Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Nathan Petrelli

Subject: Nathan Petrelli

Volume Two Summary: Suffered from grievous full-body burns inflicted when Peter went nuclear over Kirby Plaza. Made a full recovery thanks to an infusion of Adam Monroe’s magical blood. Gave up on his political career. Became a bearded, angry drunk. Sobered up, calmed down, and shaved. Hung out with Matt Parkman. Became weirdly cool. Talked sense into his idiot brother. Gave The Worst Speech in This or Any Other Universe. Got riddled with bullets midway through The Worst Speech in This or Any Other Universe.

Analysis: Many characters drowned in the wreckage of Volume Two (Bennet, Claire, Hiro, Peter), whereas some characters (Matt, Sylar, Mohinder) treaded water and managed to stay afloat, to varying degrees of success.

Nathan, however, was the only major character who improved his position from Volume One. In short, Nathan owned Volume Two.

Nathan had close to a perfect season. After suffering the consequences of Volume One’s climactic and emotional mutual-brother sacrifice, he grew a beard and became angry and awesome (my brilliant friend Dan compares Nathan to Al Gore after the 2000 presidential election. Since I already ripped off the notion of Matt Parkman’s Jedi Mind-Control™ powers from Dan, I feel compelled to give him full credit for this). His injuries drove away his wife and kids (though his evil mother Angela did her part to speed along their departures), and he deliberately estranged himself from his mother. His grief over the loss of Peter rang true: he blamed himself for Peter’s presumed death, but still retained quiet faith in the possibility of his brother surviving the explosion. Quite a change from Volume One’s soulless, conniving politician. The nobility of his sacrifice at the end of Volume One transformed him into a different person, though he has yet to figure out who that person should be. Nathan the Survivor shed the snake skin of Nathan the Politician and tried to discover his place and purpose in a post-Peter world.

Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Matt Parkman

Subject: Matt Parkman

Volume Two Summary: Divorced his pregnant wife and shacked up with Mohinder to help raise Molly. Became an NYPD detective. Investigated Kaito Nakamura’s murder. Discovered his long-lost father was somehow tied to the murder case. Used Molly’s ability to find his father. Accidentally drove Molly into a coma. Battled his father on some kind of astral plane and rescued Molly from her coma. Developed cool new Jedi Mind-Control™ powers. Promptly used Jedi Mind-Control™ powers for evil. Teamed up with Nathan and Hiro to stop Adam Monroe and Peter from unleashing the virus.

Analysis: Consistent and logical character development? Check. Interaction with a variety of characters? Check. Involvement in an intriguing plot? Check.

All right, Heroes. Congratulations. Job well done.

All along, Matt Parkman, as ably portrayed by Greg Grunberg, has never been the most exciting character, but he’s always been a consummate team player. In Volume Two, he showed his value. While showponies Claire and Peter floundered in tedious and inconsistent plotlines, workhorse Matt went in and got the job done.

Volume Two built on Matt’s character development in Volume One, in which he was a likeable, good-hearted guy with a tendency toward small yet understandable moral transgressions. In the first season, Matt used his new-found telepathy to hold together his crumbling marriage by deceiving his wife. Later, he pocketed the diamonds in the chaos following Jessica’s assassination of Linderman’s corrupt henchman. We also saw a glimpse of an Evil Alternate Future Matt in the episode “Five Years Gone”, in which it became clear Matt’s accumulated moral failings have corrupted him beyond repair.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Noah Bennet

Subject: Noah Bennet

Volume Two Summary: Hid from the Company with his family in California. Did a disastrous job of keeping a low profile. Teamed up with Mohinder to destroy the Company. Murdered his former mentor. Got spooked by a series of precognitive paintings that suggested Mohinder would kill him. Got paranoid about Claire. Got paranoid about Mohinder. Got shot in the eye by Mohinder. Got resurrected by Mohinder. Went back to work for the Company.

Analysis: Ew. This character got mangled beyond recognition in Volume Two.

