Saturday, May 26, 2007

Heroes - 1x23 "How to Stop an Exploding Man"

(Bennet helps Peter up from off the street)
Peter: Thanks, man.
Bennet: Please, call me Mr. Bennet.

The moment Hiro ran Sylar through with a sword, you could feel the sweat flying off of the nerds sprinting to the nearest Internets and complain about the finale. They dismissed the "lame and anticlimactic ending" because it lacked the setpiece slobber-knocking showdown between Peter and Sylar that Heroes seemingly teased for the entire second half of the season; but what's more, their complaints overshadow the entire episode, which is in fact close to a classic.

The secret to this show is to realize that it's not a teleological narrative (i.e. a narrative that drives towards a final outcome), and its strength lies in the spectacular style and flair through which the stories are told. Non-comics readers might not be acclimated to this sort of narrative, though; comics, especially longform serial titles, are endless iterations of story arcs that oftentimes traffic in EPIC BATTLES FOR THE FATE OF THE WORLD, again and again, so by the time you've read a story where the world is saved after some monumental struggle for the nth time, you start to realize that the resolution is less important than how we got there, a "how we got there" filled with frankly unnarrative treasures. While I'm disappointed that there wasn't a gnarly setpiece between Sylar and Peter or the rest of the good guys, the relative lameness of the climax illustrates how Heroes at its best bypasses the very notion of an authoritarian, plot-driven narrative -- and the finale WAS FRAKKING AWESOME YOU DORKS -- to set up a new narrative iteration that functions as a vehicle for spectacular thrills.

And then someone called me Comic Book Guy.

The exemplar of the authoritarian, teleological narratives is of course Lost, where every detail, incidental or overdetermined alike, could be a clue to unraveling the single figure that dominates the show's very existence: What's up with the Island? Everything in Lost serves the Mystery in what could be called the dictatorship of the Mystery.

But for all of its mind-swerves, Lost remains predictably unpredictable. The show relies on an unchanging structural formula of the Mystery: the Lost narrative sets up a question, then another question, and then a third and a fourth question, then offers a non-answer to the first that begs a new question and yet another new question, and then a polar bear. As a result, after 3 seasons of this formula, viewers know to expect some kind of twist -- just not its specific details. So even when Walt reappears out of the blue to tell gut-shot Locke to get up from the pit of Dead Dharma, Lost is missing a sense of awe and wonderment. Viewers expect the unexpected.

Not so with Heroes. Which is to say: Enough about Lost.

Heroes is now jazz.

Where plot presupposes linear progress and rationalism, Heroes suspends formalist rules -- just as Hiro suspends time and space -- in favor of the simple and pure joy of the spectacle: the cheese that tickles the geek, the occasional setpiece to appeal to everyone, and the flying effects which create a sense of primal awe.

In "How to Stop an Exploding Man," the plot, in all of its teleological trappings, didn't so much climax or explode as crawl unseen into the sewer (so we're lead to believe). Instead, the joy of the episode shrugs off rationalism and narrative in favor of heroic spectacles that awe the viewer through sheer, astonishing audacity and humor that celebrates geek culture. Throughout the series, when we behold Claude the Invisible, Nakamura père, Charles Deveaux, or Linderman, we break the insularity of the narrative because we see more than their characters, we forget the plot fleetingly to exclaim, "Look! It's Dr. Who, Sulu, Shaft, or Dr. Soran, or I mean Alex!"

Like Claire leaping through a third-story window, these flourishes momentarily break the rationalism that permeates the quotidian -- the streets of NYC, in reality suffocated by pedestrians and traffic, are completely barren in the finale to let the Heroes get where they need to be. And with them we viewers are moved -- in all senses of the word -- unfettered by rationalism, into an ineffable timelessness.

Heroes... You look bad-ass!

Indie rating: Electrelane - "The Greater Times"
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