Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Claire Bennet
Subject: Claire Bennet
Volume Two Summary: Relocated with her family to California to hide from the Company. Fell in love with a weasel. Pulled an unfathomably stupid and cruel stunt on a classmate and set in motion a series of bizarre events that culminated in the death of her father. Discovered she had magical deus ex machina blood, which resurrected her father. Vowed to expose the Company. Showed little inclination toward becoming a decent human being.
Analysis: Wow. Heroes’ moral compass really goes all wonky where the Bennets are concerned. The Bennets -- Noah, Sandra, Lyle, Claire -- were kind of an appalling family unit in Volume One, but that was okay, because it seemed like they were supposed to be reprehensible: Noah, certainly, was painted as a shady character, if not an outright villain, right from the start. Sandra Bennet has had a couple of strong moments (holding Bob off at gunpoint in “Powerless”, revealing her secret knowledge of her husband’s occupation in “Parasite”), but there’s something so inherently creepy and queasy-making about the way she’s portrayed: she’s flighty and vacuous, with brain damage caused by her husband constantly having her memory erased. Yes, it’s been drilled home that Noah did this to protect her from his employers, but: a) that’s not his decision to make, and b) it’s still abusive. And while this was acceptable and even darkly humorous in Volume One when Noah, while sort of innately cool and likeable, was certainly not supposed to have our sympathies, it’s objectionable now that the series is striving to present him as a devoted family guy whose love for his daughter gives him a blanket pass to commit terrible deeds. Son Lyle was established as a dud in the pilot episode with his remark about finding a “homeless Mexican” whom he thought was dead (good to know: racially-insensitive remarks pass without comment at the Bennet dinner table), and has done nothing to redeem himself since. As to Claire… where to start?
It’s not like the unattractive self-involvement she displayed in Volume Two came out of nowhere. Remember her introductory scene in the pilot episode, where she’s snotty and imperious toward Zach? Claire was established right away as a spoiled brat, though it was expected that her character arc throughout the series would show her maturing into a heroic young woman. And to be fair, that’s pretty much how Volume One progressed: Claire had some great moments in the second half of the first season (walking into a burning house to knock out radioactive Ted Sprague, yanking the shard of glass out of Peter’s brain, jumping out of a high window to escape from Nathan and Angela). By the end of Volume One, she’d come a long way. Bravo for successful character development!
So what was the point of making her so relentlessly unlovable in Volume Two?
On the one hand, fine. Real-life teenagers, after all, are often selfish and willful. But Claire is a viewpoint character: viewers are supposed to identify with her and sympathize with her. And I’m trying, I really am, but Claire’s behavior makes it very, very difficult.
Too, the sympathies of the show are too biased toward Claire, even when she behaves like a monster. She wields an unhealthy level of power in her family: in the season finale, when she announces her intentions (over her mother’s strident objections) to expose her powers to the world to take on the Company – and thus jeopardize the lives of her mother and Lyle – at no point is it made clear that no teenager should be given this level of control over the lives of the other members of her family. (We also saw this misplaced sympathy for Claire back in Volume One, when Noah grounded her from the Homecoming game ostensibly for punching Jackie, but really to protect her from Sylar. The audience was intended to see this as a gross injustice against Claire. Homecoming or not, it’s perfectly okay to ground your daughter for punching someone in the face. Yes, Jackie was being foul to Zach, and it’s swell that Claire wanted to defend her new friend, but resorting to violence was completely uncalled for in that situation -- and more than a little hypocritical, as Claire was a passive observer while Jackie mocked Zach in previous scenes.)
Claire’s low point in Volume Two comes when she and odious love interest West carry out their grotesque retaliation against mean cheerleader Debbie. Debbie’s crime? Not letting Claire on the cheerleading team. It’s about time Claire discovered a cruel fact of life: sometimes perfectly deserving people do not make the cheerleading team, and when that happens, the proper course of action is not to wreak terrible vengeance, but to suck it up and move on with your life.
Prognosis: After this season, grim. Were I in charge of Heroes, I’d have the entire Bennet clan -- Noah, Sandra, Lyle, and Claire -- go into hiding from the Company and never emerge. Barring that, it’s time for some serious character rehabilitation.
Suggested Course of Action: This needs to be the season where Claire grows up.
First up: no more high school plotlines, ever. High school scenes are Heroes’ Waterloo: the show has a tin ear for the way teenagers speak, and Claire’s school scenes in both seasons were lazy pastiches of scenes from other television shows and teen movies. Debbie, the dumb, mean cheerleader who mispronounces words in Volume Two, was a carbon copy of Jackie, the dumb, mean cheerleader who speaks in malapropisms in Volume One, and neither character sparkled. After two seasons of this nonsense, enough is enough.
Phase Sandra and Lyle out of the picture. Volume Two ended with Noah working for the Company once more; Claire’s plotline in Volume Three could concern her quest to find him. This also provides a handy excuse for keeping Claire and Noah separated for most of the season, as they fuel the worst qualities in each other: Claire’s self-absorption brings out Noah’s indulge-Claire-at-any-cost mentality. Bring her back into contact with her biological father Nathan and her uncle Peter, as she’s much better around the Petrellis -- braver, stronger, more interesting -- than she is with the Bennets.
Claire needs to undertake a serious soul-searching odyssey. She’s given some lip service to wanting to use her abilities for good: let’s have her start doing it. Make Claire sympathetic. Give her layers. Give her a learning curve. Have her knock it off with the self-pity, particularly because she can’t settle upon why people should pity her. Does she just want to lead a normal life? Or does she want the world to know how special she it? She can’t decide, but she’s willing to be self-righteous about it either way. Have her rise above her sullen teen mediocrity and actually become heroic. She’s got a cool super-power, which she uses with a great deal of flair, and she’s got a good potential future adversary in Kristen Bell’s Elle, but until she develops some better skills, she’s badly outmatched. (The way Claire physically threatened and intimidated Elle in last season’s finale was ludicrous: yeah, Claire can regenerate, but she needs to raise her game before she can even think of taking on Elle. In a battle between the two, Elle would just fry her to death, over and over and over again.)
Hayden Panettiere is an attractive and appealing actress, and it wouldn’t take much to make Claire likeable and sympathetic. Here’s hoping -- really hoping -- Volume Three takes her in that direction.
Next Subject: the baffled and baffling (but beautiful!) Mohinder Suresh.