You can see how this happened. In Volume One, the talented and versatile Jack Coleman brought a great deal of panache to his supporting role. Noah Bennet was pretty awesome back when he was a shady, sinister character, a hired gun in the guise of a paper salesman, who seemed to genuinely get a kick out of his double life (just watch him in the pilot episode, where he’s having far too much fun antagonizing Mohinder for no particular reason. This is a man who looooooves his job). Viewers responded well to Bennet, so his role was expanded. He was given complexities and layers. It was made explicitly clear that, for all his wrongdoing, he was devoted to his family. So far, so good. Bennet was a great, interesting, original character.

And then, somewhere around the time of the first-season episode “Company Man”, it was decided Bennet needed to have the audience’s sympathies as well as their approval, that he needed to be heroic. That’s where the trouble started. By midway through Volume Two, he had fallen apart at the seams through inconsistent characterization.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Sylar

Subject: Sylar

Volume Two Summary: Woke up in the middle of nowhere, injured and minus his powers, in the care of the illusionist Candice. Murdered Candice with a coffee mug. Got picked up by Maya and Alejandro. Wooed Maya. Murdered Alejandro. Kidnapped Mohinder and Molly. Discovered the Company infected him with the Shanti virus. Murdered Maya and forced Mohinder to test the virus-curing life-restoring heal-anything blood on her. Got chased away by Elle. Used the virus-curing life-restoring heal-anything blood to get his powers back.

Analysis: Out of necessity, Sylar was pretty much sidelined for Volume Two. As Zachary Quinto’s availability would soon be jeopardized by his role in the Star Trek movie, the second season featured just enough of everybody’s favorite brain-stealing serial killer to keep him in the mix without giving him a center stage in the action. While this was less satisfying than having a fully powered-up Sylar causing havoc in a big, juicy, dastardly, epic plotline, it was a far better solution than having no Sylar at all.

Much as with Peter’s amnesia, the loss of Sylar’s powers gave the character an effective reboot at the start of the season. However, unlike Peter, who spent the season adrift and unfocused, Sylar managed to retain his core characteristics: even without his powers, he was narcissistic, egomaniacal, and dangerous.

Sylar’s thread in Volume Two mostly intersected with that of Maya and Alejandro, the much-disparaged super-powered twins, who have been widely singled out as representative of all that was wrong with Heroes’ sophomore season. The twins were played by a couple of likeable, attractive actors (Dania Ramirez and Shalim Ortiz), and their codependent abilities had a lot of potential, but their plotline suffered from too much repetitive action. (This problem could have been eliminated if their introduction had been delayed until fourth episode when their paths crossed with Sylar’s, as everything we’d learned about them up until that point -- that they were on the run from the law, that Maya depended upon Alejandro to neutralize her deadly power, that they were heading for New York to seek help from Chandra Suresh -- was rehashed at that time.) After they met up with Sylar… well, it might not have been the most fascinating plotline in Heroes’ history, but it worked out fine.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Mohinder Suresh

Subject: Mohinder Suresh

Volume Two Summary: Cohabitated with Matt and Molly. Infiltrated the Company as part of a cockamamie scheme with Noah Bennet to take it down. Cured the Haitian of the Shanti virus with his blood. Partnered up with Niki. Got his nose broken by Niki. Went around with an unflattering nose bandage for far too many episodes. Fell out with Bennet. Got his nose broken again by Bennet. Shot Bennet in the eye. Resurrected Bennet with Claire’s blood. Got kidnapped by Sylar. Resurrected Maya after Sylar shot her. Inadvertently restored Sylar’s abilities.

Analysis: Whatever your opinion of Mohinder, you can’t say he was boring in Volume Two. Peter Petrelli? Peter was kind of boring in Volume Two. Hiro? Also kind of boring. Mohinder? More fun than a barrel of greased-up drunken monkeys.

