Who Needs Fresh Air?

Who Needs Fresh Air?: Heroes, Season 2 (Aug 29)

It’s been almost nine months since Heroes last aired. If you conceived immediately after the Season Two finale, you’re just about ready to give birth. (Congratulations, by the way.)

The second season took quite a beating, to the extent that the network and creative team keep promising us that the upcoming Season Three will be better. Poor Season Two, getting treated like a red-headed stepchild. Well, with the entire season now available on DVD, I can not confidently say that Season Two was pretty darn good.

Season One was a roller-coaster ride, introducing a large cast and a whole new world. The whole premise was new for network television, so they could get away with meandering in the beginning. It wasn’t necessary to establish the stakes or build the relationships right away, because we were still adjusting to the indestructible cheerleader and Hiro’s control of time. As a result it was an exciting surprise when Hiro jumped forward in time to a ravaged New York. All of a sudden, the season had an endgame, and then the ride began in earnest.

That season structure worked very well, but when the creators used the same structure in the second season, viewers got upset. Sure, another time jump to an unpopulated New York City didn’t exactly scream “originality” at this point, but that can be forgiven. Time-jumping to the aftermath of a disaster is a pretty good way to get some momentum going. And as the season went on, it did become clear that this was a very different disaster, but at the time, yeah, I understand how people weren’t immediately bowled over.

Set four months after the climactic finale of Season One, the regulars have scattered throughout time and space. Nathan Petrelli grew a crazy guy beard and sees a hideously burned reflection every time he looks in the mirror. Peter lost his memory and ended up in a shipping container. Noah Bennett, Claire, and the rest of the family are hiding under assumed names. Parkman and Mohinder are playing My Two Dads with Molly, the Human GPS. D.L. is dead, Sylar’s lost his powers, and Hiro is stuck in feudal Japan.

The main plot for the season is a virus that threatens to wipe out the population of New York. As in the first season, the protagonists are pitted against one another, sometimes because they have the same goal but different methods, and sometimes because they have a different idea of what the goal is. Throughout the season, it’s consistently solid storytelling and (mostly) likeable characters.

If there’s a legitimate gripe about Season Two, it’s the new characters. In the first season, all the disparate characters eventually came together on a reasonably even footing. The second season introduced several new characters right off the bat, but it didn’t work as well this time. Frankly, after spending a season with Hiro and Nathan, the audience is invested in them. New characters are a distraction from the people we already care about. The most successful were the ones who were immediately connected to an established character. Kristen Bell’s Elle was interesting right away, partly because she’s Kristen Bell, partly because her introduction was tied into Peter’s arc from the very beginning. Takezo Kensei, AKA Adam Monroe, AKA Sark from Alias similarly succeeds. Making him a key part of Hiro’s story this season made the character much more popular and crucial to the season.

On the other hand, Maya and Alejandro (the Virus Twins) took forever to intersect with familiar characters. For much of the season, they were nothing but lengthy divergences from the characters we like. At least by the end of the season, Maya is pretty well integrated into the cast. Still, I can’t deny that their earliest scenes felt like a waste of time. Another new character, Monica Dawson, acquits herself slightly better. She has a clever power, the ability to copy any action that she watches, and her discovery of that power is played pretty well. Unfortunately, she ends up chained to Niki and Micah. Once Niki’s “evil twin” angle was played out, she wasn’t exactly compelling on her own. Other than a brief stint working for The Company, her interactions with the main cast were pretty minimal this season. As a result, Monica never really important to the story. Again, she has potential for next season, but at the time, it felt like a stumble.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that the Writer’s Strike meant that this season ran only eleven episodes, so any long-term plans for these characters in the second half of the season were pretty well scuttled.

Complaints about new characters aside (except for Claire’s new boyfriend – that guy just sucked), Season Two was a lot of fun. And having it all collected means that the build-up of the early episodes is much easier to take. Even the Virus Twins are less irritating when you know the next episode is ready and waiting, and they’re not taking time away from Hiro until next week. By the time you cross the halfway point, it’s exciting and just as much fun as the first season. Anybody who claims Season Two was a misfire has forgotten Bob and Bennett facing off, and the apparent shocking death of a favorite character. They’ve forgotten Matt facing his fears and his bad dad. And they’ve forgotten Hiro vs. Peter for control of the virus. Taken in weekly doses, the “Generations” saga would have benefited from immediate follow-up, but in a box set, it’s some fine entertainment.

There’s a nice assortment of special features. Aside from the standard commentaries (of varying quality – but you definitely want to catch any commentary that features Jack “Noah Bennett” Coleman. Not only is he the coolest guy on the show, but he’s funny.) and deleted scenes (again, of varying quality), there are a nice assortment of interviews, technical featurettes, and previews.

A sneak peek of Season Three features interviews with several members of the cast. It does a good job of getting me geeked, but I do have to wonder at prominently including an actress who seemed to have died in the Season Two finale. There’s an alternate ending to the finale, in which Peter doesn’t catch the vial, as well as an interview with the writers as to where they would have gone had they used that ending. Other features explore the legend of Takezo Kensei and showcase some segments that would have been used in episodes 12 and 13, had there been a 12th and 13th episode this season.

This is a really nice collection of an unfairly maligned season. Watch it and prepare yourself for Season Three. We are going to be talking about Hiro and The Company when that time comes, so you’ll want to be ready.

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