Heroes Season 3: I am conflicted

Season Three is where I stopped watching Heroes when it was live. I caught a few episodes, but I didn’t like what was going on with characters that were changing or being pushed aside almost like they’d never existed. And this time around, I was also disappointed by characters that were, essentially, reduced to cannon fodder. But this weekend I finished season three, and while there were certainly some clunker episodes and some story lines I want to hate with all the rest of the people who hate the later seasons…I actually liked it. Mostly.

A little bit of my problems with the season are related to my problem with the later seasons of Teen Wolf: Villains that come and go like nothing. Heroes is just a little neater about it. Remember when Maury Parkman was the big scary Nightmare Man? Turns out he was just a henchman for Arthur Petrelli. Remember when Adam Monroe was 400-year-old hero scorned out to reap revenge on Hiro and everyone who wronged him? He got unceremoniously turned to dust for Arthur Petrelli. Remember when Arthur Petrelli was going to give everybody abilities and literally break the world? Bullet to the brain.

But where Heroes succeeds and Teen Wolf fails is that at least all those characters got to be real characters. Even though their demises came with whimpers, they felt full and fleshed-out and like they had their own stories, because they did. So, while it is disappointing to see all these villains cast aside so the Sylar Parade can play on, I appreciate what they were. Which brings up my next point.

Sylar. ( Zachary Quinto -- NBC Photo: Chris Haston)
( Zachary Quinto — NBC Photo: Chris Haston)

My perception of the fandom is that a lot of people didn’t like a lot of things about Sylar, particularly the tragic backstory that was used to make him kind of good, then gray, then bad again. But I liked it. Sylar is just as lost and broken as anybody and exploring that doesn’t suddenly make his bad acts good or make him a lesser villain. It makes him a richer character. While some people may see a child throwing a tantrum, I see complex, deeply flawed guy who went so far down the wrong path there may not be a way back from it. But it sure was nice watching him try.

One of the most gratifying AND irritating things about Heroes season 3 was when Sylar, at the urging of his “mother,” teamed up with Noah Bennet to be a company man catching dangerous specials — once convinced that he can fight the hunger that pushed him to kill for more powers. And sure, Noah was always scheming ways to dispatch of Sylar, but in the interim, they were a delightfully odd couple. But it’s irritating in part because I wanted more of it and to see how the future Peter saw where Sylar was indeed a good guy with a son (named Noah) came to be. But much like Smallville was good at breaking my heart with all the could-have-beens for Lex Luthor, Heroes rips that option away in the worst way possible.

It’s not even so much that I mind that future not bearing fruit, it’s the (first of two major) abrupt character shifts that came with it. Elle (Kristen Bell) was crucial to helping Sylar find what little remained of his humanity. When they were together, I could almost believe that maybe Sylar could go back to being Gabriel Gray and get a little redemption.

But then, out of left field, all of a sudden Elle’s cheering on the evil, encouraging him to keep stealing powers and generally being a bad guy. And I suppose his shift back to badness was pretty inevitable, but it moved far too fast. And it’s not just an Elle and Sylar problem.

Season three was broken up into parts: Volume Three, which focused on the company founded by the very much alive Arthur Petrelli, and Volume Four, which focused on government attempts to round up everybody with abilities in an initiative spearheaded by Nathan Petrelli. And talk about your abrupt shifts of character.

One depowering eclipse later and all of a sudden Nathan goes from a reluctant hero to spearheading the effort to imprison all people with abilities (except himself and his daughter and maybe his mom and brother if they don’t get too mouthy), not just the dangerous ones. It was so abrupt that for a while I questioned whether Arthur had come into possession of a shape-shifting power and had replaced Nathan.

Don't mind us. We're just floating three feet away from an open secod-story window while masked men hunt us down. (Adrian Pasdar and Hayden Panettiere in
Don’t mind us. We’re just floating three feet away from an open second-story window while masked men hunt us down. (Adrian Pasdar and Hayden Panettiere in “Heroes.”)

Fortunately, my fears were put to rest when Nathan realized the error of his ways. I just wish the first half of that character arc could have been as well-done as the second half. (Nathan’s rescue of Claire is responsible for one of my favorite shots of the series, and their excursion to Mexico is responsible for a few of my favorite scenes.)

