school for ‘specials’ with the help of Angela and Eli) but not from any on-screen dialogue? So it failed to satisfy on that level as well.

Nevertheless, it’s odd that the much-cursed Tim Kring should have turned in two of the best episodes this Volume.

The season
It’s always hard to know exactly why Heroes seasons fall apart. They do. Frequently. Usually, they start off really well, with a number of promising plot strands, then it all falls apart mid-season as they lose their way. Certainly, Volume Five fit this template:

The characters

Hiro/Ando: Started off poorly, actually, with the “heroes business” a particularly lame idea. But Hiro’s bucket list was well handled initially. It’s only when he started to go a bit mental, locked Mohinder up in a loony asylum for no good reason, and then fell into a coma that it all went wrong. Hiro’s future self in Volume 1 was a bit of a bad-ass, so anything that could have taken him towards that character would have been interesting. But he and Ando were once again used mainly for comic relief, although Ando’s pairing with Hiro’s sister was a nice, normal move for the show that gave Ando so much needed character development.

Tracy: Now I was never a Niki fan, although I loved Jessica. But Tracy has had some of the show’s coolest moments of late (cf Cold Snap and the season opener). Nevertheless, one has to wonder why they kept Ali Larter on the show for two seasons, given they’ve used her so little. Okay, so the departure of Jesse Alexander and co during Volume 3 meant that the projected storyline in which it turned out she was the German’s sister, etc, ended up never being used; Bryan Fuller, the biggest Tracy/Ali fan and the one who convinced the writing team not to replace Tracy with Barbara because they claimed to have run out of ideas for her, left between seasons to work on a comedy pilot; and the fact Ali was shooting another Resident Evil movie during October and November meant that her storyline had to be quickly shunted over to Not TracyLauren. But she was under-used at the start of the volume, her strong character was undermined and made weak by the time of Acceptance, and even though there was a month of Heroes filming after Ali came back from Canada, she only got roughly three minutes of screen time. It’s like the writers forgot about her.

I guess on the plus side, though, she was one of the villains who got ‘Redemption’ this volume, even though her press-released, promised long-revenge on the government and Company lasted all of an episode.

Mohinder: Talking of forgotten characters, hello Mohinder. Now what was going on here? Tim Kring says Sendhil Ramamurthy was off filming a movie at the start of the season, otherwise he would have been in it more; others beg to differ, saying there’s no trace of such a movie, although it does seem to exist. But eventually Mohinder turned up for three or so episodes, before disappearing off to India in a graphic novel. Press releases all listed him as being in at least another two episodes, except he wasn’t. What happened?

Now, on the plus side, Mohinder did at least get ‘Redemption’ this Volume after his Volume 3 mentalism and the recriminations against him of Volume Four. Frequently, he was the voice of sense about Samuel and his story this season did start relatively exciting. But, really, they didn’t do a hell of a lot with him, did they?

Nathan: Again, another character who could have had some decent usage, but after apologising for killing a girl accidentally when he was younger (that Redemption thing again), he took a back seat to Sylar. Maybe the character should have left at the end of Volume 3, but there was still plenty of mileage in him, as evidenced by just how much character building he got after he died. He could have been great as “Nathan but with Sylar’s powers”, being a hero. The producers seemingly kept him on but didn’t know what to do with him, because they were too focused on Sylar.

Matt: Compared to the laughable spirit journey Matt ended up making in Volume 3 (remember the tortoise?), Matt got a good season, even if the lack of Daphne was sorely felt. Trying to make a life with Janice, despite his powers – he was the only character doing what Season 1 promised to do, and have normal people trying to lead a normal life and be heroic. Yet, the whole power-addiction metaphor was pointless, and the fact he had Sylar with him the whole time meant he was really just a bit player in Sylar’s storyline rather than a mover of his own storyline. I liked the fact the producers made him dark (he was almost un-redeeming himself this volume, although one could argue what he did to Sylar at the end of Volume 4 was bad and that he needed to redeem himself for that, which he did in the finale), but he really needed more time away from Sylar to develop as a character again.

