Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Hiro Nakamura
After earning glowing reviews and triumphing in the ratings during its freshman season, Heroes came in for a deluge of criticism in Volume Two. History would have it that Volume Two, cut drastically short (down to eleven episodes from a proposed slate of twenty-four) due to the WGA strike, was an unmitigated disaster, forever destroying the immaculate perfection of Volume One. That’s not the case -- Volume Two was far from awful; Volume One was far from flawless. However, Volume Two built upon the weaknesses of the first season, which viewers had been willing to overlook because so much about the series was fresh and exciting, and magnified the mistakes -- the sloppy dialogue, the haphazard science, the uneven pacing, the slipshod characterization -- until they became impossible to ignore. Enter the critical backlash.
There’s no reason why Volume Three can’t get itself back on track. The writing staff went back to work in March, and new episodes won’t air until September, which gives them scads of time to figure out what went wrong and rectify the mistakes. To that end, I’m undertaking a character-by-character analysis of this past season, with suggested remedies to make the show a critical darling once more. First up: Hiro.
Subject: Hiro Nakamura
Volume Two Summary: Kicked off the season stranded in feudal Japan. Befriended his legendary childhood idol, Takezo Kensei, who was revealed to be an immortal English imposter/drunken sot instead of a valiant samurai warrior. Fell in love with Kensei’s destined princess, Yaeko. Helped Kensei realize his heroic potential, then cuckolded him at a most inopportune moment, thus damaging the space-time continuum and earning Kensei’s eternal wrath. Battled Kensei, defeated him, and returned to the present. Found out about his father’s murder at the vengeful hands of centuries-old Kensei, now known as Adam Monroe. Faced off against Adam and Adam’s new lackey, Peter Petrelli. Buried Adam alive inside a coffin. Returned to his desk job in modern-day Tokyo.
Analysis: Poor Masi Oka. The much-praised breakout star of Volume One was rewarded with an extended solo plotline that showcased none of his strengths and crawled along at a patience-destroying pace. In short, feudal Japan was a bust. For starters, the plotline went on for far, far too long, encompassing seven of the truncated season’s eleven episodes. Hiro’s love interest, Yaeko, after a promising introduction, deteriorated into a cipher, unhampered by anything resembling personality or independent thought. Thus it was difficult to understand why Hiro was willing to betray his friend and idol Kensei, let alone risk altering the course of history, for the sake of her rather anemic affections. Without a strong, believable emotional bond to Yaeko, Hiro’s decision to stay in feudal Japan instead of returning to the present seemed baffling and nonsensical.
The samurai genre has come a long way in film and television in recent years, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at Heroes: what could have been a brilliant showpiece instead bore more resemblance to those low-budget serialized samurai dramas that air weekday afternoons on the local international channel. In this plotline, the show abandoned its comic book roots when it needed them most: there was no thrilling action, no epic scope, no sweeping tragedy, no sense of reckless passion or unforgivable betrayal. Action scenes were rushed or took place off-screen, while too much time was devoted to Hiro, Kensei, and Yaeko plodding through the motions of a routine love triangle. With no connection to these characters, the audience failed to become invested in them and instead wished Hiro would teleport home and leave all this feudal tedium behind.
Hiro’s plot picked up speed in the last few episodes of the season once he returned to the present and discovered Kensei/Adam was: a) still alive, and b) hell-bent on wreaking terrible vengeance against him. Hiro’s battle against Peter and Adam in the season finale was pretty effective, and his revenge against immortal Adam – burying him alive in a coffin in a Tokyo cemetery – was chilling.
Prognosis: There’s no reason Hiro can’t make a full recovery in the next volume. If the journey was uneven, the result was strong. A pure-hearted hero who inadvertently creates his own supervillain arch-nemesis? Now, that has the potential to be epic. Hiro is well situated at the start of Volume Three.
Suggested Course of Action: No more solo journeys for Hiro, at least not for a while. Keep him in the mix with the rest of the regular characters. In Volume Two we learned how vital James Kyson Lee’s Ando, sidelined all season, really is: Hiro floundered without his best friend and sidekick. (It’d also be interesting to see Hiro get a chance to interact with Heroes’ other resident guileless puppy, Mohinder: apart from their dramatic encounter in the bleak alternate future of the first season episode “Five Years Gone”, they’ve yet to meet.) Best of all, Hiro now has his very own arch-nemesis in immortal, insane, vengeance-driven Adam Monroe, which should provide the show with any number of tantalizing plot possibilities. Hiro and Adam are forever linked: former friends bound together by a series of unforgivable betrayals. This is good stuff.
Hiro, more than any other character, has the chance to become a brand-new mythic archetype: the otaku turned samurai. Instead of letting him twist in the wind with anemic doomed romances, fraught with wistful glances and chaste kisses under falling cherry blossoms, future plots should play to Oka’s strengths as an actor: Hiro is thrilled by his abilities and delighted at the prospect of becoming a hero, and even though his character is destined to take some darker turns, it’d be nice to see him retain that infectious joy. In Volume One we see a glimpse of dark future for Hiro, as he becomes the grim, merciless ronin of “Five Years Gone”. It’d be interesting to see if his journey could take him in that direction while still letting him hold on to the qualities that made audiences embrace him in the first place: I’d be thrilled if future seasons saw Hiro evolving into a coldly competent warrior who still really, really likes waffles.
Next subject: scatterbrained dreamer-cum-moody lunkhead Peter Petrelli.