Last night's intriguing episode of Heroes, called "It's Coming," brought us deep into the crises suffered by central characters Hiro and Sylar. As one man regresses and the other moves forward in his self-transformation, it's becoming obvious that Heroes cannot deal with the idea of making Hiro into a true hero. Why does Sylar get to be the new force of great justice in this show, while Hiro is consigned to the role of cutey clown? Spoilers ahead. There's a lot of coolness in "It's Coming," including a showdown between mind-reading Parkman, speedy Daphne, and the whole Petrelli clan. Suffice to say Parkman and mama Petrelli manage to defeat papa Petrelli's mind-smoosh, and are now scheming with Peter and Nathan to stop papa's evil plan to find the "catalyst" that will make the formula work. Yes, the "catalyst" is in Claire's blood, and yes of course freezy PR girl Tracy is scheming with papa to turn Nathan to the dark side. But the most interesting developments by far last night involved Hiro and Sylar. First let's consider Hiro's predicament. The once-beloved character has reached pretty much the nadir of his arc. He began so promisingly in the show's first season as an innocent otaku with a future of sword-wielding badassery, and then somewhere in season 2 it was if the show creators gave up on making him into a capable adult. Throughout the current season, he's been a grating clown who acts like a 10-year-old; and now, thanks to papa P's mind-scramble, he actually believes he's a 10-year-old. As you can see in the clip above, Hiro spends most of the episode acting silly in a waffle restaurant at a bowling alley. Why haven't we seen Hiro developing into badass Future Hiro with the leather and sword? The man who no longer has to speak in pidgin? The simple answer is that the dystopian future where he became that man isn't going to happen. But the more disappointing answer is that this show can't seem to allow its Asian male heroes to be powerful, fully adult, sexual beings without punishing them. Each time Hiro has inched towards having an adult identity, whether that's as Future Hiro or the lover of the feudal-era princess in season 2, he's slapped back. Not only is he robbed of these identities, he's actually turned into somebody (a child) who can never have them. And don't even get me started on Suresh, who was an unctuous weakling for two seasons, a guy who spent all his time whining or being a voice-over. And then when he finally became sexually involved with somebody, it turned out it was because he was slowly mutating into a hideous monster. Why can't Heroes make these men sexy and tough, instead of reducing them to aimless boy-children, easily manipulated and undermined at every turn? It's interesting to compare Hiro's fate to Sylar's because their beginnings were oddly parallel. Sylar, AKA Gabriel, began as an awkward geek who wanted to be a hero. But unlike Hiro, whose dark future self never came to pass, Gabriel's dark self was fully realized in the serial killer Sylar. Gabriel moved through that dark self, a kind of hideous adolescence, and is now progressing beyond it. Hiro never got the opportunity to explore his darker half, and therefore his character remains a kind of eternal child. Meanwhile, Gabriel is evolving into a multi-faceted character who is the master of his fate even when captured by papa Petrelli. One of the very best scenes all season came last night, when Gabriel truly emerged from Sylar. Papa Petrelli tells Sylar that he can actually take someone's powers without killing them, as long as he feels empathy. And then he locks Sylar in with electric Elle, who is filled with pain, wants to be rid of her powers, and hates Sylar for killing her father. She also, of course, loves Sylar too. Last week we learned that she worked with HRG to seduce Gabriel into becoming the monstrous Sylar - and her seduction was not entirely a put-on. As Sylar faces Elle's rage, his dark self is burned away and Gabriel emerges. He's become a man who understands his power and can control it. And he's finally able to connect with another human being without taking her life. We know that Elle and Sylar are going to end up romantically involved, and there is nothing cutesy-poo or innocent about that connection. While Hiro scampers around acting like a kid, Gabriel has become a man. And now I'd like to see Hiro get the same thoughtful treatment that Gabriel has. His character was my absolute favorite during the first season, and I feel like we've missed out on the opportunity to see him develop into an interesting, complex superhero. Will we ever get that chance, or do the show creators think the only possible role for our brave otaku is one of babyish impotence?
Is it really that shocking that the writers have fumbled a few of the characters? I mean, they've fumbled a few seasons. Suresh and Hiro just seem to be collateral damage.
That said, I can at least offer a reason why Hiro continues to be marginalized - someone who can control time and space CANNOT be a protagonist without some kind of handicap slapped on them. If Hiro was allowed to become the promised bad-ass from the first season then what, realistically, could serve as a challenge to him? He'd be far to powerful. And since nothing could challenge him, he'd never experience character growth, and without either of those things, there really isn't a story to tell. In order to keep the admittedly charming character of Hiro around, they have to keep kicking his legs out from under him to tell a story.
If they ever do let him come into his own as a character they are going to have to limit him to only slowing time and/or line of sight teleporting, or he's going to have to make a heroic sacrifice. Nothing else will serve.