Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Heroes of the Left

Salon tries to sell the Heroes finale as a "love is the answer" left-wing response to 24's "pain is the answer" right-wing approach. But I'm not buying it.

If there's a political theme in Heroes it's about finding a way to get the average people to look beyond their personal lives to see the bigger picture. Get past their own desires and comforts. But that's not what the show was about, and having Peter receive the message of love and sacrifice in a dream sequence in the final episode didn't work for me.

It also didn't play dramatically which was why there was so much dissatisfaction from the fans. You can't switch horses in midstream and you can't go high-concept in the middle of an action sequence.

What did work in the early parts of the season 1 were relationships and the most important relationships in the first season revolved around the family. The Petrellis, the Bennets, Parkman and wife, Hiro and his father's company, Sylar and his mother, the Doctors Suresh, the fractured family of Micah, DL, and Nikki. There wasn't a single romance or boundary-crossing friendship. The characters only fell into the overall bomb plotline as they were pursuing smaller goals that related to their own family's self-interest and survival. The suspense/mystery aspect of the show was to see how these relationships played themselves out.

The heroism in Heroes is having the imagination to step outside of one's self and take on the quest to save the world. You saw that in Hiro, Peter, and occasionally Claire. That ability. more than their super powers, made them black sheep and outsiders; heroes in the vein of the uncanny X-Men. But they weren't outsiders and black sheep to society. They weren't being hunted down except in the false future (and it never was made clear what Linderman and the Company wanted with Ted and Parkman). Instead they were rebelling against their families. Stepping outside those smaller social norms set by parental and paternalistic expectations.

In other words, its a coming of age tale and an after school special. Super powers as a metaphor for puberty, teen angst, and youthful exuberance. If you want to make a social observation, it's that many of the characters were much too old for this sort of thing. Or that adolescence is extended for some folks well into their twenties and thirties. Interestingly the older characters like Parkman and HRG were always most heroic when they were rebelling against their bosses at work.

So that's what makes the show interesting to its younger audience. It's a theme it borrows from Buffy season 1: What if I had superpowers? And what would I tell my mom?