After a first season that found many fans claiming that it was better than anything else on television, "Heroes" has fallen to earth with a resounding thud. Not just in terms of the ratings, but creatively. The third season marked a drastic shift in the tone coming out of the production office, and perhaps a bit of denial regarding the true weaknesses of the show.
The second season was abbreviated due to the writers' strike of 2008, and many felt that the writers needed the time to reconsider the direction of the series. The second season, after all, had been criticized for repeating too many of the plot elements of the first season, while introducing subplots that seemed to go nowhere.
As a result, the producers went to great lengths to tell the fans and lost viewers that the third season would be different and edgy. I can't be the only one to remember the media PR blitz that preceded the third season premiere, right down to the three-hour event that night. And I can't be the only one who remembers how disappointing the season quickly became, and how inexplicable some of the shifts in character motivation felt.
Ultimately, the third season faltered because of three major flaws: endless repetition of plot elements (even more egregious than as seen in the second season), terrible continuity, and ridiculous changes to character motivation.
In both the third and fourth volumes, the overall plot arcs included visions of the future and flashbacks to the past. Along the way, there was also a great deal of retroactive continuity: changes to the established history of the "Heroes" universe to ensure that the new visions/flashbacks could be shoehorned into what had been previously revealed. This is stock and trade within the traditional superhero comic book world, as fans of Marvel and DC know all too well, but what is relatively easy to overlook in that format is far more annoying on a TV show.
One glaring mistake (and one admitted by the writing staff, no less) is the notion, important to the arc of the third volume, that the eclipse at the beginning of the series actually activated the abilities in the main characters. This is clearly not the case based on the information in the first and second seasons, and that contradiction was an unnecessary and sloppy diversion. There are less obvious examples as well, but when glaring mistakes like this exist, it speaks to a lack of care and consideration for the work as a whole.
The plot was not the only aspect of the season that was continuity-challenged; the characterization was equally difficult to follow. The most obvious concerns surround Nathan and Sylar, characters with motivations that changed episode to episode. Few characters managed to avoid that problem, however, and that made it very hard to invest in anything that was happening. When the plot and character development of previous seasons and episodes is ignored, what's the point of having a serialized format?
The producers seemed to understand that something was wrong when they fired the main writers of the third volume. Unfortunately, once Tim Kring took the helm again, those exact same problems remained (and in some cases, became worse). Frankly, that made it very clear that the dismissed writers took a fall in Kring's place, further eroding confidence in the showrunner. The late return of Bryan Fuller to the series did offer some promise, but his influence on the fourth volume was nominal, and he won't bring anything substantial to the table until the fourth season.
For all of those reasons, the third season of "Heroes" earned a Critical Myth Rating of 6.8, which is just a bit below average. "Heroes" also happens to be the only show for the 2008-2009 season to fall below the average mark (7.0). That's not a good thing, especially since the first season weighed in at an impressive 7.7, and the second season barely dropped to 7.4. The writers are going to have a tough challenge to ove