December 27, 2007

Virtue, Death and Immortality -- Thoughts on Heroes

I normally don't watch much tv, but thanks to my roommate I've ended up seeing most of the whole second season of Heroes. I wasn't expecting much in the way of profundity from a show based on the X-Men-esque idea that evolution could work at a speed great enough for people to randomly just develop some superpower or other. I guess I should have been, though, because a few points did show up to my surprise, and on further analysis I wonder whether I missed any other interesting, subtle implications.

Let's take a couple instances, for example, that seem to say that moral virtue is more crucial than "heroism", indeed can be the determining factor in whether moments for heroism turn into truly heroic events or disasters instead.

First, there's the old game of Cheat the Prophet, but with a bit of a twist. One of the characters in the show apparently has the ability to paint the future. Another one of the characters, we'll call him by his first name "Noah" as I've forgotten his last name or at any rate how to spell it, knows that in one of these pictures he is depicted lying on the ground with his eye bleeding and glasses' lens shattered while a figure in the distance holds a smoking gun. Noah, besides this awful prediction being on his mind, is concerned for the safety of his daughter because of a mysterious Company of these evolved people that sounded like a good idea but has shown dreadful signs of malevolence. His daughter, by the way, has the ability to regenerate, and an injection of her blood is suspected to be capable of healing any wound. Noah is concerned what they might do to her to "test" this ability.

The crucial thing here is that Noah allows these fears to become an obsession instead of excercising self-control in the face of them.

Noah and a partner are working on infiltrating the Company -- but then things get sticky. His partner isn't entirely sure that the Company is all bad, and helps them convince Noah's daughter to give them a sample of her blood to work with. Well, Noah is just freaked that they even have her. When a meeting is arranged for him to get her back, something sets him off and he ends up threatening to shoot one of the ehads of the Company there. Remember that this is in large part because he's let himself become practically obsessed with his fears and worries about the Company. Meanwhile his partner doesn't want to deal with the mystery of the Company's odd mix of benevolence and malevolence by just killing the leaders. So he finds himself being the one who shoots Noah right through the eye, shattering the glasses as in the painting.

All because he let himself be controlled by his fears, they ended up coming true at the hands of the friend he trusted most.

Then there's the instance of the man who wouldn't die. In our modern society we tend to think that defeating death by aging as well as disease is going to be one of man's greatest achievements. Heroes, however, paints a much scarier picture of what can happen when man can live practically forever.

Adam, another character with regenerative ability, has lived four hundred years. In the early days he was, as one of my friends put it, an Anglo-Saxon/Roman jerk. He was stationed in Japan, where he was known at that time as Takezo Kensei (I don't know if Heroes is taking this character from actual legend or inventing one, but here's the Heroes take). One of the other characters in Heroes, a cheery Japanese dude named Hiro who has the ability to bend time and space, ends up back in Kensei's time in Japan. He's always heard the tales of Takezo Kensei the great hero... now he finds out that his "hero" was a first-class jerk who didn't know the first thing about honor or heroism. Well, in an effort to make sure history goes the way he knows it ends up going, Hiro not only attempts to teach Kensei true heroism but ends up doing most of the things that Kensei was said to have done. In the end, he ends up thinking Kensei dead and all the tasks complete, and returns to his own time.

Here's where things get screwy. "Kensei", or Adam as he now goes by, shows up in the Company talking of "saving the world". He claims to have learned from Hiro that he can be a hero. Yet it seems his old brutish mentality and lack of real values has gotten confounded with his new "heroism". He means to save humanity from their struggles and fighting... by wiping out all but a chosen few.

He talks of having watched humanity go for four hundred years with no improvement. Still as arrogant as he was back in Japan when those four hundred years started, he thinks that the advanced men such as himself will somehow have a better chance to build a good race. It is only the timely intervention of Hiro along with another character realizing he can't trust Adam that prevents disaster in the form of a virus worked up by the Company. Oh, and it's the trust of a brother that gets the other character, whose name is Peter incidentally (is it merely coincidence that this seems to mirror the victory over Adam's sin being carried on by the Church with the aid of the Rock?), to turn around and help stop Adam.

From a Christian standpoint what I draw from this is that endless material life without the spiritual life of virtue can only lead to more time for despair to sink in. It's hard enough to put real faith in anything when you only have to for fifty to a hundred years. Having to push it for centuries would require a very strong foundation of moral virtue to begin with.

Of course, people will always think, "Oh, I won't be like that! I'll be better than that!" Yet isn't overconfidence in his own goodness exactly what Adam had? It bears pondering -- indeed, it demands pondering. Who'd have thought it would show up in a tv show?



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