Note: I was told by some pals last week that sometimes I post plot details about a show that's already aired, but hasn't yet been viewed off the Tivo, thereby resulting in the "Post-Air-Spoiler." Ironically enough, the example mentioned was in a post I did about my decision to NOT read advance spoilers! (I think I gave away that "Future President Petrelli" was in fact Sylar on Heroes. Ooops.) We made a "gentleman's agreement" over several pitchers of margaritas that one week was the appropriate amount of time to post without a warning at the top. So, I'm about to discuss last Monday's season finale of Heroes -- read at your own peril. And BTW, my decision to go spoiler-free was one of the best I've ever made. It was like kicking crack (or so I've heard), but GREATLY enhanced my enjoyment of the greatest mind-fuck in recent memory, Lost's kickass season ender. More on that later this weekend.
I've been a fan of Heroes all year. Generally, you cut first year shows more slack than you do established shows as they try to sort out their characterizations, storytelling conceits, pacing and tone. Some shows come right of the box perfect (BSG, Dexter, Firefly, Gilmores, Veronica) and others struggle to find the right balance (Buffy, TNG, Eureka, Big Love). Heroes was somewhere in the middle. There was many, many entertaining episodes, and two that were just about perfect ("Company Man" and "String Theory"). But they also had some that missed the mark, and I was pretty disappointed by the season finale, "How to Stop an Exploding Man." Especially when you compare it to Wednesday's Lost finale, "Through the Looking Glass." There's a great post over on CHUD.com about the difference between the two. (Note: don't read that until you've seen the season enders for both series). I'm not as down on Heroes as that writer, but it should be noted that I while I enjoy Heroes, I don't put it in the same "class" as Lost (or BSG, for that matter). Where Heroes is a burger, Lost is steak. Where Heroes is a light beer, Lost is a fine wine. Not that I don't enjoy my burgers and beer, but you just have to recognize it for what it is.
There were a few things to enjoy about "Exploding Man." "Pound for pound," Hayden Panetierre is right there with Kristen Bell as one of the best actresses on TV. Some (though not nearly enough) plotlines were resolved. Jack Coleman brings fantastic depth and pathos to the role of HRG (Noah!). Greg Grunberg delivers wonderfully droll line readings. I normally hate kids, especially on TV, but Molly was interesting and compelling in small doses. Claire jumping out the window. And of course, there's the line from the title of this post: "You look badass." "Really?"
But there were a larger number of nitpicks.
The showdown we've been waiting for all year: Peter vs. Sylar. An epic throwdown between two characters with a VAST ARRAY of powers. Strength. TK. Mind reading. Invisibility. Teleportation. Time travel and control (yes, Peter had to have this from Hiro). Super strength. Radioactivity. Flight. Super Hearing. Brain slicing. So what do we get in this colossal fight? A couple of punches and one stick with a sword. That's it. LAME. So many questions. Why didn't Sylar TK everything in sight at Peter, like the Emperor in the Star Wars movies? Why didn't Peter know what was coming from Sylar, given that he had absorbed Matt's power of mind reading? Why didn't Peter stop time to dispatch Sylar? Why didn't Hiro, for that matter? Why didn't Sylar know Niki and/or Hiro was coming, given his super hearing? Why didn't Peter go invisible and beat the shit out of Sylar from directions he wouldn't see? Why didn't Peter pick up Sylar, fly high above the city and drop his ass on the pavement, or fly him full speed into a building? Why did Hiro learn to be a master swordsman (all in two hours, mind you) when all he did was one, highly telegraphed thrust (that he didn't even stop time for)? Why didn't they chop Sylar's head off after he was felled? The fight was just so anti-climactic that I wanted to throw things at my TV. Horrible payoff for something that's been building for months.
How to actually stop the exploding man. Okay, I get the emotional aspect of having Nathan fly Peter up, up and away. But the narrative and dramatic impact should be rooted in some kind of internal show logic. Since Hiro has apparently gained greater control of his powers, why not have him grab Peter, and teleport him someplace else to explode, where there will be no loss of life or no one will care, like the middle of the desert or Columbus, Georgia? Why not time travel him back to one gazillion BC to explode? Why not use the damned sword to stab him in in the back of the head and "kill him" (a la Peter and the shard of glass earlier, or Claire and the stick), only to "revive" him after they've developed a more cohesive plan to deal with the radioactive power? And why didn't Peter just fly on his own? Unless, of course, during this moment of radioactive overheating, he could only manifest one power at a time (which wasn't set up previously). If HRG is as smart as we've seen all season, why wouldn't he think of these things? Having characters' IQs and powers fluctuate to serve the drama of the script is just bad storytelling.
So the visions Isaac and Peter had all along were wrong. Every time we saw Peter explode, it was during the day. This was at night. Bad continuity, or poorly explained "rules" of the visions?
I liked Hiro plummeting into another time, back in the samurai days (and was that his dad behind one of those masks?). But you couldn't spring for a few more riders, or at least some CGI troops to give it an "epic" feel, rather than just looking like 10 guys out on the weekend doing a civil war reenactment?
What the fuck was with Peter's visit to the "past" and "meeting" with Shaft (Mr. Deveaux)? And the "inner strength" and "peace and love" dialogue there was laughable.
If Candace really doesn't look like the hot catholic schoolgirl (as she's suggested several times), then why did she look that way once she was knocked out and the rest of her "illusions" fell?
Look, I like thought provoking questions as much as the next guy (see: season finales of Lost or BSG). But when the questions don't hold up under the logic you've established for 20+ episodes, then the whole thing crumbles under the scrutiny. I think part of the problem was that as cool as it was to have both Peter and Sylar gain more and more powers each episode, they became TOO powerful at the end. And if you know as showrunners and writers that you're building to this climax, then you simply MUST think through how those powers are going to manifest themselves in the epic confrontation you've been teasing ALL SEASON LONG.
Heroes was fun, entertaining and contained many moments of pure pop culture exhilaration. But this was a very disappointing payoff to an uneven season. It will stay on the season pass list, and I'm looking forward to the next chapters, but this gets a solid C in my book. Hopefully, now that the producers know they have a hit on their hands, they'll put a little more thought into where it goes from here and how the details pay off in the long run.