The Racialicious Roundtable for Heroes 3.7

Hosted by Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

The ratings are down between 20 and 50 percent depending on who you ask. Entertainment Weekly has declared it “a series in crisis.” Even mild-mannered Yahoo has declared it has “jumped the shark,” forcing the typically fawning comic-book press to come to its defense. Clearly, Heroes has reached a turning point – or maybe the end of its’ rope? As the series moves into a new, decidedly soap-influenced direction, our roundtable convenes to focus on some troubling statements attributed to series creator Tim Kring over the past week.

In that EW cover story, Kring said the show is “at its heart, a family drama that deals with two main families in particular, the Bennet family and the Petrelli family.” What does Kring’s banking on these two clans say to you about his investment – and ours – in characters like Hiro, Suresh, Parkman, et al?

Hexy: Well, it says he doesn’t give a crap about them. But you know who I’m MORE pissed on behalf of? The Hawkins/Sanders. There we had another family being set up with its own internal dynamic and personal struggles, and this season we find out that (like the Petrellis) it has unexpected extra branches. Hell, it’s even got blondes, which seems to be a pre-requisite for getting any of the writers of this show to pay attention to your gene pool, and I distinctly remember a shocking promise of storylines to come when Linderman revealed that he’d somehow orchestrated the existence of that family unit.

But no. The mixed-race family containing the only sex working character we’ve yet seen doesn’t get to be part of the “family drama” side of Heroes, unless you count watching Micah pout at his newfound Aunt for thirty seconds before she runs off to spend time with the families that REALLY matter.

Mahsino: In the EW article, I will admit I learned something new: the new “P.C.” euphemism for Magical Negro is now “Noble Black Man”. I’d say that Kring’s analysis of the main characters in the show is very indicative of the sense of what I like to call the white default. Usually in the media, (this even includes books with the exception of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys) the main characters tend to be white. Every other character is defined by their ethnicity and is usually in the background. What partially drew me to Heroes was that, in the beginning, there was no visible white default- sure there was Peter, but he was getting equal airtime as Hiro. The fact that Mohinder was a constant presence in the show impressed me. But now, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that this show is going the way of Grey’s Anatomy — another show that began with a great sense of diversity that faded its characters of color into the background.

Erica: The term “family drama” typically means “family friendly,” and Heroes is really anything but family-friendly. It’s violent, dark, and scary. If it simply means, “drama about families”, then that’s just horribly boring. I thought we were watching to see people with mutant powers, not people who hug and cry and throw their brothers out of windows. (And from Racialicious commenters’ reaction to the latest recap, it’s clear that very few people liked
that quote!) Anyway.

I’m disappointed to see Kring’s lack of interest in his extended cast, and my hope for a resurgence of diversity (and interesting new stories) is swiftly dying. The quote confirms that other characters are just a support system for the Bennet and Petrelli families. No wonder many of them seem to be given far less time than their potentially interesting stories deserve. Given the breadth of characters we saw in Season One (remember those days, when the show didn’t suck much?) and the potential for variety, I don’t understand WHY. There’s not much suspense in showing Mama and Papa Petrelli fight for the love (or hatred) of their sons. Concentrating on their dysfunction is simply going to continue pissing off the fanbase, particularly people who are only casually interested — people who make up the bulk of the ratings.

(Am I the only one who’s surprised that the deep, life-changing secrets that Angela and Arthur like to throw at the boys are actually all true? Any self-respecting family drama would realize that either one would lie about anything to get the Petrelli Boys on his or her side.)

Clara: I started thinking of the two families as the Shiney Blondes and the Sparkly Dark-Brunettes this episode, because there really seems to be a hair-color coding system going on with the Bennets and Petrellis. (Yes, Noah does not have blonde hair, I know. But his hair color is pretty light compared to the Petrelli shade of brown.)

I am bothered by Kring’s statement because he ignores all the other family dramas present in Heroes, especially since there are so many to choose from. What about Hiro and his dad, Kaito? Kaito was one of the Company founders. He’s also supposed to be dead. Why can’t he come back to life all evil and stuff too, like Arthur Petrelli? And what about Mohinder and his daddy issues? Can’t Chandra Suresh have another secret and come back to life as well? How about, Chandra was actually the original author of the power-giving formula and somehow gave himself the ability to fake his death and bounce back two seasons later?

Basically, it’s like Kring is saying only the good looking white families matter in this show. And considering the fame Heroes has gotten for its multicultural cast, that’s pretty terrible. I’m betting the writers finally got overwhelmed by all the characters and decided to concentrate only the Blonde Bennets and the Brunette Petrellis. “Too many personalities. Just focus on the pretty ones!” It’s a shame that the other families don’t get this type of treatment.

