Now with mad updates! TWO of them, even! (2/13/07 and 2/14/07)

The longer NBC's new show Heroes goes on, the less sense it makes to me.

The things I'm about to bitch about at great and tedious length probably aren't anything that anyone else who watches this show is going to care about. In fact, it's very likely they aren't anything that most of the show's audience have ever even noticed. If I ever get any comments on this essay at all, I have little doubt that at least one of them will be to take me to task for being overly anal, for taking these things too seriously, for not being able to just sit back and relax and enjoy the show. After all, I've already been slapped around by some nameless nimwit for daring to think about things he or she would prefer I didn't brother to think about (or, if I have to think about them, then, they'd certainly prefer I didn't write about them, and if I have to write about them, then at last and least, they deeply and sincerely wish folks like Jim Henley would stop linking to my bullshit, anyway).

Nonetheless, and notwithstanding any and all potential disapprobation about to come hurtling my way like barnyard animals out of a French catapult, it's my bloggie and I'll cry if I want to. (You would cry too if it happened to you.)

So... Heroes. Strong start, interesting execution... I went into the six week break as anxious as any for NBC to commit to the show and for new episodes to return. And now they have. And... well... they're getting on my last nerve with some of this shit, they really are.

First... okay, I have to ask at this point -- how do these powers work? Up until now I haven't worried about it much -- I have, in fact, been making a concerted attempt to not think about it, as John Doe firmly believes I should and must lest democracy fall, or something. And I've been pretty good about it. I mean, I've resolutely Not Thought About how in the name of God the frickin' cheerleader can regenerate from a lethal brain injury after her body has been physically dead for an entire day. How, for that matter, she can apparently stay in a raging inferno for several minutes and not only not get burned (when we know she actually experiences physical trauma, she just regenerates from it at superspeed) but not collapse to the ground from asphyxiation, and manage to somehow carry an unconscious firefighter who is like three times her bodymass out of the place, too.

I also have refused to think about exactly how the smarmy politician can fly at supersonic velocity and, apparently, not even get windburned, or have his clothes get damaged. And there are a couple of other powers I've resolutely refused to think about, too, like the guy who can generate radiation with his hands... how does he do that? What kind of biological mechanism could possibly explain this? And the guy who walks through walls... how does that work?

But I haven't thought about it, because, well, it's been a fun show and I've been enjoying it, and I read comic books, and, you know, I'm willing to deal with characters in comic books walking through walls and flying really really fast and doing other impossible things with few or no real world consequences.

And yet, this is, supposedly, at least, a more realistic world than the one we see in comics. No costumes, no goofy code names, no villains trying to take over the world, just confused 'real' people trying to deal with strange powers in a very mundane setting, much like Jim Shooter's The World Outside Your Window from the late, unlamented New Universe.

And I'd very much like to see these powers explained in some consistent way, so if certain powers have certain negative consequences, well, we could understand why.

But I've let it go until now. However -- now we have an Invisible Man.

Invisibility is one of those powers everyone fantasizes about having at one time or another, and that being so, I guess it was inevitable that it would show up on HEROES eventually. Like the comics it derives from, the show is very much an adolescent power fantasy.

But... seriously... how does this work? If the guy is bending light around himself, then he can't see, because no light is reaching his optic nerve, because, you know, it's all bending around him. Clearly he can see, so, it can't be that.

The other alternative is that he's not actually invisible at all, but, rather, he's 'unnoticeable' -- his brain somehow broadcasts a telepathic "don't look at me" message to everyone around him. Yet it seems unlikely it's that, either, since when he walked out of Peter's power range, we saw Peter kind of 'fade in' to visibility again. It wasn't that people just started noticing him; he 'phased in', so that people could not only see him, but one guy actually saw him becoming translucent, and then, fully visible.

It could also be that instead of bending light around him, or willing people around him not to see him, Invisible Guy is somehow causing the light that reflects off him to be transformed into non-visible light -- IR or UV, or something. So light comes in, but doesn't go back out. No visible light reflects off him, so nobody can see him. This could be a plausible explanation for the mechanism, but then we're right back at: how do these powers work?

Still, I'm not going to get all hung up on a sensible mechanism. I mean, I'd like one, but not being able to figure out how in the name of God someone can stretch their body like rubber, or burst into flames and fly through the air, or, yeah, turn invisible and project an invisible force field, hasn't kept me from enjoying the Fantastic Four. (What's kept me from enjoying the Fantastic Four since the early 70s is the fact that the writing has been dogshit ever since Roy Thomas left the book. But that's an entirely different subject.)

