'Heroes' recap: The best season never

The fourth season of Heroes ended not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a collective synchronized shrug. You could see everyone involved with the show – the actors, the writers, the cameraman who’s developed a nasty shoulder tilt after a season of those nauseating carnival camera angles – join all together, raise their shoulders, and mumble “Meh” under their breath. Until the very last scene, I thought this might be the first episode of Heroes with truly no redeeming value whatsoever. Even the worst show about superpowers is bound to be interesting, even if it just accidentally trips over “interesting” on the long road to “awful.”

But first, we have to talk about the badness. Ideally, a season finale of Heroes should give we the viewers a pleasant feeling of seeing everything all come together. We become aware that every tiny subplot we’ve seen over the course of a year has led every character together for a final reckoning. But the trouble started right with the “Previously On.” Mirror flashbacks! Brain walls! Limbo trials! It’s like Plato, Dante, and Freud collaborated on an episode of Davey and Goliath.

Last night’s episode was called “Brave New World,” which was also the title of the show’s Volume Six. The very existence of a Volume Six suggests that there’s a lot of magical thinking at the Kring household. But before we leave Volume Five behind, let’s just run down a quick list of Things That Made No Sense in this go-go season of Heroes, all of which were on perfect display in last night’s finale:

The Title of the Volume

Who was being redeemed in Heroes: Redemption? Sylar became a hero instead of a villain, but that certainly wasn’t the main plotline of the season, and I don’t even think you could argue that he’s really been redeemed, per se. His “redemption” basically came down to being imprisoned in his own brain for five years and reading The Pillars of the Earth, which should now become required reading throughout the American penitentiary system. Samuel Sullivan was arguably the main character of the season, to the extent that he was in every episode and that his plotline formed the fragile backbone of the season, but he wasn’t redeeming or being redeemed.

Really, Redemption only makes sense as a meta-commentary from the writers about what they were looking for from this season. I know that Heroes fans hate it when I point out how the show seems to be commenting on its own badness, but yeesh, here was the last bit of dialogue in Volume Five:

Noah Bennet: “I gotta say, I never liked Carnivals.”

Peter Petrelli: “Yup.”

Lines like that make me worry about the self-esteem levels in the writers’ room. Can someone make a documentary about a therapist talking the Heroes writers out of their depressive spiral? It would be like Some Kind of Monster, except terrible.

Samuel Sullivan

I loved the new Star Trek movie. I think it might be the zippiest adventure movie since Raiders of the Lost Ark. But even I have to admit that Eric Bana’s villain, Nero, made no sense. He’s a tormented father seeking vengeance, but he’s also an evil genius with plans to destroy every world he sees, but he’s also a grinning mastermind who playfully terrorizes hostages, but he’s also the last survivor of a dead world, but he’s also a proletariat leading a workers’ uprising…  it’s almost like the writers mashed together every villain who’s ever appeared in the Star Trek universe, then depended on Eric Bana’s admittedly-impressive forehead to hold it all together.

Samuel Sullivan has the same mash-up quality; it feels like every episode of the season was written by someone who had a very different notion about Samuel’s origin. The fuzziness of Sullivan’s background wasn’t helped by the fact that the character’s motivations were shadowy for 3/4 of the season (you’ll recall, dear viewers, that he was Doing It All For His Lost Love.) Also making matters more painful: Robert Knepper could never quite decide on an accent.

Still, maybe the worst thing about Samuel Sullivan was that he was never really all that villainous. I understand and admire the impulse to create a villain with more than one dimension, but too many dimensions is just as bad as too few. Look at Season 1 Sylar: You knew exactly what he wanted (more power!), what he had to do to get that power (kill!), and what would happen if he weren’t stopped (apocalypse!). Now look at Samuel Sullivan. He wanted to build his childhood dream home, but he also wanted more power, but he also wanted his carnie family to be safe, but he also wanted to avenge himself on the world of Man.