Speaking of Kring, he was quoted by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, aka Usutu, aka African Isaac in another interview as saying his character was “a Yoda-like figure.” So much so, in fact, that in the orginal script, Usutu actually spoke backward. Does that confirm our worst suspicions about the character? Is anybody going to take my $10 bet he’ll never be named?

Clara: Ugh, that’s terrible. A Yoda-like character? That confirms my decisions, especially with all the talk about decisions being made for you.

Personally, I’m hoping Usutu will end up going to Pinehearst and show off badass fighting skills (if you’re a precog, then you can evade every attack. Usutu proved this with Hiro’s attempts) in a showdown with Arthur Petrelli, in which he will not only reveal his name but save everyone. And then Arthur Petrelli will remember some file or whatever from the Company and shout in shock, “It… It can’t be! Usutu? But I thought you were dead!” Usutu will then smile, say something witty, and proceed to be more badass. Then, just for good measure, the Haitian will show up and also reveal his name, conveniently.

Mahsino: Okay, so I know this is going to sound bitter, it’s that kind of day, but I read the interview with Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as pretty much saying that they wanted an Africanized version of the classic 1930’s shuckin and jivin’ minstrel: can’t speak properly, unintelligent- but willing to shine the Heroes proverbial shoes when asked.

I’m guessing African Isaac/ Noble Negro/African Mystic will, at best get his name in the same manner Noah Bennet did in the season finale of season 1- but then again, such a significant line would be dependent on him having significant airtime rather than acting as the magical helper of other Heroes.

Erica: Yoda-like? Spoke BACKWARDS? Um. Wow.

I originally figured on giving them two — at most three — episodes of Usutu before they deserved a FAIL tag for not telling us where he lives, And this week, I noticed that, yet again, “SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA” is the tagline for Usutu that African guy. In combination with the recipe that’s been in his family for “thousands of years” (African mystics who eat shit to have visions!), and the continued lack of an actual name, I have nothing left but weary resignation every time he’s on screen. (Seriously, Hiro, you didn’t even ask the man his name before eating what he’s cooking?) I am very disappointed. So I’m not betting he’ll get a name, I need that $10! :)

Hexy: I would answer your question, but I’m sobbing quietly into my desk over the words “Yoda-like figure”.

Speaking of Usutu, he’s currently mentoring Hiro and Ando. But is it a bit disturbing that Hiro still needs tutorials? Given that he: became an accomplished swordsman by training with his dad; became badass Future Hiro after Ando was killed; and moved proactively on his own when dealing with Kensei in the past, could we say that Ando really is holding him back?

Erica: Ando may not be a teacher, but that’s not the point of his character. He is supposed to be Hiro’s sidekick, friend, confidante, the one who helps him concentrate on reality and priorities. In previous seasons, Ando hasn’t been the cleverest partner — he falls for Hope, he attacks Sylar — which gives Hiro situations to address, and often learn from. Their friendship is an integral part of Hiro’s character. But this season, Ando is tending to be the smart one.

Giving Hiro yet another Big Lesson is ridiculous, but it’s apparently the only way for Hiro to regain the maturity and common sense he gained in Seasons One and Two. I don’t blame Ando, I blame bad writing.

Clara: I don’t think Ando is holding him back. Rather, I think the writing of the show is just going downhill and the writers have nothing better to do with Ando than write him as a crass, bumbling sidekick. When Hiro was stuck in the Kensei storyline, Ando gained the confidence of Kaito Nakamura, rose up through the ranks of the Nakamura company, and began a romance with Hiro’s sister. It seems like he had grown more intelligent and matured. Now he’s reduced back to his season 1 state. It’s disappointing.

Mahsino: Ando isn’t holding Hiro back, the writers are. I’m seriously beginning to think that if your last name isn’t Petrelli, you can’t be successful or in any way bad ass. Now if we were to find out that Hiro’s mom was really Angela Petrelli, I’m willing to bet that his transformation into future Hiro would be instantaneous: his hair would grow into a ponytail, he’d start wearing more black leather, and overall awesomeness would ensue.

Hexy: Interesting theory! I don’t know if it’s Ando, but something’s making him dumber. I understand that jumping him straight to future-badass Hiro would be a bit incongruous without the gritty future setting, but it would be nice to see him begin to progress down that path. If anything, he’s getting less effective than he was in season two, and we’ve already done this “I’m afraid to use my powers” thing to death. Yes, we get it, no major journeys to the past to change things. Maybe a jump of less than a thousand years might be a little less risky?

