Judging from what we saw at yesterday's Heroes panel at San Diego Comic-Con, reports of the show's demise following the departure of producer Bryan Fuller may have been premature. What we saw looked like fast, goofy season one-quality superhero fun.
From the cheers, screaming and camera flashes going off, you'd be mistaken for thinking that yesterday's Heroes panel had been accidentally replaced by another Twilight hour... at least, until Tim Kring, Zachary Quinto, Milo Ventimiglia, Hayden Panatierre and eight other cast members of NBC's superhero soap wandered out on stage to introduce the fourth season of the troubled show.
After thanking the fans for the success of the show - It was because of the fans that the show became what it became," he said - Kring introduced the story behind Redemption, the fifth volume of the series. Telling the excited audience that the main questions of the volume were "What does an ordinary life look like when you have powers? How do you try to fit in when you have powers?" he went on to explain that the returning cast won't be the only ones facing this question, as the new season will introduce a whole new family of superpowered characters who have taken to hiding their powers in plain sight as a traveling carnival of circus folk. With that, the room went dark, and we saw our first glimpse at what's to come:
Amongst fast cuts of familiar Heroes tropes of knowing glares and characters looking angst-ridden and troubled, we could make out the following threads: Claire, now attending college, befriends someone who reveals that she's become an urban myth about a cheerleader who heals from any damage (Apparently, that's a turn-on; we saw the much-teased - in more ways than one - lesbian kiss between Claire and the friend). We also see Claire jumping out of a window, apparently either showing off her powers or trying to kill herself again, before being told that "denial is not an option." HRG gets shown in various levels of danger, whether it's having been shot or sufffering a car-wash-themed assasination attempt. Peter is a paramedic again, and discovers a compass that goes wild in his hands and eventually turns into a tattoo on his arm... which may be connected to the magical tattooed woman, one of the carnies, who can manifest the faces of Peter, Nathan and others on her back with her magical tattoo powers. Ali Larter appears as Tracy, explaining her resurrection (Basically, all the water droplets she'd become after melting found their way back together) and telling HRG that she's back for revenge - which possibly explains the scene of last season's Hunter character getting shot. Nathan is shown to be slowly losing his mind - but gaining new powers - as Sylar's persona regains dominance, leading to Nathan being shot and dumped in a grave, but Sylar climbing out. Sylar also appears within a therapy group chaired by Matt Parkman, while Matt is told by Mama Petrelli that people like them can't quit. And that's not all! Ray Park and Peter have a fight! Hiro meets himself fourteen years ago, and then Robert Knepper's creepy new villain travels back in time to meet him! And Pushing Daisies' Swoosie Kurtz appears as a friend of Mama Petrelli who's secretly trying to kill her sons! So. Much. Intrigue.
Actually, ignore the sarcasm; if nothing else, the teaser clip was well-edited and made the show seem as action-packed and enjoyably ridiculous as it was in the first season, something Kring emphasized when he told the audience that all of the scenes we'd seen came from the first three episodes of the season.
Opening the panel up to the actors, Masi Oka explained that Hiro spends the season dealing with an illness that may be terminal, and that his redemption comes in the form of traveling back in time to fix all of the mistakes he's made in his life. Adrian Pasdar said that he has "a little bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing" in that he shares his head with Sylar, which Zachary Quinto continued that his character exists not only sharing Nathan's body, but also appearing within Matt Parkman's head "messing with his mind a little bit, giving him a taste of his own medicine." Milo Ventimiglia happily shared that Peter has grown a sense of humor between seasons, while Jack Coleman talked about the fact that HRG's life and marriage are falling apart, giving him a feeling of empathy for all the Heroes who just want a normal life.
When it comes to the new characters, Robert Knepper called Samuel " the reluctant ringleader of this carnival":
His brother has just passed away. He's made a decision that life is not going to be the way it used to be.
Dawn Olivieri, who plays Lydia, the tattooed woman and partner in crime of Samuel, may not agree that Samuel's plans are the right ones, and promised that her character has the potential to stir up some trouble. Ray Park, who plays superspeedster Edgar, geeked out about joining a show he was such a fan of, while Madeline Zima, who plays Claire's new college friend ("with benefits. You guys like that?" Hayden Panatierre added, just after she'd overly-coyly told the crowd that "girls just want to have fun"), spoke last about Gretchen Berg, saying that her character will become an important confidant for Claire in college.
Tim Kring explained that, while Redemption may look like a course correction after viewers drifted away during the last season, it's been something planned all along:
We'd been planning this arc for awhile, where everyone would go back to their normal lives. For us, it's a chance to strip away some of the story elements that made the show harder to relate to.
From there, the panel went to question and answer. Some highlights:
Spock vs. Sylar?
Zachary Quinto: I think that, honestly in the end, Spock would have to take it. Only because he's fighting for good, and I'd like to believe that that always wins (Cue crowd going "awwww" as if on cue).
Milo Ventimiglia: What about Leonard Nimoy or Zack Quinto?
Quinto: Leonard in one round.
Best power on the show?
Jack Coleman: I have the power of impared vision.
Will the show go back to evenly sharing time between characters, instead of forgetting characters as it seemed to do in season three?
Tim Kring: We'll be telling less stories per episode. The idea is to try and tell deeper stories and not wider stories. Dig a little deeper into what motivates them. This season, we'll see certain people sit out an episode or so, because we want to focus more on characters.
Why is the cast becoming more white and male?
Kring: [Diversity is] a very important issue for us on the show, Characters obviously come and go, but it's an important, fulfilling thing that we'll try and do on the show.
To close out the panel, a fight scene between Ventimiglia and Park's characters was shown, as Peter steals Edgar's superspeed for a high-speed knife fight... that, in execution, looked like a cross between Smallville's highspeed moments and The Matrix's bullet-time. Less impressive than the teaser reel shown earlier, it still suggested that there's more life left in the series than many had predicted.