I Need a Hero(es)

I was thinking about the new NBC drama Heroes today, and about the women on that show. In a nutshell, Heroes is about a group of people (all separate at this point) who have genetically altered – they can do things us regular folk can’t do. One can fly, one can read thoughts, one can bend time and space (my favorite), you get the idea. Only two that we’ve seen are women, but that beats zero. I’m going to focus only on the super-powered women in this post, though there are a couple of other female characters that could be examined.

Niki: Niki is a single mother who lives in Vegas. She’s single because her ex is a felon and is in the pen. To make ends meet, she runs a website that sells herself in various states of undress. She’s also got herself in a bit of a spot with a “creditor”…in order to send her child to a good school, she borrowed money from someone she shouldn’t have. I digress. Niki’s recently discovered special talent is that she’s got a doppelganger who…kind of lives in her mirror.

Niki’s “creditor’s” goons stop by one day. Niki experiences a blackout, and when she wakes up the goons are dead and there’s blood everywhere. Yep. Her evil twin did it, and apparently planned an elaborate coverup. Her evil twin starts making more and more appearances, and details are slowly unravelling, but it appears as though the mirror!Niki has been coming out to play quite a bit.

Both Niki and her doppelganger are quite resourceful, actually, and both do what they think they have to do to survive. It kind of bothers me, however, that the roles they play are rather…cliched.

Claire: Claire’s a high school cheerleader who’s recently discovered she can’t die. She’s chucked herself down great heights, run into burning buildings, etc. She’s indestructable – at one point she was even on an autopsy table, but recovered when what had impaled her was removed. Claire is adopted, and Claire’s adoptive father, as it turns out, is hunting people with these genetic enhancements, though she doesn’t know that. She’s got spunk and brains – she’s freaked out by what’s happening to her, but keeps her wits about her most of the time.

As the mysteries unfold, the mantra for Heroes’ advertising is “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World.” Ah, yes. Claire has now become someone to save. She’s the princess who’s trapped (albeit unbeknownst to her) by a wicked stepfather. There are monsters coming after her…and she needs rescuing. She needs a strapping male hero or two. She’s as cliched as Niki.

I like the show, I really do, but I have to admit the characterization of these two primary women are both positive and negative. Part of it might be because the show is supposed to be almost like a graphic novel or comic book – I can’t say for sure, as those are genres I don’t usually read.


  1. MaggieCat says

    I don’t really have a problem with the fact that both of the women who are main characters fall into rather broad stereotypes (stripper, cheerleader) since a lot of the men do too. The politician of questionable character, the drug addict artist, even Hiro (who I adore) looks like a very “generic foreigner” stereotype much of the time. It’s working in the superhero genre, which is known (and frequently condemned) for working in archetypes. To me the problem appears when the characters fail to grow past those initial outlines, I have hope that the ones on this show will. So far we can’t be entirely sure who will end up a hero and who will end up a villain- I think the audience’s initial reaction is to believe that everyone in the main cast will end up a white hat, but I don’t think it would be realistic for everyone who finds out they have this kind of power to automatically decide to use it for good.

    The “save the cheerleader” tag line does look bad, especially considering that she’s the one of them who’s the most indestructible, but it didn’t feel like ‘save the girl’ to me- my first reaction is that she’s only a kid and she’s being hunted by some shadowy figure that actually has the power to kill her (which makes him/her pretty damn dangerous). It actually struck me as turning the stereotype on its ear- the perky blond cheerleader who (with some training) could probably take out anyone. She certainly handled coming back from the dead better than I probably would, and I’m impressed that she was one of the first to put some actual investigation into the extent of her powers. It’s “Save the cheerleader, save the world”- she could certainly be an unbelievably valuable asset in fighting whatever is coming, and you protect what’s valuable not just what’s helpless. Claire has yet to look helpless to me.

