Heroes Reborn – Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2
“Brave New World” & “Odessa”
Heroes has returned with Heroes Reborn. Personal preference will either have you yelling “Yatta!” or whatever the Japanese for “Oh crap!” is at the prospect. Like it or not a revival at this point is ideal timing since we’re almost literally tripping over movies and TV shows about people who have super powers. The proliferation of this sort of thing is probably what made NBC dig through their archives and wonder what they could bring to the table.
The production team responsible for the show before has been brought back. Mainstays like Tim Kring and Greg Beeman are back in the various driver seats for better or for worse and the show that everyone was talking about back in 2006 comes back. Unfortunately my review for this opening volley is incredibly late but at least it’s here.
You may remember back in the day when Heroes was immensely popular and everyone was wondering if Sylar (Zachary Quinto) would be defeated and if New York’s destruction would be prevented. If you’re anything like me then your interest would have slowly dwindled to the point where you just didn’t care any more. In fact I didn’t actually see most of season 4 until relatively recently and it’s fair to say that I really wasn’t missing much.
That being said the quality of the early work can’t be ignored and a part of me really wanted to Heroes return to form. Now we have Heroes Reborn and the time to dust that “Save the cheerleader, save the world!” T-Shirt has finally come. N.B. I don’t actually have that on a T-Shirt, it’s one of the nerdy things I do not own.
For most the burning question will be – “Is Heroes Reborn any good?”. The answer is a definite yes but there’s some internal debate within me about how good it is. I struggled with the decision over whether to cover the opening episodes separately or treat them as a complete entity. Ultimately I decided to combine them and cover them together but that’s mostly because this thing is late enough as it is.
Another reason is that the first 2 episodes are very closely linked with a clear transition between the two but no clear break where a new set of stories begins. The first half of the episode is very much concerned with re-establishing the Heroes universe for old and new viewers alike and the results are fairly mixed.
Coming into the show as an old viewer I was able to catch up with the whole thing pretty quickly but the uninitiated might take a little bit longer. It feels very much like a 5th season of the original show rather than the soft reboot that Tim Kring apparently intended. How well you get along with that will depend on your familiarity with the show. I can only really cover this as a fan back in the day so if new fans want to discuss how they found it then please feel free to light up the welcoming comment section or hit me up on either this twitter or this twitter.
The first episode picks up 5 years after the events of the Heroes finale -also called “Brave New World”- with a world that has full knowledge of people with powers who are labelled Evos so that the show can really drive home the notion of persecuting a minority as the theme for the season. This knowledge came from Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere who doesn’t actually appear -yet?-) who demonstrated her ability to heal instantly to the world and opened the figurative pandoras box. We are reintroduced to this world through her adopted father Noah “HRG” Bennet (Jack Coleman) who is attending a human/Evo togetherness summit and seems quite excited to see his daughter again. These plans are derailed by an explosion that kills a lot of people supposedly orchestrated by Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy who also doesn’t appear -yet?-). Fans of the old show will know that this level of terrorism isn’t his style and new viewers are probably wondering “Who the hell is Mohinder Suresh?”, not that these episodes will explain that.
That’s actually the big problem with Heroes Reborn, it’s a little bit too self referential. These episodes know that the show has a rich, complex history and aren’t shy about constantly referring to it. Little winks and nudges to characters viewers might have loved come hard and fast with very little time for the audience to catch their breath. If this were a fifth season appearing a few months after the end of the fourth then that wouldn’t be a problem but there doesn’t seem to be a lot here to entice new viewers to attempt to keep up.
In terms of focus these episodes give most of it to Noah and his unlikely partner Quentin (Henry Zebrowski), a young boy named Tommy (Robbie A. Kay) and a husband/wife duo named Luke and Joanne (Zachary Levi and Judith Shekoni). There are many other characters but the narrative through line goes through these groups for the most part.
Noah of course represents the past as he used to work for a shady organisation tasked with hunting Evos for their own purposes but now he’s just trying to live his life and put his dark past behind him. Quentin brings him back into this world out of a desire to find out what happened to his sister Rachel (featured in the prequel webisodes “Dark Matters”). Noah’s encounter with Quentin causes him to reawaken some really old habits and question memory gaps he had associated with the trauma of being near an explosion.
Noah’s story is well worn ground for fans of the show but it’s also a necessary addition. There are many questions posed in these episodes and Noah will be an effective catalyst to find the answers. The role of Quentin brings a lot of immediate pathos to the situation as his intentions are entirely noble. It makes more sense if you watch the “Dark Matters” prequel. Again, this whole thing is heavily self referential.