Most of Volume Four deals with Danko, the ruthless military guy who is the muscle behind Nathan’s operation. From what I understand, he gets a lot of hate, too, but I think he was a necessary character and a great foil for the expanding Heroes universe that is inching ever so closer to any number of the grim futures we’ve seen. And it made for a pretty straight-forward stretch of episodes. Volume Three felt a little disjointed for everything that was going on: Hiro and Ando trying to recover a stolen formula o’doom. Recapturing the escaped Level 5 killers from Primatech. Mohinder’s turn as a Brundlefly. Nathan finding God in the ghost of a dead mobster only to find out it was all an illusion. There was just a lot going on. Volume Four was a much needed streamlining of stories that was kept fresh as Danko went from being a thorn in Nathan’s side to partnering with Bennet to crossing over to the dark side and clandestinely bringing Sylar into the heroes-hunting fold.

And then That Thing happened. That Thing that leaves me the most conflicted of all.

Sylar kills Nathan. And then — AND THEN — after an amazing display of disbelief and horror over her son’s death, Angela convinces Matt Parkman to work his brain mojo on Sylar so that he shapeshifts into Nathan and is convinced he IS Nathan, relying on Sylar’s ability to know the history of everything he touches to fill in the gaps of Nathan’s memories. Because only Nathan can convince the president to dismantle the heroes-hunting program.

THIS IS THE WORST IDEA EVER (for them; I think its kind of interesting for show).

I mean, surely Sylar will at some point in his life pick up something that didn’t belong to Nathan. Wouldn’t “Nathan” wonder where he got this new “knowing the history of things” ability? Or, the first time he gets a tingle when somebody tells a lie in Washington D.C.? Or when “the hunger” leaves him wanting to chow down on an unsuspecting person’s power? Basically anything that isn’t flying can unravel this whole charade in an instant.

And the worst part is Claire’s blood can bring Nathan back to life! Noah was shot in the eye! Surely Claire’s magic healing blood can handle a little slit throat. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure Angela or Parkman knew about that. So while its maddening for us, for them, it makes sense to not think of that option. It’s just one more way for the future to seem oh so tragic. I am, however, choosing to gloss over the fact that all this could have been avoided if Angela and Parkman hadn’t kept this a secret. Because I don’t want to go down the “talk to each other!!!” rabbit hole.

But here’s the thing: For as bad an idea as this is, and for as much as I’ll miss Original Recipe Nathan, I’m also kind of stoked. Sylar seems like a fun character play — I really enjoyed watching Jack Coleman tackle a little piece of the role (as Noah pretending to be Sylar pretending to be Noah) and Adrian Pasdar certainly got the creepy down cold in the prelude to Season Four, in which it looks like the Nathan facade is beginning to slip.

Basically, I feel like season three was a mixed bag of good things, okay things, and bad things, with the positives just managing to outweigh the negatives. And while I don’t necessarily like everything that happened, now that it has, I want to see how it plays out.


The lost children of Heroes

Where the eff is Molly?! Mohinder put her on a plane and she hasn’t been mentioned outside of a spirit-walky fever dream. Matt, Mohinder and Molly were an adorable little family unit, where they both certainly seemed to see her as a daughter, and then nothing?! I’m sure the network probably thought the whole thing was just too gay for 2008 (boo network), but even if the stakes were too high for The M3 Life of Domestic (Platonic) Bliss, like so many other things, Molly’s absence could have been handled better. I mean, it could have been acknowledged with more than a sentence, for one.

Remember when Claire and West were super duper in love, and West would do anything to keep Claire safe? Apparently that didn’t extend to hanging around in the town they both live in. Which is a shame, because West’s fear of authority and being abducted again would have played nicely with Danko’s hatred of all things abnormal.

Hey, remember when  Nathan had two sons that he loved very much? Apparently nobody else does. Wouldn’t it be interesting if one or both of them sprouted some powers? Well, nobody would notice, so probably not.

Okay, so Monica’s not exactly a child, but she and her bratty little brother (cousin?) sure did disappear.

Also, it must suck to be Lyle Bennet. Well, unless he likes being ignored by his already distant father and sister-obsessed mother. That probably has some advantages, because nobody ever seems to notice when he’s not around.

A positive note

Do I have some reservations about season four? Definitely. But some of them are based on that fandom temperature which doesn’t always seem to be in sync with mine. And the rest? I feel pretty confident in my feeling that even when Heroes is bad, there’s still something good about it. And these days, that’s enough for me.

Now, I’ve got 11 days to get through 18 season-four episodes before Heroes Reborn premieres at 7 p.m. (central), Sept. 24 on NBC.

 Leisure Time is on Twitter! Follow @theLTtweet for post updates and much smaller thoughts.

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