Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fourth Season Of Heroes Wanders And Concludes, With Little To Draw In The Audience.

The Good: Moments of character, DVD bonus features
The Bad: Nothing spectacular on the acting front, Repetitive plot elements, New villain is nothing special.
The Basics: Heroes Season Four ends on such a low note that it is little surprise NBC did not pick it up for a fifth season.

I can always tell how much I truly like a franchise by how eagerly I return to it after any hiatus it might have. In the case of Heroes, the fact that it took me until now – when the fourth season DVD set has been out for months – to take in the fourth season, I think it is becoming clearer to me that I’m not so much enjoying the show as seeing through what I feel is a commitment. Heroes had two serious problems going into the fourth season: the first was a lack of willingness to permanently kill any of the principle characters, which undermined a lot of the suspense with the plot direction and character aspects of the series. The second problem was based much on where the third season (click here for my review) left off. Unfortunately, there is no way to honestly discuss the fourth season without referencing the finale to the third season.

The fourth season of Heroes is entitled “Redemption” and it follows on the heels of the “specials” being hunted by government agents. Unfortunately, coming into the season, viewers who might have been shocked by the climactic events of the third season are disappointed by how conventional the show becomes whatwith the fallen villain appearing in the opening credits. After all, Heroes is arguably banked on three (maybe four) performers and the idea that one of them was leaving was somewhat ludicrous to seasoned viewers. So, those hoping to be surprised with the fourth season are set up for almost immediate disappointment. Why? Heroes maintains its unwillingness to make real casualties and the new guy on the scene is, of course, the new villain for the season.

At the outset of “Redemption,” the lives of the specials have all radically changed. Claire has enrolled in college while her father struggles with separation from his wife and being unemployed for the first time in twenty years. Meanwhile, in Washington, Nathan Petrelli struggles with feelings that his memories are not his own and he flees, alarming his mother, who knows his big secret. While Matt Parkman struggles to not use his powers, even to benefit himself in his work as a cop, he becomes tormented by Sylar, who seems to exist in his mind and has the ability to take over his body at will. While Parkman begins to unravel, Hiro wrestles with the knowledge that he is going to die from all of his time traveling (specifically from a brain problem that has developed as a side effect of his ability).

But while the familiar heroes struggle to lay low or get quiet revenge – as Tracy Strauss attempts to do – Peter uses his powers to aid his work as a paramedic by speeding around saving lives. And outside the mainstream, a carnival led by Samuel Sullivan pops up offering a haven to specials. But his agenda is more than just rights for equality for all and he begins to manipulate familiar heroes for his own gain.

Heroes Season Four is hampered by spending too much time trying to resolve the resolution to the third season – namely, rectifying the death of Nathan and the insertion of his mind into Sylar – and a villain who is less than compelling. The viewer feels like they have seen pretty much everything they are going to from Heroes and it does not take long before we realize we are right. The season is almost entirely derivative of prior outings. In fact, the only thing that truly works on the plot front is the limp attempt to resolve the Hiro and Charlie storyline and they manage to do that better than was done in the novel Saving Charlie (reviewed here!).

Instead, Heroes Season Four seems like a fan exercise more than a legitimate season of the show. Claire’s budding romance with her new roommate “reads” like fanfic and the only mildly clever aspect of Noah Bennet’s arc is that it is rare viewers actually see characters struggling with being out of work. But the show seems to have a real lack of commitment to itself. Sylar can’t truly be overrun by Nathan (on a character level because Nathan was such a milquetoast, but on a practical level) because Zachary Quinto is integral to the franchise. So, as we wait for Nathan to be finally killed off once and for all and get back to Sylar being a baddie, the viewer feels like they are wasting time. Part of that time is wasted on Emma, a deaf woman who sees sounds. It’s mildly interesting, but her ability to summon specials with a cello comes in far later than most viewers will care to sit through.

For a better understanding of the fourth season of Heroes, it helps to know who the characters are. In the fourth season, the principles are:

Noah Bennet – At odds with his wife, he recalls the time he almost had an affair with Lauren, a coworker at Primatech. Unemployed, he works to stay in Claire’s life, protect her and make up for some of his past dealings with specials. This leads him to see Samuel for what he is early on and his attempts to protect Claire once again put him in harm’s way,

Matt Parkman – Having reconciled with his wife, he tries to raise their son without using his powers. However, he finds himself tormented by fragments of Sylar’s mind still within his own consciousness. He prepares to make the final sacrifice to stop Sylar, but is thwarted in the most inconvenient way possible,

Claire Bennet – Her attempt to live normal in college is almost instantly thwarted by a fellow student , Gretchen, outing her from her past in Texas. Claire begins to develop feelings for Gretchen and when she meets Samuel, she finds his philosophy liberating,

Peter Petrelli – Using his super speed, he becomes the ultimate paramedic, but Samuel soon uses that against him, by claiming he was hurt by Peter. When that is reconciled, he learns the truth about what happened to Nathan and becomes a willing co-conspirator with Sylar in the attempt to stop Samuel,

Hiro Nakamura – His ability to move through time and space now killing him, Hiro is manipulated by Samuel to try to right the wrongs of his past meddling. He rescues Suresh from Samuel, unwittingly giving Samuel the tools of his own rage. He finally has his chance to save Charlie, but like so many of his adventures that, too, goes awry,

Ando Masahashi – After a brief, annoying stint as a hero for hire with Hiro, he falls in love with Hiro’s sister as part of the temporal manipulations. Otherwise, he’s pretty much back to just being a sidekick,

Mohinder Suresh – Absent most the season, his attempt to get his life back in order puts him at the carnival and gives Samuel his motivation for his attempts to ruin the world,

Nathan Petrelli – The junior Senator is behaving erratically because he is literally not himself. But when Peter and Angela expose the truth, he refuses to believe until it is too late,

Sylar – Wrestling with the Nathan persona, he encounters Samuel and believes he might have found his purpose. But when his mind and body are reconciled, he is given the chance for real change and he attempts to make the changes necessary to become an actual hero,

Tracey Strauss – Having adapted to being able to turn herself completely into water, Tracey plans to get revenge on Danko, until Noah helps her through her rage. After that, she returns to politics,

Angela Petrelli – Her manipulations are fully exposed and her love for her son Nathan causes Peter to feel isolated and used. She becomes less important after Nathan is put to rest,

And Samuel Sullivan – The leader of his own carnival, he becomes more powerful the more specials are around him. He has the ability to manipulate the earth itself and it is his rage over the truth of his powers being kept from him by his now-deceased brother that motivates him to champion the rights of specials . . . while it serves his purpose.

Heroes Season Four actually gives Greg Grunberg a more juicy role than in recent years and he makes the struggle Matt goes through with Sylar in his head seem very reasonable and fresh. While it is always a treat to see Robert Knepper, his performances as Samuel are well within what viewers would expect given his previous roles. Sadly, the rest of the players act in entirely familiar ways and Season Four is not a great set for the performances.

On DVD, Heroes comes loaded in the fourth season. This DVD boxed set is packed with commentary tracks, special effects features and featurettes on the way the story has been developing. This makes it a value for those who still care about the characters and the storyline, but are not enough to sway those for whom Heroes has become stale.

For other science fiction works, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek
V: Season 1


For other television program reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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