Pt. 1: This is why my girlfriend thinks I'm crazy, or: If she didn't before, she does now
I typed up my "live" reactions from last night's Oscars (which I watched in Fort Thank You in the hall lounge), and saved them to Listology. Sadly, I am not well-trained in the "live-blogging" department, so my reactions will probably only resonate with those who saw the telecast and can put my non-sequitors into context.
Anyways, here it is.
My feelings the day after? That was the most rewarding, but least dramatic, Oscar season I have ever followed. Great performances and great films seemed to be unbeatable the entire time, and the upsets that occurred last night (though I haven't seen La Vie en Rose) were pleasant surprises rather than disastrous mistakes; but without a powerful villain (i.e. a mediocre film), a hero (No Country) has nobody to battle.
Pt. 2: Love to all our non-white, non-American Heroes, or With great power comes great cultural insensitivity
And with that last metaphor there, I've realized that my recent Heroes binge is affecting me in strange and upsetting ways.
Before I begin to talk about my major problems with the show, I feel the need to explain my love for the show. I initially avoided it (despite my love of its older-brother-in-concept, X-Men) because I hate campy spectacles that give genres I love a bad name (sames true with Musicals). Early vewings were spotty at best, and I kept tuning in right as the show focused on Niki and Micah, the worst plotline of the first season. But after "Company Man" (still the best episode of the first season), I was kicking myself for jumping the bandwagon so late. While I still find certain racial elements problematic (I'll explain, in [too much] detail, below), and I acknowledge that some of the writing and acting can veer into the campy or wooden categories, I was evetually so wrapped-up in the storytelling that I could forgive the show and continue watching. But the second season brings both good and bad omens.
That? That's one of the bad omens.
Right now, I've got two episodes left in the second season, and I'm tempted to call it underrated. While I agree with the criticisms of the early episodes (far too slow, repetitive, and familiar to be that engaging to new or old viewers), the second half of the season seemed to actually recover quite nicely. I'm digging the general themes of gray-area morality, corruption of power, and the dreadfully (in a good way) slow realization that some of our current heroes are most likely tomorrow's villains.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that the character development of the second half of Season 2 (especially that of returning characters) was far superior to the first season's vague archetype building. I was afraid that with seemingly all of his secrets revealed, Noah Bennet (HRG) would fall to the wayside, or become (gasp!) predictable; but the twists and turns of the Mohinder/Bob/Noah moral triangle actually surprised me. The temptations of Matt Parkman, Maya (a character who has only grown on me slightly), West (who I pray they turn into a villain), and , of course, Takezo actually make for compelling TV. And the aftermath of the corruption these characters narrowly avoid (minus Takezo) are pretty well-embodied by Elle, Maury, Bob, Angela, and, of course, Adam.
Pete's flirt with darkness seems like a narrative dead-on in many regards, however. We know that he is the central figure of good, so the seduction of the minor characters has more pull, more chance of surprising us.
On the other hand, other storylines this season proved far more problematic than even the first season's Niki/DL/Micah plot. While Niki is given something somewhat interesting to do (almost die...I assume almost), Micah is still justsitting there...with that hair. (Is that a jerry-curl? Is what I just said offensive? Who knows?) His cousin's muscle mimicry is a great power in that it provides us with a special effect and person/power dynamic (not really a curse as much as just plain awesome and easy to master) we haven't encountered yet. But (and this leads me to my real point) Monica is just another in a long string of "ethnic" characters on Heroes whose powers or personalities are troublesome at best. Let me sum up:
- D.L. Hawkins (black) - former street criminal seeking to be there for his wife and son who he "abandoned". Has the power to make his body intangible, which has (up until Season 2, episode 9) only been stated or shown to help him break into buildings, escape jail, dodge bullets, and crack safes. He does, however, put his fist through a dude's head. That earns him points.
- Monica Dawson (black) - Katrina refugee who would have been the first person in her family to attend college. Her power as a muscle mimic also lies solely in her body (not cerebral or elemental), to the extent that she becomes unaware of moments in which she exhibits it. When she isn't kicking thug ass, she is busy not snitching and talking about how Katrina changed (or defines) her life.
