“The Butterfly Effect”
Season Premiere, Part 2
[For my thoughts on “The Second Coming,” the first part of the premiere, click here]
When a butterfly flaps its wings, Heroes finally seems to emerge from a season-long cocoon.
“The Butterfly Effect” is not close to capturing the wonder that got the show’s weak writing and poor balancing of the ensemble cast through its first season, but what it represents is a show that is trying to expand its world without flailing about wildly. The show isn’t introducing any new heroes who require long periods of repetitive exposition, or trying to bring in whole new conspiracies and the like; instead, the show is letting its existing characters travel on new trajectories that all relate to a central theme of morality as opposed to a central theme of the end of the world.
If the first half of the finale was about starting to introduce these ideas, the second half puts most of them into motion: Peter’s storyline takes form, Noah Bennett finally returns to his kick-ass self, Kristen Bell is given (at the very least) something interesting to potentially expand upon, and Ali Larter’s new role certainly still raises intriguing questions.
At the same time, though, there’s a feeling that certain storylines are already repetitive, already derivative of past storylines and now dangerously going through the same motions in two straight episodes. If the show can iron out some of those difficulties, I think that the positive can outweigh the negative – if this can happen, Heroes might become enjoyable without qualifications again.
When Mrs. Petrelli has one of her dreams, I get worried – we see a lot of people dead, we see a lot of villains being all angry, and we have to ask ourselves the question of whether the show can maintain grounded in its characters. But the dream is largely ignored, used mostly to remind Future Peter that whatever has happened in this world has serious consequences. I have to wonder what he THOUGHT would happen if he shot Nathan, that everything would fix itself, but it is at least assuring to know that Peter is as short-sighted in the future as he is in the present.
Everything is going wrong for Future Peter: Sylar gets Claire’s powers, Elle inadvertantly allows Peter’s host body (Francis Capra, late of Veronica Mars) to escape and place Present Peter in danger, and in general there’s a lot of very bad things happening due to his new intervention into this time period. I’m hoping that we’re done dealing too much with that part of the storyline – I like what it’s done in terms of throwing this world into some immediate chaos, but at the same time last season’s “Peter isolated from his powers and his world” storyline really struggled.
Speaking of last season, or previous seasons, remember how Claire videotaped herself testing her humanity? Yeah, well, she’s doing that again, but this time because she doesn’t feel pain anymore. It’s a total cheat: her Tim Kring-penned confessional to the video camera was the most cringe-worthy part of the episode, a lame exposition of all of her previous emotions as she explains everything to no one in particular. It’s a lame cyclical element, and Claire’s entire existential crisis is losing steam – after early in the episode it felt like they were going to really give her a chance to explore who she is, but by episode’s end I was already tired of a whiny Claire and only mildly interested in seeing what the return of her mother (Jessalyn Gilsig) will bring to the table.
More important, obviously, is the return of the best character on the show: Noah Bennett, in the first season a stunning figure of awesomeness and in the second season a muddled and wasted talent. Jack Coleman is doing some great work on the series, and he now has more of a purpose: finally returning to more of his first season role, where he has to balance his job and his family as opposed to so heavily balancing the latter, a role that took away that central duality that made “Company Man” so fascinating. And considering the preview, his new partner looks like just the type of story that could bring us back to Noah’s roots as a Company Man.
Niki, meanwhile, really isn’t Niki anymore: she is Tracy Strauss, a cold political advisor who doesn’t know who Niki is and who has crazy ice powers that she uses to stop a journalist investigating the fact that someone just like her had sex with Nathan in a Las Vegas hotel. I don’t really know where this is going, and it could go downhill extremely quickly, but it is at least something new for a character that spent the past two seasons working in circles.
I’m most disappointed in Hiro, to be honest – after a good role in the pilot, the writers didn’t have anything to do with him other than really plainly and obviously force Hiro/Ando conflict in regards to Hiro’s vision into the future. The entire Batman/Catwoman idea was cute enough, I guess, but it felt like a cliche for these characters that was complicated by this contrived desire to create tension. I like that we’re getting Hiro using his powers and putting one over on Daphne, but by the same standards I do want them to be willing to move in new territories not so obviously choreographed: if we do that now, how long until we’re just doing the same thing week after week?
The episode’s other major plot device is the reveal, as I expected, that Linderman is a religious-type ghostly image that is speaking to Nathan as opposed to anything even close to being real, live Linderman. It was clear that the man hadn’t so easily regenerated from D.L.’s attack an entire season ago, but more importantly it kind of gives Nathan a purpose. Yes, bringing him back from the dead is sketchy in a lot of ways especially considering that it has now happened twice in two seasons, but Adrian Pasdar is a good actor and the character mediating on his political power and his own identity has some interesting potential.
And it all boils down to going back to what worked before: Noah on a mission to fight evil villains, Nathan balancing politics and identity, Claire trying to find out who she really is, etc. There’s a lot of this emphasis on returns, and only a few characters are trying new things. I don’t blame the show for going with what worked: even Sylar, who at episode’s end was being manipulated and potentially brought back into his “Tweener”-like status by Mrs. Petrelli, is returning to a more villainous but also less emaciated state. If they can sustain all of these moving pieces, the season has a lot of potential: if they flap their wings too much, though…well, you watched the episode, you know what will happen.
- One of the things really holding down the season is Mohinder and Maya, together for inexplicable reasons. Yes, isolating the show’s two most worthless characters in a single storyline keeps them from poisoning characters like Sylar, but Mohinder is acting like a complete idiot: his too sudden desire to inject himself has huge consequences, which he seemed too busy having sex with Maya to really think about. If the show is going to make this work, they need to make it less a pity party and more an investigation of this Fly/Spider-Man like transformation.
- Nice to see Francis Capra as the new Peter-surrogate, but I have to wonder how much work he’ll have considering that the show intends on having us see the inner Peter as opposed to his new body. It’s an odd decision: I know Milo’s the star of this show, but I still think that it’s a strange visual choice to not even let Capra act in a few of the shots that we saw at the end of tonight’s episode.
- I’m really disappointed in the death of Stephen Tobolowsky’s Bob, especially since he was so awesome on the /Filmcast a month ago. Still, it’s always great to be ahead of the curve: since I knew he had a broken neck, I could tell that there was a reason he wasn’t moving his head in any of his scenes here in the episode.
- I don’t know what to make of Matt Parkman’s vision quest in Africa, running into a spiritual guide who knows his name, knows that this isn’t supposed to happen, and more importantly said some ridiculously cheesy and self-aware lines about Britney Spears and Sprint that mad me want to hunt down Tim Kring and whack him with a rolled-up copy of a script written by a real writer (I don’t really mean to be that harsh, but it was an alarming scene).