Much like the rest of it this part of the story takes quite a while to get going. Noah is seen trying to live a normal life with his fiancée and job selling cars before his old life catches up with him. Much the same happened in season 2 but some people will at least see this as new. I would say that things take a little too long to pick up but when they do there are plenty of great moments. Coleman slides right back into the role of Noah without missing a beat and manages to create a believable double act with Henry Zebrowski who feels very genuine in his intentions to find the answers. Having their common ground be their commitment to family is a nice touch and should carry them effectively through the rest of the season.
The most interesting story comes from Tommy who pretty much embodies everything a soft reboot of a show like this should be about. He’s a school age kid who has powers and is terrified of being found out due to the persecution that Evos are currently experiencing. Robbie A. Kay is very believable in the role and wears his vulnerability on his sleeve. He constantly seems strung out as he and his mother run from place to place out of constant fear of discovery. It’s all pretty standard teen isolation stuff but it’s handled really well. He also has a really cool power that allows him to teleport things -including people- to a place that he pictures in his mind. I like the idea of a teenager being able to make their problems disappear and the problems that might cause if you could actually do that.
Tommy is characterised as being naive but not too naive. He gives his assumed names out to an Evo support group he attends but he knows when to run and not look back. It’s a nice balance between his sense of hope and his sense of terror that I hope to see explored in more detail as the series progresses. If the episode had allowed us to see this world more through his eyes and have the older elements introduced more gradually then the whole thing might have been a little more accessible.
Giving Tommy a little stability this early in the season is a good idea as he has plenty to lose now. His development will be a little reminiscent of Claire’s in the first season I expect. For now there are some very real stakes for him.
The third focus is a little more mysterious but no less effective. As a duo they are clearly very skilled at fighting Evos as shown by their ability to quickly anticipate various powers and subdue them quickly but the tragic reasons for their quest are yet to be fully elaborated on. I liked the mystery of these characters and find them engaging enough to want to see where they end up.
I’ve given a very brief roundup of what I saw as the main stories here because to go into masses of details would take forever but there is a lot going on here. There’s a strange story with a Japanese girl who is able to enter a video game that has her father trapped. What kind of a super power is that? It’s bizarre even for Heroes but I still found it strangely entertaining. We also have a vigilante who acts as something of a cross between Kick Ass and Green Arrow and a guy who cheats in casinos using telekinesis. There is definitely too much going on here but I do like to see the tapestry of the show developed in such a way but I can’t help but think that 13 episodes isn’t enough time to give all of these characters as well as more inevitable returnees enough time to contribute meaningfully.
In true Heroes’ style, Heroes Reborn teases some quite engaging mysteries such as the mysterious benefactor with a brief case full of coins following Tommy around and acting as something of a guardian angel. I would guess that he will turn out to be his father, if that happens then you heard it here first. Between part 1 and 2 a young girl is in the Arctic using her abilities to control something that is visually reminiscent of the famous eclipse imagery from the first season.
One thing the show really lacks is a decent central antagonist. A shady string pulling organisation is fine but it’s a bit overplayed in modern fiction so I think the show needs some kind of malevolent force like Sylar was back in the day.
The explosion in Odessa feels like a 9/11 scale event that rocks the world significantly as every character seems to be affected by it in some way. There are also lots of parallels that can be drawn to the real world events of refugees and the age old problem of persecuting people who happen to be different. There is lots to whet the appetite here and I look forward to seeing more despite the initial bloated nature of the narrative.
As an opening salvo these episodes work really well but the first half is a little bit too slow and only draws attention to how bloated the show is by its own universe. If the Tommy character had been used as the central focus to reintroduce viewers to this world then things might have felt more streamlined.
In terms of quality this feels a little closer to Heroes when it was good rather than the eventual mess it became. It’s not perfect of course as there are still too many characters and too much going on but it’s certainly on the right track. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this develops as the mysteries are engaging and the plot definitely feels like something worth exploring.
The whole thing is definitely a little too self referential to the degree that new viewers might find themselves scratching their heads wondering what people are talking about and who all the characters constantly being name dropped are. Old fans will feel right at home with Noah Bennet being as entertaining as ever and the grounded nature of the world shining right through. All of the parallels to real world events will help keep this relevant and might just give audiences something to think about.
I feel that there might be too many characters with too much going on to give all the new characters as well as the inevitable returnees enough time to have a meaningful contribution to the overall narrative. Getting this all done in 13 episodes might just be a little too ambitious but having said that I’m still excited to see how things develop. This is a “Brave New World” indeed.