Monday, December 22, 2008

Heroes 011: Narrative Ponzi

About a week ago, I watched the finale of the third Heroes volume, "Villains." Now, finally, I'm ready to let the healing begin. The scars are deep and painful, and may never go away, but I'm ready to take a deep swim in Lake Me.

First, acceptance. Once, long ago, Heroes was a good show, or at least it seemed like a good show. Fast-paced, dynamic, with diverse and interesting characters who seemed to have consistent motivation, there was a sense of mystery unfolding that drew me in. Most of all, though, I was impressed by the show's willingness to shake up their formula, change allegiances in intriguing ways, and really move the plot forward.

Also? Cool super-power stuff.

However, as the giddy pleasures of Season 1 morphed into the nervous laughter of Season 2 and the outright scorn of Season 3 so far, it has become clear that what once seemed like a fast-moving, character-driven, sequential drama is in fact the greatest narrative Ponzi scheme in television history.

You all know about Ponzi schemes by now, of course (how could you not, given how many of our increasingly-rare dollars got sucked up by one), but if you need a refresher then I need to turn to Wikipedia, because I never paid attention, either.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors out of the money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. It is named after Ponzi McGillicuitty Fontenot [1]. The term "Ponzi scheme" is used primarily in the United States, while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and other pyramid schemes.[2]

The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.

The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments.

[1] Not really.

[2] A pyramid scheme is a scheme to drop a pyramid on a guy by means of a thousand helicopers, and is pretty bad-ass, though frankly I'm not sure why I brought it up.

Thanks, Wikipedia!

You got that? Basically, the idea is that you (1) take all this beautiful money from people to invest in this great thing that doesn't really exist, then (2) instead of investing, you buy yourself some great stuff so you can make it rain all day and attract more clients, who give you even MORE filthy lucre, which you then (3) use to buy more stuff for yourself and pay the intial investors, who then give you even MORE money because WHOO HOO 15% IN ONE MONTH, and so it goes until finally The Law starts asking questions and people start asking for their investment back, at which point (4) they realize that there is no money and that (5) you are in a warm country with no extradition treaties, (6) with your 300 foot yacht, (7) ha ha ha.

This is the perfect metaphor for what Heroes has done. They mortgaged their future with a bunch of cool-looking stuff, but they utterly neglected the narrative foundation, hoping that if they moved quick enough, and presented us with enough cool-looking superpower stuff, we wouldn't notice that they were expecting us to forget the stuff they had already established, sometimes even within the very episode we were watching. If we tried to puzzle it all together, we realized that the whole thing was founded on nothing.

So, there's acceptance for you. Heroes is total crap. Total crap. It's not a fun commentary on the tropes of comic books, it's not a nifty mythology that we just haven't puzzled out. It's Chernobyl. It's a Ponzi scheme.

Next, understanding. In order to back up the claim immediately preceding this sentence, I'll try to take you through the whole story, as quickly as I can, slowing down a bit to rubberneck at the carnage that is the so-called backstory, and this, the first half of Season 3.

OK, strap in. This IS the story, people. I'm making up none of this, or very little of it.


There is a cabal of super-secret super-powered people that have been around since around the sixties, though at least one of them has been around since the age of feudal Japan, because he lives for hundreds of years and can't be hurt. Their intent was to use their powers to save the world, but some or most or all of them have gone astray at some point.

They control a Company. It's called The Company, maybe because they let a three-year old name it. It has as its front a Paper Company called Primatech. Also, it is controlled the guy in charge of the Mafia, whose name is Linderman. Also, it is funded and controlled by the U.S. Government. Also, it is funded and controlled by a private business. Also it is funded and controlled by a wealthy, politically connected New York family named Patreli.

The leader of this group is nominally Linderman, who had the power to heal, but in fact was Arthur Patreli, Linderman's lawyer, who has the power to take other people's powers, and who for some reason decided to create an intricate conspiracy to cause his youngest son, Peter (who was also a power sponge like the old man), to set off a thermonuclear detonation in New York City, killing millions, and to make his oldest son Nathan, a New York DA, President of the United States. When Nathan decided to oppose some of Linderman's actions toward this end, Arthur decided to have Nathan killed. Who Arthur now wanted to be president for him upon that eventuality, I'm not sure. As far as I can tell, Arthur was pretty stupid. For example, he could make people do whatever he wanted. He had that power. So why he would kill Nathan instead of just making him do what he, Arthur wanted, is unclear.