What does matter, though, is trying to figure out how Peter and Invisible Guy can both be invisible at the same time, continue to see everything around them just as if they weren't invisible -- and see each other, too.

I mean, why should absorbing Invisible Guy's power allow Peter to see Invisible Guy? And if Peter is invisible to everyone else, how can Invisible Guy see him?

The only way this makes any sense to me at all is if Invisible Guy does actually bend light around him -- and if his power also includes some kind of altered perception, so he can still see his surroundings, without actually using the photonic receptors in his eyes. In other words, not only can he turn invisible, but his brain processes exterior stimuli in such a way as he can still 'see', without actually needing to have his eyes interact with the reflected light all around him.

Peter would also absorb these powers, with the result that they would both be physically invisible to human eyes, and they would also both be able to see each other, since they don't actually use their eyes to perceive what we would think of as visual stimuli.

That makes sense to me -- but the notion that such a complementary suite of superhuman abilities came about as a result of random genetic mutation doesn't. Invisible Guy's metagene cluster should make him blind as well as invisible; it should be a negative, and very quickly lethal, mutation -- one that would never get passed along to enough generations of offspring to allow another, complementary random mutation, like heightened perceptions, to come along and combine with it.

Given that, the 'specials' we see on HEROES have to almost of necessity be the products of deliberate genetic engineering. But I'm sure the actual truth is, they're just the products of lazy, sloppy writing. Nobody else (certainly not any of the writers or producers) is going to have noticed this, and if anyone else has, they aren't going to care.

Similarly baffling to any kind of logical analysis is the fact that out of a very very small subpopulation of genetic mutants (I think at one point Mohinder mentioned there were something like 42 different people on his father's 'list'), we've now been told that nearly 10% of that number has interacted sexually with each other and produced children. Which is to say, two different couples have formed and procreated from this extremely small sample group. The two people in one of those couples (Claire's natural parents) don't seem to have had a great deal of interest in each other after the initial roll in the hay, but the other pair (Nikki and D.L.) apparently fell in love and got married.

To say that the odds against this are astronomical is to significantly underestimate the number of celestial bodies there are thought to be in the universe.

Now, maybe there's some other force out there that is somehow compelling certain people to do things without their knowledge or consent. It wouldn't be out of the question, since we've already seen one 'special' who has this sort of power, and although she's dead, certainly there could be others. And a shadowy mind controller would explain a great deal -- not just two different couples from the list getting together to procreate, apparently at random (and one of them liking each other so much that they decide to make the relationship permanent) but also including exactly why it is that Peter sees some guy with a big nose stealing shit on the street, and immediately leaps to the seemingly deranged conclusion that he's found a mentor; someone who can teach him how to control his powers. I mean, where the hell did that idea come from? What in the world could possibly make Peter think that an invisible sneak thief knows anything that would be of value to him, much less, how to turn your super powers on and off? Offscreen mind control seems like the only feasible explanation.

And then, there's this other plot element, where, apparently, at least some of the 'specials', if not all of them, were kidnapped by someone (Claire's adopted father, the guy who apparently, for no reason imaginable, has no first name) who seems to have given them these powers, or at least, activated the powers that were already latent within them, and then given them all tattoos on their necks, too. What's up with that?

Also, Hiro suddenly losing his teleporting time travel powers is entirely too convenient for my tastes. No real explanation for the power loss has been forthcoming; I personally get the feeling that at this point in the story arc, someone who could go anywhere and/or travel through time would severely screw up planned plot developments. So, Hiro gets his powers taken away for no particular reason, and one assumes his powers will stay gone until the plot requires another teleportation, or another time trip... at which point, Hiro's powers will just as conveniently reappear.

Now, I know what someone is going to say: it's necessary to give Hiro an overwhelming reason to seek out the sword he's been pictured with in Isaac's paintings of the future, and Hiro's quest for the sword is apparently a major storyline in the last part of the first season. Well, bullshit. If Hiro is going to get that sword, then, well, he's going to get that sword, and Hiro already had a perfectly good mission -- it was, in fact, the same mission the entire cast is apparently on, whether they know it or not, specifically, keeping someone or something from blowing up New York City. Depowering Hiro for no reason, for a time period entirely to be determined by the writers, is a lazy plot crutch, and really crappy writing.

