Tuesday, April 28, 2009

'Heroes' and how "the sins of the fathers" affect community

We are all connected, joined together by an invisible thread, infinite in its potential and fragile in its design. Yet while connected, we are also merely individuals, empty vessels to be filled with infinite possibilities, an assortment of thoughts, beliefs, a collection of disjointed memories and experiences. Can I be me without these? Can you be you? And if this invisible threat that holds us together were to sever, to cease—what then? What will become of billions of lone, disconnected souls? Therein lies the great quest of our lives: To find, to connect, to hold on. For when our hearts are pure and our thoughts in line, we are all truly one, capable of repairing our fragile world and creating a universe of infinite possibilities.

--Mohinder’s voiceover at the end of "An Invisible Thread"
And thus ends the last episode of Volume Four of Heroes, NBC’s comic-book-like drama chronicling the lives of those with special abilities who walk among us. The finale tied up some storylines and introduced others, with a few twists in between. It was good to see the heroes come out from under the threat that had hunted them all season and come together once more, to form an alliance of sorts in order to work together. But I can’t help but think that alliance will suffer in the next volume of stories because the finale introduced a darker thread into their community: how “the sins of the fathers” affect the lives we live together. (Caution: major spoilers ahead.)

In this episode, Angela Petrelli, Claire Bennet (Angela’s granddaughter) and Peter Petrelli (Angela’s younger son) make their ways to Washington, D.C. to help Nathan (Angela’s eldest son and a U.S. Senator with the secret ability to fly) stop uber-villain Sylar from shaking the president’s hand and taking his place (among Sylar’s many abilities is shape-shifting). Noah Bennett (Claire’s adoptive father) is captured, but later escapes thanks to Hiro and Ando. They all converge on the capitol, where Sylar is impersonating Nathan and holding Claire prisoner. In a showdown (left offscreen due to a costly special effects demand?), Peter and Nathan fight Sylar, who eventually kills Nathan. Angela brings Matt Parkman (an ex-cop who has the ability to read minds and control thoughts of others) to save Nathan as she saw foretold in her dreams, but it is too late. She is devastated and beyond grief. Meanwhile, Sylar escapes and takes on the shape of one of the president’s advisors and climbs into the back of a limo with the president. But as he shakes his hand, we discover that Peter (who had fought with Sylar earlier and picked up all his powers when he touched him) has shapeshifted into the president, and he injects Sylar with a sedative which knocks him out.

With Sylar’s unconscious body before them, Angela and Noah come up with a plan. They ask Matt to write over Sylar memories with Nathan’s. With the ability to shapeshift, Sylar would essentially become Nathan. Matt is reluctant, calling the plan crazy: "Even if I could do what you’re asking me to do, he’d never really be Nathan. He’d always be Sylar!" Angela and Noah go at Matt with all the reasons he should go along with them. If Nathan is dead, they tell him, the government will go after those with abilities even more so—including Matt's friends and family. And they appeal to Matt's own sense of fatherhood, his need to keep his family safe and his connection to his own son. Matt’s reluctance is finally overcome in his compassion for Angela, who asks him, “Can you honestly tell me that if something happened to [your son] you wouldn’t do anything—anything—to keep him in your life?” He uses his powers to convince Sylar he is Nathan, keeping the transformation a secret between the three of them.

As I watched Angela and Noah pressure Matt, I wanted to yell, “Have you learned nothing?!” These two are essentially the matriarch and patriarch of this diverse group of young heroes—including not only those in their family (Claire, Peter and Nathan) but others like Matt, Hiro and Ando. And this last season, we have watched the two of them struggle with the decisions they’ve made in the past and the consequences they and the ones they love have suffered because of those choices. But both of them are used to using questionable methods (from deception, lying and coercion to torture and murder) as means to a greater good (the protection of their families and those who have abilities). And in this scene, they fall back on that.

But even now, those decisions are affecting not only the connections the two of them have with these younger people but also the connections they all have together. Their “sins” are affecting their “family” in ways they don’t yet comprehend.

I’ve often heard the concept of “the sins of the fathers” discussed in terms of how the consequences of the decisions and actions of parents and elders affect future generations. Sometimes, it’s been discussed in terms of a divine punishment visited on subsequent generations, such as stories where whole families or tribes are punished for the actions of their elders. Sometimes, it’s in how those sins and actions affect individual lives; A Thousand Acres explores this poignantly in the affects of a father’s sexual abuse on the development and lives of his daughters.

But I think this episode gets at something different: it shows how the "sins" of the elders can foster "sinful" behaviors and choices of the younger generation—and how that affects the community as a whole. The situation that Angela and Noah are in is one created by a long line of deception, bad choices and wrong methods. And even though their ends are good, Angela and Noah are sucking Matt into those same behaviors. They are, in effect, teaching him to “sin.”

And this affects the community as a whole. In Mohinder’s voiceover at the end of the episode (above), he talks about the our drive to connect and hold on to each other—and that the strongest bonds we form are when “our hearts are pure and our thoughts in line.” Yet, even as we watch the heroes gather at the end to burn Syler’s body (it’s actually the body of another already dead shapeshifter), we see Matt’s agitation at being brought into a deception. We watch Angela’s momentary unease when Nathan/Sylar puts his arm around her. We see fire glint in Noah’s glasses as he lies to Claire and tells her that Sylar is really dead. Even though Noah and Angela intended their actions to protect and bring their group or family together, it is doing the opposite. Deception and lies scuttle hearts and thoughts, and there is no oneness in that. There is no “repair” of our “fragile world.” In deception and lies are the seeds of separation and destruction.

And all this makes me think about what we believe—and what we teach those around us, either by our actions or words. What do we really believe? Do we teach each other that the ends justify the means? Or do we believe there is a greater good and higher way to live—one that may cost not only our lives but perhaps the lives of those we love? Because what we teach and the way of life we invite others into will ultimately come out of what we really believe.

And as a follower of Jesus, this makes me ask of myself and the groups with which I gather: Do we teach one thing and live by another? Are “our hearts pure”—do we believe that God is who he says he is and can do what he says? Are “our thoughts in line”? Do we really hold onto, love and walk with each other in our faith? Or do we just give lip-service to it all while our actions say and invite others to something else?

Because, as a follower of Jesus, I think Mohinder’s on to something. If our hearts are pure and our thoughts in line—if we believe that God is who he says and can do what he says—then we can “repair our fragile world.” No, that’s not completely right—it’s not us, but God in and through us. We are his vessels, filled with his Spirit. And each of us has a unique roll to play in the midst of our time, place and relationships. As Dallas Willard says in The Divine Conspiracy, “We were built to count, as water is made to run downhill. We are placed in a specific context to count in ways no one else does." And as we walk with God and live in and out of that Spirit as the person we were created to be in the time and space we live in, God’s love and right-ness and life spill out around us. And when we live together of clean heart and thoughts in line, in and out of that Spirit as the people we were created to be, God’s life and love works through us to repair, renew and redeem the broken world even as he does each of us.

That’s why I find episodes like this worth noting. They get at the subtly of our choices and decisions, the costs and consequences of each. At why we make the choices we do and how that affects and what that teaches those around us. And how those choices affect our lives together. And that brings God-talk into open spaces.

(Images: NBC)

1 comment:

Bob Andelman said...

Check out this interview with Milo Ventimiglia and Adrian Pasdar in which they discuss the finale and their "special" relationship: http://bit.ly/iZfvy.