I actually think that two versions of Samuel were really cool. Purely because of his chemistry with Kate Vernon, I liked the “Doing It All For Love” angle, even if it nonsensically turned Samuel into an overgrown teenager. More intriguingly, the notion that Samuel is a leader who literally gets his power from his citizens feels like the kind of cool metaphor great fantasy novels are written from. In a democracy, a President is infinitely more powerful than his constituency, but his constituency has one ultimate check over him: the power to take his power away. So there was something deeply fascinating about seeing Samuel scream, powerless, at his departed flock, “You’re nothing without me,” when the reverse was clearly true.

Half of the Characters Did Not Need To Be Here

Tracy Strauss. Tracy Strauss. Tracy. Freaking. Strauss. Last night’s subplot about the Buried Bennets had all the makings of a Hitchcockian thriller: Would Claire have to watch her father run out of oxygen, and then spend months digging herself out? But suddenly, a little bit of water trickled in, and hello Ali Larter, haven’t seen you in weeks!

The resolution of this plotline was so silly, such a complete Deus Ex Machina situation, that the scene literally ended in ellipses. Noah Bennet and Claire were freed – I guess Tracy turned them into water, or something, what? Noah’s galpal Lauren said, “I called a helicopter!” A helicopter appeared, right on cue. Noah looked down into a pool of water: Where’s Tracy? Claire: “She said you owed her one.” And they left. So I guess Tracy Strauss is just chilling out in the buried trailer now? Is that her new home?

Literally half the cast of Heroes is extraneous now. Matt Parkman started the season just wanting a normal life, and ended the season wanting the same. He had a Sylar brain tumor, but then that was cured. Mohinder Suresh made a few very brief but time-consuming appearances. His whole contribution to the season was to put Samuel on the path toward genocide, and to fix a compass. Tracy Strauss wanted her old life back, but then she didn’t, and now Noah Bennet owes her a favor. Ando is basically just there to give Hiro someone to talk to in Japanese and to supercharge his powers, because Hiro is only the freaking master of Time and Spaces. Oh, and Emma played her cello.

The worst misstep of the season, though, was Hiro Nakamura. His whole entire purpose, his raison d’etre this season, was to teleport Samuel’s Special Army away, because they couldn’t run fast enough. That was the complete end result of a season of slow-tumor-death and time traveling and idiot amnesia and diner courtrooms led up to. The subplot on last night’s episode about Hiro and Old Charlie seemed to come out of the worst episode of the UPN version of The Twilight Zone. They couldn’t even bring back Jayma Mays? If Hiro’s plotline from this season were its own show, it would be the worst TV show ever.

The Carnival

The Sullivan Bros. Carnival was populated by lobotomized idiots who looked like hippie hoboes from the planet Neptune. Except for when they got all dressed up, at which point they looked like a gaggle of struggling actors auditioning for the role of the Artful Dodger in your local YMCA’s performance of Oliver! Everyone had shadowy motivations, which is a nice way of saying that no one ever did anything that made any sense. Edgar was Samuel’s right-hand man, until he betrayed him, until he came back, until he betrayed him again. Everyone at the Sullivan Bros. Carnival was a quadruple agent. Can we officially outlaw all Carnival plotlines on television, forever?

And yet…

You know what? I got a real charge out of that last sequence. As Claire ascended the Ferris Wheel, every character raised their heads and asked basically the same question, “What is she doing?” Then Claire re-enacted for the news cameras her very first scene ever: the fall, the nonchalant resetting of her broken arm bone, the “I’m Claire Bennet, and this is attempt number…” line. Hayden Panettiere’s knowing smile was so casual-yet-meaningful that you could almost believe that this was the perfect conclusion to a great TV series, instead of a hopeful cliffhanger for a flailing one.

Ever since the end of season 1, Heroes has been stuck in between two potentially great stories. After Kirby Plaza, the TV show tried to hit the reset button and go back to the story of People Trying To Be Normal. That never worked; normality became a weird plot fetish, with Noah Bennet recast as a paranoid obsessive desperate to make sure the rest of the world never learned the truth about the superpowered people, especially not his Claire Bear. Finally, that veil has been pierced. Finally, maybe, the show can move beyond Kirby Plaza.

