Eruditorum Press

Sneakily taking the hinges off the doors of perception

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

44 Comments

  1. Darren K.
    July 22, 2013 @ 12:17 am

    After the Tardisodes and Totally Doctor Who I was wondering if today would create a trilogy of Things-I-Forgot-Existed. Well played!

    (The thing that I always felt was telling about Heroes is that most of season one was written, planned and much of it produced before the show aired and became a "sensation". It was only once the production team became aware of the fans and then in servicing the fans did the show completely and utterly fall apart)

    Reply

  2. David Anderson
    July 22, 2013 @ 12:25 am

    Heroes had two more specific problems (off the top of my head). The first is that the second season was cut short by the writer's strike, and the writers left it with a lot of spilled plot threads. That was fatal to the model it was using, since both the soap and cult models expect plot threads to be resolved. Heroes, from that point on, gave the sense of running and failing to catch itself up.

    The other is that Quinto's performance as Sylar was just too good. That led to him being brought back even when there wasn't anything obvious to do with the character any more, so that much of the series was spent on Sylar doing a face/heel spin at speeds that even Magneto and Quicksilver couldn't have kept up with.

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  3. Alex Antonijevic
    July 22, 2013 @ 12:37 am

    Heroes was brilliant in the first season, but the first season finale was so empty and disappointing compared to what came before. Lack of payoff seemed to be the main problem with the show. I remember hearing the original plan was for each season to focus on a different set of characters, and this might have been better, since it would give each character arc a start/middle/finish, but yeah, the characters became really popular so they ditched that idea and turned the season 1 finale into a cliffhanger, and then spent most of season 2 not really explaining what actually happened.

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  4. Ewa Woowa
    July 22, 2013 @ 1:22 am

    Has she had it yet?
    Has it happened?
    My money is on a girl!

    Reply

  5. prandeamus
    July 22, 2013 @ 2:32 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  6. prandeamus
    July 22, 2013 @ 2:34 am

    The baby's name isn't just a name, it's a promise you make.

    (Sorry, previously posted to the wrong place. But the joke's fading fast…)

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  7. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2013 @ 2:50 am

    When I ask my wife why she bothers following certain soaps, her reply (that occasionally there's some really excellent bits, but mostly she just watches the eye-candy) sounds suspiciously like the reason why I watched Heroes. Swimming through acres of angsty and pseudo-scientific dialog waiting for the cool bits with Sylar or Hiro, with only Haydn Panettiere's bust for company (or as my mate called her, "Haydn Pantie-area").

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  8. Bennett
    July 22, 2013 @ 4:47 am

    This second type of television actually got its start in 2004 with the debut of ABC’s Lost, but for a variety of reasons we’re going to postpone discussion of that particular series for a few months.

    Am I right in assuming that that discussion will occur when LOST reaches The End (which happens to be just before the Pandorica is opened)?

    I can't wait for your take on what I consider to be the most overhated episode of anything (though you're spot on about Heroes' rapid turgidity after a strong first season).

    Reply

  9. jane
    July 22, 2013 @ 4:48 am

    Yes, that first season finale really marks the point at which it become obvious the show hasn't mastered the art of paying off.

    Even worse, it then goes to borrow from its own tainted playbook for Season Two. It stems from the problem with dire prophecy — once it's established that future events can be averted, those very future events become drained of dramatic potential. Had Peter (or whatever his name was) really blown a hole in New York, I think the show could have taken off in a variety of uncharted directions.

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  10. Ewa Woowa
    July 22, 2013 @ 5:08 am

    Argh!!!
    I can't take the suspense…

    Reply

  11. Matter-Eater Lad
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:13 am

    The thing I really hated about Heroes' fanservice was how insultingly perfunctory it was.

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  12. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:34 am

    Also you could see the show changing in response to viewer feedback, and writer realisation. It's always jarring the way that happens, like when characters disappear in between seasons because they're not as popular (I'm looking at you, Season 7).

