NBC just keeps the hits rolling. Returning prime time successes include the aforementioned Friday Night Lights, The Office, and My Name is Earl. However, along with FNL, NBC’s Heroes turned out to be one of my favorite programs and a suprise hit last season. As the new fall TV lineup descends upon us with a plethora of interesting new programs, I wanted to take a brief look back at Heroes and the questions it poses.
I find it problematic to perform an in-depth analysis of a television show before it has run its course (despite my love for Lost, I cannot bring myself to write theologically about it just yet), because plot twists and turns can render even the most conservative assessments null and void. However, when a show like Heroes so directly poses certain questions, reflections on them are not unfounded.
One of Heroes‘ main characters, Mohinder Suresh picks up his dead father’s research program that maps genetic abnormalities in humans. These abnormalities manifest themselves through a variety of superhuman powers like the ability to fly, read others’ minds, invincibility, invisibility, etc. Before most episodes, Mohinder asks several questions, as if he is writing in a diary or providing a prologue to more scientific study. From the beginning of the first episode, we know that Heroes is not simply an action-filled drama. Mohinder ponders, “Why are we here? What is the soul?” Then he critiques these questions, “Perhaps we would be better off not looking at all.” He concludes that such intellectual laziness is “not why were are here.”
Like the comic book genre from which Heroes draws much of its artistic design, the series packages such crucial questions in superheroic wrapping. Thus, while the ability to fly continually amazes and entertains us, the narrative implicitly asks and responds to these questions. For one, we see a soul divided in the character of Niki, whose powers are more of a complex curse than a delightful blessing. She struggles between two halves of herself, one good and one implicitly evil. For most of the characters, their souls are that part of their experience, supernatural or not, that long for something more, to be someone special. Hiro will not let anyone stand in his way of breaking out of his “cubicled” existence. Still, for one character, Claire, the struggle is to recognize her dependence on others, despite her physical invincibility.
Many questions remain unanswered. What is Hiro doing in feudal Japan, who really is behind the effort to eradicate these heroes, what is the symbol we frequently see, etc. While the answers may lie in the not too distant future, we can get a glimpse of a general theme. At the close of one of the earlier episodes from the first season, Mohinder reflects, “It is the sad province of man that he cannot choose his trials. He can only choose how he will stand when the call of destiny comes, hoping that he’ll have the courage to answer.” The call of destiny that faces these heroes remains uncertain. With about five episodes left in the first season, the series took a decidedly more complex, political turn, with a positive effect. While we must wait and see the heroe’s response to this turn, we know that Tim Kring has created a scenario in which they must work together, despite their vast, powerful individual talents, to answer this call.
The first season comes full circle with its conclusion. Mohinder still wrestles with the same questions, but perhaps more optimistically so. There is much to anticipate in this coming season. Perhaps his concluding comments would serve as a sufficient benediction:
“Where does it come from? This quest? This need to solve life’s mysteries when the simplest of questions can never be answered. Why are we here? What is the soul? Why do we dream? Perhaps it would be better not looking at all. Not delving…not yearning. But that’s not human nature…not the human heart. That is not why we are here. Yet still we struggle to make a difference…to change the world…to dream of hope, never knowing for certain who we will meet along the way. Who among the world of strangers will hold our hand, touch our hearts, and share the pain of trying?”