Viewers, we have no idea if Heroes is coming back. The buzz is deadly, the ratings are miserable, everyone seems tired. Then again, Heroes is currently battling Nothing for a place on the NBC schedule, which is encouraging. If they fire half the cast, if they get a better villain, if they ban the words “time travel” and “premonition dreams” and “the power to control other people,” and if they agree to never mention the Carnival again… could Heroes possibly become good again? Can greatness, once lost, be rediscovered? Can we really go home again?

No. But isn’t it nice to think so?

Comments (216 total) Add your comment
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  • walter

    At this point, just call it Hewoes and be done with it.

    • UGH

      This show ended for me during season 2.
      I can’t believe the ball was dropped.

      • Angela

        thats when I jumped shark too..half way thru season 2…This show went into the sh!tter real fast. Bummer. It had potential, but then they ruined it with two many new characters/hero’s nobody cared about.

      • RCB

        I stopped mid-season 3. Can’t believe that something so good can be this bad.

      • MSR

        I dropped halfway through season 3 – it looked promising until we got the multiple dimensions thing going on – future, past, present, alternate future, alternate past, etc… it was ridiculous. It started out with such promise. I just wish NBC would let it die, but they won’t.

      • hope

        Finally it’s over do you hear me Heroes IT. IS . OVER!!!! between you and me. I’ve put up with all the cliches and plot holes, characters behaving like douches for four seasons FOUR SEASONS. In the hope that it could raise on it’s feet again. But it’s been one BIG joke after another with few fun moments in between. Goodbye and good riddence I say.

      • Brian

        Angela, a show jumps the shark. A viewer doesn’t.

      • madeleine

        Brian, I gotta ask: I know what jump the shark means (it’s over, or we are past whatever). But where does that come from? And why can’t people jump said shark? Just askin.

      • Darckash

        @ madeleine: “jump the shark” comes from the tv show Happy Days. The true sign of the writers/show/etc. just flat out running out of steam was when Fonzie literally jumped a shark . . .on water skis, in trunks, and a leather jacket. It was a sure sign the best of Happy Days was over.

      • Serge In Atlanta

        Originated from a “Happy Days” episode when Fonzie jumps a shark to up the ratings.


      • Hank

        To me the show go bad after the writers strike. I don’t know if anything happened where they lost all their good writers and had to hire sophomore college kids to fill the seats. I really don’t know, it had potential but now I’m afraid I’m done with this show.

      • Ralph

        I have not enjoyed the show since season 2, but I still watch it…waiting and hoping that it will return to the greatness from season 1. This season sucked. It drug on and was lame…then it ends with a cliffhanger that makes me believe the show could return to greatness next season. It won’t and I’ll be disappointed. To fix this show, they should fire everyone in the writers room and hire a talented six year old with fresh ideas. My nephew needs a job.

      • madeleine

        Darckash: Thank you!

    • Woofy

      I don’t know who are the bigger losers..all the people who are writing on here about a show they say they stopped watching…or me for writing this..but at least I still watch the program and care about it one way or the other.
      Why would you waste time reading and writing about a program you don’t care about?
      Oh I know! Because in this internet age we can stroke our own egos by writing about anything at all..even things we don’t really care about..just so someone will pay attention to us or to find some sort of pathetic self-worth by knocking something you havn’t even watched.

      • RCB

        It’s called curiosity, and yes, it’s about our egos too.

      • Brian

        Shut up, Woofy.

      • Chris

        I’d reckon most people bashing the show are those who loved it in the beginning and are disappointed with how awful it has become. If no one like it in the first place, then a lot less people would bother to post about it. But since a lot was invested into the show, and it’s now a shell of what it was (or could have been), lots of folks want to voice their dissatisfaction about it.

      • Fredro

        @ Woofy-
        Well said, and totally agree…enough said!

      • Pete

        Woofy, after reading your comment it’s obvious that you are most definitely the bigger loser. No one has to justify their reason for posting a comment regardless of whether or not they watch a show and still care about it. Please get over yourself. Heroes is a crappy TV show, If you can’t accept that fact then you need to learn to deal with it because you’re in the minority!

      • thin

        I read it because I wanted to see how the season was going to end but couldn’t stomach sitting through the show anymore.

      • Ralph

        I watched it and hoped the Samuel would tear the world apart…thus ending the Heroes saga.

