Heroes Season 2: You can still do better

Last season, I wrote about how Heroes, an awesome show in so many respects, could stand to work on its portrayal of women in big ways. I had heard they were paying some attention to the common criticism of gender imbalance and they’ve responded this season by adding some female characters. They’ve made one major improvement that I’ll talk about in a post tomorrow, but there is a long list of their continued shortcomings (I’m also a few episodes behind, so I may be missing some things, but hopefully not misrepresenting the big picture).

First–I was definitely looking forward to seeing Kristin Bell (Veronica Mars) join the cast, but her introductory episode revealed her to be working with the enemy. Worse, she seems to be doing it in direct response to a need to impress her father. Like Candice and Eden before her, she seems to be motivated by an insecurity and a desire for power that ultimately comes from a place of internal weakness. The million dollar misogynist question here is: Why is it that the women seem disproportionately inclined to become pawns to this organization, to succumb to these corrupt offers of power based in pride? Why are the men, numerically speaking, so much more likely to be willing or able to take up the quest of the noble, suffering hero while the women often forego morality in favour of some sort of selfish personal advantage (often involving the use of both stereotypical feminine sexual wiles and violence)?

The complementary option for the women continues to be that they are allowed to have power, but they can’t quite handle it and are unable to use it without male guides or supports. In Maia, the writers have kindly introduced a character that demonstrates this nearly literally. Maia doesn’t choose to use the ability she has. It overpowers her against her will when she gets emotional (whether justifiably or not), and she becomes destructive. Murderous, in fact. She’s naturally terrified of this, to the extent that she just can’t find the resources to control and channel her strength productively. The only thing that keeps her from destroying others and herself is her brother Alejandro, who has a corresponding heroic power to diffuse Maia’s. Like Niki, Maia has a power that is actually more of an illness, and she has to be saved from herself more than she’s actually able to do any active saving.

Plus–Candice’s death reveals that the “fat girl” reality we were concerned about (but still sort of debating) here was, in fact, the case. This is all without even mentioning Claire, whose current storyline ended up being extensively discussed in the comments thread of this post. (The good news has come so far in the form of Monica Dawson, but we’ll save the happy thoughts for tomorrow).

Comments

  1. scarlett says

    Damn, beat me to it :p

    Off all the new characters, the only female I’ve taken any liking to in Monica. (My fello-geek brother and I actually sat down with a pen and paper and updated our list of coolest heroes; in our opinions, she ranked above Claire and Mikah :p)

    As you said, Mia, like Nicki, is a woman who wields a dtsructive power that she can’t control. Crap enough power to begin with, insulting that they never have a MALE character as dangerous and ineffectual.

    I thought Candice’s power was a really interesting one, and I was really disappointed that a) she was dumb enough to trust Silar and b) she finished up so abruptly, her character seeming to only exist to facilitate Silar’s comeback. Like Eden, she was a woman with an interesting power who was dumb enough to think she could take on Silar. I mean, seriously, did she not learn from EDEN?!?!?!

  2. Tessa says

    Plus–Candice’s death reveals that the “fat girl” reality we were concerned about (but still sort of debating) here was, in fact, the case.

    You know what really got me here, too? In death, she didn’t even have a *face*. She was just treated as anonymous “fat girl”, not even worthy of being shown as an individual. ArRRggh!

    a) she was dumb enough to trust Silar and b) she finished up so abruptly, her character seeming to only exist to facilitate Silar’s comeback.

    Exactly! I swear, I really expected them to do something more interesting with her. I mean, I can see her trying to help Sylar heal, etc., but if I had her power there is no *way* I would have actually been where I appeared to be so that he could attack me the first time he felt a little frisky. *Grumbles*

  3. SunlessNick says

    Like Eden, she was a woman with an interesting power who was dumb enough to think she could take on Silar. - Scarlett

    Plus, the way Eden had been portrayed beforehand was as someone smart enough to have started her attack on Sylar with “Do nothing without my orders.”

    As you said, Mia, like Nicki, is a woman who wields a dtsructive power that she can’t control. Crap enough power to begin with, insulting that they never have a MALE character as dangerous and ineffectual.

    And that they have a male character to deactivate her, if I read correctly.

    I have been watching the series in the end; the most recent episode I saw being the one where Matt and the radioactive guy go after Bennet. In that one, Matt tells Claire not to be a hero. Sums it up really.

  4. says

    that they have a male character to deactivate her, if I read correctly.

