Television has started to adopt comic books’ penchant for resurrection. These days, death (read: cancelation) is never the end for television shows, which is exactly the case with NBC’s Heroes. Five years after its death, NBC decided to revive Tim Kring’s superhero soap opera with Claire Bennet’s blood as Heroes Reborn. Comprising 13 episodes, this event series takes us back into the derivative world of Heroes, where saving a cheerleader meant saving the world.
When Heroes premiered in 2006, it was one of the only superhero shows on television, which made its debut all the more exciting. Today almost every broadcast network has some superhero or comic book-inspired show, not to mention that pop culture in general is saturated with geeky content. Heroes Reborn now has the added difficulty of distinguishing itself from the rest of the pack.
To that end, Heroes Reborn takes place five years after the events of Heroes‘ series finale. Heroes ended with Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere isn’t returning because Nashville) outing the existence of evos — people with powers — to the world. In the wake of her revelation, more and more evos have started revealing themselves. Naturally, the public’s response has been mixed. There are supporters, truthers, and Westboro Baptist Church-like groups. Evos are also being forced to register with the government and some are being hunted. This time around the show’s debt to the X-Men comics is even more apparent.
Staying true to Heroes OG form, the two-hour series premiere of Heroes Reborn was an overstuffed episode that introduced a large diverse cast of characters, human and evos alike, and plenty of plot threads. NBC’s decision to air “Brave New World” and “Odessa” as a two-hour block was smart — the former on its own probably wouldn’t have hooked newcomers to the series because it culminates in the death of a returning character. Even though you don’t need to have watched Heroes to understand the show, it definitely helps you care about what’s happening if you did. Even just knowing the significance of Odessa helps…
Odessa, Texas: June 13, 2014
It’s fitting tonight’s episode is airing on Thursday because “Brave New World” opens with a #tbt to 2014. On June 13, 2014, thousands of people were killed during a presumed terrorist attack on a three-day peace summit held by Primatech, a secretive evo research company. The summit was supposed to promote peace between humans and evos, but it ended up doing quite the opposite. Notable attendees were Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), who was there to reconcile with his estranged daughter Claire, and Luke (a very non-Chuck Zachary Levi) and Joanne Collins, who were with their 8-year-old son. Claire and the son were among the dead that day.
Evo-supremacist Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) takes responsibility for the attack and the world immediately turns against Evos. If you’ve read an X-Men comic or seen one of the movies, you’ve probably seen this done before. They are hunted down, imprisoned, and profiled. For someone like Tommy Clarke (Once Upon A Time’s Robbie Kay), an evo who can’t control his ability to make people disappear by touching them, and his mother, this means constantly moving. Over the course of the episode, it becomes clear that something more sinister is afoot: Evos have started to disappear, but no one seems to care.
The first 10 minutes of Heroes Reborn explain how the show differs from Heroes. As a reaction to 9/11 and the War on Terror, Heroes imagined a world where there were superpower beings who could come together, prevent the next attack, and save the world from a dark future. It was a fairy tale kind of like 24. In Heroes Reborn, the darkest timeline has become our present, and Heroes Reborn takes as its starting point a 9/11-level event to explore how such a tragedy can lead to prejudice and severe divisions in society as people place the blame on those who are different. There are some connections to the real world and Heroes Reborn definitely wants its evos to work as allegories to oppressed minority groups, but it comes off as trite and has been done better before… specifically by X-Men.
Chicago, Illinois: One Year Later, Present Day
One of the first new characters we meet is Tommy, an awkward high school kid who has a crush on a girl, Emily, who works at his favorite ice cream shop and is dating his bully. He’s trying to keep a low profile and survive high school, but he’s having a hard time because he has no one at school to talk to about his powers. Little does he know, he does have a guardian angel of sorts watching out for him, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, who surreptitiously has Tommy’s back throughout the episode.
Tommy’s loneliness is made evident when we first meet him in the present day; we see him attend a secret evo meeting in a church basement. He’s looking for advice and connection, but doesn’t find much there — he ends up leaving the meeting early when he receives a text from his mother. He leaves just in time because Luke and Joanne, who travel the country Sam and Dean Winchester style hunting evos to avenge their son’s death, gun down everyone left.
