Friday, 6 September 2013

Overview: Heroes: Volume One - Genesis

Like all Heroes episodes, I'm tempted to begin each of these overviews with a strange and unnecessary voiceover. Like those voiceovers, I may attempt to use grandiose clich├ęs. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. See, I just did one there. You should probably read these in the voice of an Indian guy with a pronounced London accent. Or not, it's up to you. This is the first of five overviews to cover the five Heroes volumes, ensuring I don't have to come up with enough crap to review all of the sparsely written 78 episodes. Written 18/5/13.
12 main characters is only two fewer than Lost, you know.
Now, contrary to popular belief, Heroes was not a bad show. It was a mixed show, of course, and it certainly had its problems, some of which came from the wounding blow that was the 2008 Writer's Guild of America Strike and some of which came from lazy writing and lazier continuity. But the show as a whole is one I enjoy, not just for the coolness factor that it exudes (although that is the main attraction of the first season) but also because it manages to pump out some decent characterisations.
     The first season and the first volume stick to the series' premise the most snugly - a group of people around the world (read: The United States with two guys from Japan) discover that they have super-powers, all in good time to prevent the destruction of New York via a super-induced nuclear reaction. Along the way they run into the secretive Company that tracks and catalogues Specials, and try to foil the schemes of supervillain/serial killer Sylar. By far the longest of the five volumes, Genesis takes its sweet time to get going, being rewarded with a richer and deeper atmosphere than any of the others.
     The very early episodes often suffer from a How Do I Shot Web factor as our heroes discover their abilities for the first time, and the series tries to work out the kinks in its designs and idiosyncrasies. Geneticist Mohinder Suresh's accent changes wildly, the invulnerable Clare Bennet becomes a great deal less whiny and the Man In Horn Rimmed Glasses (heron in HRG, even when his real name is revealed) shows his more badass side. The triumph of the early season, though, is the slow introduction to series villain Sylar, first from the grisly scenes he leaves behind and culminating in the first character cross-over as power-sponge Peter Petrelli saves Claire from Sylar's attacks at Homecoming. The season's middle section features some fun developments, including a guest performance from Christopher Eccleston (the year after Doctor Who, no less) and reveals about Claire's parentage that err on the soapy side but work well in the long run. It culminates with what is my favourite episode of the season, "Company Man", which has a Lost-style focus on HRG, his adoption of Claire and his flashbacks to the painful decisions he made in the past. It's probably not a positive sign that my two favourite Heroes episodes are the ones formatted like episodes of Lost, but ho hum. The drive towards the finale is done exceedingly well, with confrontations abound until the final magnificent showdown which, despite not being as sheerly awesome as it could have been still left the series with a triumphant moment of glory.
     A lot of the plot in the earlier volumes is driven by precognition, which makes some funky problems regarding timelines. Sometimes the visions of the bad future are painted and are subject to metaphor, but often time-travelling characters like Hiro Nakamura (and eventually Peter) visit or are visited by people from the future. The first volume's bad future is one in which Peter exploded and wiped New York off the map, which of course means that he spends most of the season angsty about not wanting to blow up.
     I haven't spoken much about Matt Parkmen or Niki Sanders, and that's probably to do with the fact that for the majority of the season they have their own shit going on. Niki is a super-strong stripper with multiple personality disorder trying to fight her alter ego Jessica in order to keep her technopath son Micah and phasing criminal husband D.L. safe from the machinations of arch-villain Linderman (Malcolm McDowell, everybody!). Her storyline oft becomes frustrating; watching someone argue with themselves only has novelty for a while. Matt Parkman is a telepath who despite become a much larger key player later on spends the first volume as an ineffectual jerkass whose abilities lose him his job, his wife and his unborn child. Instead he takes on and adopts Molly, a girl he found hiding under the stairs in the house where her parents were killed by Sylar.
      The season's final grand conspiracy involving Linderman, Peter's flying politician brother Nathan and their mother Angela (my favourite character, but not quite yet) underlines a great number of the series' themes. Whereas the series' focus quite often talks about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the opposite comes with elite groups trying to kill millions to make humanity as a whole better. It is a cry for personal freedom and responsibility over the "Greater good" peddled by literally all of the show's main villains.
     As I said before, my favourite episode of the volume (this will be a regular thing, you understand,) was Chapter 17, Company Man. Focusing entirely upon Claire, HRG and an invasion of her house by two specials wanting answers for HRG's activities with the Company, the episode examines in depths of depths of his moral ambiguity and the lengths he's gone to in order to protect his family despite his loyalty to the company that forced him into adopting her. If I had to pick a least favourite, it would probably have to be Genesis, the pilot episode, which is shoddy in the extreme and has several differences to the norm whose remedying is never incorporated into the plot.
Sylar, in all of his glorious undiluted evil.
     Volume One, despite probably being the most entertaining of the five, does often sacrifice character coherency in favour of spectacle and comic-book style allusions. Just because it has the most natural progression from origin towards the heroes' first triumph doesn't mean that the journey is a smooth one, and it hits many bumps along the way. Luckily though, the first volume is the one I don't really need to justify my love for - it's liked everywhere you go, and is accepted by the world's "official opinion" as the show's single decent season. Seeing as it isn't my favourite, I think we're in for some funtimes...


NEXT TIME Join me in eight weeks time (I know, I know) for the rather short Volume Two - Generations.

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