    You do in fact read correctly, SunlessNick. I also agree with your summary–with the men, the message is “take up your swords and learn to be a hero”. With the women it’s the exact opposite.

    In death, she didn’t even have a *face*.

    I hadn’t thought of that, Tessa. Thanks for pointing it out. God, that’s painful.

    a woman with an interesting power who was dumb enough to think she could take on Silar. I mean, seriously, did she not learn from EDEN?!?!?!

    See, what I would ask here is why the writers feel that a woman with an interesting power is inevitably *not* capable of taking on Sylar. Why should the story go that Candice should have learned from Eden’s mistakes? Why are the women so goddamn irrelevant when it comes to taking down Sylar, with only Claire being perceived as having anything to contribute?

    To me, what Candice’s character is thinking is less important than the meta-message, which is that the girls should sit back and let the boys do the heavy lifting. If they don’t, they’re liable to get killed, and of course, they’ll deserve it too, because obviously, they didn’t know their place. It’s *almost* like they’re training us to victim blame…except that it’s kind of exactly like that.

  5. S. A. Bonasi says

    Before I begin, my comment is going to contain spoilers for all episodes that have aired.

    Her name’s Maya, not Maia. And yeah, she’s another variation of ‘women shouldn’t have power’. And while it’s implied that she’ll learn to control it, that will almost certainly come from the influence of a man: Sylar.

    Which is another issue. Heroes now has Maya, Monica, Claire, Niki, & Elle…and none of them appear together in scenes. They all have separate plotlines, where they interact with various male characters.

    scarlette,

    Actually, I’d argue that Peter fits into the ‘cannot control power’ box. However, in contrast to Peter there is Bob, Adam, Hiro, Nathan, Linderman, DL…basically, a crapload of male characters that can control their power. But contrasting Elle, Niki, and Maya there is Claire, Monica, Eden, and Candice. It’s a much a higher ratio, so Peter alone doesn’t even things out. (This is to say that I’m not in disagreement with the general point.)

    And God did Candice’s death piss me off. The original reasoning, from what I’ve read, is that they were going to kill Candice off because the actor got cast on Reaper and became unavailable. Except then they ended up recasting the actor, which Candice’s power means they can do quite easily, and the new actor they got fulfilled the role perfectly.

    Yet they killed her off anyway. ??????? Oh, and of course, Candice ended up looking really really stupid in the process, since she should have been smart enough to anticipate Sylar’s move. Crap, it doesn’t even make logical sense within the show. The Company trusted Candice to handle Sylar because they perceived Candice to be competant enough to manage him. Makes sense, given that up until that point, Candice had been shown as competant at her job.

    Also still think it was a mistake for them to kill of Eden. Not just the same ‘make her look stupid’ that you later see with Candice, but also a complete waste of the potential that existed with the character.

    Other complaints: Kaito getting killed off with equal indignity, as he didn’t even put up a fight. DL getting killed off off screen. “The Haitian” barely having any lines and almost next to nothing in terms of exploration of motivation. Claire’s entire plotline, again. The whole bit with the 1671 plotline where Hiro must tragically ‘ship Yaeko with Adam, although I’ll admit that the resolution was at least on the right track. Caitlin being shoved in the great refridgerator that was the dystopian future. Niki barely getting any screen time and still having crap for agency. Ando’s reduced screen time. Probably more.

    Issue I’m not quite sure what to make of: TPTB have gone on record saying that they’ve pretty much chosen to ignore the reality of adoption laws. Which, fine. But they do choose to acknowledge the immigration laws…as they apply to Maya & Alejandro. Other than Hiro in episode 1×02 and Caitlin in “Out of Time” and I guess parts of “Five Years Gone”, immigration as topic as been largely ignored. TPTB simply don’t bother to address/explore with regard to immigration laws: Mohinder’s residency status in the second season, Adam in Japan, Peter in Ireland, for the most part Sylar (and Derek) in Mexico, and the fact that the Company recruits and works globally.

    Much like adoption laws and science, the laws involved with characters being in countries not of their origin is simply ignored…excepted where Maya & Alejandro are involved. If the showrunners want to be all topical, why aren’t they doing so consistantly?

    Things I’ve been liking this season: Monica & Micah’s plotline, Matt and Mohinder living together and raising little orphan Molly, Mohinder & Matt’s plotline(s), the resolution of the 1671 plotline, and (acknowledging its problematic aspects) the Maya-Alejandro-Sylar road trip.

