Heroes Episode 3.23: ‘Volume 4, Chapter 10: 1961’ Review

Posted on April 17, 2009



TVSummary: An above-par episode that focuses on character above plot and circumstance.
Rating: 7/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

As Heroes has done for Noah Bennet, aka HRG, we get an above-average look into the past of Angela Petrelli. In 1961, Angela and her younger sister Alice, along with their parents, arrive at Coyote Sands, Arizona, a camp for those with abilities. The camp tries to present itself as a safe haven for these gifted people but is more like an internment camp where scientists experiment on their “guests”. We are introduced to the beginnings of The Company that would front as Primatech Paper. Angela must come to grips with her past and the horrible event that happened at this camp with her sister. The episode wisely focuses on character more than significant plot or an overreliance on abilities.

Feature-Length Review after the jump.

Heroes and Me
Background on my relationship with the show for this first review only.

Why on earth have I stuck with this show?

I have watched Heroes from the beginning. I was intrigued by this take on the current trend to set superheroes in a real world setting. I have to admit I was hooked on it that first season. It wasn’t the most original writing – most of the characters, abilities and plot twists are ripped from the pages of comics, most specifically Marvel’s X-Men – but it was compelling and the characters were consistent and relatable. The thing I enjoyed most about the show was that it paid off. Things weren’t stretched out to long without getting answers, which was refreshing in the face of shows like Lost that seemed to be stumbling into finding ways to prolong themselves.

I’d say the moment I got turned off to Heroes was part way through the second volume: “Generations”, which was the first half of the second season. Unlike most, I found the first season finale enjoyable. Yes, there were gaps in logic and it was a slight bit of an anticlimactic showdown, but I felt that it tied up the season nicely. And I welcomed the promise of sending Hiro back in time to Feudal Japan. I was even on board for most of Hiro’s stay in the past during the first part of this second volume. It was an entertaining idea that Hiro was actually behind the actions of his lifelong hero myth, though I wasn’t particularly fond of Adam Monroe.

However, the cracks in the writing began to show themselves as they tried to create some type of interesting connective history with the “families” of The Company. As I mentioned in my earlier Smallville review, I can’t stand when writers try to make a world too insular. It becomes far less involving and stretches credulity. This is exactly what happened with Heroes in that second volume and I found myself actually caring less about the characters and the story. The impending writers’ strike during the second season didn’t help matters.

The strike effectively ended Season 2. Plans were to have three volumes in Season 2. The second of those volumes, “Exodus”, which dealt with the effects of the virus from the second volume getting lose, was disposed of. The third of those volumes become the first part of Season 3, “Villains”. The premise of this volume was exciting. We were promised a collection of adversaries for the heroes we’d come to know and champed at the bit for a grand showdown between the two groups. Alas, both never came to be. We were given a ragtag group of unengaging pseudo-villains – aside from Kristen Bell’s Elle, whose potential was big but was eventually wasted – and no showdown. The only alluring bit of the “Villains” arc was Robert Forster’s Arthur Petrelli, though the character grew old rather quickly. We were also introduced to Brea Grant’s Daphne, who was quite refreshing on a show that had gotten so decidedly morose.

And now we are here in volume 4, “Fugitives”. Characters pingpong between motivations and plot devices. Nathan Petrelli, in particular, makes a thoroughly implausible choice at the tail-end of the “Villains” arc to turn those with abilities in to the government, setting up this 4th volume. I’d like to say it’s been a compelling season but it really hasn’t been. There are a few bright moments – I actually did like Micah’s return as “Rebel” – but the writing and the characters have been so inconsistent you can’t invest yourself in any of them. And yet, I keep watching the damn thing. I honestly don’t even know why.

Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

** Note: Review contains spoilers if you have not seen the episode.**

The quality of this fourth volume of Heroes has been so all over the place that the show’s runners were fired. With the charming show Pushing Daisies getting canceled, Bryan Fuller, who had a hand in craft the first season of Heroes, returns to offer considerable creative input on the direction of the show. He’s influence is starting to be scene now and I’m thankful for it.

For the first time in a long time, we get a decent episode of the show. While there is an aspect of the show dealing with characters’ powers that appeals to the kid in all of us, the show has moved too far from being about character and more about plot and those powers. “1961” refocuses the show on character and one can only hope that it will continue to build on this.

