After an excellent first season, why was Heroes season 2 such a monumental disappointment? Premiering on NBC in September 2006, Heroes originated from the mind of Tim Kring and took the world by storm with its grounded depiction of ordinary people who suddenly develop superpowers. Playing out across 23 tightly-written episodes, the interweaving arcs of Heroes' flawed, yet relatable, ensemble formed a neat tapestry, mixing classic comic book heroes and villains tropes with the real-world issues of drug addiction, high school drama and breaking away from the mold of an invisible everyman to become something truly special.
With glowing reviews and very strong viewing figures, Heroes was the "next big thing" in its first season and, after a satisfying finale, hopes remained high for the second. Unfortunately, Heroes was destined to go down as one of TV's biggest missed opportunities, and the subsequent 3 seasons (as well as the Heroes Reborn sequel) charted a decline in quality, viewership and acclaim that the NBC series would never recover from.
To this day, Heroes' first season remains a shining example of box-set, serialized television done right. Every character is steeped in different shades of personality, every episode serves to advance the plot and further the show's mysteries, and each element is a vital cog in the wheel, grinding towards a single, epic conclusion. With all of the ingredients in place for future success, how did Heroes' second outing manage to disappoint in such spectacular fashion?
Unpopular New Characters
Heroes season 1 succeeded primarily on the strength of its characters. Without viewers instantly connecting to the likes of Peter Petrelli, Hiro Nakamura and Claire Bennet - and immediately fearing Sylar as a threatening presence - every other component falls apart. Mirroring this phenomenon, Heroes season 2 came undone partially because its new additions didn't come close to the popularity of the established cast.
Heroes' early stories were built on the intrigue of how ordinary folks would cope with and use their newfound superpowers, but since season 1's cast soon became very familiar with their abilities, fresh faces were needed for season 2. Heroes added the likes of Elle and Bob Bishop, the immortal Adam Monroe, fly-boy West Rosen and sibling duo Maya and Alejandro for its follow-up season. Aside from Kristen Bell's Elle (and to a lesser extent, Adam) the other new additions to Heroes season 2 were forgettable at best, and downright annoying at worst.
In stark contrast to season 1, Heroes' later additions often felt one-dimensional. Maya and Alejandro, for example, were little more than a traveling plot device designed to augment the arcs of Sylar and Mohinder, rather than vital characters in their own right. Without that necessary injection of interesting new blood into the Heroes cast, season 2 came with a sense of staleness.
Heroes Season 2 Undid Season 1 Stories
There's nothing more frustrating than watching a gripping season of TV, only for the developments witnessed during those many viewing hours to be undone further down the line. This is precisely what Heroes season 2 is guilty of, winding multiple character and story arcs right back to the beginning with a soft reset.
Audiences had delighted in watching Peter Petrelli's growth from an unsure dreamer hospice nurse to the man with all the powers. As fantastic as this evolution was in Heroes season 1, the series had written itself into a corner by over-powering its protagonist, and the chosen solution was to have Peter lose his memory, forgetting the impressive array of powers he possessed. This certainly pared down Peter's abilities, but it also made the character a completely different entity compared to his season 1 self, and many viewers might've felt like they were watching a stranger, rather than Heroes' leading man.
Another example of Heroes season 2 undoing the work of season 1 is in its apocalypse story. Heroes' debut season began with a vision of an apocalyptic future and chronicled the subsequent attempts to prevent that reality from ever happening, leading to an uplifting finale when the crisis is eventually averted. Rather than focus on a new threat, the "Generations" storyline recycles that same idea. Peter has a vision of a second apocalypse in episode 6, and the remainder of season 2 is spent striving to prevent that future from happening. Not only does this feel repetitive, but it also renders the efforts of last season pointless.
Changes Caused By The Writers Strike
In fairness, Heroes' season 2 woes were not entirely of its own making, as production fatally collided with the Writers Guild of America strike. Many TV shows and movies were negatively impacted by the strike action, including Lost and James Bond's Quantum of Solace, and Heroes certainly didn't escape lightly. Originally, Heroes season 2 was divided into 3 volumes: "Generations," "Exodus" and "Villains." In the end, however, the season was curtailed to a mere 11 episodes, the "Exodus" angle was axed completely, and "Villains" was shifted to season 3.
