When we left Heroes in season 2, an unknown assailant shot Nathan Petrelli just as he was about to expose the heroes secret to the world32. This plotline could have gone in any number of directions. The company’s existence was well set up in season 2 to be the culprit or even introducing the other nefarious agency of Pinehurst (which pops up later) at this point in the story would create a plausible culprit. Instead, the time travel plot device becomes tired and trite.
Season three breaks all of the rules that we established. In episode one we see time travel being used at will by the protagonists, the ability’s impact is rendered meaningless (almost bordering on the absurd), and the characters become reactionary. I’m not saying it was all time travel’s fault but it sure didn’t start the season off on the right foot.
So let’s start with season three’s first episode “The Second Coming.” It opens with Peter Petrelli running away from something and hides in a parking garage where he runs into Claire. Peter is sporting a similar scar as future Peter had in Season One’s trip into the future and we quickly learn that this is the case again. The subtext of Claire and Peter’s conversation is that the world is not as it should be, those with powers are hunted, put into camps and live in hiding. Peter says it is because of Nathan exposing them. We also see that Claire is now “bad” or at least acting against Peter when she goes to shoot him but Peter escapes into the past33.
So, Future Peter travels to just before Nathan exposes them all and shoots him. In addition to Future Peter we have Hiro Nakumura, the original time traveler, in Japan. Hiro opens his father’s safe and in doing so allows a very important formula to be stolen by a hi-powered speedster Daphne. Hiro’s first instinct is to travel to the future to see if this causes the end of the world, which he sees the world exploding and his friend Ando betraying him.
As this volume progresses we see Peter intentionally travelling to the future to find Sylar and seeing a world overrun with people possessing powers, the same world that Peter learns was the cause of Earth’s destruction. Matt Parkman goes on a mind trip into the same future to witness it34. Hiro also travels into the past to meet his mother35.
Volume Three took up half of the third season and already we have time travel dominating the series. Even critics view this as a growing weakness that causes the series to grow stale36. These multiple trips into the past and future trivializes the plot device and shows that the actions of the characters really do not have any meaning. This is because future Peter travelled back in time to prevent the camps and the rounding up of heroes37. After he accomplishes his mission and the future changes, Future Peter’s reasons for coming changes to stopping the over running of the world by super humans38. It looks as if the writers changed their mind in midstream. This started the disjointing of the story and causing the characters to be reactionary as opposed to active. Parkman, Peter, and Hiro all react to the warning of the future and are driven by this action, not their own will.
The reintroduction of time travel for volume three did not destroy the plotline. There were other contributing factors to its failure such as the introduction of the child like Hiro, the plan to create super soldiers by giving them powers, and the bizarre turn of Nathan to enact the series own mutant registration act39,40,41. Nathan doing this brings the plot full circle from episode one to the first episode of volume four. Some could reason that the underlying subtext was that time travel could not change the future and by travelling back in time Future Peter still caused his future by allowing Nathan to side with their father and then gain his reasons for betraying their kind.
Looking back on the volume, if time travel had not been used at all the story may have been stronger and less ridiculous. I say less ridiculous because why wouldn’t Hiro just travel back to before he opened the safe and tell himself not to open it? Season two and three already established that interacting with your old self does not implode the universe. Introducing time travel into this volume created more thematic and story problems than the series needed in order to recover from the abbreviated season two.
So did Heroes fail because of time travel? Yes and no. We aren’t going to go any further in this analysis because Season Four had less use of Time Travel than Three. That and by this time the series was pretty much viewed as past its prime by the critics and viewing public based on ratings numbers.
I think that the series may have opened pandora’s story box when they let this genie out of the bottle. They never could regain the story momentum they had before. Time travel took over the story and it got away from the writers as they struggled to regain that same magic season one had. I don’t feel that time travel was the sole ruin of what was a series with amazing potential. Season one shows that time travel could be used effectively to accentuate a great story with well developed characters. It is when this device takes over a story not intended to be solely about time travel that things get a little, ahead of themselves. No pun intended.
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13. “Hiros,” Heroes, NBC, 23 October 2006, DVD.
14. “Six Months Ago,” Heroes, NBC, 27 November 2006, DVD.
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18. “One Giant Leap,” Heroes, NBC, 30 April 2007, DVD.
19. Robert Seidman, “Heroes Ratings 2007-2008,” tvbythenumbers.com, 18 November 2007, http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2007/11/18/heroes-ratings-2007-2007/1812/
20. “Inside the Alternate Ending: What if Peter didn’t catch the virus?” Heroes Complete Season 2 DVD, 26 August 2008. DVD.
21. Jeff Jensen, “’Heroes” Creator Apologizes to Fans,”Entertainment Weekly.com, 7 November 2007, http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20158840,00.html
22. “How to Stop and Exploding Man,” May 2007.
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24. “Four Months Later,” September 2007.
25. “Lizards,” Heroes, NBC, 1 October 2007, DVD.
26. “The Line,” Heroes, NBC, 29 October 2007, DVD.
27. “Cautionary Tales,” Heroes, NBC, 19 November 2007, DVD.
28. “The Line,” October 2007.
29. “Out of Time,” Heroes, NBC, 5 November 2007, DVD.
30. “Four Months Ago,” Heroes, NBC, 12 November 2007, DVD.
31. “Truth and Consequences,” Heroes, NBC, 26 November 2007, DVD.
32. “Powerless,” Heroes, NBC, 3 December 2007, DVD.
33. “The Second Coming,” Heroes, NBC, 22 September 2008, DVD.
34. “I Am Become Death,” Heroes, NBC, 6 October 2008, DVD.
35. “Our Father,” Heroes, NBC, 8 December 2008, DVD.
36. Marc Bernardin, “’Heroes’: A Wrinkle in Time,” Entertainment Weekly.com, 23 September 2008, http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20228188,00.html
37. “The Second Coming,” September 2008.
38. “I Am Become Death,” October 2008.
39. “It’s Coming,” Heroes, NBC, 17 November 2008, DVD.
40. “Our Father,” December 2008.
41. “Dual,” Heroes, NBC, 15 December 2008, DVD.