I was noting to myself as I watched the episode how somewhat odd it is that Angela Petrelli had become such an integral character. Yes, she’s always had significance and a hand in all of the various plots that have occurred. Up until the third volume, she wasn’t truly dealt with as a sympathetic character. This volume, now, they’ve brought her down to earth and made her such a vital part of this core group comprised of the Petrelli family with Bennett hanging on. To make her more sympathetic, we are treated to a glimpse into her past. Though it feels in many ways like a story that has just been tacked on to the narrative, it’s actually an effective method to humanize Angela.

It’s always very riveting, for me anyhow, to see the work of casting directors to find actors to play younger versions of characters we are familiar with. I took particular joy in the young cast assembled to play the younger versions of the Company members we know so well. Each felt very true to their adult counterparts, even if the young man playing Linderman laid on the imitation of Malcolm McDowell’s unique accent and intonation just a little thick. I must admit it took me a while to place who everyone was, even given the names. It wasn’t until half-way through the episode that the name “Charles Deveaux” hit me as Richard Roundtree’s character from the first season. It was after that I made the connection between Bobby Bishop and Steven Tobolowsky’s character from the “Villains” arc. Once the names had meaning, the characters worked for me.

The problem with an episode like this is that it does that pesky retconning of previous events. We’re told during the “Generations” volume that the 12 members who formed the Company – Arthur and Angela Petrelli, Charles Deveaux, Kaito Nakamura, Maury Parkman, Bob Bishop, Daniel Linderman, Harry Fletcher, Paula Gramble, Suzanne Amman, Carlos Mendez and Victoria Pratt – got together 30 years ago to do so. Now, we’re presented with but four of this group meeting in 1961 and establishing the Company. Admittedly, this one is a bit more palatable. It could be argued that the four made their plans at this point but didn’t see them come to fruition until sometime in the 1970s when the group of 12 got together.

I found Angela’s arc with her sister nice if a bit ho-hum. It was interesting to see how the events unfolded in 1961 that led to Alice wrecking the camp. Though I’m a bit bothered as to why Chandra Suresh was involved. In the first season, it seemed as if Papa Suresh was a kook who believed there were people with special abilities and was trying desperately to prove it. Setting him up at Coyote Sands establishes that he’s known people with powers for decades, so it undercuts who they established previously. It shouldn’t surprise me as they’ve been tearing down that aspect of the character since the second volume with the past involving Mohinder’s sister Shanti.

The events in 1961 lacked a little bit of the punch simply because everything was so contained to this episode. We’d never heard of Alice before, so it was hard to get truly invested in her character and how those events really affected Angela. As we see older Alice, who has been surviving Mad Max style in the desert for nearly 50 years, it felt just a smidge hollow to see the state of mental health she was in. Perhaps if the story had been spread over a couple of episodes it would’ve had greater impact. Still, it allowed Cristine Rose some nice moments and gave us a touchstone for Angela. I’m thinking – and hoping now – that that won’t be the last of Alice we see. Not that she was that memorable or vital to the overall story but to establish such a plot point and never touch on it again would be a big mistake. Heroes is known, sadly, for starting something and then completely dropping it without explanation. (We still pray for your safety, Caitlin, whichever timestream you’re in.)

In any case, I liked having an episode that focused on what makes these people tick and not what they can do. Yes, we got to see the use of powers but the episode wasn’t overly reliant on them. The one thing I will ask of creative types, though, is to stop using “Sleepwalk” as the song to set us back in the 1950s and or 60s. It’s really become cliche. Great song. Really evocative of the period. But we’ve seen it far too often in movies or television shows and it draws us out of the scene with its lack of freshness.

Where Does This Leave Us

  • Peter’s mimicking ability seems to be selective, seeing as how many times he and Claire touched on another this episode. Not to mention Peter touching his mother.
  • Ororo Munroe, er, Alice Shaw is checked out into Wonderland, presumably to return when the heroes most need someone to control the weather.
  • Mohinder is going to walk the Earth like Kaine, to find himself and redemption.
  • The Petrellis and Bennets have became a nice little nuclear family.
  • Sylar is parading around like Nathan, setting us some kind of big backlash that will come back to bite all – particularly Danko – in the ass.
  • The others of Team Bentrelli are forming a new Company of sorts. It’s not clear if they’re going to help those with abilities, take down those with abilities so the world isn’t aware of them, or try to compete in the cutthroat paper market with Dunder Mifflin.
  • Focus on character can only be a good thing.

Tune in next issue, heroic fans…

Posted in: Heroes, Television