(And... hey... doesn't it seem that Syler already has the power to regenerate from nearly any injury? That being the case, what exactly does he need from Claire, anyway? People keep shooting him and he keeps popping back up like Michael Myers and dragging his sorry ass off into the bushes. Maybe he's hoping that Claire's good looks are a super power and he can absorb some cute by eating her brain. Good luck with that, buddy.

I'm also a little concerned with how Claire's dad is behaving lately. Kidnapping people, performing medical procedures on them without their consent, mind controlling them into taking drugs, planting surveillance devices and sending agents to spy on them with no warrant or color of authority, locking them up in a secret prison with no due process for an indefinite period while performing inhumane and unauthorized experiments on them, erasing people's memories, ordering people killed... maybe the reason we don't know Mr. Bennett's first name is that it's actually George Walker Bush?

Seriously, though, this guy is out of control. I'd love to know his agenda, and who he's actually working for. I do have to say this, though -- this behavior is perfectly acceptable as long as he is clearly depicted to be a villain, and as long as, eventually, his acts are appropriately punished. Lately, though, the writers on the show seem to have been trying to portray Bennett somewhat more sympathetically. If, eventually, we are supposed to accept him as some kind of twisted hero whose actions are all supposedly justified by some secret, but irrefutably necessary, agenda... well, at that point Heroes will have parted ways with any concept of 'moral fiction' and ventured well down the path into 24 territory.

And Nikki... what the hell is going on with Nikki, and D.L., and Micah? One assumes that somehow or other the mysterious Mr. Linderman is central to this whole thing, and in fact, it seems like he will be what eventually pulls all the disparate threads and characters together into one coherent storyline. And that's okay, if the writers actually have a plan and a plot and both make sense. But until then, they're asking us to take a great deal on trust, and the horrible mess that is Nikki's character -- a kind of weird hybridization of Marvel's THE HULK with DC's ROSE AND THE THORN -- isn't making it any easier. And now she's locked in a mirror while her evil, super powered twin plays Monopoly with Micah? Honest to God, it's hard to keep watching this show when they're spending screentime on nonsense like this.

Speaking of nonsense, I'm a big fan of Matt the Telepathic Cop, but too many more scenes of him whining with his wife or fixing the fucking plumbing and I swear to God I'm going to just go back to watching the first five seasons of Buffy on DVD. Characterization is all well and good, but it's supposed to advance the plot, too. Keeping a character on screen because you're contractually obligated to provide their character with a certain number of lines per episode even when you have absolutely nothing for that character to do... this is bad television, straight up.

Maybe something interesting will happen once Claire gets together with her pyromaniac mom and her supersonic dad. Maybe. But I'm not going to count on it. It's not like the writers have given me any reason to, so far.

It's not that I don't like this show, I really do. But all these things trouble me. I understand they don't trouble anyone else, but, still, I'd really love it if an interesting science fiction show could, just once, be intelligent and internally consistent, too.

Well, I guess I'll have to keep waiting for that.

Addendum, after last night's show (2/13/07)

Let me take a moment to recap what we now know about Claire’s bio-mom:

She supposedly died in a fire 14 years ago. Everyone thought she was dead. Instead, she went to Mexico, apparently because someone was out to get her. Six months ago, she moved back to the same tiny little town in Texas where she supposedly died 14 years ago, rented a trailer, and had a phone installed in her own name. Now that she’s gotten in contact with her supposedly dead bio-daughter, and gotten a big check from Nathan to keep her mouth shut about Claire’s existence, she’s going back to Mexico again. And, somewhere in there, some mysterious entity took the time to activate her ’special’ ability, which seems to be pyrokinesis.

