Heroes Season 4: I am still conflicted

There’s a level on which I understand everything Heroes was doing with season four, and can say it did an okay job of it. But there’s another where it wasn’t really what I wanted, and I was awfully disappointed.

The driving force behind season four was the introduction of The Sullivan Bros. Carnival, a safe haven for people with abilities that’s trying to recover from the death of its leader under the guidance of his brother, Samuel. Meanwhile, “Nathan” is freaking out over abilities he didn’t have before Peter is a paramedic trying to save the world one accident scene at a time,, Matt Parkman is having visions of Sylar that are screwing with his life, Claire is starting college and Noah is tanking as a newly single bachelor who can’t cook until last season’s villainous Danko is killed (by a carnival worker) and Noah stumbles upon one of the compasses the carnival uses to let people with abilities find them, and sets out to figure out what’s going on. And Hiro is not only dying from a brain tumor but also losing the ability to control his power.

And I thought season three felt disjointed.

Watching season four kind of reminded me of watching The West Wing season seven, when the show would shift focus from week to week: focusing on the goings on of The White House in the last year of Bartlet’s presidency one week and the campaign trail of presidential hopefuls the next.

Heroes, however, takes all its stories and puts them them in a blender, and, where the campaign trail episodes of TWW felt fresh and reinvigorating, the carnival side of Heroes feels unearned. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to break this up into four categories.

The Carnival/Samuel Sullivan

Samuel Sullivan (Robert Knepper):  Sometimes he seems like a nice guy. Other times, he's a Nice Guy.
Samuel Sullivan (Robert Knepper): Sometimes he seems like a nice guy. Other times, he’s a Nice Guy.

I get what Heroes was trying to do with Samuel and the carnival. If the end-game is to redeem Sylar — something that’s been hinted at then dropped then hinted at and dropped since the first season — there has to be a bad guy to take his place. Samuel fills that role as the leader of what essentially becomes a carnival cult. But much like actual cult leaders, Samuel is very charismatic. Most of the time, he seems like a good guy trying to do right by his people. He did a very bad thing in the recent past, but for the majority of the season it’s hard to get a read on his intentions and his motivations. Six episodes into the season, I didn’t feel like I knew any more about the carnival than I did in the first episode.

And when his motivation is revealed? Well that’s just when everything falls apart. Samuel, long pining for his lost love has been bringing people together (because that’s how his power gets stronger) to build her secluded dream cottage in a newly grown forest. He abducts her from her life and takes her to it, ready to rekindle their romance. But in a “shocking” turn of events, she doesn’t want at 40 the same things she wanted at 20, and rebuffs him, sending Samuel into a childish tantrum as he decides to use his super-charged power to sink all of New York into a sinkhole.

So, as a villain, Samuel fails both to be villainous and to be interesting. He ultimately is pretty pathetic. His villainy comes not from a lifetime of feeling like he doesn’t fit in his owl life, but because a girl didn’t want to date him, and if I think about it too hard, I really resent that so much of the season was devoted to him. And I think the carnival could have been better if it had ever gotten more explanation than being this magical place that can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. But, I guess you can give the show some kudos for running with its cult metaphor, even if the carnival resolution of stopping Samuel by stripping him of his followers felt a little on-the-nose.

The many faces of Sylar

Sylar (Zachary Quinto): Apparently, his hair decided it should be a blank slate, too. A blank, awful slate.
Sylar (Zachary Quinto): Apparently, his hair decided it should be a blank slate, too. A blank, awful slate.

I’ll say this for Heroes Season 4: It committed to making Sylar a fully-fledged character and not the paper villain he was for the first half of season two. The season was a tour de force for Zachary Quinto, who gave us Sylar as an evil imp in Matt Parkman’s brain, Sylar as a blank slate eventually forced to confront his misdeeds, a Sylar who walks a fine line between bad and not bad and finally, a Sylar who seeks redemption after realizing he doesn’t want to be the serial killer power-stealer he’d been since the first eclipse that unlocked his power.

He does it all well, but the most fun version is the one sharing Matt Parkman’s brainspace who doesn’t know his body and mind has become a Nathan Petrelli facsimile. The arc makes sense for Sylar, and as a whole was reasonably satisfying, but the Nathan element that was teased at the end of season three was absolutely wasted.

In essence, Sylar’s body had two versions: The one that looked like and thought it was Nathan Petrelli, and the blank slate that looked like Sylar. The Nathan half — as I predicted in my season three wrap-up — starts to realize something is wrong when he begins displaying powers he didn’t previously have. But what could have been a chilling story about the essence of Sylar starting to break through the Nathan facade — and perhaps ultimately being influenced and changed by everything that was good about Nathan — became ” ‘Nathan’ remembers a death that was covered up, gets killed and then wakes up as the Blank Slate Sylar, except for when he periodically becomes Nathan again.” And maybe I’m just bitter because I enjoy Adrian Pasdar and wanted to see him play up the creepy factor, but I wanted so much more out of his part of this story line.

Everything else

While the bulk of the season is devoted to Parkman’s Brain!Sylar, Blank Slate Sylar and the carnival, there’s plenty of other stuff thrown in, I guess to justify having such a bloated cast. And it’s okay. Hiro finally gets a story arc that I don’t hate him in, Noah’s regret over never actually helping anybody in his 20 years with the company gives Jack Coleman some good things to work with — and any time he gets to team up with other heroes is a treat — and I guess Claire trying to be normal and getting a sort-of girlfriend in college is interesting to somebody, but I was more interested in her desire to find a place she fits in where she doesn’t have to hide and lie about her ability. But overall, it definitely had an air of  threads that loosely revolved around each other until everything was *sort of* tied up in the end. Except not really.

Heroes Reborn

Season Four ends with Claire revealing her powers to the world – and breaking her father’s heart. And now, if the previews for Heroes Reborn are to be believed, it looks like the world is heading toward that dystopian future that Peter saw happening if Nathan had revealed his powers at the end of season two. Thanks, Claire!

The previews also imply that – along with Noah – Mohinder, Parkman and Angela Petrelli will play a role in the sequel series. I somehow doubt Hayden Panettiere and Zachary Quinto will be back — and maybe not even Milo Ventimiglia, but I hope all their characters (Claire, Sylar and Peter) get sufficient explanations of what happened to them in the interim.

But mostly, I’ll be glad to hear more from Mohinder, who probably got more of a short shrift than any other character in the series. Odd, considering he was the every-man audience stand-in for so much of it. But mostly, I’m just hoping Heroes Reborn will answer my previous post’s question of “Where is Molly?!” I can’t quite tell if that’s her in the Reborn previews or not, and I’ve been trying to avoid big spoilers. Fortunately, the time for worrying about premiere spoilers is almost over.

Heroes Reborn premieres at 7 p.m. tonight on NBC.

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

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