Anyway, Linderman and Arthur's wife, Angela, whose powers is probably dreaming the future or being super bitchy or something, it's not really clear . . . they opposed Arthur, realizing he'd gone mad with power. Angela poisoned him, thinking him dead but leaving him conscious but paralyzed. After disposing of Arthur, Angela and Linderman began taking steps to make sure that Arthur's plan to set off an H-bomb in downtown New York was carried through to completion. I suppose this means that they were against killing Nathan, but for blowing up New York. Maybe they realized that Nathan couldn't be president if he were dead, though Lord knows that Bob Dole tried.

Also, the leader of this group was not Arthur, but instead was that very white guy I mentioned from feudal Japan who never ages, whose name was Adam. Everybody was TOTALLY FRIGHTENED OF HIM. Oh my God, he was so dangerous and scary, you couldn't believe. His power was being very non threatening in a kind of a fraternity guy sort of way, and also not dying. The Company thwarted his plan, which was to kill the whole world using a virus, because his girlfriend dumped him 400 years ago. Yes, really. Anyway, they thwarted him, and again it cannot be stressed HOW INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS AND SCARY HE WAS, by . . . well, you know, locking him in a room.

Also, the leader of this group was not Adam, but was actually Arthur, and he actually was the one everybody was scared of. Arthur's plan wasn't to blow up New York, it seems, except that it was, but ALSO it was actually to give everybody in the world superpowers, using a secret formula and a secret catalyst, because . . . you know what? I guess just because. Anyway, he lay in his paralysis, he began plotting how to bring that to fruition. The main thing in his way was one of his partners in the group, Kaito Nakumura, a Japanese business tycoon with the superpower of appearing in tons of episodes even after his death. Kaito had the formula (which existed on paper) and the catalyst (which had his wife, another healer, as a human host). Kaito wanted nothing more than to make sure than nobody ever ever ever EVER used them to give everybody super powers. He was so committed to this, that when his wife died, he made sure that the catalyst was passed on, so that it would still be in the world and able to be used, and to keep the formula very safe and easy to read. He even laminated it. Have I mentioned that if either of these things were lost, then the other could never never ever be used?

Anyway, some of the other people in this group were: a guy played by Shaft, whose power was dying with quiet dignity and (I think) seeing time-travelers; a mind-controller/creepy guy who was loyal to Adam or to Arthur, depending on what season it is; a geneticist or a chemist, I'm not sure, she allegedly had lots of answers but got killed immediately upon her introduction. That happens all the time.

Also, there were no superpowers during any of this time period that I'm describing. All the superpowers suddenly appeared during an eclipse in 2006.

Also, there actually were superpowers before the eclipse, including a lot that had been bio-genetically engineered by the company, perhaps by using the secret formula and the secret catalyst [Note: that actually does make some sense. Huh, nice.]. The long long long pre-eclipse history of super powered beings was chronicled by a Dr. Suresh, who was discredited as a hack for his theories. Also, The Company, or at least the part of it that was working with the U.S. Government and not with organized crime or private enterprise, had been gathering up and performing tests on super-powered beings for decades.

Also, there were some other superpowers before the eclipse that were NOT bio-genetic, like a psycho named Sylar. Sylar was a twisted soul, with an urge to do anything to prove to himself that he was special, better than others, especially his parents. Sylar was a watchmaker, his power is also to sponge powers, but he can only do that by cutting open people's brains, which he seems to enjoy, being a psycho and all.

Also, Sylar wasn't a psycho, he was a sensitive soul with serious issues of insecurity and a desire to be loved by his mommy. He sponged powers by using empathy.

Also, Sylar was a total remorseless killing machine, driven only by a hunger within himself to kill and kill and kill.