    Peter Petrelli became a particular thorn in the side of stories, simply because being all-powerful he would completely stall the action just by turning up. Thus when he lost his powers it was blatantly down to editorial decision, and it showed.

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  13. Jordan Murphy
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:39 am

    I really enjoyed most of season 1 of Heroes, until (as has been noted), the creators became aware of what a sensation they had and screwed it all up by trying too hard to play to the audience.

    I'm hoping you'll eventually touch on Misfits, which has a similar initial setup (regular people gaining powers), but on a much smaller, and generally more entertaining, scale.

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  14. Zoe Heriot
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:45 am

    For me the turning point for the worse in the series was when Peter's Irish girlfriend from Season 2 got left behind in the apocalyptic future New York and was never mentioned again or rescued by anyone. Especially by Peter, who was supposed to be in love with her. That rang the alarm bells for me that something was going horribly wrong with this series, but I attributed that to the writer's strike and the season cut short (I was way too understanding, as it turned out).

    After a whole day spent catching up with the first half of Season 3, I finally gave up. It was like watching episodes produced by a Steven Moffat on drugs trying to execute an elaborate story arc, but just failing again and again and the characters just doing random, unconnected things. Thank God our Moff is capable enough to write a story arc that so far hasn't sunk Doctor Who to Heroes-level nonsense.

    Zachary Quinto was magnificent, though.

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  15. HarlequiNQB
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:56 am

    I'm glad it wasn't just me that was miffed about that. That was pretty horrible, oh, my girlfriend's been abandoned in a distopian future I'm actively trying to stop occurring. Never mind, she'll be wiped from the universe so I guess any suffering she's going through is irrelevant.

    Terrible terrible garbage, and as you point out, it got a bit of a pass due to the strike, but the strike wasn't to blame for the third season which was possibly worse.

    It was so good, and then it was so, so terrible. Ugh. I guess you could blame it on the fan service, but one of my other favourite shows (Supernatural), is one of the most fan servicy shows of all time, and even at it's worse it's far better than 80% of Heros, even though they do seem to delight in killing off all the female characters (allegedly this is actually fan service to the female audience who complain bitterly every time one of the boys even looks at a girl, but it seems iffy to me) :/.

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  16. Theonlyspiral
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    I prefer to live in a magical universe where Heroes got cancelled at the end of season one. Ah, what might have been… 7 seasons and a movie indeed.

    A key fact to keep in mind: Jeph Loeb was at the Nadir of his career while working on Heroes. He was going through the process of loosing his son which definitely impacted his artistic quality negatively. One needs only look at "Ultimatum" to see that. This is not to say he was not an asset, but let us be clear: He is not at his best on heroes.

    A point I think you identify but don't hit hard enough is the homeostasis of the Heroes world. The writers didn't have the balls to pull the trigger on any of their big world shaping events. Actually I think where it went off the rails completely is at the end of the second season where they don't let the plague out into the world. They were more worried about being cancelled than making good television and it shows.

    There was a little Mohinder/Parkman (Parkhinder?) thing going on for a while, but again they failed to pull the trigger. They made both of them more and more unlikeable. Or would have in a world where Heroes continued.

    All of this being said, Heroes did one thing significantly better than Lost: It made me care. I have watched the first season of Lost 7 times. This is no exaggeration, not hyperbole. The feeling I end the season with is best summed up as "Violent Disdain". All I want is for all of them to die and for a more interesting show about a boat on a three hour tour crashing on the island to start.

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  17. Froborr
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:34 am

    You had me at remembering that Rising Stars existed.

    Count me as another who really enjoyed Season 1 of Heroes (though I will freely admit my reasons for watching were nigh-identical to Spacewarp's) and fell off rapidly after that.

    Your analysis of where it falls down is spot-on, though I'd add relentless fridging of female characters to the list of flaws. That's one case where maybe it could have benefited by drawing on the source material less.

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  18. elvwood
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    "Actually I think where it went off the rails completely is at the end of the second season where they don't let the plague out into the world."

