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What Makes a Hero?

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Heroes episode 17 – "Company Man" – is the finest 45 minutes of television I've ever seen.

It's been an astonishing series so far; I can't recall any other show that's made me howl in disbelief as another cliffhanger presents itself. Almost every episode ends with the viewer desperate to see next week's installment. To achieve that level of captivation, and sustain it for 17 episodes, is unequalled.

24 attempts it, but the increasingly ludicrous adventures of Jack Bauer are attractive more because we want to be surprised by the next set of twists and turns rather than a ferocious need to see what happens to our favourite characters next week. Buffy achieved it from time to time, but couldn't sustain it, and didn't achieve it in its first season.

As an audience, we're used to the flashback technique — we've seen it all before. But in this episode, as we're treated to visions of the past, more pieces of the Heroes puzzle – a puzzle that's plagued us for so long now – fall into place, and yet we're left with more questions. Just as some doors are closed, other doors are opened. This is one of Heroes' greatest strengths.

Over the course of the last 16 episodes, the titular heroes have transitioned from hero to villain; at times mysterious, then tantalizingly revealed, before being plunged back into mystery again. We never quite know who's who: preconceptions formed in the first few hours of the show are revealed to be way off the mark. And yet, just when you think you've figured things out, the rug's pulled from under you again and you're lost — desperate for that next episode so you can see where things end up.

From the very first show, Heroes has been magnificently written, directed, and acted. It's not just about the Heroes we see on-screen, but the heroes involved in the production of such a brilliantly realised show. Tim Kring, series creator, is as much a hero to his audience as the characters he puts on screen. The inclusion of Stan Lee in a previous episode tips the hat to what must be one of Kring's own heroes — not to mention an idol of a good percentage of the show's fans.

The directors, script writers, special effects team, and the actors – most notably Hayden Panettiere, Jack Coleman, and Masi Oka, but across the board – are heroes in their own right, doing an incredible job week on week. Ali Larter seems to come under fire quite often for her portrayal of dual roles Niki and Jessica, but in this writer's opinion she's doing a fine job; given the amount of time she's had on screen over the course of the series so far, if she was as bad as certain people have suggested, she'd have been killed off long ago.

And that's the other thing about Heroes: you just don't know who might die. The show is bigger than any one of its characters. Everybody will have their own personal favourite: they may go for the geek – loving Hiro's comic book references, they might enjoy the teen angst of indestructible cheerleader Claire, maybe sexy psycho Niki floats your boat, or maybe Peter's combination of awesome power and dark, handsome looks do it for you; there's something for everyone. The show isn't called Peter Petrelli, or Hiro Nakamura – it's called Heroes. Every single one of these characters is fair game, but vitally important to everything that's going on.

And it's not just about the heroes, is it? There are always those plain old humans that are caught in the firing line. Quite literally, in recent episodes. How many other shows would have the balls to – as far as we know – kill off a major character, and then spend 45 minutes focusing on something totally different? And yet it wasn't until after finishing episode 17 that I noticed the lack of a resolution. But it's impossible to hold the shifting perspectives against the show.

Every character has a dilemma, circumstance, or motivation that we can identify with, sympathise with, or rally against. Super-powered serial killer Sylar is an incredible embodiment of evil; a character who can be universally hated. Psychic cop Matt Parkman has a pregnant wife and no job – you can't help but sympathise with him. But he's one of the primary catalysts for the events of "Company Man", so he's not as clean-cut as we first thought. Peter, Isaac, and Simone's love triangle; Nathan's past coming back to haunt him; D.L.'s trepidation at the prospect of being a proper father; there are so many layers involved, and the characters are developed with more care and depth than anything of this ilk before.

The final moments of Heroes' 17th episode had me crying like a baby. A combination of superb performances, excellent writing, and characters that the audience genuinely care about, resulted in one of television's most incredible moments. It's that kind of perfect symmetry that results in something very special, very meaningful. After everything else that the episode offers – packed as it is with drama, tension, mystery, and explosive action – its conclusion comes as a real punch to the gut.

If the show continues to move forward with the steady hand we've seen so far, we may not have seen that best it has to offer. With the series finale drawing inevitably closer, it's hard not to wonder what's coming. Hiro hasn't found his sword, we've not met Linderman, Nathan hasn't made it into office, Sylar hasn't been stopped; the list goes on and on. And then what will season two offer?

With just a handful of episodes remaining, there are an awful lot of questions left unanswered. Next week really can't come soon enough.

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  • Ty

    “Ali Larter seems to come under fire quite often for her portrayal of dual roles Niki and Jessica, but in this writer’s opinion she’s doing a fine job; given the amount of time she’s had on screen over the course of the series so far, if she was as bad as certain people have suggested, she’d have been killed off long ago.”

    I think Ali Larter is doing a good job. The problem is, WE HATE THE NIKKI/JESSICA STORYLINE. It flat out sucks. Ditto that for her son and her husband. I am glad the last two weeks have shown no signs of any of these people: Nikki/Jessica was not written well, and that is really what brings this subplot down.