Friday, February 02, 2007

The Hero's Journey in Heroes

Heroes continues to captivate me.

This week’s episode deals with parent/child relationships and the child’s struggle for autonomy in some intriguing ways. My favorite take involves the heroic quest archetype as played out through the characters of Hiro and Peter.

All we know so far about Hiro’s relationship with his daddy is that his father is:

1) Sulu, which rules;
2) Powerful, the kind of powerful that employs stoic kidnapper henchmen;
3) Fiercely intimidating to Hiro, like, Freud would love this shit.

In the context of Hiro’s search for his phallic power, his Excalibur, if you will, it’s clear that Hiro’s masculine potency is at stake. (It’s also significant, of course, that he lost his power when he lost his love object.) Since the boy-to-man archetype demands the boy’s breaking away from the father-rule, I’m guessing that Hiro will have to defy his larger than life superfather to claim his own power/manhood, which should be symbolized by his acquiring the sword. We’ll see….

As much as I agree with Megatrouble that the chicks really need more agency in this narrative, I’ll give the show credit for highlighting the heroic journey of a man who is sensitive and kind and intellectual, as well as plenty vulnerable, as opposed to some caricatured shoot-em-up Diehard type who stomps around waving his dick. Hiro and Ando remind me of hobbits, in that way. They may not be actual women, but they evince enough traditionally feminine markers to challenge the stereotype of masculine heroism.

I have similar impressions of Peter. He’s a second son with an enormously overpowering older brother who, as Peter admits this week, plays the father to him, and “fixes everything” for him. And Peter works as a caregiver, a nurturer, as far away from being a cutthroat politician as he could possibly get, and we’ve seen him wistfully vulnerable to his love for Simone and his desire for approval from his family. He’s very mama’s-boyish, underscored by his cutie-pie appearance, while Nathan and his power suits and severe hairstyle are, again, utterly opposite.

It’s obvious, too, that Nathan views Peter’s determination to save the world as simply another childish scrape he needs to bail him out of before he shames the family. Up until now it seems that Peter has gone along with his infantilizing, for whatever reason, perhaps because it felt safe, but seeing himself as responsible for so many lives has changed Peter in some fundamental way. He can still only fly by borrowing power from Nathan, but since he has no ego to protect he doesn’t care; he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stop the explosion.

Notice the focus of Peter’s visions is always close-ups of people’s faces, frightened, endangered. Peter’s power relies on a kind of empathy, both in his ability to borrow their powers and his ability to care if they’re scared or hurt, really care, enough to die for Claire—a stranger—without hesitation.

So now Peter continues along the traditional hero’s path: He has left the influence of his family and father figure and placed himself in the hands of a wise mentor (Christopher Eccleston, whose glory shines brighter than the sun in my universe) in an effort to learn more about himself and his destiny and develop into his own man in control of his abilities.

Peter has his Merlin, his Obi-Wan. I can’t wait to see what he learns from him.

Since I have a few more minutes I may as well comment on the Niki Question. I would like to believe that the writers know what they’re doing in creating a woman who has the gift of super strength but suffers too much from guilt and self-effacement to use it unless she’s protecting someone else, namely her child. This works for me in part because I see her superpower as the strength, not the dual personality; my understanding is that the personality disorder is an actual mental illness resulting from childhood abuse and the trauma of her sister’s death. (Please understand that my knowledge of such things comes solely from having read Sybil.)

Feminist thinkers talk about how anger is a forbidden emotion for women, while it’s the only acceptable one for men (unless you include sexual lust), and how women are much more likely to deny angry feelings and suppress them. If Jessica is the repository of all of the impulses that Niki refuses to face in herself (rage, desire, etc.) then it makes sense that Niki would also deny her power, meaning Jessica gets that too. While men are allowed by the culture to punch walls and throw things in anger, women are supposed to maintain more decorous control over ourselves, and Niki is nothing if not mired in guilt and self-hatred. I can believe that a woman who had suffered as she has would be ashamed to exhibit strength.

Through the abusive father, the ultimate symbol of patriarchy, Niki/Jessica became a literal virgin/whore dichotomy. If they’re careful, the writers can do something important with that idea.

Again, we’ll see.

As for Claire, she seems about ready to embark on her own journey of selfhood, tossing out the childish stuffed animals and breaking away from her father’s authority, keeping her thoughts for herself instead of letting him rewrite them as he sees fit. I’m not sure how I feel about her needing help from (yet another) male to do it, but I’m willing to see how that plays out.


At 2:08 AM, Anonymous megatrouble said...

very optimistic take on the latest show, shell. I'm feeling better about it, now that you've given us a different spin on Niki. In weakness women find strength? Maybe that's the statement they're trying to make. But I'm still wary! It's like the writers are making her hit "rock bottom" before she discovers herself. Her struggle, too, seems so internal--which isn't necessarily bad, but I can't see how they can make this whole "women and insanity" thing as multi-layered and complex as it deserves to be.

And the fact that Peter's power AND his work are based on empathy is an excellent point. But yes, he does get an Obi Wan. The hero archetype always has to insert itself in the story lines of even the most feminized male characters.

I want to write anther post about Niki, but I think Claire deserves some situating, don't you?

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Shell said...

I know. I'm wary too.

My hope comes from the fact that they gave her a female shrink who believes her about Jessica and wants to "integrate" them--not kill Jessica off like Niki would prefer.

So I'm hoping Niki will be able to work through her trauma and accept her strength--and even her anger--as part of herself, as legitimate.

Of course just seeking that help is a female thing to do. As Jackson Katz points out, there aren't more women in therapy because more women are fucked up; it's because men don't have permission from the culture to show that kind of vulnerability.

We'll see... Looking forward to your Claire post! I love Claire as a character. I just want her to do more!


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