  6. sbg says

    Why is it that the women seem disproportionately inclined to become pawns to this organization, to succumb to these corrupt offers of power based in pride? Why are the men, numerically speaking, so much more likely to be willing or able to take up the quest of the noble, suffering hero while the women often forego morality in favour of some sort of selfish personal advantage (often involving the use of both stereotypical feminine sexual wiles and violence)?

    Good, disturbing questions. I wish I could blame it on the overal suckitude the story arcs have this year (I’m not one to enjoy the ba-zillion things Heroes has going on anyway, but this year most of them are boooooorrrrring), but that would be too easy. Even if the stories were stellar and interesting, I fear the women would be put in these little boxes like they were all of last year.

    Plus–Candice’s death reveals that the “fat girl” reality we were concerned about (but still sort of debating) here was, in fact, the case.

    I was very unhappy both to find out I was right, and that they killed her off so easily. The second they showed her alone with Sylar, I knew she was toast, and it pissed me off.

  7. Mecha says

    I’m also getting annoyed by the ‘It really sucks to be a woman in Heroes’ factor. I want some unapolagetically competent mainline female characters. I mean, Hiro’s sister is likely to be powered, and she displayed confidence. Where’s she?

    I did see an apology from Kring about how they clearly weren’t doing well this time around and they were going to try to do better… but, well, writers strike, not sure how well anything’s going to hold up.

    -Mecha

  8. says

    In this version of the apology, at least, I see no clue that they understand they’re being sexist or racist.

    Remember, Real WomenTM don’t want to be heroes. Real WomenTM understand they are the object of the quest not the questor, and comfort themselves in thinking this means they’re like really great so that makes it all okay. –slight rephrasing of Joseph Campbell, the the geekboy film student’s guide to life, the universe and story writing

  9. scarlett says

    See, what I would ask here is why the writers feel that a woman with an interesting power is inevitably *not* capable of taking on Sylar. Why should the story go that Candice should have learned from Eden’s mistakes? Why are the women so goddamn irrelevant when it comes to taking down Sylar, with only Claire being perceived as having anything to contribute?

    Well the issue I had was that Candice HAD to know that Silar kiled Eden, and most probably knew that he got the better of Modinder and Peter, too. Surely someone with a bit of common sense would have thought ‘hey, maybe I need backup’.

    IMHO, all the crappest powers – specifically, Nicki and Maya – are given to the women, and even when they DO get cool powers, the power is largely sidelined. Mt biggest gripe is that the search for Claire wasn’t about utilising her powers but stopping Silar from getting them. ‘Coz, you know, only the male bad guy could possibily utilise such powers. A pretty cheerleader can’t be expected to be a hero.

  10. Gategrrl says

    Another beef I’ve got is… Nichelle Nichols.

    Not that she’s ON the show, oh no. But that her role has so far been a line here and there, and a walk off the screen. Nothing of substance.

    Compared to George Takei, that’s *nothing*. He was cast as Hiro’s *father* and had a pivotal secondary supporting role – but in Monica’s house, she’s the breadwinner, and Grandma Nichols just walks around giving sage koans for advice.

    The most frustrating thing about this show is what Betacandy pointed out – the writers, led by Kring (doesn’t matter what the studios have demanded in the plots) simply does not SEE the default sexism in the casting and the roles.

  11. says

    Gategrrl, I’m hoping they *intend* to do something interesting with Nichelle Nichols in upcoming episodes, but maybe that’s just naive hope talking. Because, as you say, the very *idea* that writers would default to a shockingly sexist position is just not on the radar of Kring et al.

    Real WomenTM understand they are the object of the quest not the questor, and comfort themselves in thinking this means they’re like really great so that makes it all okay.

    This is clearly the memo that didn’t reach me, and that’s why I’ve been struggling with such misery and dissatisfaction in my life.

    S.A. Bonansi–I’m getting more and more convinced that Candice’s death was one of the more heinous examples of misogyny from this show. It fits in to this pattern we’ve been discussing on this site a lot lately (eg. on “Prison Break”) which basically involves female characters who die stupid, nonsensical deaths (even within the terms of the show) in order to advance plotlines involving male characters, while male characters who die are given some sort of character advancement or revelation in the course of their death (Kaito would contradict this, but POC get their own set of “crappy character death” categories).