Also, Sylar was so tortured by what he had done that he tried to kill himself, but The Company had intervened, sending a non-powered operative named Noah Bennett and his assistant, Elle, an electrical conduit who wasn't going to be let outside of The Company's facilities for another two years after this (I don't know, that's the story). These two created an artificial situation for Sylar, forcing him to kill again so that they could study him in his natural habitat instead of capturing him and taking him back to their prison/lab, just like they NEVER did. Then they just set him free to kill and kill and kill, so they could keep dangerous supers off the streets. They were so driven to do that, in fact, that if you were found helping ANY super stay out of the Company's clutches, no matter how benign they seemed, you would be instantly terminated. Bennett himself killed a good friend who had broken this rule. Anyway, he let Sylar go.

Later, Bennett was sent to capture Sylar with his new team. He was worried, because it seemed as though Sylar had targeted his adoptive daughter, Claire, who was indestructible. If only he knew something about who this killer was!! If only he could guess at his powers and his motives, at his psychology! Oh me oh my! If only he could use Molly, the little girl who can find anybody that they use.

Anyway, that's what was going on at the time of the eclipse.

After the eclipse, a bunch of people (Peter and Nathan, Claire, Isaac the time-painter, Matt the mind-reader, DL the walker through walls, Micah the computer talker, Mohinder the total idiot and son of the aforementioned Dr. Suresh, Hiro the teleporter and time stopper/traveler, and Nikki/Jessica the super strong porn assassin split personality mirror thing who didn't ever make sense), most of who turned out to be related in some way to this group we've been talking about, came together, united by their strange newish powers.

Hiro and Ando travelled into the future and saw that it was a hellish authoritarian place, where supers were captured and caged, just like, you know, in the present. But New York was blown up. That was worse.

Mohinder was manipulated by Sylar and The Company, respectively. That was literally his only effect beyond voiceovers that everybody fast-forwards through.

Peter was manipulated into nearly blowing up New York. Also his girlfriend was senselessly killed and then never mentioned again.

Hiro started as feckless and adolescent, but learned to be a true hero.

Noah sacrificed himself to save his daughter from The Company, who wanted to abduct Claire and perform horrible experiments on her. Also, they wanted to make sure that they kept the catalyst safe in her. Also, they wanted to make sure she stayed safe from the Company, who they also were. Also, they wanted to tell her that she was a Patreli.

Anyway, they thwarted Linderman's or Arthur's or Angela's plan to blow up New York, and stopped Sylar from killing people. It was pretty cool. Except for Mohinder.

After that, a major character died off camera. Yep. So long, DL.

The next season, the gang uncovered a scheme to unleash the virus that Adam had wanted to set free back when he was OH MY GOD SO SCARY YOU HAVE TO KILL HIM RIGHT AWAY. This virus was so deadly that when it had infected Mohinder's sister back when they were both kids, she died slowly and lingeringly and then nobody else caught it. The virus also apparently took away powers.

Peter went into the future and saw the virus had killed everybody.

Sylar is in South America for some reason. He doesn't have his powers, but he also doesn't seem to have the virus. OK, then. He meets Inky Sue and her brother, whose power is to waste our time and make us hate like we have never hated before, or maybe to kill people with magic ink-eye poison when she's upset. Sylar kills the brother and eventually Inky Sue winds up meeting Mohinder, creating a vortex of uselessness.

Mohinder had fallen in love with Matt and they'd moved together into the ratbag apartment where Mohinder's father was murdered by Sylar. They adopted Molly, that "see anyone" little girl, because apparently that's no sweat with Child Protective Services. The important thing is that Mohinder was manipulated by Noah and the Company. First, he found the power-draining Haitian, who had the virus, and cured him. Then, he researched to find a cure. Then he found a cure to the virus using his sister's blood or something, but there was still tension that the virus would be unleashed. Apparently, having the cure was not relevant.

Peter was manipulated into releasing Adam and then lost his memory. Also his girfriend was killed and then never mentioned again.

Hiro started as feckless and adolescent, but learned to be a true hero. He also went into feudal Japan for about seven episodes. Let's not talk about it. It means nothing.

