Though we may look back at Heroes as a superhero TV show that quickly petered out in terms of quality during later seasons, you really have to respect that original viral marketing campaign NBC used to promote it. "Save the cheerleader, save the world." That helix symbol. And of course, the eclipse.
A large part of enjoying Heroes when it first aired back in 2006 was poring over the show in search of the little world-building clues scattered throughout the series that hinted at the show's larger story. Some of its mysteries, like what made Claire Bennet an integral part of saving the world, were explained in due time as various plot threads came together and characters' fates played out on screen. But even though Heroes took us into the distant past and showed us multiple future timelines, it never quite got around to giving the eclipse any real significance. That still feels like a huge missed opportunity all these years later.
In 2006, Heroes creator Tim Kring said that, at least initially, the eclipse was meant to be the kind of single global event that all of the show's characters could experience simultaneously no matter where on the planet they were when it happened. Ignoring the fact that it would be impossible for a single eclipse to be visible across the entire globe, Heroes' use of the phenomenon felt like an appropriate bending of scientific fact in support of the fantastical story that was being told.
We recently caught up with Masi Oka, who portrayed Hero Nakamura throughout both Heroes and the 2015 reboot Heroes Reborn, and when we asked him if he could recall what the eclipse was supposed to have meant.
"I don't remember exactly what it meant in Heroes, it was like a moment in time that doesn't happen a lot, so it's a natural a phenomenon and it's a reason, as with anything Heroes, a catalyst for those characters," Oka said. "I don't exactly remember what the eclipse did."
If it was the eclipse that activated enhanced individuals' powers as early episodes suggested, then it stood to reason that there could have been countless people with abilities throughout history, playing key roles during pivotal moments. While the eclipse might not have been the single most important event to take place during Heroes' original run, there's a way in which it was the one thing that needed to be gotten right in order for the mythology of the show to live on long after it'd gone off air. There was always an exceedingly small chance that the eclipse was ever going to be fully explained -- as its mystery was part of its grandiosity.
But had Heroes' creative team ever taken the time to more thoroughly delve into the eclipse and how it factored into the evolved people's lives, it would have given the show a life long before (and after) the events of what we saw. Whenever an eclipse happened, perhaps, people with the potential to become something more were called upon and became involved in world-changing events. Heroes Reborn wasn't a particularly good reboot of the franchise, but using the eclipse as a reason to introduce a new group of heroes and villains rallying around a new cause could have been used as a means of eventually bringing Heroes back in at least some form down the line.
Instead, the eclipse never amounted to being much more than a nifty visual effect used to create a sense of import, which is what makes thinking about Heroes so disappointing on today of all days. The last time that a total solar eclipse occurred in the position that today's did in the US was about 375 million years ago (though solar eclipses happen often enough that you could see one every year if you're willing to travel). Even though eclipses aren't the "true" once in a lifetime experiences we make them out to be, they do feel special when they're happening in places we can witness them. Heroes' eclipses, by comparison, feel like lazy MacGuffins that are cool for a couple of seconds before you realise that the show doesn't actually know what do make of them.
Which, ultimately, was always Heroes' greatest weakness. For all of the great ideas, stellar cast and hype that it had to work with, it always ended up prioritising style over narrative substance. So much of the story sounded cool in concept or on paper (travelling circus of superheroes) while the execution faltered (go back and watch the circus season). If anything, Heroes' tragic squandering of the promise its eclipses held is a unfortunate but important cautionary lesson: If you're going to put some cool, weird, mysterious crap in your title card, you might wanna consider actually explaining it somewhere down the line.