Heroes 4.1: "Orientation"


(Note: This review covers the first half of the two-hour fourth season premiere event. A subsequent review will cover the second half.)


While there are exceptions to every rule, the conventional wisdom is that the third season of “Heroes” was a disappointment. Despite the heavily promoted premiere and several attempts to jumpstart the storyline, the writers couldn’t escape the fact that they were making things up as they went along. Tim Kring’s decision to fire the main writers backfired when his own writing solutions turned out to be just as poorly conceived.


The return of Bryan Fuller to the writing staff gave many fans hope of a true resurrection, but those hopes were dashed when he announced his latest departure over the summer hiatus. Since then, most of the press releases about the show have been met with scorn and even a bit of ridicule. Considering that this was once the show hailed as the best genre show on the air, the fall from grace has been brutal.


It’s not hard to trace the problem back to its source. The original concept for the show was a series of season-long arcs, with each story centering on a fresh set of characters. In other words, the now-familiar faces were supposed to exit the stage when the first season concluded. Instead, the producers (at some insistence from the network, to be sure) changed their plans and softened the first season finale to leave things open-ended. Not only did it undermine that finale tremendously, but it set the writers into the “24” syndrome: making things up season after season, and relying on the same plot devices when the going gets tough.


The bottom line is that the fourth season has a lot going against it in the eyes of fandom, even accounting for a devoted core still clinging to the best aspects of the series. “Redemption” isn’t just the name of this volume; it’s what the entire production staff is striving for, particularly the writers.


It’s far too early to tell if the mistakes of the past will be a strong enough lesson, since some planning goes into the beginning of a season. The name of the episode says it all: this is the setup for the new status quo. The writers take a few familiar faces and give some targeted updates on what has happened in the six weeks since the end of the third season.


As one would expect, the situation with Nathan/Sylar is already falling apart, and that was telegraphed so quickly (at the end of the third season finale, in fact) that it feels old and worn already. This feels like it will drag out, and I have little confidence that it will be handled well. It might have been better for the writers to wait a while, even a full season, before pulling this particular trigger.


On the other hand, it’s good to see that the formation of the new Company is not a smooth operation, and that Matt is suffering the effects of his involvement in Sylar’s reprogramming. Done well, this could be an interesting twist. What if Sylar not only recovers his original personality, but gains control of Matt as well?


Another direct follow-up is Tracy’s killing spree, which doesn’t make an already tedious character any more interesting. I understand that the producers want to stand by their cast members, but Ali Larter’s characters have worn out their welcome. Sadly, so has Claire. Her first days at college were annoying and a bit reminiscent of the early fourth season episodes of “Buffy”. I wasn’t intrigued by Annie’s death; I was relieved.


Kring falls on the same bad habits with Hiro and Ando. Ever since the second season, which should have been a turning point for Hiro, these characters have been little more than comic relief. Hiro’s medical condition added some necessary gravitas by the end of the hour, but I’d love to see these characters have a stretch of episodes that didn’t involve wacky slapstick situations. Let the characters grow already!


Given all these worrisome signs of more of the same, it’s telling that the most compelling aspect of the premiere was the introduction of the carnies. This is largely due to the acting talents of Robert Knepper as Samuel Sullivan. Knepper always seems to bring depth to his characters, and this is no exception. In fact, I was left wondering if it might have been a better idea to focus more on the new characters and their motivations. If that’s not a sign that the familiar characters have reached a saturation point, I don’t know what is.


It’s hard to judge the potential strengths and weaknesses of a season from the first hour, but there are some signs and portents to consider. A few subplots feel a bit predictable, since they were foreshadowed a long time ago, and other developments aren’t particularly compelling. I’m worried about yet another time-travel plot that looks to retroactively change the continuity of the series. Hopefully it will be a short foray and not a major portion of the season arc.


Mostly, I’ve simply grown skeptical of the writing staff. As Noah was droning on to Tracy about the desire for redemption, I was reminded of something a friend said months ago. Redemption is the sort of thing that should happen organically. The characters should just do it, not talk about how they intend to do it. The writers should trust the audience to recognize when a character is seeking redemption, and show us success or failure, not tell us. The closest they came to the right balance was with Peter in the first act.


So for now, my fears remain, though I will continue to hope that the show still has something to bring to the table. The trick will be avoiding the plot devices that have been done to death, staying true to the characters, and showing the audience redemption instead of telling us about it.


Comments

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Sep 23, 2009 10:39AM EDT

I know major plot hole-why didnt they just use Claire's blood to heal nathan. The season premiere was soooo bad I could even finish it. They might as well have flailed their arms around, screaming, yelling and dancing- that might have been more entertaining. I doubt anyone is going to watch this season of Heroes, and im 100% percent sure it will be its last.

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Sep 23, 2009 12:49PM EDT

this is defiantly be its last season.. they were losing viewers big time last season, and this was their time to comeback big, but it just felt like another episode from last season.. Wtf??? everybody is annoying, and how come Hiro and Ando have been doing the same thing since season 1??

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Sep 23, 2009 6:50PM EDT

The Nathan/Sylar thing was annoying. I'm kind of hoping that they'll realise and lose it quickly, but as you say they probably drag it out. I like Hiro and Ando but they do need to grow. I'm intrigued by the circus lot, but they seem to have fallen back on the same old powers (speed) and not innovation like the tattoo power...

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Sep 23, 2009 7:14PM EDT

I'd agree that the first 50 minutes were same old, but they were that because they needed to set up the season. To give an update. Season 3, they treated the whole thing as an update. As it went into the second hour, though, I found it to be alot more entertaining and intriguing. The acting seemed to improve, the funny moments were funny, the serious moments were serious. They even showed some action (a huge improvement over last season). Yes, if you will sit there and have no faith in the writers, you are bound to see it as a flop. You have to at least realize that this is a new season, there was the whole summer for the writers to correct their mistakes. Give them one last bit of faith and see what you think of it. Watch to enjoy, not to criticize. If you still end up only criticizing, give up the show by all means. But at least give it a chance by trying to enjoy.

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