Noah sacrificed himself to save his daughter from The Company, who wanted to abduct Claire and perform horrible experiments on her. They'd forgotten that she was a Patrelli this time, I think. Anyway, first Noah was killed by Mohinder, who was working with him, because Mohinder can't do anything right. Then he was brought back to life by Claire's blood, because just getting Claire's blood gives you Claire's power temporarily. Finally, Noah could never ever ever see his family again and would have to work for The Company again. This was never mentioned again, ever, and Noah goes on seeing his family whenever he likes.

Claire's blood saves Inky Sue, making everybody hate Claire's blood.

Nikki died to save Monica. Who? And who? Right. Moving on . . .

Mohinder's cure gives Sylar his powers back. That's really the only function Mohinder's cure ever serves. Thanks again, Mohinder! You truly are the black hole of competence!

Anyway, Matt the Mindreader and Hiro and Nathan and Peter thwarted Adam's plan, and found themselves in the Company's vault, filled with all their evil secrets and plans. So they just left that place unexplored, and went to call attention to themselves in a news conference where Nathan was shot . . .

. . . and Season 3 starts . . .

. . . by Future Peter. He'd come from a future where supers are hunted like animals and Claire is mean and Sylar is a househusband and so is Matt and Nathan is president again and Mohinder is a spider who is not dead or dying at all.

Future Peter shoots Nathan to prevent this future from occurring.

He also shoots him to prevent a future in which everybody has powers.

Then Future Peter stashes Matt with YES YET ANOTHER guy who can paint the future and abducts his present self by putting him into a bad guy's body in The Company's prison. Which is a thing, I guess. Then Future Peter poses as Present Peter. Then he does nothing. Then he goes back and gets Present Peter out of the bad guy he's in and takes him to the Future to see how bad the Future is. You may be noticing some inefficiency here. The Future looks AWESOME, with everybody flying around, but Peter somehow sees it as BAD. And sure enough, a Hiro jaunt to the future confirms that if that future comes to pass, Ando will kill him and the world will blow up. Not sure either Peter ever knew that, though. Future Peter is killed by Future Claire in a way that we've already seen would never kill Peter, leaving Present Peter to do the job that his more informed, more powerful self was unable to do.

Thus? Peter is finally manipulated by himself. Neat.

Arthur comes back by killing Adam (who is VERY SCARY, remember) while he is completely paralyzed and taking his power. Then Arthur kills some henchmen with very little cause to show how tough he is. Then he gathers a bunch of guys together to work for him in his scheme to give everybody superpowers.

Arthur takes all of Peter's superpowers. He now can do anything and everything you can imagine. He does nothing. He sits. He sends other people with powers he no longer really needs to do things he could do in a heartbeat. He rarely emotes.

Mohinder uses Matt's absence to sell Molly into slavery or something. Anyway, he's very glad that the show has given him close proximity to a hot woman who is also brown, because that means he can have SEX with her! He gives himself powers using . . . the formula? The catalyst? No. Just Inky Sue's blood. Man! Blood can do anything! It goes wrong though, and turns him into a spider freak. The spider thing, it is clear, will kill him in a couple of weeks. Did I mention he's alive three years in the future? I did? Cool. So the serum turns him into a monster and he kills people and puts them into cocoons. Until he doesn't anymore. But his skin is pretty lousy the whole way through.

Then Mohinder is manipulated by Aurthur, and probably the Company for old time sake and if there is any difference between the two. Arthur takes Inky Sue's powers. He never uses them again, ever. But at least she leaves pretty much for good. That is seriously the best thing that happened in all 12 episodes.

Matt, in Africa, has a spirit walk into the future where he discovers himself a to be a househusband much like Future Sylar, with kids, living with Molly but not Mohinder, and in love with a speedster named I forget, let's say Lulu. Matt comes back from this with a turtle, representing the speed of his thoughts, and a total infatuation for Lulu, who is working for Arthur and is also about nineteen. He shows no curiosity or interest in a) Mohinder, and his whereabouts, b) Molly, his beloved adoptive daughter, and HER whereabouts, or c) why there are spider webs and dead people in cocoons everywhere.