    One of the things that struck me the very first time I watched this show is that the women have active powers. Niki has an (unfortunately evil) alter-ego that seems to possess super-strength and Claire has the ability to heal any wound and walk through fire unharmed. The passive powers all belong to men- reading minds, precognition, and what looks like some sort of empathic ability (I suspected that Peter had just ‘borrowed’ Nathan’s powers of flight at the time, and after he painted the future while standing next to Isaac I was convinced). If I’d tried to guess who any one of those abilities would go to my guess would have been female- those are all typically seen as ‘weaker’ abilities and it would keep a character safe and off the front lines.

    Of course I still think there’s a chance that Claire’s dad isn’t actually evil, so I could be a total crackpot. :-)

  2. sbg says

    True – that’s why I was wondering if it was more the nature of the show, the comic book format of the story, that was the reason for the sterotyping. I have to admit that of all the stories going, I like Niki’s the least, at least partly because I’m not fond of the character at all.

    Some of the men have passive powers, but then there’s the guy who can walk through things, the guy who can fly, the guy who can stop the clock…I wonder if more women will be revealed. I hope so.

    I like that I don’t know who to trust. I was trying to figure out the good/evil based on Isaac’s paintings. I have suspicions about a few we’ve met.

  3. MaggieCat says

    I’m hoping more female heroes will be revealed too. Since Micah was just revealed to have powers (kind of expected, considering that both of his parents have weird abilities) it looks like they are bringing in more people. Hopefully some of them will be female because right now the male characters have a significant majority. And since there are more men to distribute powers among it makes sense that they have both active and passive abilities represented. I won’t complain if additional female characters have more passive powers, but I do appreciate the effort of not putting these women into the typical damsel in distress situation when it would have been so easy. Okay, technically Niki has been rescued, but it was by her own alter-ego so I’m calling that a push.

    I’m not really a fan of Niki’s storyline either (I do like Micah though) but I think someone pointed out why- Ali Larter is much better at playing the morally bankrupt killer than the generally nice, confused, and fragile woman, and so far we’ve mostly seen her wandering around looking confused at how she lost time during her last blackout. Jessica looks potentially more interesting. Although the superhero custody dispute can end aaaany time now. I’m not a fan of making any character all about their child- give them seperate identities please.

  4. Patrick says

    I also suspect that Claire’s father is not really a bad guy. The ads keep calling him “the face of evil,” but so far all he’s done is capture, study, and release people after having his pet telepath blank their memories of their capture, deceive Claire about her origins (which may have been done to protect her), mind-wipe the quarterback who tried to rape her (morally objectionable, but debatebly not evil), and try to learn about the research done by Mohinder’s father.

    (It’s also worth noting that, while he was searching Dr. Suresh’s apartment, he is probably not involved with his death, as the online comic makes it pretty clear that Silar the telekinetic killed Dr. Suresh, and we haven’t established any connection between Silar and Mr. Bennet.)

  5. MaggieCat says

    The ads keep calling him “the face of evil,” but so far all he’s done is capture, study, and release people after having his pet telepath blank their memories of their capture, deceive Claire about her origins (which may have been done to protect her), mind-wipe the quarterback who tried to rape her (morally objectionable, but debatebly not evil), and try to learn about the research done by Mohinder’s father.

    The fact that the ads keep trying to paint him as so unambiguously evil is part of the reason I suspect he’s a red herring. So far he hasn’t physically harmed anyone that we know of (Okay abducting people and removing their memories of their abduction isn’t exactly a good thing to do, but given the reaction the general public would likely have to these people secrecy is kind of understandable, although not commendable.) The fact that a memory wipe is the only thing he had done to the serial date rapist who attacked his daughter and tried to dump her body in the river (admittedly no one else knows about that last part) put him in a grey area at the very least.

    I really wish Claire would tell him about her powers. It’s been heavily implied that he already knows about them but he’s waiting for her to be ready to admit to them, which is another reason he looks less than evil to me- if he was evil he probably wouldn’t be worrying about protecting her feelings. What if part of why he’s trying to learn about these people’s abilities is to help his daughter? And it would be a nice chance to see a teenage daughter on tv presented as something other than a whiny superficial brat.