Emma: The new kid on the block (who knows if Edgar and the others are going to hang around?), her development as a character was impressive at first and she became one of the first truly likable new arrivals on Heroes. But she was saddled with a dull power and she eventually turned stupid when exposed to Samuel, going through a number of character flip-flops as well. At least, she reverted to good in the finale.

The Carnies: Now, it’s okay to have some evil villains with shadowy motivations. Look at Sylar in Volume 1: he was just plain evil and didn’t even come out of the shadows until about episode 10 or something. But he was threatening. You knew he wanted to kill people in horrific ways. He was a real threat. But for the longest time, we had no idea what the Carnies wanted. Edgar went around slicing people up – to get a compass (except he didn’t want to hurt anyone, he later claimed). Samuel wanted to gather ‘specials’ together.

Why? Well, technically, even he didn’t know because he hadn’t seen Dr Suresh’s movie. All he really needed according to the Vanessa storyline was someone to grow some plants in the desert for him, so he could build a dreamhouse for his long lost love. And when the threat eventually did emerge, it wasn’t really that threatening. It wasn’t like Samuel was going to drop the White House, the Pentagon and Congress into the ground and declare himself the leader of the free world. He wasn’t even going to crack the world open as per Volume 3’s graffiti. He was just going to show off the ‘specials’, which Claire ended up doing anyway at the start of Volume Six.

This volume sorely needed a decent villain and a well explained threat, and we never got it.

Claire: Seemingly contractually obliged to be in every episode this season, she seemed to spend it a) trying to work out if she was gay or not b) alternating between wondering whether to join the carnival or not. Although she threatened to be that Volume 1 trope we all missed – the special trying to live a normal life – she ended up simply being a spanner who couldn’t spot an obvious villain for much of the volume, before becoming an orator.

HRG: What a poon hound, huh? After a romance with Tracy fell apart (along with Tracy’s storyline), he goes after the woman he used to work with and almost had an affair with, but didn’t after she wiped her own memory. A little creepy a storyline, huh? It also turns out he may (or may not) have only married Sandra because the Company told him, too. The rest of the time, he was trying to work out whether he wanted to be part of the Company or not – or at least whether he wanted to get paid for the experience, since he spent a lot of the time running around after ‘specials’ for a hobby – and working out how to be the best dad possible to the changeable Claire. So as usual, a good start for the character that lost focus midway. Nevertheless, one of the characters best served by Volume 5 – some would argue over-served – since we got plenty of back story, plenty of cool moments and plenty of screen time. He was also one of the villains to get Redemption this volume.

Peter: Started off well and the relationship with Emma was going nicely. He was a hero and one who had actually a spine and a sense of humour for a change. But then it all disappeared mid-season, particularly following Nathan’s departure. The ‘one power at a time’ thing stopped being a good limiting factor for an over-powerful character and simply became a pain in the arse, since we’d all loved watching Peter accumulate the powers over time and had been looking forward to him using lots of them. But it never happened. Nevertheless, he managed to pull things together by the end and become a proper hero.

Sylar: Ah, Sylar. How we loved you. Once. But after so many failed attempts to turn good (cf Volumes 2 and 3), it’s sad to see you neutered and finally doing it for real. Yes, Redemption was the name of the game and we had see a future version of you in Volume 3 living the good life, but you don’t suddenly stop being a serial killer in your entirety: there are still residual character traits that should be there, not to mention ‘The Hunger’ of Volume 3, that everyone’s conveniently forgotten about. Still, you started off well – you got to be in two people’s heads – it’s just a shame that ended up bland when you reached the Carnival (as part of Samuel’s plan that was never really explained) before becoming even blander once you got Lydia’s power and Nathan’s memories.

The plots
For a show about ‘specials’ there was remarkably little specialness on display this season. Now this could be budget, since if you consider that season 1’s per episode budget was $4m-$4.5m, the show frequently went 50-100% over budget during Volume 3, and it’s been sticking to budget which was cut by $300k during this season (so down to $3.7m from as much as $9m). Certainly, if you look at the budget-free graphic novels, the writers’ ambitions for the characters is clear (the issue where an ice-clad Tracy, firing ice spikes and freezing people, before turning into water, when faced with an army of 100s of Elis is one standout).