- Mohinder Suresh (Indian) - A brilliant doctor, just like his father (they both also drive taxicabs at some point, but this is not so much unintentional as the characters comment on this...but still), Mohinder is tall, skinny and very, very Anglo in both his accent and his facial features. In the first season, Mohinder's scenes in India read more like he is a tourist who bears little resemblance to the more "Indian" world around him than a natural citizen. He has no power, but his intelligence and daddy issues prove almost as strategically powerful as any character's "gift".
- Ricki & Caitlin (Irish) - The bar-owning, family-loving, heavy-drinking ringleader and traditional sister-of-the-ringleader-who-falls-in-love-with-our-protagonist of an Irish gang of thieves. I believe there is an IRA joke or two. Ricki has Peter sworn into their criminal family using a vague Gaelic-looking tattoo after knowing him for approximately two days.
- Maya and Alejandro (Latino/a) - These orphaned twins are introduced heading towards America ("illegally") in an attempt to save the deeply-Catholic Maya's life. They end up picking up and trusting the villainous Sylar based on Maya's religious faith (his name is Gabriel as he tells them) even though Alejandro points out that Sylar is obviously going to betray them. They also manage to run into not one, but TWO old latina women screaming "diablo" at the top of their lungs; not to mention Maya's catfight with her slutty sis-in-law who cheats on Alejandro less than an hour after marrying him. Maya also slaughters a group of pseudo-Minutemen at the border.
- The Haitian (Haitian) - A silent (but not mute) partner to Noah Bennet who is only referred to by his country of origin. The show even has characters who briefly spot him describe him as "the haitian" w/o them having anyway of knowing his country of origin. I suppose "a Haitian guy" sounds better than "a scary black man". Not only is his personality unrevealed, but even his power is mysterious, unexplained, and his presence is always presented with an air of mysticism. However, the writers' most thoughtlessly offensive moment lies in Season 2 as the Haitian becomes one of the first characters to contract a deadly virus, whose spread, affects, cure, and prevention are all mysteries. The virus goes on to reflect AIDS/HIV even more directly by crossing over from the meta-human into the general population, against everyone's expectations.
I'll stop there, but I'm sure you see my point. If the producers and writers don't bother to address this major issue with their show, I'm not sure how long I can enjoy the parts of their show that are less problematic.
While we're looking forward, I should probably address a fear for next season that already has me wincing. Initially, I was thrilled to hear that Jamie Hector would be joining Heroes in the third season this fall. In you don't know him, Jamie Hector is a young talent from a TV show that deals with a diverse (in race, class, ethnicity, etc) cast with a sensitivity, frankness, and thoughtfulness that Heroes can never achieve: The Wire.
Hector is exceptionally good as the mysterious, brutal drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield. His characterization digs deep beneath Marlo's skin; Hector creates a full-bodied, complicated man without falling into the suffering saint/sociopath dynamic that TV usually allows for a black character is a drama; especially those playing characters orbiting the drug game. While Marlo is introduced as a frighteningly emotionless cypher, recent episodes have dealt with Marlo's rise to greater power, even touching on his shifting class, and Marlo's reaction to this. Black characters are rarely given the kind of backstory and material that Marlo has, and we're lucky The Wire is around to introduce us to actors like Hector.
So, of course I was ecstatic when it was announced that Hector would play a major new villain in the third season of Heroes. I'm always thrilled to see actors from The Wire getting parts. But then I looked closer at exactly how Hector's character was being described.
Here is an excerpt from the casting call for Hector's character, according to the HeroesWiki for Benjamin "Knox" Washington, the bolding is my doing:
"[KNOX] 25. MALE. AFRICAN-AMERICAN. Frightening and intense - with the eyes of a predator --Knox has returned to New Orleans with plans to reclaim the criminal territory he used to run before he was sent to prison...."
Sweet jesus people! While Hector has beautifully communicative eyes, I'm not sure the role will provide him with much more to do than play every middle-American's idea of a dangerous "gangsta".
There's also rumor that his character's power is to take on metallic properties to increase his strength and make himself invulnerable. In the Heroes universe, it appears that it was not just our government/history that painted America's black community into a corner, it was also God and his choice of genetic "gifts" designed to make crime easier.
Let's hope this September brings new things to Heroes...ie non-white writers.