  6. sbg says

    True enough about Claire’s dad, but whether he turns out to be good, evil or somewhere in the middle, the ads are giving off the idea that Claire’s the princess trapped in the castle, in need of rescuing.

  7. Patrick says

    Mind you, I expect that it will turn out that they need to save her because her powers will enable the world-saving… but the ads aren’t going beyond “save the damsel.”

  8. MaggieCat says

    Doesn’t the show itself have little say in the ads? I can think of half a dozen shows that rely on suspense that had episodes basically ruined because the network wanted to promote something that was integral to the reveal. The line ‘save the cheerleader, save the world’ was in the show itself, but without the constant repetition of the promos I don’t know if would stick out as much. On the show so far it seems like they’re more concerned with the ‘save the world’ part, since they don’t even know who the cheerleader is yet.

    I’m still standing by my original comment that Claire should be protected because she’s valuable and not helpless. That looks a lot different to me because so often the ‘chosen one who will save us all’ mantle is given to a male character as if clearly the fate of the world couldn’t rest on the shoulders of a woman.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, the ads reflect what the network thinks the audience wants to hear, not necessarily what the show is about. The show may be more concerned about “save the world”, but I think it’s worth discussing if the ads are harping that particular line.

    Generally, network ads go for what they think will either tug your heartstrings or pump your adrenaline. “Save the cheerleader” sounds like it ought to be a goal in some video game popular with the usual target audience: young men/boys.

    So the show deserves the benefit of the doubt (and SBG was not arguing otherwise), but I think it IS safe to say what the network’s focusing on. I agree with SBG’s assessment: they’re creating a damsel in distress vibe they expect will appeal to young men.

    I just can’t imagine an ad saying “save the football captain, save the world”.

  10. Mecha says

    I think that’d be awesome. Although I can imagine such a line (the football captain one.) It’s behind the concept of protecting any ‘destined child.’ Which do tend to both male and female in my mind. The only real twist in that is that football captains are supposed to be able to defend themselves (and cheerleaders aren’t.) Claire’s not passive, but she’s pretty much being put into the horror movie ‘last girl’ situation (her foe is still shadowy and mysterious, and larger than life) and her (likely) killer can take out anyone and not get caught. Maybe the writers/marketers/etc think they’ll get the same cheering for her effect.

    It’s also worth noting that, unless there are more female heroes that show up, or a ‘norm’ is directly involved in the rescue, it will almost certainly be men rescuing her (due to the dearth of female heroes.)

    (Also, most of the people I know are real, real sick of that tagline. Even the ones who aren’t very feminist. It’s not really that interesting a tagline. No punch.)


  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    The only real twist in that is that football captains are supposed to be able to defend themselves (and cheerleaders aren’t.)

    And that’s why you won’t be hearing the “football captain” line anytime soon. I agree with you – it could be interesting. It could be a young man or boy who’s self-destructing somehow, who doesn’t realize he has special powers and a destiny.

    I believe the tagline is, as originally written in the show, trying to use the superfluousness of the role “cheerleader” to say that no one is superfluous: you never know who might be important, so don’t neglect people who need some help. That’s a great message. The problem is when you take it out of context, you have not a person who needs saving, but a role – one of the few roles presumed by default to be female (with the notable exception of Boy Cheerleader, George Bush). Other roles presumed to be female include: princess, damsel, fair maiden… all girls who need rescuing in a really enormous body of cultural storytelling history.

    But even if that doesn’t cause it to strike you as sexist, I agree that the tagline lacks punch. What about this revision?

    “Save this girl, save the world.”

    This draws you into wondering who “this girl” is. “This” makes her specific, and “girl” makes her a person rather than a role. That way, if cheerleaders are not interesting to you, you may be intrigued enough to look beyond that and watch the show anyway.

    I also think they’re thinking Buffy: valley girl turns out to be savior of the world. The thing is, Buffy’s ads conveyed her valley girl background, rather than stating it. And she started saving the world in the pilot episode.

