Over the past three years we had come to expect a ratcheting up of the stakes as each season drew to its conclusion yet this episode adopts a more ponderous pacing. The result is an episode that has some successful dramatic moments but which lacks end of season thrills.
'Brave New World' opens with the somewhat surprising return of Charlie, albeit significantly changed since Hiro last saw her. While for Hiro only a few weeks have passed, Charlie has grown old having been hidden some sixty years in the past by Samuel and has lived an entire life without him.
In reflection of Charlie's now advanced years, Jayma Mays (Glee) has been replaced for this episode by K Callan (Martha, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) who is just as memorable in the part and succeeds in making her portrayal seem like the same character but with considerably more life experience. Callan seems perfectly cast in the role.
Indeed, the scenes with the older Charlie talking with Hiro are amongst the most successful. Though little in these scenes manages to surprise, the performances feel so touching and genuine that it hardly matters. As a conclusion to their story it feels appropriate and provides a sense of closure before our attention once again turns to Samuel.
Over the course of season four we have seen Samuel demolish at first a building and then, more recently, an entire town. You might have been expecting that this was whetting the appetite for a big confrontation or set piece at some point in this finale. Sadly however the most we get are some ruptured paving slabs.
The result is a feeling of disappointment. Though the character remains interesting and has some excellent dramatic scenes in the episode, including his breakdown as he is defeated, the threat of Samuel seems to be over as quickly as it arrived. Having taken weeks to cultivate the sense that he has become incredibly powerful, he is defeated far too easily.
As of the time of writing, NBC has yet to announce whether they intend to bring Heroes back for a fifth season or if 'Brave New World' is to be the series' last episode ever. In the event that the series does not make a return, 'Brave New World' would stand as a highly unsatisfying end to the series. For instance, many characters' storylines are left unresolved. Those that were hoping to learn what happens to Tracy Strauss or Mohinder would be left disappointed.
It is worth bearing in mind that Heroes' rating troubles did not sneak up on the show by surprise. They were neither sudden nor unexpected. Given that there has been considerable speculation that this season could be the last for several months it is disappointing that this episode does not feel big enough or conclusive enough to bookend the show. Indeed it hardly feels big enough to top off the season adequately.
If the show were to be renewed however, 'Brave New World' does leave us with an interesting situation that would move the show onto new ground, changing the dynamics of the Heroes universe. The question would no longer be if the Heroes can keep their existence secret but rather what will happen now that the public are aware of their existence.
I can imagine that scenario could be quite compelling as characters decide whether to reveal that they have abilities or whether to remain in the superhero closet. Likewise it could be interesting to see how communities would react to the knowledge that there are people with abilities and to possibly explore some of the tensions and issues that might arise from such a situation.
If there is to be another season there are some changes that ought to be made. This fourth season really exposed that the main cast has become too large. Certain characters were underutilized while much time seemed to be spent finding ways to limit Peter, Sylar and Hiro's powers. The resulting subplots were largely frustrating and seemed to distract from the overall direction of the season.
One solution to this could be to trim the cast down and introduce some new, less powerful characters. Not only would this mean that the characters would be more evenly matched, it might also go some way towards revitalizing interest in the series.
The other problem I had with this fourth season was in its treatment of its villain, Samuel. Although I found the character much more engaging than either Emile Danko or Arthur Petrelli had been in the previous season, this was largely because of a superb performance from Robert Knepper. In terms of how he was handled by the writers however the character seemed inconsistent, sometimes motivated by one thing then later by another.
While Samuel's motivations and goals were intriguing mysteries that were kept up until right before the end, these final few episodes exposed some of the awkward joins in the character. Some episodes implied he was doing it all to try to get the girl. Others implied he was doing it because he lusted after power.
Thankfully while his motives were confused, Knepper was always entertaining enough in the part that I could overlook such inconsistencies. I just wish that the character had been more thoroughly thought out from the beginning rather than his motivations and plan changing on the fly.
While 'Brave New World' may not be the strongest finale in the series' history, for the most part I have enjoyed this fourth season. Only a handful of episodes really disappointed while others offered some of the more memorable moments in recent years. Though there were some missteps towards the end, Heroes found a consistency that it had been missing since its much praised first season.
As to whether we are likely to get another season, I know better than to try to figure out the minds of NBC executives. In a normal world, ratings of the like Heroes has seen would lead to cancellation but, given the unique and difficult circumstances that the network finds itself in at the moment, it is possible to imagine that they could renew the show for a final year while they work on establishing a new slate of shows.
Though I cannot say I am hungry for more Heroes right now, it would be a shame to leave the show with so little resolved. For this reason, I do hope that Heroes creator Tim Kring takes the opportunity to develop 'Volume Six', whether for television or, if the show does get canceled, for some other medium such as in a comic book or film.
The few remaining Heroes fans definitely deserve a more satisfying conclusion than 'Brave New World' represents.
- Aidan Brack