As "Heroes Reborn" reaches its conclusion, there are--as with nearly every episode of the larger story, both in this reboot and its uneven but occasionally wonderful earlier iteration--plenty of things to be frustrated by, but none is so potent as this:
Is this the end, or isn't it?
This isn't a situation where no one knew the end was coming. Tim Kring has said pretty much the whole time, including today, that "Heroes Reborn" was going to be a standalone story. As mentioned last week, NBC seems to view this as the end of the road, though Kring's statement from this afternoon makes it clear that he's got more stories that he wants to tell. None of that makes dropping a completely unnecessary and unsatisfying cliffhanger into what's essentially a series (or miniseries) finale. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. First, we've got to get through "Heroes Reborn" saying goodbye to most of its characters thusly:
Who? Them? Oh, never mind.
All season long, the need for episodes that focused on just a few characters--hell, even on half the characters--was overwhelming. How can we care about any of these people when we know so little about them? Those that stood out were either returning (such as Jack Coleman's HRG, of course, but also Masi Oka and Cristine Rose), really solid actors (Krista Bridges as Anne Clark; Pruitt Taylor Vince as Casper "I love coins" Abraham), or those with storylines that felt even the slightest bit fresh (Reckless Ren and Katana Girl, although I seem to be in the minority there). That shouldn't be the case. Remember Dylan Bruce's Captain James Dearing? Molly Walker? Frances? Brad the Boyfriend? Granted, Molly Walker got a pretty memorable exit, but "Heroes Reborn" spent so much time shoving new characters at the audience that even the established ones got seriously screwed on camera time. To add insult to injury, many of those who made it to the end are supposed to make do with a coda, or worse, a completely nonsensical ending. Farah, Jose, and Carlos? Fighting crime somewhere, I guess. Quentin? In prison--reason unclear--and delivering really convenient monologues. Parkman? Still in the ditch, apparently. Taylor? Off somewhere, pregnant and alone, assuming her boyfriend is dead, which he must be, since he's never mentioned again. Micah? Just gone. Who knows. Maybe they left him in the hospital.
It's a reason to try to be grateful for--rather than disappointed in--the few concrete endings we got. Luke justifies his existence of the series with a redeeming, self-sacrificial act that works better than it should (Zachary Levi's a pretty decent actor, after all). When the first solar flare hits, Tommy's nowhere to be found, and so Luke sends Malina and Quentin to relative safety before physically absorbing the sun's energy. It's a so-so visual effect but a lovely piece of acting, and while much of Luke's story has fallen flat, including his killing of his wife last week (an act for which he seems to be utterly untroubled) Levi makes it one of the few satisfying moments of the story.
Between Luke stopping the first flare and the twins stopping the apocalypse, we get a lot of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. ("Time is a circle," says Tommy 2. "Um, no, and basically, run," says The Doctor.) Emily and Ren get sucked into the future, along with the rest of the population Erica has cherry-picked for her "brave new world"--and that's probably not the best literary allusion, Erica--thanks to a weird snake cord thing that attacks Tommy in his (admittedly very cool) Evernow prison. Then he learns about his abilities via a clip-reel essentially, a technique that allows the show to repurpose footage of both Masi Oka and Hayden Panettierre. While Oka was back earlier, a fact that makes his absence in this episode feel all the more inadequate, this is now the third time the show has asked its audience to emote over Claire, a character that's completely absent from this iteration. Once works. Twice might. Again? Nope. Perhaps footage of Panettiere would have packed a punch, but they've already asked us to be sad about a wig under a sheet, so it falls as flat as the many, many flat screen TVs that cover the walls of Evernow.
Of course, it all just leads up to the main event (as does Phoebe showing up to almost kill Malina, at which point Quentin kills Phoebe instead of, I don't know, punching her in the face or something). When Tommy realizes that he and Malina can't stop the H.E.L.E. on their own, he zips around time, trying to find the right butterfly to uncrush. (The Doctor would not approve.) The correct butterfly, it turns out, is his grandpa, who would have died in the storm of a few episodes back had Tommy not zipped back to save him. Tommy brings HRG to watch a conversation that Angela Petrelli and the Haitian have after Malina and Tommy accidentally kill a guy with their joined powers, and Angela announces--would have been good to know this awhile ago, Angela!--that there's a third, faceless person in her dreams, a person who (ahem, ahem) sacrifices himself (ahem, ahem) for the children and the world. Angela stares right through the wall behind which Tommy and HRG are watching, and Tommy zaps them back to save the world, now with their conduit in tow.
So save the world they do, (wouldn't it have been interesting if they failed? Seriously, I'd watch that) and HRG is no more. He lives long enough for parting words of course, but after those, one of the characters that most defined "Heroes" at its peak-- and sat at the center of "Company Man," perhaps its best episode ever-- was gone. "Heroes Reborn" may have been a disappointment overall (best illustrated by the scene in which the convenient spare Tommy explains why all the rules of "Heroes" now don't matter) but Jack Coleman was excellent even when the material was bad.
If this was always intended to be the end of "Heroes Reborn," then it's a shame that they robbed HRG's death of the weight it deserved by simply jumping on to the next mystery. If not, if there was always the possibility of a second season, then it's too bad they didn't re-edit, or at least make the ending feel less abrupt. Sadly, it's an appropriate conclusion for a series that didn't know when to stop: one last, desperate moment in which you can hear the show-runners practically shouting, "But wait, there's more!"
So let's take a moment now, "Heroes" lovers. Let's tip our caps to HRG. Here's to Noah Bennet, the dad who never wanted to be one until he was, and then never wanted to be anyone else; the man who did terrible things because he thought they were right, and did right things even when they felt terrible; the guy who was legit identified by an accessory for so long that we still call him HRG; and the predominant reason that "Heroes Reborn" was worth watching in the first place. I wish that Jack Coleman and his character had been better served by the material. I wish that he'd gotten more time, or at least more scenes that packed a punch. I wish he'd at least gotten to wear his glasses in the end. But mostly, I'm glad we got to spend any time with that character at all.
See you next time, if there is one. Which there won't be. Unless there is. Which there might be? But won't be? But will be? But isn't? Who knows. Time is a circle, I guess. Save the franchise, save the world.