Hurricane Mohinder got off to a brilliant start in Volume Two, what with infiltrating the Company and tricking Bob -- and the viewers -- into thinking the Haitian wiped his brain (well played, Heroes, for neatly skewering the preconception of Mohinder as a dim bulb). And then it all went horribly awry as he suffered a series of catastrophes, some beyond his control, some of his own making: Molly fell into a coma, the deadly Shanti virus mutated beyond his ability to cure it, his partnership with Bennet ended in bloodshed, and that was all before he came home to find Sylar cooking him breakfast.

Right from the start, Mohinder’s team-up with Bennet was a bad idea. As the season opened, their partnership was already established, which denied us vital bits of information as to why Mohinder thought this wouldn’t end in disaster, considering the way Bennet and Mohinder clashed throughout Volume One. It seemed like the show had this cool idea for an end result -- Mohinder shooting Bennet, as predicted in one of Isaac Mendez’s paintings -- but had difficulty shoehorning events and characters into place to make it work. Thus, all the key players in this plotline were forced to make enormous blunders. To wit:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

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?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heroes Volume Two Analysis: Peter Petrelli

Subject: Peter Petrelli

Volume Two Summary: Wound up in Ireland sans shirt, sans bangs, sans memory, sans intellectual curiosity. Joined a gang of thugs just for the hell of it. Romanced a cute Irish lass named Caitlin. Teleported to a plague-devastated future with her. Teleported back to the present without her. Got his memory back. Decided his new best friend was immortal ne’er-do-well Adam Monroe. Set out with Adam to destroy the plague-causing virus. Took far too long to realize Adam was actually trying to release the virus. Got bawled out by Nathan for being stupid. After an unseen assailant riddled Nathan with bullets, cradled his dying brother and, ostensibly, felt pretty bad about being such a jackass all season.

Monday, March 17, 2008

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.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

--T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Once again, I’ve begun the process of querying agents to represent my book, Charlotte Dent. To steal a turn of phrase from Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, it’s making me feel a wee bit Prufrockian.

Last week, I sent out a small batch of emailed queries to carefully-selected agents who represent material similar to mine (I use to find names, then visit the individual agency websites to scope them out and double-check their submission requirements). Email is fast: I’ve already had six rejections. Five form replies, one sweet and encouraging personal reply. This is not an unexpected result -- in the publishing world, the supply of unpublished novels far, far outstrips demand. Agents are deluged with queries and thus only request material they feel passionately about. This week I sent out five more queries -- snail mail this time, printed on crisp white bond paper with sample manuscript pages and the de rigueur self-addressed stamped envelope. I write a good letter. My sample pages are strong; my completed manuscript is very publishable. And yet it’s hard not to feel a wee bit hopeless about this whole process.

Friday, March 7, 2008

All That, and Dustin Nguyen Too

I watched all of the first season of seaQuest DSV on DVD last week, which, while not actively painful, was a bit of a labor of love. Created by Rockne S. O’Bannon, who later went on to create the SciFi Channel series Farscape, and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, this 1993-1996 NBC series had many things going for it: good sets, a healthy budget, a handful of interesting ideas, decent special effects, and a strong cast, which also happened to be chock full of attractive young actors. And yet, if I had to boil my opinion of seaQuest down to a single word, I’d have to go with… lame.

I don’t want to be cruel. I like seaQuest, mostly, except when I despise it, but there’s definitely a pervasive air of lameness about it (example: that bizarre capitalization of the title. Kind of lame, right?). Set in the near future (circa 2020), the plots center around the crew of the seaQuest DSV, a submarine operated under the auspices of the United Earth Oceans Organization (UEO), a UN-esque political body in charge of keeping the peace in a brave new world of undersea exploration and colonization. The seaQuest is captained by crabby, hermitic Captain Bridger (Roy Scheider), who, in the pilot episode, is dragged kicking and screaming away from his island paradise to command the state-of-the-art vessel. Bridger’s closest friends among the sub’s personnel are Security Chief Crocker (Royce D. Applegate) and Chief Medical Officer Westphalen (Stephanie Beacham).