      • Blurbank

        You just described Sarah Palin in a nutshell – emphasis on nut.

      • Jason

        Good call Woofy! Even thought I struggle with Heroes at times, I still have hope. I really wish we could go back to the orginal characters (INCLUDING ALI LARTER!) and work with their storyline. I miss season one and even parts of season 2. I wish Ali had been a bigger part of this season. I think she is a bad azz.

      • candy

        dude’s got a good point

      • EricO

        If only the writers and show runners read these comments, they would get a clearer picture of what a disaster Heroes became in the last two seasons. If only. Sigh.

      • Emma

        I’ve never seen a episode in my life and I still read this. HELP ME!!

    • Vincent

      Upon going into this last episode, I was unaware that it was even the season finale till Claire jumped at the end. I admit that scene was a good way to end it, however the whole seasons plot and theme was put together poorly.

      There are two things that have bothered me the past few seasons. One, Peter only being able to use his empath powers to capture one power at a time. Two, Hiro not being able to teleport how he used to. This was answered by his tumor, however they made a whole episode for Peter to obtain a healing power and he got back and Hiro was gone. There were just too many loose ends. So many things were put in to play that didn’t need to go there at all.

      Furthermore they still have not mentioned anythign about the 3rd twin of Traci Strauss. Will we see her in the next season, if they have one, and what are her powers.

      I will watch this show till its death. I admit that it has gone a little down hill, but they need a good villain and a great story for the next season if they want to keep an audience. I thought Robert Forster played an excellent villain as Mr. Patrelli. Get someone like Mickey Rourke for the next villain role.

      • Kyle

        The three twins of Ali Larter were Nikki, Jessica, and Tracy. . .dbag

      • Darwin

        No dumbass. Jessica was Nikki’s step sister. Remember Nikki was the only adopted child.
        The triplets are Nicky, Tracy and Barbara….
        Barbara is yet to be shown.

      • DACKY

        REALLY??? You’re splitting hairs about the triplit scenario w so much other crap going on?
        ALL THIS BUILDUP ’bout Peters dream ’bout Syler saving cello lady ‘n what happens? SHE SAVES HIM!!!HUH??? I was hoping 4 a Superman 2 type Heroes vs. Villians action blowout but we got Claire literally on a soapbox exposing Samuel. OH- then Peter got into stare off as the same special effect of the ground crumbled back n forth. EXCITING- HUH? Then Hiro saves the day to teleport the HUGH CROWD OF MMMM…a dozen of extras to safety.
        Things I liked: Tracy’s waterlogged entrance, Claires swandive, Samuels mental breakdown and the closeup of Sylers eyebrows.
        I think that suns up the season…

  • commenter

    I’m so glad I broke up with this show last season. Sounds like a waste of time.

  • lathenana

    I agree with everything.

    • paula

      Claire once again makes a selfish and stupid decision. What an obnoxious brat and attention w-hore! Ugh, why didnt they kill her off 2 seasons ago?

      • JeanneD

        I soo agree with you paula!

      • JessiRae

        How do you kill a girl who can’t die? (a question for the writers)

      • A dose of moderation

        I actually really like Heroes despite how ridiculous it’s become. Sure, it isn’t the obsession I once had, more a show to watch while I cook dinner, because you’re right, nothing really happens that can’t be relayed to you in less time than it took to say. But I don’t know why Heroes fans are so worked up over these recaps I think they are hilarious, even though I only agree with half of what you say. And to the people who take them so seriously and bash on Heroes, I don’t understand that either. If you don’t like the show, don’t watch it, it’s a pretty simple concept.
        About the episode:
        I liked the ending, but disliked the whole trailer scene. There was absolutely no point since they got out, they may as well have not been trapped at all. I think I would have been happier in fact if they had STAYED trapped, it would have been quite and interesting (if a bit morbid) plot.

        I liked the fact that Peter and Sylar got to bond, but now HOW they got to bond.

        If the point of this whole carnival thing had been leading up to Claire exposing the ‘specials’ than I would have rather they find another way to make that happen.