Nathan is healed by Linderman. But it's not Linderman, just a mental projection from Mindcontroller Matt's dad, also a Mindcontroller. So it's never explained who or what healed him, or why a healing power, if available wouldn't be used for Arthur in a coma. Nathan gets God in a big way, believing that he was saved by Jesus, which makes a holy roller politician, who can apparently just appoint Senators willy-nilly, appoint Nathan as a Senator. Then Nathan stops talking about God entirely. Then Linderman stops appearing to him. He never wonders about any of this. He also doesn't go to Washington DC for the rest of the story arc. Vice President Biblebelt Q. Plotdevice is never seen again.

Nikki is dead but comes back as a completely different character, a lobbyist working for and sleeping with "unidentified politician who can just appoint whatever senator he wants". She discovers just now (and not during an eclipse) that she has super freezing, when she kills a journalist by accident. She's hugely siezed with remorse and discovers that she is only one of many "Nikki/Jessica/Traceys" who have been cloned to have different powers. She's so consumed with guilt that she attempts suicide and is saved by Nathan. Also, she has no guilt about anything and immediately becomes an evil double-crosser who kills using her ice powers with no qualms. She forgets all about her cloning story.

Sylar becomes a different person on an hourly basis. Angela sacrifices an innocent girl to feed him and told him that he was her son. Then Arthur confirmed this, even though he had Angela weren't sharing notes. But it was a lie. Or was it? Yes. Unless no? Yes. Or no. Perhaps. Anyway, Angela is sort of with the good guys I suppose.

Hiro starts having learned to be a true hero, but quickly acts like a ten year old. Then he's actually made into a ten year old by Arthur. There is literally no change in the character. Anyway, he immediately loses the formula that could have just been destroyed. Then he goes to work for Arthur. Forgot about that, right? So did Arthur. Hiro refuses to alter the past in order to change the present. Hiro then alters the past to change the present, taking the catalyst that was meant to be given safely to Claire and gets it himself, and promptly loses it to Arthur. Why it wasn't safe with Claire is not explained, but apparently it wasn't, nor is it clear why he couldn't have used those same time/space powers to go get Claire when SHE had the catalyst instead of sending lackeys, since he knew the catalyst was with her. I'm losing my mind here. This all does mean that Arthur has the catalyst and the formula, and so he whups up the serum. He really wants everybody to have powers, because he is a paranoid psychopath who jealously guards his own power base. Wait, huh?

There is another eclipse that is supposed to change everything. It changes nothing. Everybody loses their powers, because now the powers are caused by the sun, maybe. But not.

Nathan hates his father for faking his own death and trying to kill him and blow up New York and trying to kill everybody and paralyzing his wife and generally being evil. Then Nathan goes on a mission to stop Arthur, and is taken hostage by a Haitian warlord (brother of The Haitian) to whom Nathan was betrayed by Arthur. For some reason this makes Nathan decide to help Arthur. It also makes him retroactively have always hated Peter for some reason.

Peter goes to kill Arthur along with the Haitian, where he's opposed by Nathan, and assisted by Sylar, who kills Arthur in a way that it is already established would not kill Arthur, and leaves. He's chased by the Haitian, but then he's suddenly in Texas (can he teleport? No), having clearly watched the Saw movies. He's tormenting Claire and Noah and Meredith (oh never mind) and Angela by setting up deadly moral quandaries for them. Finally, Claire kills Sylar, or actually incapacitates him, because we already know that he has Claire's invulnerability, and so NOTHING KILLS HIM EXCEPT DECAPITATION OR MAYBE TOTAL DISINTIGRATIONS. Naturally, they just leave him there, because of course. Then they leave him in the collapsing Primatech, where surely that will be the end of him, right? Meredith, who is immune to fire, dies in a fire rather than letting Claire, who is immune to EVERYTHING, risk absolutely nothing to save her.

Powerless Peter then destroys the serum with the help of the guys who were helping Arthur give everybody super powers, on account of they suddenly realized that giving everybody super powers would mean that everybody had super powers.

Peter uses the serum to get his sponge powers back, or at least the power to fly. We'll see. Nathan expresses his sentiment that he'd love to kill Peter.