    This. I actually enjoyed the second season more than the first – it felt slower and more personal to me – but then you have a repeated copout at the end. I did watch on until it was cancelled, unlike my wife who stopped at this point; but I've never felt a desire for repeat viewing of any later episode.

    Speaking of my wife, she has an even lower tolerance for gore than me – so I had to watch each episode first and figure out at which points I should jump in front of the TV!

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  19. Theonlyspiral
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:27 am

    I think they should have gone with their original plan of jumping to a new ensemble every season, and exploring a new part of this world. Originally the second season was to explore the beginning of The Company and the building of this secret conspiracy. Which would have been sublime. Ah, but why long for the path not taken. Is anything as bitter-sweet as what might have been?

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  20. Kit
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:40 am

    Stephen Tobolowsky's splendid The Tobolowsky Files podcast has been very instructive on the "running in place" storytelling in Heroes; in a couple of episodes he's noted such things as frustratedly, desperately asking for direction on whether he should be playing sympathetic or evil this week, and being told they hadn't really figured it out, so could he split the difference? and the production being so convinced of the need for a retcon after his character had died, that they paid him enough to come back for a single shot that he agreed…. despite having a broken neck and not supposed to be upright / not wearing a brace for months.

    particularly in its second season, which opens with the most mind-wrenching piece of fanservice ever filmed.

    ha: my entire circle of Who-watchers bailed out completely on Torchwood with Cyberwoman, but I dropped back in for the repeat of ^^, once I'd heard that Captain Jack & Spike lezzed up.

    (apologies for poor sentences in the above: written on my phone on a Caribbean beach in Mexico)

    Reply

  21. Ewa Woowa
    July 22, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    …tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tappity-tap…

    Reply

  22. Ununnilium
    July 22, 2013 @ 10:09 am

    I gotta ask: What drove you to such heights of TV masochism? o.o

    Reply

  23. Assad K
    July 22, 2013 @ 10:46 am

    But.. couldn't they just have been fans dropping in a 'Fantastic' and a Roberts-&-Eccleston shot in..? If I was a showrunner, and I could do it, I would, oh yes I would.

    And Bennett, the finale of Lost cannot be hated enough. 🙂

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  24. Theonlyspiral
    July 22, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    People told me it was "Amazing" and "I would get into it". These were people who's opinions I value VERY highly. So I tried the first time marathon. Which did not work. So I thought "Maybe I should try a more spread out dealio,". Which did not work. I kept hearing how amazing it was with the mysteries and the characters and the secrets…[/Zoidburg Voice] but it just never clicked.

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  25. Ewa Woowa
    July 22, 2013 @ 11:04 am

    It's a boy!!!
    Hurray!!!
    A boy!
    A King!
    King Ewa Woowa one day maybe?

    Reply

  26. jonathan inge
    July 22, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    Part of the show's failure is actually its early success in conjunction with it's arc-based structure.

    The most successful TV shows have the simplest premise and begin slowly. "Cheers," "Night Court," "The X-Files," "Seinfeld," "NCIS," and "Lost" to name a few. The first season is usually the roughest in terms of characterization and world-building. But as a show grows in popularity, their creators find it easier to develop arcs and rely on established mythology.

    "Heroes" fails because it didn't have time to do all that. It just had enough time to parse out caricatures. (To me, the only real character development occurred in the episode "Six Months Ago.") But the show with its "chapters" seemed locked into arcs from the get go. More like a sprint than a marathon.

    If ratings indicate anything, the average viewer wasn't put off by investing time and thought into the series. I was surprised to see people so ready to jump into escapist fantasy at that time. Such attitudes have cooled since then.

    But when one starts off with "Chapter 1," it tells the audience there is "The End," something TV people who want to make money for a long time try to downplay as much as possible.

    Unlike "Lost" and its loose premise, "Heroes" couldn't easily meander and change course whenever it needed. The cheerleader had to be saved. Skylar had to be stopped. New York City had to not explode.