  • Anne

    Haven’t watched Heroes in years but this was an entertaining recap =)

    • Mells

      @Anne – I’m with you! I’m so glad I broke up the Heroes last year and this funny recap reminded just why I did. I hope that if Heroes does get canceled that Chuck’s chances of survival get that much stronger.

    • bri

      I haven’t watched HEWOES in years, but lord, do I enjoy these sharp recaps. I’ll miss them.

  • Cliff

    I was thoroughly disappointed with Heroes last night. It almost seems to me like the writers had no idea what to do with the show after the first season. The second season was alright, but felt rushed. The third season was too confusing, and this season was just awful. Hopefully they’ll be able to take the cliffhanger of the specials being revealed and make something of it. Seeing as how the last 2 seasons were handled; however, I seriously doubt it.

  • davet

    Funny — so many commenters checking in to witness the death throes. I, too, stopped watching a couple of years ago and love to be reassured about the wisdom of that decision.

  • jack hart

    me 4 .. disappointing season all around. please cancel this series NBC

  • Kristen

    I was very disappointed in the finale. I think I am done with heroes. I agree with the Samuel accent. It was annoying to hear it change in almost every scene.

    • Darwin

      Amen to that.

      And I was hoping Hiro, Peter, and Matt would die.
      At least annoying Nathan is dead.

  • jack

    really, really bad. i dvr’ed it and fast-forward through most of it. even then it was terrible.

  • Jasmine

    What I have found most frustrating about the show is that it always chickens out when it comes time to pull the trigger.

    • TV_Pete

      I agree with your thought here. The problem with Heroes has been that the show got too wrapped up in the abilities for too much of the time.

      Some of the best episodes have been focused on a specific character (see Lost or The Family Man episode in Heroes). The show is at its best when it is about a story about people who just happen to (sometimes) reveal different abilities. If you take a look at what made Buffy or Angel into good shows that lasted as long as they did it was not because of Buffy’s strength or Angel’s vampiric abilities. At the root they were stories about the characters who just happened to use their abilities.

      • candy

        i loved buffy

  • MJ

    I finally gave up on Heroes a few months ago. My biggest problem with it was that I just didn’t care enough about the characters. Shows about superheroes can be corny at times. But you can survive bad plots or bad villians or bad writing IF you emotionally care about the characters. I never had that with Heroes. In the first season, I did. I cared about Peter and Noah and Claire. There was emotional connection there. Then the show became obsessed with adding all these new characters and trying to reinvent the wheel with all these crazy subplots. I know I’ll probably get bashed for this but I’ve watched Smallville since Season 1. It’s had some rough plots over the years that’s for damn sure. But I’ve stuck with it through good and bad (and it’s finally good again now) because I CARED about the characters. There was emotional connection there. That’s where Heroes lost me. I wanted to care so badly about these people with superpowers but I just didn’t. Commence bashing I guess.

    • Facey

      I’m right there with you on Smallville!! Love that show! And it’s been so great this season… here’s hoping for a season 10!!

  • Another Commenter

    Agreed. I couldn’t even make it through the 2hr season premier before I decided it was time to break up. I read this review to see if I made the right choice, looks like I did.

  • Tim

    Well said recap. I want this to be cancelled because I need to stop watching and that’s the only way that I will.

    And I am sick of seeing what the writers do to Sylar. How do you stop the most powerful guy on the planet? Every season, they have to come up with a way to make sure he doesn’t use his powers. Sometimes, he loses them (which is terrible). Sometimes, he decides to be a good guy (terrible). Sometimes, he goes on a quest for identity that has nothing to do with getting more powers (ditto).

  • Trev

    I am also glad I quit watching after the first 2 episodes this season. So much potential for an awesome show simply wasted. The whole thing should have been told from Noah’s point of view and streamline all these storylines into one. This show is giving comics and this whole genre a bad name.

  • h

    “The very existence of a Volume Six suggests that there’s a lot of magical thinking at the Kring household. ”
    hahahaha! Thanks to Darren Franich for watching so we don’t have to….

    • AA

      I think it was right after reading Darren’s first recap that I decided to break up with Heroes, because I found his version soooo much more entertaining! Thanks for taking the bullets for us, Darren!

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