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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Heroes, "The Kindness of Strangers"

How did the last Heroes kick so much ass without even seeing the two most off the wall season-two plot lines (Peter Petrelli’s amnesiac adventures in crime in Ireland and Hiro’s samurai adventures in 17th century Japan)?

It’s only four episodes in and Heroes’ second season (or “Volume 2: Generations”) has already established itself boldly as a separate chapter of the same story started in the first season. The writers have made an effort to put all of their characters in compelling situations that are both very distinct from their season one plot lines and yet expand on what made them interesting characters during the first year.

Gabriel Gray has me most excited right now. It seemed to me that Sylar should have died at the end of last season. He and Linderman were the season villains and it felt right for the story that they should both die and leave season two open to new conflicts. I loved the serial killer story line last year and I thought it got even cooler when Sylar came into his own as a character. Going into the second season, I didn’t want to see that story get worn thin and I also didn’t think a big twist on the character would be credible.

Whoever had the idea to take away his powers is awesome. Sylar was a scary villain last year because he always knew that he was in control. He knew he was smart and powerful and that he had the advantage in any situation. It was his calm during some of his murders that seemed most dangerous. In season two, he knows he’s not that person anymore so clearly that he’s changed his name.

Gabriel Gray is not calm. He’s not calculating or sure of himself. He is disoriented and lost in Mexico with no powers and no explanation. He is still a psychopath, but he’s now impotent to satisfy his lust for power and blood. He is drawn to get back to Mohinder and the rest of the heroes, but what will he do when he gets there and what will happen to him and the twins on the way? I don’t think he even knows. The mystery of how he lost his powers and what was being planned for him in remote Mexico should also prove to be an interesting part of the upcoming season. Like many other story lines in the second season, Gabriel’s seems very unpredictable at the end of the fourth episode.

The Matt Parkman of the first series is now gone from Heroes. Parkman is not struggling with his marriage anymore. He got divorced. Parkman is not struggling with climbing the police ranks anymore. He made detective. Kring and the other writers have made a very conscious choice to eliminate all the tensions from last year before they got worn out.

Parkman is the same character we loved from last year, but now he’s got a better story. He made a great Uncle Jessie to Mohinder’s Danny in the odd domestic arrangement they’ve settled into and now they’ve added a very cool and unexpected development not only to the present story, but also to the back story of the Heroes universe: Parkman’s deadbeat dad is scary looking and has several chins and was buddies with all the other old superheroes who have been dying lately and is also the “Nightmare Man” that has been sadistically tormenting Molly in her dreams. This ought to be a great story for Parkman and an unusual one with the complex relationship he has with his dad. How the hell is he supposed to rescue Molly from his dad’s mind? It should be a central story for volume two.

Micah’s cousin Monica is hot and her power is corny, but neither of those things really matter because she had a good story. Heroes has always taken advantage of the fact that they can set their stories anywhere they want and they made a great choice in featuring a specifically post-Katrina New Orleans this week. Part of what makes the show great is that no matter who you are, what you’re about, there’s a story that you can relate to. They have rich characters, poor characters, drug addicts, cheerleaders, characters from all countries of all races.

Besides that, her and Micah’s scenes made for a very tight short story. It was entertaining and it gracefully combined the two stories of Micah, who is getting used to his new life, and his cousin, a brand new character with an interesting and compelling origin story. It displays the amazing and poetic way that the show is able to compliment TV as both an episodic and a serialized medium.

We get exactly what we should from a great show’s second season: story expansion. Micah’s story works well because we know him from last year and it is interesting to see him doing something different, something we can all relate to, getting used to a new home. His cousin’s works because it gives us the excitement that we felt last year in seeing characters discover their new powers. The two stories play off of each other well, particularly in the scene with the pay-per-view wrestling match and the hug between the two characters.

Gabriel, Parkman, and Micah are only three of the show’s plethora of characters who are getting dynamic and fresh stories in volume two. It’s still early in the season, but so far the Heroes team has met, exceeded, or shattered any expectations I’ve had about following up the first season. We’re definitely on the same track and we’re definitely farther along that track then we were last year.

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