And now, long enough after the fact that no one could possibly care, I admit that my prediction for the season finale of Heroes was wrong, and explain why I feel that what we were given instead wasn't a lot better.
It's inevitable, I think, for grand finales built up so well for so long to fall short of expectations. What one envisions in ones head is always more satisfying than what ends up on the screen. The people who put the show together understand this, which is why the initial battle between Peter and Sylar, five years in the future, wasn't even shown. All you saw was them advancing on each other, then Mohinder desperately trying to hold the door shut as outside brilliant flashes of light suggested the world was ending in the hallway outside, and the specifics were entirely up to the imagination.
That was brilliantly portrayed, but it left me with the concern that actually seeing them battle in the season finale, five years earlier, would be a letdown. I had no idea how right I was.
I'm sure part of the problem was my own high expectations for it, though to be fair I think my expectations were reasonable. Throughout the season, the various abilities demonstrated by the characters were very well utilized. In bad writing, the solution is available from the first moment, and the characters are just too stupid to realize it until it's convenient to the plot, but that really didn't happen in Heroes. I did expect that the two characters who would eventually have to be killed off were Hiro and Peter (and, later, Sylar), because the nature of their abilities made them too powerful to plausibly write stories for over the long haul. Hiro they dealt with by having him not really understand how to use his powers, but once Peter got the hang of his, I figured he'd have to die. A character who can end up doing just about anything is one who doesn't need other characters, because he's so much more powerful than anyone else. (This is the same principle that explains why Aquaman has long been the most derided member of the Justice League. "Darkseid is threatening to destroy the planet? We're on it! Aquaman, you go, um, keep the harbor safe.")
As the season went on, it was clear that all the characters were going to end up in the same place at the same time. I was expecting this to be a battle royale, where everyone had a part to play. Abilities were so well used during the season that I couldn't wait to see them working together. Matt reading Sylar's mind, Mr. Bennet making up strategy on the fly, Niki/Jessica finally having someone to cut loose on, Claire taking a blast that would have killed Hiro so that he can finally kill Sylar... Something where everyone would be involved, and they'd all have to play their role against a much more powerful enemy if they wanted to defeat him. That's what I expected to see. Unreasonable? I don't believe so.
What'd we get instead? Sylar attacks Peter. Matt comes flying out and shoots at Sylar, who blocks the bullets and fires them back at Matt, more or less putting him down for the count. Sylar then summons a parking meter and clocks Peter with it once. He'd do it again, but Niki jumps in and belts him. Before she can do anything more, Micah calls out "Dad needs your help" and Peter, who so far has gotten strangled and pummeled with a parking meter while watching Matt get blasted with his own bullets, announces, "Go back to your family. I got this," and for some reason she believes him, wandering out of the battle zone to watch her husband bleed some more. Then Peter, the man of a thousand powers, repeatedly punches Sylar in the face, which worked fine for Michael Knight, sure, but Peter's got a lot more going for him.
There's a brief potentially interesting moment when Peter starts to absorb the "nuclear" ability and Sylar tells him, "Turns out you're the villain, Peter. I'm the hero," though it may have been more interesting if we hadn't learned this several episodes earlier. Before we can take the time to fully turn this situation on its head, however, Hiro pops in.
Bear in mind that Hiro has confronted Sylar several times already at this point. He sneaked up on Sylar, who was able to block him at the last instant and break his sword. Even with the advantage of surprise, Sylar proved more than a match for Hiro. Now Sylar has met him several times and seen the comic from the future where his fate, via Isaac's comic, is revealed to be death at Hiro's hand, by a sword to the chest. Forewarned is forearmed?
Nah. Hiro appears behind Sylar and announces himself. Sylar turns and says, "You!" Then Hiro holds the sword out on front of him, gives a battle cry, and
Sylar, who minutes earlier was able to stop bullets fired from behind him, now cannot stop a single man with a sword who charged at him with all the subtlety of a bull elephant stampede. So Sylar collapses, and after using his power to hurl Hiro through the air until Hiro disappears to save himself, Sylar's eyes go glassy white as he dies. A few punches to the head, one hit from a parking meter, and one thrust of a sword. Two minutes of battle. This is the dramatic payoff moment for two dozen episodes of buildup? Meanwhile, the other heroes sit around and watch. Just because Sylar is the evil they need to stop doesn't mean they should feel any need to get involved or anything.
Claire arrives and advances on Peter with a gun, readying herself to kill him to protect the city, as they agreed. Before she can pull the trigger, though, Nathan comes swooping in and, after a quick denouement, flew him up to a safe altitude where he can explode in a nuclear fireball without destroying the city. Problem solved.
A lot of people have complained about why Nathan would have to do that when Peter can already fly. I don't see that as a problem. It's not the prettiest analogy, but it strikes me as similar to a person who is trying not to throw up and has to concentrate on it and battle it down before they can move. Peter is doing everything he can to control one power, and can't spare the effort to use another. What I do have a problem with is that this "sacrifice" gives no reason to believe that either character has died. We know Peter has the ability to survive the explosion, so he'll come through this in one piece. Similarly, we saw Nathan fly Peter up, but we didn't follow them. There was plenty of time to fly Peter up high, then turn and escape the blast radius before the explosion. Odds are neither one of them actually died. A noble sacrifice in which nothing is lost.
Then we get the police and ambulances there later, Matt being wheeled off, unconscious but likely to survive. And last, and worst of all, we get a shot of the blood stain where Sylar had been lying, with a smear of blood reaching to an open manhole cover that looks more like something being dragged or pulling itself along than it does blood trickling from a body, and a shot of a cockroach walking along it, leaving us with the suggestion that Sylar also survived and the big grand finale has resolved absolutely nothing whatsoever. It also suggests that after all that everyone has been through, and with all the emergency response teams there, the body of Sylar simply disappeared, or crawled off, or was stolen, without anyone noticing.
So much buildup, so much good writing, so much character, all leading up to an inevitable fight that proceeded completely by the numbers and left us with nothing more than we had before. Disappointing by any standard.
Maybe if they'd had the extra hour for the finale like it was hinted they would earlier, things might have been different. With an extra hour, there would have been more time to move pieces around and set things up for the big confrontation at the end. Without it, the episode still didn't feel rushed, but it did feel as though they really just wanted to wrap things up without much concern for how much sense it made given all that was established before it.
A great season with a disappointing ending. Unfortunate, but it was still a great season. Hopefully they put the pieces together for season two just as well, and this time avoid the easy, predictable ending in favor of one that does justice to what came before.