Mohinder is cured by the serum, and is no longer a spider who is either doomed to die in a few hours or to be alive in three years, who either has freakish strength and uncontrollable rage, or else is meek and can be beat up by just about anybody.

Hiro decides to destroy the formula way back in the past where he is now stuck (Arthur stole his powers). He has to ask his ten year old self to help him find his father's safe. Think about that one. I'm waiting. Got it? So then Ando uses the serum to make himself a superpower supercharger (kind of cool), and then Ando and Speedy go back in time to rescue Hiro by taking a long stinky dump over the theory of relativity. Hiro and Matt and Speedy and Ando then celebrate by watching Hiro destroy the formula. Oh wait, no. Not destroy it. Just tear it up into about eight pieces. But it doesn't matter, because it is useless without the catalyst. That's established. So the entire Hiro sequence is effectively pointless. Also, Tracey and Nathan intended to start the program all over again, using just the formula. Did they know about the catalyst? Yes.

Nathan, who believed until a few minutes ago that the answer to the world's powers was to give everybody superpowers, decides to sell all the supers out to the President, convincing him to hunt and capture super heroes, which is certainly not something that we KNOW the U.S. government has been doing through The Company for decades now. But everybody isn't going to have powers. So the planet won't explode, I think. Also, no idea why Future Ando would have to kill Future Hiro.

And that's where we are.

Seriously. Feast your eyes on that carnage.

Finally, forgiveness. I forgive you Heroes. But I am done thinking this much about you. Or, probably, watching you. You suck so hard it is silly.


Gunslinger said...

I haven't laughed that hard in a long time, Goat. Every single last word was so true. God, please give me strength to STOP watching this awful, awful, crappy show, just because the first season was good, and I keep thinking it's going to turn around again. There's no way it can dig itself out of the inconsistent mess it's made.

Duey said...

i agree with gunslinger.Its like flipping a coin ten times and it always lands on you have to keep flipping it to see how far it goes. This show has become a slowly-building avalanche and I am just waiting to see the destruction it causes. This is the show that should be called Lost.

Drizztdj said...

Seems like this show has all the consistancies of a backyard football game.

Only without the super-cool passing routes drawn on the QB's hand.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Highlight of this post:

"Meredith, who is immune to fire, dies in a fire rather than letting Claire, who is immune to EVERYTHING, risk absolutely nothing to save her."

I also LOL'd at the last line of Duey's comment up there. Maybe they can call Lost "Heroes" and Heroes "Lost"?

1Queens Up1 said...

"Angela poisoned him, thinking him dead but leaving him conscious but paralyzed."

Clearly a ripoff of Lost, but dont they know that fans are supposed to dictate which characters they dont like and get killed off?

I look forward to your Lost summaries!

Anonymous said...

OMG, I actually LOL'ed many times. Who was Peter's 1st girlfriend? I don't remember. I just remember the Irish one who got stuck in the crappy future.


Karen said...

Wow. That was THE best summary of Heroes EVER. I totally giggled repeatedly.

I'm glad it's not just me. I keep watching and saying, "Huh????"

Anonymous said...

Definitely a case of being too cute by half.

The plotline of preventing-a-horrific-vision-of-the-future worked in season 1, and there was no need to re-hash it for seasons 2and 3. It could have been a great show if it had simply settled into a convential formula of super heroes fighting general crime and other super villains. Simple, but effective.

The writers out-fancied themselves trying to create a perpetual aura of mystery and supernatural conspiracies within conspiracies.

P.S. A while back you predicted the writers would just forget that Peter lost his ability to power absorb, and I commented that they were too smart for that and would have him regain his powers from Mohinder's lab. Boo-Yah!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas and also DUDE - BRILLIANT WRITE UP.
Genuine LOL stuff...

Khonshu said...

I really LOL'd multiple times, and then I got drunk and read it again and laughed the entire time. You are a genius.

Julius_Goat said...

I do recommend reading my stuff while drunk.

Anonymous said...

ha ha thats great, but i think future didnt kill future hiro, hes just supercharging him to give him is powers back, or to have enough power to reverse the entire planet..