One week a month, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new show coming out that week. This week: The return of Black Mirror has us thinking about TV’s other visions of ominous futures.

Heroes, “Five Years Gone,” (season one, episode 20; originally aired April 30, 2007)

There was a time when the phrase “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World” might have sent a chill down your spine. (Maybe that’s just us.) That was way back in October 2006, when it was first uttered by a soul-patch–wearing Masi Oka in the Heroes season-one episode “Hiros.” (The other Hiro Nakamura referred to in that title was the office-drone version turned wannabe hero.) That six-word phrase was once a rallying cry on Tim Kring’s NBC drama of ever-diminishing returns, uttered by some of the “evolved humans” who faced threats from in and out of their ranks. It also set up a potentially satisfying endgame for the first season, which otherwise saw so many peaks and valleys. When Peter Petrelli was entrusted with this mission, his purpose became clear—and so did the stakes.

By the ninth episode—which turned out to be surprisingly fast for this show—Peter had made his way to Odessa, Texas, and saved Claire Bennet from Sylar’s clutches. Poor Claire Bear was unaware of Peter’s grand destiny, though, and demurred that she was just “a cheerleader” when asked if his actions had saved the world. Then it took another 15 chapters in the first volume to learn just what future Peter and the Hiros were trying to stave off.

The network’s teaser for “Five Years Gone” pretty well sums up just what made the future so bleak. It’s not mentioned by name, but the Linderman act called for the registration of evolved humans (not unlike the Sokovia Accords of the Avengers movies, or the Keene Act of the X-Men films). We learned how Claire’s death was tied to the destruction of New York, and how Nathan pushed this bit of legislation through as President Of The United States, an ascension befitting the “Flying Man.” We also saw that there’d be no Ando, D.L., Micah, or even Nathan, as he turned out to be Sylar all along. (To be fair, the Petrellis pinned the whole “destruction of half of New York” thing on the watchmaker.)

Advertisement

These dire circumstances elicited the appropriate tension, as the heroes (including both Hiros) chose sides, risked life and limb, etc. But the long-awaited showdown between Peter and Sylar was ultimately unsatisfying. They had ample reason to want to destroy each other, and they made all the necessary threats while facing off in a hallway after Future Hiro was gunned down. And yet, the fight was limited to flashing lights that were only glimpsed through the crack in a door that Mohinder was trying to keep shut. Maybe the special-effects budget had already been spent on all the telekinetic forehead-carving Sylar had done, or it was being saved up for the explosive spectacle of the finale (it wasn’t), but the payoff was virtually nonexistent. Unfortunately, this would become Heroes’ M.O., but at least Future Hiro’s samurai-sword-at-a-gunfight strategy worked better than it did in Heroes Reborn.

Availability: “Five Years Gone” is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu.