Sharing its title with the series finale of Heroes, the sequel’s premiere picks up several years after the closing events of the first “Brave New World.” Claire’s series-ending demonstration of her abilities to the world spins the universe of Heroes Reborn off in a new direction, allowing the writers to skip the now-familiar origin story beats that bog down many a superhero introduction. Instead, Heroes Reborn opens with a devastating terrorist attack that shatters the pro-evo (short for evolved human) movement and prompts federal regulation against evos, pushing those with abilities underground. It’s a smart move by creator Tim Kring and the rest of the creative team, immediately adding stakes to the proceedings and fueling the anti-evo sentiment that allows Luke (Zachary Levi) and Joanne (Judith Shekoni) to go on an evo killing spree unnoticed and the insidious Renautas company to operate with apparent ease.
The Odessa Summit is a natural starting point for the series, an optimistic beginning that provides needed contrast to the anxiety that follows. Seeing Luke and Joanne happy with their son Dennis (Richie Lawrence) and marveling at the powers of the evos at the summit adds weight to their grim determination later, as does the camera’s relaxed movement in the shot, showing the pair contentedly sharing the frame with some of their future victims. The sequence after the attack on the summit is similarly effective and wastes no time establishing the new status quo. The palpable tension that continues through the underground meeting feeds the premiere, giving it forward momentum that buoys it through its less successful moments.
One of the main strengths of these episodes is their glimpses of joy and wonder: the possibility in Noah’s (Jack Coleman) voice as he leaves a message for Claire, the exhilaration of Ren (Toru Uchikado) when he recognizes Miko (Kiki Sukezane), Jose’s (Lucius Hoyos) hero-worship of El Vengador. These beats counter the dour scenes with Noah, Carlos (Ryan Guzman), and Luke and Joanne, keeping the episodes from getting mired in their heavier moments. Rather than characterization or plot, these episodes get by on energy, and the enthusiasm of a character like Ren is infectious, keeping the audience engaged in his and Miko’s story despite their lack of connection, at least so far, to the rest of the action.
Unfortunately, that prioritizing of tone and momentum over characterization leads to many of the episodes’ biggest weaknesses. Bringing back Coleman’s Noah to center the series is a great move, and wiping his memory to make him an audience surrogate is Genre Premiere 101. Audiences already have a connection to Noah and to Coleman, they’re already invested in the character, so the combination of Coleman’s strong performance with the narrative and emotional shortcuts his centrality allows gives the premiere an immediate boost. These episodes don’t want to spend time on building up a main character and with Noah, they don’t have to. It’s a good thing too, because this premiere does little to connect new viewers to this fan-favorite character.
Noah is introduced as Ted, a car salesman who would rather not listen to his fiancé prattle on about wedding planning. In fact, he has so little investment in this relationship that after killing René in self-defense, he abandons his fiancé as quickly as he abandons the name Ted. This makes Noah a hard sell of a heroic protagonist, so the writers pair him up with Quentin, hoping Henry Zebrowski’s charm as the hapless conspiracy theorist will warm up the potentially chilly Noah. Zebrowski, who was fantastic earlier this year in Inside Amy Schumer’s “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” does his best with the material he’s given, but these episodes can’t decide if Quentin is a laudable underdog or cowardly comedic foil. These scenes will likely be more effective for viewers of the “Dark Matters” prequel webisodes, in which Quentin and his sister feature prominently, but after spending time with them together, his putting aside his search for Phoebe feels like a much larger betrayal.
Also given paper-thin characterization are Luke and Joanne. Their vague, “For Dennis” is not nearly enough to explain their cold-blooded slaughter of admittedly innocent evos. Then there’s Oscar, who spends his nights helping the people of L.A. as El Vengador and has an underground railroad full of contacts, yet makes no effort to reach out to them to save his life after he’s been shot. Plus let’s not forget Molly’s (Francesca Eastwood) completely unnecessary rescue and recapture by her captors, included just to fill time and surprise viewers with a twist. It’s hard to think of a way that time could have been used, with those three characters, that wouldn’t have been better.
Fortunately, some of the characters are more effectively used. While we know next to nothing about him, as mentioned above, Ren has personality to spare and Miko is the most intriguing new character by far. Unlike some others, Miko’s blank-state status feels intentional, a hint for viewers that not all is as it seems with her. Kay is rather mannered as teleporter Tommy—he was solid as Pan on Once Upon A Time, and will hopefully relax into the role—but Gatlin Green’s Emily is warm and engaging, and the writers give surprising depth to Emily’s boyfriend Brad (Jake Manley). Helping out this corner of the show is Pruitt Taylor Vince as the mysterious penny-toting evo watching over Tommy. Vince is always a welcome addition and his character is doled out just enough, leaving the audience wanting more. It’s also great to see Jimmy Jean-Louis back as René, however briefly. Jean-Louis brings a wonderfully calm presence to his scenes and while René will certainly be missed, if his death is indicative of a willingness on the part of the writers to kill off original or favored characters, that is a very positive sign.
When Heroes went off the air five years ago, it was critically maligned. Fans who had embraced the series initially due to its comic book-inspired approach to storytelling and engaging and diverse characters tired of its repetitious plotting and frequently poor writing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, however, and while “Brave New World” and “Odessa” show hints of several of the same issues that plagued Heroes, it’s hard not to get swept up in the energy and potential of Heroes Reborn.
- While not all of the score sticks in my memory, I love quiet optimism of the opening measures as Noah sits on the bench, which makes good use of the openness of the perfect fifth and the potential that interval implies (without the third there to define the chord, it can be either major or minor).
- Speaking of the bench, you’re just gonna waste that perfectly delicious-looking apple, leaving it on the bench after one bite? For shame, Noah!
- Love the Claire cosplay at the Odessa Summit. I’m less in love with the post-bombing montage of pre-existing gravitas-filled presidential speeches (a great idea), with some of the least natural voiceover I’ve heard in a while.
- Kring and company open in the present day by getting all the typical superpowers in a room—flight, fire, invisibility, speed—and killing them all. The more original the abilities of the characters, the more distinct the series will feel, so hopefully we get more like Phoebe’s umbermancer or the smoky priest and fewer like Tommy’s teleporter.
- We don’t see Miko turn off her speakers when Ren startles her and she stands. Hint at evo-ness, or creative license?
- “Leeroy Jenkins” may be dated, but it hits me right in the nostalgia, so I’ll allow it. Also fun: thinking of Joanne as Leeroy Jenkins, especially when she shoots up Primatech without warning, much to Luke’s chagrin.
- I have no clue what it’s about, but I love that all the art in René’s waiting room is of cowboys, as is the wallpaper. Also, I may not have been a fan of the extraneous runaround with Molly in “Odessa,” but that’s a pretty sweet green dress.
- In my notes, Quentin is “Beardo.” He will stay Beardo to me until the show gives me a reason to care about his name, something that happens in the webisodes, but most certainly does not happen here.
- We were so close to not having any Suresh voiceover! Hopefully any further instances remain this sparing.
- Crazy thought: Noah, if you went to these extreme lengths to make yourself forget something, maybe you should trust your judgment and not endanger yourself and others trying to find out what it is. Just sayin’.