Luke and Joanne are able to track Tommy down because he dropped his ice cream punchcard on his way out of the church. When they eventually find him at the coffeeshop, he’s with Emily, who invited him to interview for a job there. The couple tries to kill them both, but Tommy uses his powers and unknowingly sends them to the Primatech holding cell he was in when the company bagged and tagged him years ago.
This traumatic experience forges a bond between Emily and Tommy as she becomes the only person apart from his mom who knows his secret. Hanging out with her also helps him figure out that he can teleport people and doesn’t just end their existence like he previously thought. Brad, Emily’s boyfriend, learns about Tommy’s power and blackmails him into using it on his abusive, loser stepfather. Ultimately, Tommy can’t go through with it, but thankfully, Pruitt Taylor Vince uses his hypnotism powers to accomplish the task behind Tommy’s back.
NEXT: “Company Man” revisited
After the June 13 attack and Claire’s death, Noah abandoned his company man ways and went into hiding. Today, he’s a horn-rimmed glasses-less Chevrolet car salesman*, who peddles on the nose speeches about memories and regret, and he is getting remarried. To his dismay, he’s pulled back into the game by Quentin Frady (Henry Zebrowski), an Evo truther who questions the media’s June 13 narrative and is desperately searching for his evo sister, who was taken by Renautas, a mysterious technology company that seems to have picked up where Primatech left off.
*(ASIDE: Does anyone else miss the Nissan Rogue product placement? END ASIDE)
Quentin serves several functions. He introduces the series’ mystery, which is a conspiracy theory — which is worrisome since we all know TV shows often bungle these story lines (looking at you B613), and also Heroes got very boring when it started focusing on the specifics of Primatech. Renautas is framed as this nefarious conglomerate that’s standing in the way of evos’ real purpose: coming together to save the world. Quentin is also the first mouthpiece for Kring’s brand of mystic, determined and purposeful evolution: “The number of evos is higher on the planet than ever before. Their numbers are escalating. Why? Is it evolutionary? Is it because they want to take over like the media and the government wants us to think? No, they’re here to save us from whatever it is Renautas is planning,” Quentin argues based on Mohinder Suresh’ unpublished manuscript.
His conversation with Quentin forces Noah to realize that he has gaps in his memories of June 13. A brief perusal of his old Primatech souvenirs leads him to an ophthalmology office where he finds his old partner Renée, a.k.a. The Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis). Their reunion goes south pretty quickly because The Haitian tries to kill Noah and ends up dying in the struggle. With his dying breaths, the Haitian reveals that Noah instructed him to wipe his memory as part of some plan and warns, “It’s coming.”
Needing answers (and to find Molly Walker, an evo who can find anyone in the world), Noah and Quentin head to Odessa to investigate Primatech’s old headquarters. There, they find Noah’s old files and that the facility is operational thanks to Renautas. However, they aren’t alone. Beneath them on Level 5 are Luke and Joanne, who manage to break out of their cell and find Renautas’ mission control and kill everyone there, because Heroes Reborn is intent on making sure we know its dark, gritty this time around. By the time Noah makes it down to Level 5, everyone is dead, save one of his old associates who tells him about Renautas’ new technology Epic, which is set to go online in Midian, Colorado, tomorrow and is powered by Molly Walker’s (Francesca Eastwood) powers.
At present, Molly is missing. Noah hopes to get to her before Renautas finds her again, but unfortunately this evil corporation beats him to it. Two of Renautas’ agents apprehend her in New York.
Meanwhile, Luke and Joanne make it to the surface, shoot Quentin in the arm and steal their car, which contained all of Noah’s old files from his days at Primatech. Joanne’s trigger finger is itching to track all of these evos down and kill them. Luke doesn’t look particularly excited.
East Los Angeles, California:
Heroes, perhaps unintentionally, argued that evos were the only ones who could save the world, and humans were expected to just sit on the sidelines and watch. This time around, Heroes Reborn is arguing that the world can only be saved if evos and humans work together. This theme is shown nowhere more than with the Gutierrez family.
Carlos Gutierrez (Ryan Guzman) is an army vet who recently received a medal for saving three men; he is struggling to readjust to life back home. We first meet him when he’s giving a speech at his nephew Jose’s middle school. He lectures to the kids that you don’t need superpowers to be a hero, but we quickly learn that he doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying and only cares about drinking himself into a stupor. Part of this stems from his damaged relationship with his brother Oscar, who runs an automobile shop and accuses Carlos of abandoning the family, especially Jose, who is an evo with Kitty Pryde-like powers.
Unfortunately, there’s very little time for Carlos and Oscar to make up because Oscar dies. See, Oscar was an evo who used his powers to patrol the streets of Los Angeles as El Vengador, a vigilante that’s part Kick-Ass, part Arrow‘s Green Arrow. And, he died trying to untangle a conspiracy involving corrupt LAPD cops who were capturing evos and selling them. With his dying breath, Oscar asks a powerless Carlos to continue his mission.
At first, Carlos is reluctant to take up the mantle of El Vengador. But, then two things change his mind. He finds out his brother’s death was a setup by a corrupt cop and is determined to get revenge. He also talks with the local priest, who reveals he’s an evo and was running an underground railroad for evos with Oscar.
NEXT: Something weird’s happening in the Arctic Circle
Miko and Ren’s story arc is annoyingly under-explained in tonight’s episode. By the end of the premiere, I’m still not sure if I completely understand Miko’s powers. (All I know is that her arc gave me flashbacks to Digimon, a show everyone should watch.)
An encounter with a self-reportedly famous gamer name Ren makes Miko realize that the character of Katana Girl in this game called Evernow is based on her and was created by her father, whose whereabouts are currently unknown. At Ren’s urging, she investigates her father’s study and discovers a katana hidden in the floorboards, which transports her into the world of the Evernow when she wields it.
Inside the game, Miko, as Katana Girl, is a sword-wielding badass and easily takes out most of the goons holding her father captive. As she and Ren, who is using his avatar to help from the real world, play through the game, they realize that it’s based on Tokyo or is a universe that runs parallel to our own. She figures out her father is being held in Yamagato Tower, and she travels there in the game. But, when she ejects from the game, she’s in the lobby real Yamagato Tower and about to face off against the guards, who are all stunned that she appeared out of nowhere.. How did she get there? It’s not explained.
The Arctic Cirlce:
This wouldn’t be Heroes without some kind of impending disaster that needs to be stopped. The pilot only teases what this world-destroying event will be, so it’s unclear what it is the heroes are facing.
In the final scene of “Brave New World,” we meet a woman standing on a cliff in the Arctic Circle. In the sky are the Northern Lights, which are more active than usual. At the center of the lights is what looks to be a black hole of some sort. This woman is trying to control the light show, but can’t and warns an unseen figure that it’s happening faster now. Is this global warming? Probably, but who knows. Or, maybe Heroes Reborn will go full comic book and it’s actually aliens.
- If you’re confused about Renautas after this episode, you should check out the prequel web-series Heroes: Dark Matters, which introduces us to Quentin Prady and his sister, Claire, who can control darkness. In the series, which takes place before June 13, we learn that the government is asking evos to register. Also, there are a few familiar faces. To be fair, its explanation of Renautas is only marginally better than the one provided in tonight’s premiere.
- Noah Bennet definitely provides the series with some much-needed grounding. His story, and Tommy’s, may have been the easiest to latch onto and understand.
- Noah’s apology at the beginning is definitely directed at Heroes fans, right?
- What is up with Pruitt Taylor Vince and his briefcase filled with pennies? How do they relate to his powers?
- Ren’s “Leroy Jenkins” joke was great. Also, the character went from creepy, intrusive and annoying to tolerable fairly quickly over the course of the first two episodes.
- Nakumara’s katana…
- The password to enter the evo support group was cockroach, which Tim Kring explained in the past was a symbolism for survival.
- Tommy attends Pinehearst High School, which is an allusion to the company run by Peter and Nathan Petrelli’s father in the third season of Heroes. Similarly, Jose attends Linderman Middle School, a nod to Mr. Linderman (Malcolm McDowell) from the first season.
- Noah’s broken horn-rimmed glasses after the explosion felt like a callback to an Isaac Mendez painting from the second season that showed him dead from being shot through the eye.