I can see two possibilities here.

a) the writers of the show fell so in love with the scene where Claire dials a nearly random number from the phone book and her real mom picks up the phone, that they just went ahead and did it, and then realized afterward that the shit makes no sense whatsoever, so they’ve been frantically throwing patches on the continuity ever since. Uh… if people think she’s dead, why is she still living in this small town in Texas, under her real name? Well… um… she wasn’t! She went to Mexico! She just came back six months ago! Okay, well, why did she go back to this tiny town where there are still people who would probably recognize her, and why is she using her real name, especially on a phone directory listing? Uh… um… hey, she can start fires with her hands! Isn’t that cool? And Nathan is Claire’s dad! Neat-o! Hey, look over here, look over HERE!

or (b) there’s some mysterious Machiavellian entity lurking somewhere in the background that is manipulating most if not all of the events we are seeing on the screen from behind the scenes, using mind control powers and I don’t know what the hell all else. This would explain the sudden, very convenient reappearance of Claire’s bio-mom at exactly the right moment to advance the plot further, it would explain how in the name of everything sane Peter can spot some guy walking down the street stealing stuff and suddenly think “Hey, this bozo can teach me how to control my powers!”, and it would explain why Hiro conveniently loses his powers when the plot requires him to, as well as probably a whole lot of other stuff we otherwise cannot remotely fathom, like, y’know, the Nikki character in her entirety.

I hate it when a show puts me in the position of actually hoping there’s a mysterious Machiavellian mind controller in the background manipulating everyone like puppets, but that’s pretty much where I am with HEROES right now.

Addendum the second:

From a comment thread discussion over at Jim Henley's Unqualified Offerings blog:

Comment by Highlander —
February 13, 2007 @ 9:44 am

Mind Controlling Machiavelli would (or could) explain a great deal, yes. Maybe Nikki/Jessica was subjected to MKULTRA training, Linderman is high up in U.S. intelligence, and this whole thing is a massive psy-op experiment conducted on unwitting American subjects. Maybe Claire’s dad (adopted) is a renegade NSA agent who used to work in the MONARCH program, Claire’s mom is also an MKULTRA mind control subject, and Claire herself was slated for mind control programming before Bennett rescued her. And perhaps his fanaticism for ‘protecting his family’ is all about the guilt he feels for taking part in this stuff earlier in his life.

Nah, probably not.

Still, that would be pretty cool. Some kind of secret domestic intelligence mind control/genetic manipulation experiment would be exactly the kind of overarching story device that could be employed to actually make sense of all this stupidity.

In the end, though, I think it will just turn out to be lazy writing.


Comment by Highlander —
February 13, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

Here’s a thought that just struck me — it would be cool if the Mysterious Haitian turned out to be the mastermind behind everything, assuming there is a mastermind behind everything. I mean, we know he has mental powers (he can, at the very least, erase memories) and he can turn off people’s powers… maybe he can activate them, as well.

Maybe he’s even Linderman!

I really like the idea of there being some kind of supersecret government program for developing mind controlled super slaves that has somehow gone badly awry. It would explain a great deal.


Comment by Highlander —
February 13, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

Also, it’s worth noting that Nikki’s weird power/affliction/mental disease is all tied up with split personalities, which are triggered by her exposure to mirrors. These are key elements (according to what little is publicly known) of MKULTRA mind control programming.

Yeah, I should post stuff like this on my own blog, or in a Rigorous Intution comment thread, I know. Sorry.

I very much like this notion, now that it's occurred to me. However repugnant it may be, the CIA's Project MONARCH / MKULTRA program, in which experimental techniques for creating mind controlled slaves to be used by the government as secret agents (so secret, in fact, that the agents themselves would not be aware of it, due to deliberately induced, carefully manipulated schizophrenia) is an actual part of American history... not a part most of us are aware of, and certainly not a part that is taught in schools, but there's a lot of American history we don't hear about in Social Studies class.

Whether Project MONARCH has actually been discontinued, and never had any actual successes or viable results, as is the U.S. government's official story, or it still exists as a deeply 'black' program today, fully functional and providing thousands of slave operatives to the U.S. government who have been mind controlled through horrible trauma and abuse since early childhood, and who are perfunctorily and casually used as illegal drug and arms couriers, and sex slaves, by all manner of high level government functionaries, is immaterial to this discussion, and frankly, a question that so utterly terrifies me I'd rather not actually consider it.

Not so ancient American history or ongoing U.S. taxpayer funded horror, though, it's still fabulous story fodder. And if indeed a fictionalized version of such a covert government psy-op were to lie at the heart of what we're seeing unfold in HEROES, it would indeed explain an entire host of logical discrepancies.