But Smallville manages superhero action every week on far less money, to name but one show. Chuck doesn’t do special but it does have action each episode and its budget is less than Heroes‘. So does Heroes have to pay over the odds for not being shot in the cheaper Vancouver and not having the right kind of action? Whatever the reason, there have been too many filler and slow-paced episodes this season where nothing much has happened. Although there have been stand-out character-based episodes, Heroes is a show that got an audience through cool effects and action storylines to a backdrop of character-development for multiple characters. It’s no surprise that viewing figures have sunk through the floor as the effects have disappeared and character development has focused entirely on just a few, already much-examined characters.

I’m not saying that ratings would have soared through the roof if we’d had lots of Tracy or Mohinder episodes, but would it really have hurt to have had some decent storylines for the other characters, maybe not even linked to the Carnival, maybe potentially linked to their attempts at a normal life? They started doing it at the beginning of the season then threw it all away in favour of the Carnie plots.

One could also argue that the Carnie plot was really just a 10- or 12-episode Volume at best and was squeezed out more than it should have been. The shortened season because of the Olympics meant that two volumes, complete with different sets, different actors, etc, could have been prohibitively expensive, so for production reasons the writers had to extrude the Carnies into 19 episodes.

I have no idea if that’s true, but a few more plotlines that didn’t involve the Carnies or Claire could have been useful. Hell, I’d even have welcomed Lyle back into the fold.

Should it come back?
There’ll be no news until March about whether there’ll be a fifth season of Heroes. I’ve explored the question of whether Heroes is likely to return elsewhere but in short, ratings are bad although have been improving. Yet it’s still the number one pirated show and Season 3 was one of the 10 top selling DVDs in the US of 2009. NBC also has very little room to maneuver in scheduling, and has already turned down Rex is Not Your Lawyer
. It’s likely that Heroes is going to return for a fifth season, simply so NBC has something to fill its schedules with.

On the other hand, with Tim Kring currently developing a World War 2-esque series in which America gets invaded called III, it’s possible he’s not even going to pitch a sixth volume of Heroes to NBC, hoping they’ll simply pick up his new show.

But I’m hoping it’s going to be back.

Now, there are dozens of articles out there on this ‘ere Internet on where Heroes went wrong and what it needs to do to get back on track. A lot of these articles were responsible for the mess Heroes is in right now, since Volume 2 was a reaction to fan demands for “more of the same” (ie slow-paced character development), Volume 3 a reaction to fan criticism of Volume 2 (“more action, less slow-paced character development”) and Volume 5 a reaction to criticisms of Volumes 2 and 3 (“we want it how it was in season one”). A lot of these articles also suggest commercial suicide (“They should kill off the following characters: Claire, Peter, Sylar, HRG, Mohinder, Hiro…”).

So I don’t intend to write a great big article now on what Heroes needs to do to get back on track, since it’ll probably be less help than hindrance.

But personally, for my own enjoyment, I think Heroes needs to get a balance again. It needs a bigger budget (which it won’t get, given NBC’s current finances) so that it can do cool again; it needs to have a great balance of characters; it needs storylines that develop the characters without necessarily involving other specials; it needs character consistency (no flip-flops in personality again, please); it needs a decent villain; it needs more of the characters in each episode, coming together rather than staying separate; it needs more heroics; and it needs the writers to sit down, plot out a storyline for the entire season in reasonable detail, and then ensure that each episode sticks to it and contains maximum coolness.

Remember those great cliffhangers and lead-ins to every episode during season one? Remember when Hiro kept bumping into Nathan, or Ando turned out to be a fan of Niki’s? Remember Claire waking up on an autopsy table? Remember how cool it was that Ted nearly blew up in Claire’s house, even though it had nothing to do with with the finale? Remember Niki’s struggles to make ends meet, Claire’s attempts to fit in, the mystery of the Haitian and Sylar, the enigma of Mr Lindeman? That’s what I’m talking about. Plotlines that intersect and develop for maximum interest.

Oh, and it needs a lot more Ali Larter, too. But that’s a given.