    And much like "Twin Peaks," "Heroes" couldn't stretch its premise beyond the initial constraints. 'Who killed Laura Palmer?' Once we know, we're done. 'No, I don't want to join Dale Cooper on more mysteries.'

    And when "Heroes" did try to live beyond those constraints, average folks began to not care so much. 'So when does it end?' People seemed to watch the show not so much to be with favored characters but to see how it would all end. And when they realized there was no end in sight, they moved on.

    "Lost" did such a good job of having no ending that when it finally arrived it remarkably failed to wrap up its entire wacky mythology. For good and bad, I think "Lost" now haunts network television, especially shows on ABC.

    I hope this article is the first entry in how the first four (five?) seasons of DW tried to meet everyone's (cult and mainstream audience) expectations and end up running in place.

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  27. Bennett
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

    LOST's use of mystery is very similar to a soap opera's* use of story arcs (especially because, as is rarely noted, the majority of mysteries the show presents are centred on character rather than mythology). The show is structured as a continual process of question and answer.

    LOST sustained itself for six seasons by ensuring this process is self-propagating. The pattern repeats. Short-term mysteries ebb and flow in between episodes. As one long-term mystery is approached, the shape of another begins to resolve upon the horizon.

    How can you move the show to a point where all mysteries are resolved when every question you answer leads to more questions? Only by taking it to the place where questions end.

    Life is a series of mysteries and questions. To escape from this you only have three choices – run, hide or die. The showrunners were brave enough to let their show take the last option, and I respect them immensely for that.

    … or to put it a less poncey way – the theological terrain of the show's ending could be seen a mile off. The writing has been on the wall since at least Season 2, and the nature of the flash-sideways was made all but explicit in the first few episodes of Season 6. Of all the possible finales that could have followed the preceeding episodes, The End is pretty much as good as it could get (within the realities of television production). Hence why I say it's overhated – if anything, that hate should be spread evenly across a longer stretch of the show.

    Unless you have a reason for disliking the finale in particular, in which case I'd be interested in hearing it (though a little scared that I'll end up agreeing with you 🙂 ).

    *thanks to reading this blog, I now find it hard to distinguish between genre television and soap opera at all – except for the fact that Home and Away doesn't have a range of action figures.

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  28. Jesse
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

    I've been meaning for a long time to complain about the way you use the phrase "cult television." Now that the ship has sailed long ago, it's probably pointless to bring it up, but: Shouldn't the phrase be analogous to the way people use "cult movie," which pretty much by definition is not a standardized, predictable way of making a piece of entertainment for a standardized, predictable audience?

    The first place I remember seeing the term "cult TV" — in this book — didn't limit those words to ComicCon stuff for young men. Maybe some marketers have tried to claim the phrase for a more narrow use since then, but why should we let them?

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  29. Bennett
    July 22, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

    Theonlyspiral – "The writers didn't have the balls to pull the trigger on any of their big world shaping events. Actually I think where it went off the rails completely is at the end of the second season where they don't let the plague out into the world."

    There is a bonus feature on the Heroes Season 2 DVD that allows you to watch scenes they actually filmed where that trigger was pulled, before the writers' strike coshed their plans*. It is acutely painful to watch it and wonder what may have been.

    *well, the production team blames the strike. But I can't see the reason why they couldn't have ended the final episode with the plague's release, and pushed the following episodes back into Season 3.

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  30. Corpus Christi Music Scene
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

    The Flash-sideways are a cop-out and a cheat in terms of story-telling. I followed and loved this show for 5 years throughout all of its twists and turns only to arrive at a season 6 of what ifs and maybes.Im no hater but but I think given the opportunity at the end of the third season to determine the planned ending of the show , they couldve come up with something better. Or at least handled it differently. I tell friends to just leave it at the end of season 5 . Juliet blows up the nuke and thats it.