This upheaval is apparent in how abruptly so many of Heroes' second season story arcs come to an end. With Sylar left weakened, the Nightmare Man is set up as Heroes' next major villain and the ominous build-up begins promisingly, with Molly playing the creeped-out child role to perfection. However, this baddie is dealt with in disappointingly quick fashion over the course of only a handful of episodes, wasting a character that had the potential to run for the entire season. In a similar vein, the Heroes season 2 finale sees Peter Petrelli and his team attempt to prevent the release of a deadly virus, but the story's big climax ends with Peter simply using his telepathy to catch a falling vial. Problem solved.
There's no comparison between this short-term, piecemeal storytelling and the gradual crescendo of season 1, where every episode was heading towards the same end goal.
Weaker Character Arcs
As much as Heroes season 2 suffered from a lack of strong new characters, the old guard didn't fare much better. Aside from Peter Petrelli's aforementioned amnesia-fueled trip to Ireland, Claire Bennet was immediately saddled with a teenage romance storyline - a direction that Tim Kring himself admits wasn't playing to Heroes' strengths. The tryst between Claire and West was a significant departure from Heroes' usual tone and failed to ignite much interest from viewers before fizzling out unceremoniously.
Sylar was a gripping and intense villain during Heroes' first season, but the serial killer was stripped of his powers for season 2. While exploring the desperation of a powerless Sylar feels like a potentially fruitful concept on paper, pulling the same trick with Peter Petrelli meant that both characters suffered from sharing eerily similar storylines, as a TV series based almost entirely around people with superpowers had foolishly gone to great pains to remove superpowers from the equation.
One of the most popular characters from Heroes season 1, the lovable Hiro Nakamura, was propelled into feudal Japan for season 2, and also left without his powers, but this plot point began promisingly, allowing Hiro to explore his wildest fantasies with Takezo Kensei. While Hiro's story certainly had its merits, even he suffered the curse of season 2, not returning to the present until episode 7 and spending far too much time in the past having minimal impact on the larger story. Separating the Hiro and Ando double-act for so long also proved an unwise move.
Heroes Season 2 Begins With A Time Skip
Heroes season 2 begins with a four month time skip, jolting viewers out of their familiar surroundings. Almost every character is in a vastly different location, time period or mental state than they were when the audience last saw them, and this sets up a number of interesting questions as to what happened during the intervening period. Peter is in another country, Hiro is lost in time, Sylar has been captured and Nathan in an alcoholic. Meanwhile, Niki has developed a third persona and her partner, D.L., is dead.
This dramatic shift in the Heroes' landscape isn't necessarily a negative, and the tactic has been used to great effect by a raft of other TV shows such as The Walking Dead. The problem Heroes season 2 makes for itself is that the narrative gaps take a very long time to be filled in. Fans had already waited months to find out what happened with Peter and Nathan at the end of the season 1 finale, and rather than provide those answers quickly, Heroes waited until season 2 was 8 episodes deep before clearing up the lingering mysteries. While some might deem this 'slow-burn storytelling,' allowing season 1's questions to remain unanswered for so long only prevented viewers from fully investing in what season 2 had to offer.
Throughout Heroes season 1, the stakes felt very real and every small interaction had a corresponding consequence. Characters who died stayed dead (apart from Claire, but that was the point), developing superpowers had a profound impact on a person's life and tragedies would reverberate throughout the remaining episodes. This sense of cause and effect gradually eroded in Heroes' later seasons, starting with season 2 but plaguing the rest of the series as a whole.
Characters began coming back to life on an almost weekly basis, with powers of resurrection no longer attributed to Claire alone. Both Noah and Maya are retrieved from near death in season 2 by transfusing Claire's blood into their failing bodies. Putting the iffy science aside, this is a cheap and cheerless plot device that damages the impact of major character deaths for the rest of Heroes' lifespan. Similarly, the likes of Peter and Sylar begin losing and gaining their powers on a whim; powerless one minute, fully-powered the next and, in Peter's case, partially-powered in season 3. This constant coming-and-going of abilities lessens the impact of gaining superpowers in the first place and damages the character development that saw these figures learn to control their abilities in Heroes season 1.