Tuesday, 9 December 2008

My thoughts on Heroes, volume 3

As one of my favourite programmes, Heroes, presses on into the second half of its third season on BBC2, my thoughts towards the series are contradictory ones. After a great first season and a mixed second one, I can’t quite make my mind up about the new season, which is full of cool moments and some great episodes, but which gives the impression of being without a clear sense of direction.

At some level we know what to expect. We can look forward to more new powers and power-swapping taking place between the main characters, more shocking betrayals and – as a natural result in a series where everyone seems to be as closely related as one giant dysfunctional family – more highly-strung confrontations between our emotional heroes and villains. Hopefully the time-stopping antics of Hiro and Ando will continue as well, because I can’t resist laughing at the pair as they try to be tough and “do the right thing” – no matter how much of a pain the “right thing” is going to be for Ando.

What else can we see coming though? At this point, I wouldn’t mind betting on more visions of the future, which will hopefully clear up how exactly the world is going to be threatened again. But there are some things you can never predict about this series. Will Mr Petrelli survive and just what is he after? And will his sons follow him or not? What will they be able to do to prevent the future disaster and the future murders of Hiro and Peter?

And then there is Sylar. Who knows where his loyalties will lie after most of the cast has tried to kill him, or at least to use him! Will the influence of his newfound family or his friend and lover, Elle, bring out the best in him, as we are beginning to hope, or the worst? Surely one of the best characters (and best-acted), at first I was really unhappy about the direction they took his character at the beginning of this series – but by the time I got to the excellent tenth episode, I was sold. Elle and Sylar’s confrontation shows how far he has come and how willing he is to help those in his position. His voluntary and manly acceptance of her, when she needed acceptance; his powerful demonstration of how he will endure the pain and choose not to kill; his refusal to listen to her pleas for death, because he knows that redemption is possible – this added up to a surprisingly hope-filled and cathartic moment – a chance for the two to reach peace in the midst of the latest chaotic and uncaring plot that surrounds them both. I hope Sylar survives the series!

Of course one thing we all know we are in for more of is Dr Mohinder Suresh’s strange brand of philosophising (or even moralising) about the human experience. His voiceover mainly functions to provide links between the multiple stories going on, and to give the viewer a sense of how characters are feeling and perhaps where the series is heading next. But it is tiring at times, and he does come up with some odd phrases. Armchair wisdom is mixed with evolutionary theory and psychology, and at times we feel with pride we are beginning to grasp something profound. My “Addicted to heroes” Facebook application shows me one quote in which he connects humanity together in some kind of Buddhist-lite divine understanding of the world. What on earth is this series trying to say about people? Other than the obvious assumption: That we have lots of potential as individuals and should work together to make the right choices for a better future.

[Writing that last sentence was unnerving – not only does it sound like every other whole-hearted American message about the way forward for the world, but bare-faced as it stands it is far too simple a view of what will make a good future. Perhaps that’s where the randomness of the way things happen in the series helps to make things less about one ultimate goal, but more about possible options.]

This idea of wielding miraculous powers, naturally given us or passed on through science, is alluring. But the series has shown how power has changed the identity of the characters, through their forced exile or through the things they have done. How can individuals use the abilities or opportunities we have positively, without letting them become obsessions or serving our own ends at the expense of others (see Noah or Suresh)? How will we be safe? The dangers in heroism are clear.

Despite this, we can easily aspire to be like the Heroes, whether this is to be good, or strong, attractive or assertive, successful or honourable, or all of the above. What implications does this have for us? What is praiseworthy about these characters and our desires to be like them, and what is wrong about it?

Positively, we love to follow the story of evil’s defeat and hope for the Heroes to be able to live on. There is a challenge in their good actions that we, too, should not compromise and let evil have its way; a challenge, perhaps, to take hard decisions to fight wrong behaviour or the wrong thoughts in our hearts, and ultimately to find strength in a relationship with God so we are able to give evil no ground in our lives. (Notice the “in the Lord” in Ephesians 6: 10-11 and the God-dependence of King David in Psalm 139:24.) Furthermore, as Nathan and Peter need discernment about how far to trust each other and their parents, we must seek God’s discernment about which advice to follow and which course to take. Who will we be influenced by in the choices we make? More negatively, in our aspiration to be like a “hero” we are selfish and would love to be in the spotlight, or merely to be able to get what we want. We become the centre of our own universe, and those we come into contact with suffer the consequences.

Finally, as the cast of Heroes are often defined by what they do, or, in some episodes, how they feel about what they do, I guess the question is for us: What should define us?

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