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  31. William Silvia
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

    The strange thing about Heroes was that it realized it was heading toward something more X-Men and less Sabrina, and as a result, completely abandoned the plot in favor of one that took less risks.

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  32. Kit
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

    And much like "Twin Peaks," "Heroes" couldn't stretch its premise beyond the initial constraints. 'Who killed Laura Palmer?' Once we know, we're done. 'No, I don't want to join Dale Cooper on more mysteries.'

    Twin Peaks revealed who killed Laura in the first episode. That the show had gone off the rails by the time Bob's host body was deduced by the characters is not a fault of the premise; apparently Lynch didn't want to ever resolve that aspect of it.

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  33. Corpus Christi Music Scene
    July 22, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

    I should point out that I believe that at some point the writers/show runners/whatever were listening to fan feedback a little too much ( a theme in this thread ) which resulted in an unsatisfactory conclusion. As this is a DW Blog after all , its a mistake JNT learned the hard way and one that Moffat has largely avoided , in spite of so many unhinged fans/youtubers/bloggers thinking that he is "ruining Doctor Who"

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  34. Alan
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

    Peter Petrelli became a particular thorn in the side of stories, simply because being all-powerful he would completely stall the action just by turning up. Thus when he lost his powers it was blatantly down to editorial decision, and it showed.

    It wasn't just Peter. He, Hiro, and Sylar were all effectively God-characters who were so overpowered that they should have been able to solve any problem single-handedly. So the writers, unable to come up with a creative solution, would just have each of the three loose access to their powers in each subsequent season just as the main plot started up and then regain them just in time for the finale.

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  35. Alan
    July 22, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

    the theological terrain of the show's ending could be seen a mile off.

    I'm convinced that was Lost's biggest problem: People on the Internet started loudly speculating that the Island was Purgatory by the middle of season 1. The producers panicked that people had figured out the basic truth of the series so quickly. So they spent the next several seasons trying to throw in red herrings indicating that the show was NOT about Purgatory. And then, in the finale, we found out that the Island is a weird time-space thingey that keeps plane crash victims trapped there until they resolve their biggest pre-crash personal issues, at which point they move on to some other realm … but don't call it Purgatory.

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  36. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

    A king who won't take the throne until after I'm dead (I'm 51). Which is a sobering thought.

    As far as the name, my money's on Louis Richard Wales. Louis for his Grandad's favourite uncle, and Richard because Charles, George, Henry, Edward and William are all taken.

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  37. Alan
    July 22, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

    My biggest gripe about "Heroes" is that it was the most ineptly written serialized drama I've ever seen. Even the pilot has a plot point that depends on the idea that a total lunar eclipse is simultaneously visible in New York, Los Angeles and Japan. The show purports to ground itself in the real world, but it depicts powers that are so violative of basic physics that they might as well be magical. It understands evolution less than the average Creationist. Its primary viewpoint character was Mohindar Suresh, the pretty boy geneticist who wanted to understand the supers but who was completely disinterested in understanding how their impossible powers worked. Past plot points were retconned and then retconned again just to create "shocking twists." You will NEVER convince me that when the pilot was written, the producers knew that Angela was even a part of the conspiracy, let alone that she was a super herself. In four years, the show never bothered to even name "the Haitian," with other characters referring to him as "the Haitian" even when he was standing right next to them. Peter and Sylar both had a panoply of powers that they both forgot about whenever the plot demanded it. In particular, the last arc of Season 2 depends entirely on Peter, who has telepathy, never bothering to use it on Adam Monroe whom he barely knows and who acts in an incredibly shady manner. By the time we got to the utterly ludicrous S3 finale — Nathan is dead, so rather than just go get Clare (whose blood can raise the dead), they just hypnotize Sylar into thinking he's Nathan — I was watching Heroes for its MST3K value. Geez, I just mad myself angry all over again just thinking about that stupid show.

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  38. jonathan inge
    July 23, 2013 @ 1:12 am

    Kit,

    The premise of "Twin Peaks" was an exploration of small-town America's dark underbelly. But where to begin? The initial constraint of the premise was Laura Palmer's murder. It helped build a mystery and hooked us into wanting to know more about the world and characters.

    True, the creators didn't want to solve the murder, and that was a great idea as the death becomes another mark of the town's seediness. However, most viewers tuned in for a whodunnit and not a weird soap opera. And, if ratings indicated things, viewers cared for one aspect of the premise and not the whole thing.

    To compare/contrast:

    The premise of "The X-Files" was about an FBI agent who solves an indefinite number of weird cases no one else touches. Very broad. It needed to be constrained. So the whole first season was about how Fox Mulder's new partner Dana Scully tries restrain him. Gradually, over the seasons, Scully slipped away from being a constraint so the show could further develop its characters and mythology. This was best exemplified in the story surrounding Scully's son William.

    Interest in "The X-Files" cooled off over the years, but it retained enough viewers who were invested in the story.

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  39. will9000
    July 23, 2013 @ 2:57 am

    That's NOT what we found out in the finale. Did you actually watch the episode?

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  40. Ross
    July 23, 2013 @ 2:59 am

    It woulda slowed the audience down a bit if they'd chosen for the big secret to be something less cliche than "It's purgatory."

    I mean, if you show me an ontological mystery, any ontological mystery, you get about thirty seconds before I start asking "So the point here is that it's going to turn out that they're all dead and this is purgatory, right?"

    (Cube. Now there's a movie series which managed the unlikely feat of systematically ruining its own premise. Thirty seconds into the first movie, it is quite clear that it's going to turn out that this is purgatory. Which is totally is, with the clever twist that it is purgatory as understood in terms of Giant Headless Bureaucracy made of Boundless Human Stupidity. And then Cube 2 says "Nah, forget that shit; it's just an Evil Military Torture Project", and then cube Zero says "Naw, just kidding; it turns out it's nazis." (Having them be actual literal nazis would have been cleverer.))

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  41. Jesse
    July 23, 2013 @ 3:52 am

    You know, some of us did watch Twin Peaks for the weird soap opera. Or, more specifically, for the weird world, the weird characters, and the weird Lynchian ruptures in reality. It was clear to me from the beginning that "Who killed Laura Palmer?" was more an excuse to bring an FBI agent into that world than the actual point of the story, and that it was a mistake to treat it as "Who shot JR?" redux. And I find it hard to believe that me and my friends were unusual in reacting to the show this way. The press insisted on covering the program as a whodunit and complaining when it wasn't, and I'm sure many — maybe a majority! — of viewers felt that way too. But I really doubt that those of us with a different approach to the series were all that rare.

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  42. Jesse
    July 23, 2013 @ 4:04 am

    more an excuse to bring an FBI agent into that world than the actual point of the story

    Or, more accurately, something that sets a lot of different characters into motion. But we enter the world on the G-man's back.

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  43. Theonlyspiral
    July 23, 2013 @ 6:52 am

    I think they wanted to make sure they went out on an upbeat note if they did not come back. Traditionally shows often die in the crucible that is the Writer's strike, and Heroes was not doing fantastically. I mean we could live in a world where the vial drops at the end and we never come back…

    Actually that would be preferable.

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  44. Ed Azad
    September 18, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    I tuned into Heroes only sporadically. I did like Season Two quite a bit, especially Hiro's sojourn in Japan.

    The absolute nadir would be veteran actor Robert Forster not even bothering to hide his dismay at reading those atrocious lines. Not that you can blame him. If you haven't seen it, it really is… something.

    I also am wary of "shocking deaths" (pioneered by 24, where the characters are cutouts and deaths don't matter) as a motivation to keep watching. If anything, doesn't it dishearten viewers to know that anyone they love – or love to hate – can die messily on any given week? The writers find themselves at dead end, double down, and sever a plotline — call it a "resolution" if you like. It's lazy, and the deaths ramped up in the final two years.

    Reply

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