But, other people have other agendas:


Comment by Jim Henley —
February 13, 2007 @ 10:45 pm

All this enthusiasm for a gargantuan mind-control plot that ties off every narrative loose end neatly leaves me cold. You guys would build a machine with no heart. If everybody’s being manipulated then nobody’s striving; no one has agency. Nathan isn’t struggling simultaneously to suppress his better angels and to heed them. Mohinder isn’t honoring the legacy of a difficult forebear. Claire isn’t avoiding the question of just what started that fire she and her pyro mother lived through - it’s been suppressed. The Invisible Man isn’t keeping Peter around on sufferance. Instead they’re all pieces moved by an unseen mover.

I’d rather have minor causality issues any day.

This is the sort of thing I deal with whenever I point out that something in a particular fictional construct I'm consuming doesn't make sense. Jim has taken this to entirely new depths, though. Inconsistent character behavior? Plot twists that make no sense? Internal continuity that cannot be reconciled with anything remotely resembling reality as we know it? Why, that's not bad writing and it certainly isn't any reason to think a particular show or movie or whatever isn't very good and shouldn't be supported by a discerning audience... no, no, these are just 'minor causality issues'.

Jim, I will note casually and in passing, is a huge fan of the current Battlestar Galactica series.

It troubles me, sometimes. Jim Henley is as thoughtful, analytical, intelligent, and insightful a human being as one will find on the Internet anywhere. His calm, cogent dissections of public policy are among the best out there, and he's got an amazingly acute built in bullshit detector.

And yet, when it comes to televised fiction, he puts his thumb firmly on the EASY button and apparently says to himself, "Nah, I'm just not going to think about that, if I thought about that, it might not be FUN for me any more."

He's even selective in what shows he applies this to. Heroes and BS:G get a free pass, but he's stopped watching 24 this season because, you know, it's just TOO stupid for him. This will give you an idea just how low he's willing to set his mental bar for TV; 24, a show renowned for its monumental brainlessness since early in its first season, took six seasons for its inherent dimwittedness to finally alienate Henley.

Now, someone might well say -- in fact, several someones have said to me, at various times -- that there's a difference in seriousness, gravity, and importance between topics like our current ruling junta's ongoing war on Constitutional liberties and their current campaign of terror and atrocity against a foreign people who have never been any threat to us as individuals or a community, and the stylish non-substance of the twaddle we watch on TV to anaesthetize our frontal lobes from the recurring and unending existential despair that permeates the existence of anyone who thinks even intermittently here in the 21st Century.

That's an inarguable point, so let me argue with it:

It's easy to not-think about things. Hundreds of millions of people do everything in their power to get through every second, minute, hour, day, week, month, and year of their lives not-thinking as much of the time, about as many different subjects, as they possibly can, and not all of them by any means vote Republican, either. As the big dog himself once put it, most people think just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg.

And it's that not-thinking, or, that minimalist approach to cogitation (just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg) that gives rise to... well, the world we live in today, where horrible things are happening all around us all the time, where any of us could be picked up by armed officers of the remarkably Gestapo-sounding Homeland Security Department, and taken someplace, and held there, and tortured, and even killed, with no warrant, no charges filed, no trial, no outside contact, and no due process of law.

Why can our government do this to us? The last time things were this bad in America, it was the Vietnam War era. Our troops were killing and dying in a foreign land for no good reason, and our government was spying on us, oppressing us, locking us up for dissent... and we stopped it, or, rather, the generation of adult Americans who were alive at that time stopped it, by taking to the streets in mass displays of revolted, revulsed civil disobedience that the government could not ignore, and eventually, did not.

What's the difference now? Well, I think it's largely that we've learned to not-think better, faster, stronger... and television has been the biggest part of the tranquilizer we're willingly taking. Television, more than anything else, has taught us to not-think, and not-care. As long as we're comfortable, as long as the electricity is working and gas is below $2.50 a gallon and American Idol is on twice a week, we're fine.

I think it's bad to not-think. I think it's insidious and narcotic and seductive and dangerous, and I don't care what it is that we allow ourselves to volitionally hit that OFF switch in our brain over. It's unhealthy, and it's far from harmless; every time we shut down the reasoning apparatus, it is a little bit harder, a tiny bit more troublesome, to fire it up again when we perceive that we really should be thinking about something more important.

That's just my opinion. What is an absolute stone cold fact is that when smart people like Jim Henley decide to not-think about the TV they consume, the result is a buttload of really crappy, really stupid TV.

These are not 'minor causality issues'.

But, y'know, whatever. I think too much anyway.

And what the hell is wrong with a world, when "you think too much" is actually considered by most people to be, if not an insult, then, at least, a valid personal criticism?

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