  12. Ifritah says

    I believe I’m the only person I know of that likes Niki/Jessica. I admit, this is perhaps partly due to me being a fan of Ali Larter, but I do think it goes beyond that.

    I love the idea of something (in this case, someone) taking over another when they feel weak or has a moral compass that won’t allow them to do something that would enable their “survival”. I love it even better that it’s a woman taking over. You have two sides (ah, yes, the coin cliche, yes, I don’t disagree with you there), but they each have their own personality and strengths. Makes me think of The Incredible Hulk, actually. I definitely enjoy the idea of her being the strongest (physically) character on the show.

    Claire as indestructable (to a point) and Niki/Jessica as super-strong. Looking at this for it’s comic aspect, yes, yes I do love that.

    Eve, on the other hand, is the woman on this show I like the least. I’m sure this was intentional, but even after these last couple of episodes where the show has given her more background, I am still not even close to interested. I do, however, find it interesting that telling someone to do something and obeying does often fall into the hands of a female character. The Source comes to mind.

  13. sbg says

    I actually like Jessica a lot more than Niki. It’s easy to see why she emerged, though I have a hard time convincing myself she’s got a power so much as a mental disorder. Sure, she’s super strong, but other than that she appears like she’s got MPD. 😉

    Eve is the one who was clinging to Mohinder at first, right? I knew there was something up with her right away. She’s not very appealing to me, either. 1) she was abusing her power before and 2) she’s totally kowtowed to Bennett, to demonstrate just how blind he can be to what he’s doing. The second bit is fine, except she behaved quite oppositely before. I figure we’ll eventually see how she went from rebel with a power to pet psychic.

    I did like Charlie, for what little we saw of her. :(

  14. Ifritah says

    Yeah, I watch the show with a couple of my friends and we all suspect Niki has MPD… and just happens to be strong to boot!

    *Nod* That’s Eve. I’m hoping she’s the one that goes next episode (as they said one of the crew is being killed off).

    I liked Charlie too. :( At least I still have Clea DuVall’s character to love! (She’s the FBI agent that works with Matt) Even without super powers, I still enjoy her character having an impact!

  15. sbg says

    Oh, you know I never thought about that. Perhaps they’re letting us think Niki’s power is the whole mirror image/doppelganger thing, but that’s just MPD and her actual power is super strength. I doubt it, but that could actually be interesting. As it stands, her super strength is very dangerous because it’s all in Jessica’s hands. And Jessica’s very angry.

    I’m starting to wonder if there aren’t side effects for all the heroes. They hinted at something with Charlie. But that’s off topic.

    I liked Charlie too. At least I still have Clea DuVall’s character to love! (She’s the FBI agent that works with Matt) Even without super powers, I still enjoy her character having an impact!

    Oh, I like her too.

  16. Gategrrl says

    And then there’s the drippy girlfriend, first of the Painter, and then of one of the brothers, Peter. She’s useless as far as I can see, and I really am not fond of her. She’s not interesting in her own right and simply comes across as a romantic fuck toy for a couple of the male heroes. I can see her being used in a kidnapping and blackmail attempt later on in the series.

  17. sbg says

    Er, I guess Eve was actually Eden. And I was just starting to be okay with her…then wham, she’s gone.

    It was nice to see Niki starting to take charge of herself last night.

  18. Ifritah says

    I was extremely pleased when Eve was taken down. I will give her this much though – she made sure Syler wasn’t able to use her.

    And yes, I definitely liked what I saw with Niki. She’s finally fighting her ‘Hyde’ and it’s great to see. I’m hoping she’ll meet up with more of the cast when we come back from the terribly long break!

  19. sbg says

    I did like that Eden at least started bucking against Mr. Bennett at the end there, too, by helping Isaac get out. And the shooting thing was pretty smart, too, though it is a shame because she could have become more interesting had she lived. Or she would have just remained annoying. 😉

  20. sbg says

    Yeah, she’s kind of useless at this point. I’m not sure why she’s there, though I think her father might have tied in somehow.

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