  12. says

    What??? Why the hell would you cast Nichelle Nichols and not do something awesome with her??? *fumes*

    Purtek, my inner Joan of Arc awoke at an early age, determined to (a) fly to outer space and meet aliens in my lifetime and (b) fix injustice. Later, when I did actually get the Joseph Campbell memo about how I should instead stay home and paint my nails, I thought it was a joke. ;)

  13. sbg says

    What??? Why the hell would you cast Nichelle Nichols and not do something awesome with her??? *fumes*

    The show tends to move very, very, very slowly. I’m hoping they actually do intend to do more with her.

  14. draconismoi says

    I guess I am in the minority here, but I thought Candice was still alive. I mean, Sylar didn’t manage to steal her power or cut off her head like before and he went from middle of the jungle to random spot in Mexico? All sounds like something Candice could have manufactured to continue messing with him.

    But then that could be wishful thinking.

    As for Elle, I like her. And I most definitely didn’t see her homicidal ways as a reflection of insecurity or need to please her father. She, at least, KNOWS the Company is evil and CHOOSES to be a part of it.

    Nor does she seem to have any difficulty controlling her power. Sure she got reprimanded for killing the Irish guy instead of torturing the info out of him, but how does her….flexible morality… make her weak? Perhaps the use of “daddy” whent getting lectured for unsanctioned homicide was a blatant manipulation on her part – try to shift the conversation from employer/employee to father/daughter.

  15. says

    Draconismoi, I don’t think I would feel so frustrated by Elle’s character if she were the only one displaying this dynamic. It’s the proportion of women who participate in this that I find so problematic. The fact that she knows the company is evil and chooses it anyway just puts her more strongly on the ‘wrong’ side of the virgin/whore dichotomy that this show continues to display constantly.

    In fact, it seems to be the case that the women who can’t control their power are the ones seen as appropriately victim-ish (even Niki has been put into this category now, in an effort to redeem her), but the ones who have any ability to exert influence have to be evil.

    That’s even worse.

  16. draconismoi says

    That’ll teach me to see the best in a character….

    I just saw the latest two episodes of Heroes and they RUINED Elle for me. I know the rest of you saw it first. What I positively interpreted as brilliant strategy necessary to survive in a male-dominated company/job/family was, in fact, infantalization of Elle’s character. Bah! The Elle I saw was not completely stupid and reckless. It was very apparent to me during the Claire/Elle faceoff. A 16yo should not (generally) be more mature, intelligent and in control than a 20-something year old. I watched the scene 4 times and each time it got worse. Elle as the child and Claire as the grownup.

    I love a good female villain, but geez people, make her a worthy adversary. Suddenly her ability to control her power is less impressive. And her decision to “choose” evil is called into question. I now doubt she ever questioned anything in her life. Ever. And that boggles the mind. Someone capable of killing or maiming those who irritate her…possibly even shorting out the power in an entire building….never learns to question her surroundings? To challenge what she is told?

    I do not approve.

  17. sbg says

    I love a good female villain, but geez people, make her a worthy adversary. Suddenly her ability to control her power is less impressive. And her decision to “choose” evil is called into question. I now doubt she ever questioned anything in her life. Ever. And that boggles the mind. Someone capable of killing or maiming those who irritate her…possibly even shorting out the power in an entire building….never learns to question her surroundings? To challenge what she is told?

    I keep having this feeling that Elle is questioning now – in seeing HRG and Claire’s relationship versus her own with Bob. I don’t know if she’ll ever decide that she might not be on the right side (frankly, boths sides are so darned grey, who’s to say there even is a right side), or that she’ll deviate from her standard operating procedure.

    But it might all just be in my fanwanking head, the same way I’m trying desperately to will Mohinder some intelligence. ;)

  18. MaggieCat says

    But it might all just be in my fanwanking head, the same way I’m trying desperately to will Mohinder some intelligence. ;)

    Mohinder’s intelligence is just fine! I don’t think he gets enough credit, and is often the victim to being in the dark while the audience knows he’s being played which makes him look dumber than he is. If you take the time to go back and assess any situation with just the information he had at the time he usually made the best decision he could. And this is coming from an early and still devoted HRG fan. *is NOT overly sensitive about Mo’s intelligence*

  19. sbg says

    Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s just so frustrating how most of the characters vascillate. I’ll give him that it has to be one confusing mess to figure out, but it still makes me want to shake Mohinder.

  20. Mecha says

    They’ve been having a ‘vote for your own hero’ thing on the website. I’ve personally been voting for the least likely to be stereotypical female character I could figure. I wanna see them step up to a better more complex character, even if it’ll be a web only special character.

    (Also, grr. Why did Monica get punked? Grr.)

    -Mecha

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