'Heroes' recap: As the world burns
It's hard work, creating a villain. Really. Finding the right balance of malice and charisma, of danger and desire, is no easy feat. He's a character the audience has to be able to love to hate otherwise he's a turnoff. And when you've got your Big Bad firing on all cylinders, he's a tougher character to keep viable, more so than your hero. If he's too vile, he's not fun, but he's got to keep applying real pressure on the protagonist in new and different ways. TV villains are so hard to create that I'll wager you can't name five terrific bad guys, ones that have been a consistent pain in the tuchis to the show's hero (and ones that didn't get ported over from another medium so no Lex Luthor). Spike on Buffy. Ben on Lost. The Cigarette-Smoking Man on The X-Files. From there, I start to draw blanks. But you may be smarter than I am. (And, yes, I just opened the door wide. Go to town.)
Which is why Sylar was such an amazing writing and performance achievement. In the hands of Zachary Quinto, he was consistently viable for a good long time. Never mind the cheerleader: He was the engine that drove Heroes in the first season, and he was so strong he weathered the ridiculousness of the second season with admirable fortitude. And then we came to the third season, in which Sylar looked like he was being recast as a hero, an interesting gamble for a character who'd been so evil for so long.
And they might have gotten away with it, if it weren't for those meddling Petrellis.
Once Angela and Arthur came into Sylar's life, revealing that he was indeed Gabriel Petrelli, brother to Peter and Nathan, the scourge of the civilized world became an obedient mama's boy. First, he's ordered around like a lapdog by Angela (''Go save Peter from his own stupidity,'' ''Go be Noah's arresting-escapees partner,'' ''Go get me a cookie''), and now he's easily swayed by Arthur, whose entire argument is ''I'm not an evil bastard, she's an evil bitch.'' Gabriel has, essentially, become the pawn/subject of a custody battle. Heroes has taken its most potent character and turned him into Drew Barrymore in Irreconcilable Differences.
Comic-book storytelling has long carried some of the same touchstones as soap operas (never more apparent than during Chris Claremont's groundbreaking 16-year run on the Uncanny X-Men, which wrapped up in 1991): long, internecine, interlocking tales with a large roster of characters, many of whom would fall in love with each other in between adventures of seeming galactic importance. That's the nature of the serial story beast. But it wasn't until tonight that Heroes began to feel less like a comic book and more like Falcon Crest. Tracy said it best, when trying to understand Claire's complicated parentage: ''He’s the biological father of your illegitimate daughter and you’re the adopted father.'' Suddenly, everyone on this show is related and that's just silly. All we need is Lorenzo Lamas or Charlene Tilton, and we've got ourselves a nighttime soap. Heck, we even had a girl fight between Claire and Elle in which one of them was doused in water.
NEXT: More of the same