I’m re-watching the season premiere of Heroes, and something occurred to me. Something I didn’t really notice last season (mainly because I was probably too busy noticing how much last season sucked). That something is this: Peter Petrelli is Superman.
Now, before you all get your capes in an uproar, I’m not saying that Mama Petrelli’s baby boy has the same iconic status as Superman. That would be stupid. Supes has been around for seventy years. He’s a mass media darling. He’s been through World War II, the Cold War, and the near-collapse of the comic industry in the ’90s. Peter Petrelli is a nurse with bitchin’ bangs. So, what exactly am I driving at? Simple. Both Superman and Peter Petrelli provide similar obstacles and stumbling blocks to storytellers.
There’s a reason why the world has Kryptonite. First invented for the Superman radio series in 1943, the deadly element was carried over into the comic series six years later, as a way of making the Superman stories a bit more dramatic. Think about it: a story with an unstoppable protagonist who is impervious to everything and can do anything is boring. Enter the little green rocks. A weakened Superman is an interesting Superman. I’m sure this is also why the Big Blue Boy Scout is vulnerable to magic and magic-based attacks.
This brings me back (finally) to Peter Petrelli. Peter’s pretty much been set up as “the most powerful” character in the Heroes-verse. In a world where people can walk through walls, stop time, or shoot lightning bolts from their fingertips, the dude who can do all of it is pretty high up the ladder. Sure, there’s Sylar, but he has an inherent handicap–he needs to be more…umm…hands-on than Peter. Sylar needs to identify, isolate, and lobotomize folks to get their powers. Peter just needs to be standing in line at Starbucks with someone to get theirs. So, as the writers and producers of Heroes, how do you deal with a character like Peter? What do you do to keep the “drama” in this one-hour drama? The answer is obvious: you need some kind of Kryptonite–in this case, it’s narrative Kryptonite.
Everything started off okay. In season one of Heroes, Peter was still trying to figure his powers out. He didn’t even know what he could do at first. Then, when he finally realized that he could mimic the powers of others, he couldn’t do it unless his “donors” were nearby. By the end of the season, Peter more or less figured out how to draw upon the powers of anyone he’s come into contact with. Then he blew up–luckily, thanks to his niece Claire, Peter has the ability to regenerate. See what’s happening here? No one was worried for a second that ol’ Petey was going to die in the season one finale. To paraphrase the musical episode of Buffy, he’d already “died twice” that season. No threat. No drama.
That brings us to season two. What were the producers going to do about a character who could almost single-handedly deal with any threat they came up with? They needed to find a way to tie Peter’s hands, metaphorically speaking. Their solution: drop him in Ireland and give him a nasty bit of amnesia. I might not have been a fan of the idea, but I can appreciate where it came from. They’d pretty much painted themselves into a corner with Peter’s abilities, and needed to figure out how to keep the drama and tension cranked to 11. It’s the exact same reason that Kryptonite was invented.
Now, season three is upon us, and the producers had to come up with yet another way to rein in Peter’s powers. This time, they decided to have “Future Peter”–who has a scar, so we know he’s really bad-ass–come back to the present and take our Peter’s place. While FP is masquerading as OP, OP finds himself trapped in the body of one of the villains from Level 5 (played by Veronica Mars‘ Weevil, you just gotta love that casting!). It’s too early to know how long this current status quo will last, or what–if any–effect being in another body will have on OP’s abilities…I just think it’s funny that the producers find themselves jumping through hoops of their own making.