On Heroes and Hiatuses

An audible “WTF” escaped me last month, when Heroes announced it was taking another mid-season, six week hiatus. At the time the wait seemed unbearably long – would I still remember who was trying to kill whom, six weeks down the line? – but now, on the eve of the show’s return, I can say that I’ve weathered Heroes’ absence stoically, steering well clear, for instance, of the quick, dirty fixes afforded by fan fiction and Photoshopped Claire porn.

(Ahem: Heroes fan fiction. Wow.)

Of course I’m excited for the return of everyone’s favorite self-consciously multi-ethnic group of heroes, but in all frankness I have to admit that these hiatuses aren’t so bad. At the very least, I’ve had six Monday nights free during which I’ve, y’know, filed my taxes, signed up for a Pilates class, and finally gotten around to reading The Da Vinci code. (It should go without saying that I was unseduced by NBC’s necessarily watered-down tales of the black Irish – even Ryan O’Riley was basically a nancy boy, and he was in a maximum security prison on a premium cable channel!)

There are some pretty straightforward reasons why networks regularly put some of their top shows on hold for six weeks or more at a time: production schedules, programming, re-writes. And taking a mid-season recess is so widespread that not having any hiatus (24‘s “non-stop” season!) becomes a selling-point. But whereas a show like 24 really depends on regular, compulsive viewing to achieve its ever-diminishing adrenaline returns, I’m increasingly convinced that audiences for shows like Heroes or Lost or (in some sense) The Sopranos actually stand to benefit from taking some time off in the middle of a season. These hiatuses are more productive than we conventionally believe, since our investment in these kinds of shows hinges at least as much on a kind of direct relationship to their characters as it does on the actual narrative developments that take place. (A quick aside: I couldn’t be more bored by Heroes v. Lost comparisons that celebrate the former for its consistent narrative payoffs. I would be far more patient with Lost‘s slow reveal if I actually gave two shits about anyone on the island. The Others are far more interesting to me than any of the remaining survivors. Jack, Kate, and Sawyer should seriously consider a triple suicide pact.)

My point is that time apart from characters we care about does perform a kind of work for the show, provided we’ve left things on the right note. The experience is not unlike an unhappy break-up: as we go about our newly droll Monday nights, we’re left to wonder constantly what these characters are doing without us. Are they having more fun? Spiralling out of control? Eating leftovers and growing less and less concerned about personal hygiene? Personally I’ve been consumed by any number of burning questions: are Peter and Claire any further along the slippery slope toward becoming kissing cousins? Or has Claire acquired a taste for something a little darker, perhaps, having entrusted herself to the Haitian? Is Hiro wising up at all, and using his powers for profit? Have Sylar and Suresh resolved their differences and resumed their wacky, Thelma & Louise road trip?

Time apart is only productive if it ends with time together, so by now I’m curious to see how much ground Heroes will cover with its remaining five episodes. Aside from resolving the whole saving-the-world storyline, setting up a second season is going to involve some serious work. And since I can’t imagine being distracted by the way Milo Ventimiglia’s mouth gets all asymmetrical whenever he says anything (not to mention his 90210 haircut) for another whole season, I’m crossing my fingers in the hope that the show’s writers are hard at work dreaming up some new heroes for us.

And finally, one parting wish for the show’s return tomorrow night: I don’t really expect NBC to be quite so bold as, say, HBO – I’m thinking of the season 5 finale of Oz, when the show’s erstwhile narrator was killed with an entire season remaining for the series – but I would be so happy if Sylar did us all a favor and lobotomized the hell out of Mohinder. Narratively he’s 100% disposable: Sylar’s character (or even Primatech) already does the work of explicitly linking the various heroes we’ve met. And honestly I couldn’t possibly care less about Mohinder’s daddy issues (which are such a de-clawed commentary on South Asian parenting styles as to be a joke more than anything else — just ask some of my TubaTV colleagues). Please please please, NBC! May Mohinder not survive another episode.

– J.C. Freñán