We keep getting little snippets of him being fantastic with the freezing time and teleporting tricks. He’s obviously getting better at handling his ability, and the journey of characterisation he went on last season was promising. I find his current ineptitude a bit of an insult to poor old Kaito.

Maya had an eventful week: her powers were finally removed, courtesy of Mr. Petrelli; and she broke up with Suresh, choosing instead to leave and make amends for the lives she took. Is she leaving too soon, or are you betting we’ll see her again?

Mahsino: The one good thing about this episode: it looks like Maya may be gone.

Hexy: I do think she’s coming back, and probably get landed with her detested power again before suffering some other trauma. Seriously, do you think this show is going to hand it’s first genuinely happy ending to a woman of colour?

Clara: I’m inclined to say that we’re not going to see Maya again, since her role as Mohinder’s companion, victim, and supposed motivation has been fulfilled. I’m glad she did not accept Mohinder back with open arms, however. Finally, the girl sticks up for herself! Then again, you never know what twist will happen, so I can’t say she won’t come back for sure. Maybe Arthur Petrelli will die and all the powers he took will return to their original owners and Maya will rush back.

Erica: In terms of what’s best for Maya, I don’t think she’s leaving too soon. (Hell, she would have left earlier if she hadn’t been glued to a wall.) She’s accomplished what she truly wanted, and can no longer accidentally hurt people. Her romance with Suresh obviously ended up being a disappointment, and she was much kinder to him than she needed to be. (How stupid was he, walking in with a big grin on his face when her powers had just been removed and thinking she’d be TOTALLY FINE with the whole glued-to-a-wall thing…)

I was mildly curious why she got an American passport from Pinehearst. It seemed an odd thing for her to flash. Presumably it’s the easiest way for her to get wherever she needs to go, rather than dealing with explaining that she’s entered the country illegally, but did we really need that political wrinkle introduced for her character?

Open Mic!

Hexy: The Parkmans: So… was Knox sent to kill them, or not? Was Pa Petrellia banking on Parkman being that good, or did Knox walk in there knowing he wasn’t going to get killed? Either way, if the clever spy infiltration schem revolves around Daphne lying to a psychic, he’s a pretty inept super villain. My prediction? Parkman Jnr knows she’s lying, and with his subtle-as-a-steam-train foreshadowing of how his dad could do just that same trick of convincing someone they’ve killed you, I wouldn’t be surprised if Parkman Snr turns out to still be around.

I continue to despise Daphne, incidentally. If anything, it’s actually worse when she tries to emote.

Erica: I must confess, I spent every scene in which Matt appeared worrying what would happen to his tortoise if anything happened to him. Seriously, the first words out of my mouth when Knox stuck a fist through him? “Oh no, who will feed the turtle!” Nothing like feeling invested in a character, eh?

Let’s say you’re a mutant with electricity powers. Let’s say you know you’re unable to control them at the moment. WHY the HELL would you get on the form of transport that is MOST susceptible to your out-of-control powers? REALLY!?! *sigh*

I have sat here for thirty minutes trying to think of anything else about the episode that stuck out in my mind, but it’s just coming up empty. I was neither very impressed nor very disappointed… just sort of “meh.” Hearing what Kring really thinks of the show doesn’t help. Oh well, I’ll save all that creative nitpicking energy for the next episode, I guess…

Clara: YAY FOR LATIN. I love Latin. I get excited whenever I see Latin outside of textbooks so the episode title made me smile, even though it was a little tacky.

Also, apparently Lyle Bennet still exists. That answers that question we’ve all been having.

Lastly, Arthur Petrelli seems to be the catch all solution to everyone’s probelms. Your boyfriend’s been trying to “cure” you but ended up sticking you to a wall instead? Can’t control your powers? Come to Pinehearst so Papa Petrelli can make it all go away in less than a minute! Papa Petrelli has all the answers to your past, Sylar, he’s the one who really loves and accepts you. Not that mean Mommy poophead.

It’s just all too convenient, and smacks of lazy writing.

Mahsino: At this point I’m not going to bother asking for a Black or Asian or Middle Eastern or Native female hero- I’ll just settle for a non-evil brunette or redhead. Four blonds? lets get some hair dye or something.

… Luckily, we’ve got plenty of shopping days until the next episode, as the show takes a one-week hiatus so NBC can celebrate formerly relevant political comedy. See you in 7 for the next recap!

Previously: Racialicious Heroes Archive

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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