5 things Heroes must do to deliver a killer season finale

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Can Heroes redeem itself with Monday's season finale?

We all remember great season finales, such as "Graduation Day," which ended the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with our heroes defeating the evil mayor of Sunnydale and blowing up the school. But also recall the unfortunate finales that were reviled, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation's second-season closer, "Shades of Gray," in which a lame plot about Riker being deathly ill became an excuse for a clip show.

Can the third season finale of Heroes walk the fine line between these two extremes and deliver a conclusion that will satisfy viewers?

[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

It can be difficult to pull off a great season finale. Current Heroes show runner Bryan Fuller would seem to agree. When he returned to the show in the middle of this season, he told SCI FI Wire that after he watched the end of the first arc of the season, "I didn't recognize the show anymore. It had become something else entirely." Fuller was viewing the show through the eyes of a viewer, and obviously feels that the show needs a good season finale to keep its audience.

Fuller did a good job in moving the rest of the season toward a satisfying finale. As Jason Hughes said at TVSquad.com, "The stage is getting set for a climactic season finale." His point is well taken when we look at the many intriguing plot points that last week's episode, "I Am Sylar," left to be resolved.

Why did Sylar let Micah go? What will Micah do next as Rebel? What will be the fallout of the press conference Sylar staged as Nathan Petrelli? Why did the agents grab Mohinder? Why was Hiro unable to stop time at the end, and do his headache and nosebleed mean his powers are too dangerous for him to use? Will Matt Parkman escape with his ex-wife and baby son? Where were Noah Bennet, Claire Bennet and Angela Petrelli going when they got captured? What were they planning to do? What's going to happen to Denko, after he failed to kill Sylar? And, finally, does this mean that Sylar is now unstoppable?

For Heroes to deliver a kicker of a season finale, not only do all these questions need to be answered, but they need to be answered in a way that makes the audience want to come back in the fall. Bob Greenberger, ComicMix news editor and author of The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, feels that the writers may have written themselves into a corner: "There are so many threads this volume that wrapping them all in a tidy 60-minute package is nigh unto impossible."

It may not be impossible, provided the finale manages to do five things to convince viewers to come back:

The show needs to give Claire Bennet a happy ending.

Right now, rumors abound regarding which characters may die in the finale. But there are some characters whose deaths would probably alienate the audience beyond the point of recovery, and Claire's would be one of those. From the first season, viewers have just wanted to see Claire come to accept her abilities and be happy with them. Let's see a season finale where Claire finds herself in the warm embrace of her supportive adopted family.

The show needs to reduce Hiro's power levels.

Not everyone agrees. SF writer Paul Levinson, author of The Plot to Save Socrates, who routinely blogs about television and other media at Infinite Regress, says, "The time travel and teleportation of Hiro and now Ando, could use more emphasis—it has always been the single most exciting part of the show for me." As exciting as Hiro's powers are, however, making him the ultimate master of space and time was something of a mistake. It is difficult to create an equal challenge for a too-powerful hero without going overboard. Powering him down in the middle of the season worked well to show us that Hiro is a hero even without his abilities. So let's leave him with some time-manipulation abilities but kill the time travel. Otherwise, we might end up with another digression like the second-season visit to feudal Japan, which most viewers felt weakened the show.

As long as we're on the topic of characters being too powerful: Kill Sylar.

Yes, a show like Heroes needs a villain who can challenge the good guys, but Sylar's become too powerful. So how do we off him once and for all?

Have a big battle.

Miranda Thomas, one of the hosts of the popular Heroes podcast The Ninth, makes the point well when she says, "For the finale to be a success, I think it's time to give the viewers the big battle payoff that they have been craving. As fans we have seen the confrontations between 'good' and 'evil' in the prior seasons leave us wanting more. Season one had a great buildup, complete with a tease of a really knock-down-drag-out fight in 'Five Years Gone,' and I think the final episode gave us just a hint of how an epic battle between Sylar and the heroes could top off a season. Season two sort of gave us a whimper and a moan as it ended. This season we need the final battle to be gritty and bloody, where only the strong survive, in order to give it the comic-book feel that marked the first season and set us up for a clean slate come season four."

A clean slate is vital.

The fifth and final thing the finale needs to do is set up a new direction. For three seasons we've been told that people with abilities such as Hiro and Peter are heroes, but we haven't seen a lot of traditional heroics. Although earlier this season the show shied away from the idea that the heroes should come out publicly, there's only so much they can do with concealment and conspiracies. If the heroes reveal themselves to the world, we'll get a chance to see real heroics, the kind that Hiro would be proud of. And this wouldn't preclude some other evil conspiracy, with brand-new villains that our heroes could start to find out about over the next season.

Paul Levinson agrees with the need for a clean slate: "What Heroes needs for a satisfying ending is something which lifts the show out of the Feds hunting the heroes, which has been the theme most of this season—a leap that rekindles some of the magic which animated the show the first season. There was a sense of wonder that first year, which has been largely missing ever since."

Bob Greenberger puts it best: "To be satisfying, they really need to wrap this up tight, kill off some of the things that have dragged the series down and reset the status quo. They will need to end Sylar as being the one true threat and make certain we the audience know where each of the regulars are as we prepare for volume five."

So—will Heroes follow this formula for a successful season finale? We'll be watching along with you Monday night to find out the answer.