Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Heroes - 'Don't Look Back' (1x02)

Last week, I said that I was "I'm intrigued, but not totally sold." After watching this episode, I'm pretty much sold on the show for the long haul. Pilots can sometimes dazzle you by functioning as brilliant standalone pieces that don't necessarily give you an indication of what the show will be like in the long haul, like Studio 60. The Heroes pilot had the difficulty of having to introduce a huge amount of characters and concepts, and that meant that scenes that would play well later in the series felt a bit awkward with the need to shove in exposition.

With this second episode, the show finds a really strong rhythm and shows us a structure that should work well on an episode to episode basis. The show takes the basic structure of a Robert Altman film, with a whole bunch of characters drifting through their own little stories, with some subtle connections between them, as well as an overarching narrative centered around a calamitous event. I think this structure is great for both films and TV shows because it gives you a uniquely godlike perspective as a viewer. You watch events unfold from multiple perspectives and experience an entire world, rather than simply one person's story. At its best, as in Magnolia, you become emotionally engaged in a variety of narratives, and these emotional engagements compliment each other, creating a total emotional immersion in a narrative reality.

We're not quite there yet in Heroes, rather we're watching each of the story strands develop independently. This works because the series clearly positions each episode as a small chapter in a larger narrative. We see this in the title of the episode (subtitle: Like Dylan in the Movies), and also the voiceover narration at the end. The previously was also interesting, using voiceover rather than just a series of clips makes the viewer more aware of the fact that it's a story being told. The frequent comic book references also do this. This is primarily motivated by a desire to give the story scope and it works really well.

The only other TV series I've seen that seemed so conscious of its status as an epic is Carnivale, making it fitting that we get a guest appearance by Clea Duvall in this episode. As I mentioned last week, both series have the same basic narrative setup, and Hiro's apocalyptic vision in this episode recalls Ben Hawkins' similar vision. What we don't know yet in this series is who the overarching villain is, glasses guy clearly has a big role, but I get the sense that he's working for someone else. Perhaps it will be one of our 'heroes' who finds himself corrupted by their power.

Hiro's vision also sets up a deadline. He's got to get to New York in the present to stop the debraining killer from wiping out Isaac and dooming humanity. Convienently, this deadline falls on the first week of sweeps month. It would seem that five weeks hence we'll see the first climax of the show, when this apocalyptic event is prevented or more likely delayed. I saw this as a more longterm problem, but the presentation of the show indicates that the creators have a good idea of where they're going, so I'm not too worried about them burning through all their story material too early.

After only two episodes, this would seem to be the most Grant Morrison TV series of all time. The character whose life is a comic book, as well as the time disjunction is pure GM, and it's great to see these concepts on a big network series. The show on a whole is refreshingly odd, you very rarely see this kind of sci-fi anywhere outside of comics and even more rarely is it taken seriously. Unbreakable is the only thing I can think of, but where that was essentially Miracleman Volume One, this promises to go into the stuff that Moore explored in Volumes two and three, namely the impact of superheroes on society as a whole. I would love to see the show eventually do something like the 'Olympus' arc, and give us a world ruled by superheroes, and explore the consequences of that. There's so much potential with this show, and the second episode has me more confident that they can fulfill it.

Beyond that, the characters are really starting to click. Greg Gunberg is great, Hiro's still strong and the scene between Claire and her father was great, particularly his quick switch from caring father to evil dude. I'm guessing it's not a coincidence that Claire happened to be adopted by him, and I doubt her birth parents are still alive to meet her.

I thought this was a fantastic episode. There are still some issues, but you're going to have those at this point in any series. The show has a clear direction, and perhaps most importantly, this episode was a lot of fun to watch. I'm really looking forward to next week's.

And as a final note, the Battlestar Galactica promo they showed during this episode was fantastic, very epic. I'm psyched to see the season premiere on Friday.


nicholas danger said...

I enjoyed the pilot on a superficial level, but the second episode really grabbed me. The small ways in which the various plots are touching has really peaked my interest. I see the Morrison connection you mentioned too.

I have a feeling that Claire's adopted dad is the serial killer, though I have no evidence other than vague feelings and the idea of interconnectivity with the over-plot. Also, the idea has been floated at one messageboard I frequent that Peter's powers are in fact NOT flight, but more similar to the X-man Rogue's. He didn't fly until his brother grabbed him, and the doodle he drew while in his hospital bed was an approximation of the scene later when he floats while arguing with Nathan, which could be construed as him having taken the future-seeing artist's ability.

I don't watch much TV, episodic or serial, so that I've been this engaged by something is pretty significant, to me at least.

Patrick said...

I definitely got the sense that something was going on in that scene with Nathan. The Rogue explanation would make sense, or it's possible that Nathan is able to extend his powers beyond himself, giving Peter the illusion that he can fly, as a way of sating him. I'm guessing one of those two will turn out to be a major villain as things progress.