I have long had a soft spot for films and shows revolving around superheroes. Worlds inquiring “What if” outside of the fringes of reality have always intrigued me, and NBC’s Heroes is no different. From the genesis of the show, I knew it was going to be different.
The show is essentially an attempt to adapt X-Men into a more believable and realistic universe. That aspect of the show is pulled off; it is one of the most believable superhero series I’ve seen, perhaps only surpassed by Arrow.
There are other issues at work, however.
It’s always easiest to start with Season 1, especially since that seems to be the only season that most viewers have seen. The “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” plot was a lot deeper and intricate than the title would indicate. I used to say that the Season One of Heroes was the best single season of television I’ve seen to date. While I’ve watched a lot of things since then, only one season has ever threatened its place (series 6 of Doctor Who). Still, it is not without its issues.
There are several things going on in the series, but the jist of the first season takes place in a few intertwined stories. First, there’s the story of the Petrelli brothers. Nathan is making his bid for Senate while his brother, a hospice nurse, is having dreams that make him believe he can fly. We find that it is Nathan that can fly and Peter receives the abilities of those around him. Peter receives a message that he must save the cheerleader, and begins his search. At the same time, Isaac Mendez, an addict painter in New York (where the Petrellibrothers also are), paints the future, which is New York going up in flames. Combine these two for a simple message: saving the cheerleader saves New York (and the world) from exploding.
At the same time you have Sylar, a serial killer who is killing people and somehow retrieving their abilities. Among the few hints to his identity is correspondence with biologist Chandra Suresh, whose work on human mutation has created a method of identifying these special individuals. Chandra is dead when the series begins and his son, Mohinder, comes to America from India to see after his father’s work.
So basically, our heroes must stop the world from exploding while a supernatural serial killer is on the loose. Add in the comical relief of Hiro and Ando bumbling their way through America without a clue as to what they are doing (and Hiro’s repeated statement “I control time and a space”), and you have a winner of a show.
There are other characters and other stories, but that’s an overview. The subsequent seasons never quite measure up to the grandeur of Season One, and there are other plot holes and events that I’m not fond of in the least. Season Two
was hindered by the Writer’s Guild Strike, and was not near what the previous season was, although the introduction of Niki’s husband D.L. (one of my personal favorites) made the season worth it to me. Season Three isn’t much better, and has some plot elements that, in my mind, changed the structure of the show in a nearly unforgivable way. Season Four rebounds, and although its replacement for Sylar (as he is in a redemption process of sorts) is not as strong a villain, he has an allure that makes people want to trust him, reminding as the Satan can appear as an angel of light. The show ends on a huge cliffhanger, unfortunately, as the writers didn’t know their show was going to be cancelled. Although frustrating, the episode was one of the most spectacular episodes of the series.
Heroes. That’s the name of the series and a key element of the show. It introduces the question, what makes a hero a hero? Are these characters truly heroes? If so, why are they heroes? Are they heroes simply because they have supernatural abilities?
This is a dilemma that makes the show more interesting. The most obvious comparison is between Peter and Nathan. Peter (my personal favorite) is probably the show’s most powerful character in terms of abilities. He’s also the most selfless. One flashback in the series shows Peter having recently graduated from nursing school. His well-to-do family (mainly his brother) criticizes him for wanting to pursue hospice care. After all, what’s in it for him? Nothing. Later in the series, Peter is no longer saving the world, but he is using his powers as a paramedic, getting to everyone as fast as he can, and picking up several extra shifts. He sees his gifts as a responsibility. This attitude is Biblical. As Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”
Nathan, on the other hand, is the very essence of selfishness. At one point he’s told of the impending doom of the future and he all he can ask is if he wins the election. He refuses to think of the implications of his ability, and even uses his brother’s “dreams of grandeur” as a political tool to incur sympathy from the voters. Is he a hero? Definitely not. While Peter is portrayed as moral, good, and pure, his brother is portrayed as a hop and a skip short of a villain.
In regards to villains, the show has a good few of them. First of all, there’s Sylar. Through most of the first season, you never see his face. Afterwards you do, but he remains a through and through evil character until the final season. In the final season, after quite a while of writers not deciding which side they want him on, he essentially turns good. There’s a great statement about redemption in that. No one overlooks the things he did or says he wasn’t responsible; but he does change. God offers us the ability to change if we submit to him.
At the same time, there is a group of characters who are bent on bringing about the bomb’s detonation, convinced that it will be for the greater good. A lot of shows have these kinds of villains. I will say that in this case, it has a good connotation: sincerity is not all it takes to be good. These characters were sincere; but their sincerity mixed with depravity led them to horrifying conclusions that needed to be stopped.
Hold on a minute, though. That’s not all the show has to say about heroes.
In the process we also have Simone. She is Isaac’s girlfriend and also just happens to be the daughter of Peter’s dying patient, who Peter is attracted to. She and Isaac have a falling out over his “illusions” of being able to paint the future, and immediately after, she jumps into bed with Peter. With peter. The all-too-good son of righteousness, a Jesus figure if the show has one, jumps into bed with a woman who was just the night before dating a heroin addict. No matter what way you cut it, he took advantage of an emotionally vulnerable girl.
But of course, he loves her.
The show’s flippant treatment of sexuality is present other places. From the pilot we’re introduced to Niki, a struggling mom with a husband in prison who has been reduced to playing the part of an internet stripper to provide for her and her son. We soon find that she has a powerful alter-ego, Jessica, with superhuman strength and a serious god complex, painting her as the victim. I don’t doubt that Niki didn’t want to be an internet stripper, but the show completely bypasses any emotional scarring she might have, showing her “occupation” as an unfortunate but necessary product of her circumstance. Not that it has any moral implications whatsoever, of course.
Thankfully Niki’s internet whoredom doesn’t last long, as she’s quickly forced to go on the run with her son Micah. However, a simple fact still remains. Both with Peter’s sexual escapade and Niki’s cybersex, you might be able to skip the scene, but the implicit message is abundantly clear: sex has no consequences.
Proverbs 5:3-5 “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.”
The show has some good in it, no doubt. There’s a lot of sacrifice for good, and there is clear definition of evil. There are a lot of good qualities to be found in Peter, Claire, Matt, and other iconic good guys of the series. But just as it would be unfair to disregard the positive messages of the series, we would be remiss to overlook the evil in it as well.