“Project Reborn” starts well, all things considered. “Company Woman” didn’t exactly position the episode to shine, but given what it has to work with, a surprising chunk of the Heroes Reborn finale manages to deliver on the mindless, explosion-filled fun promised by the rest of the series. Unfortunately, in the end, the writers can’t keep themselves from falling into the pattern familiar to viewers of Heroes: Information withheld all season is finally revealed, allowing a convenient solution to the major threat, and the noble heroism of each protagonist is affirmed, before a supporting character lays out the themes of the series in an overwritten, didactic monologue. It’s about as Heroes an ending as one could expect, and given the approach all season, that feels about right.

The ending may reek of contrivance, but the finale does deliver on a few fronts. At the top of the list is the decision to kill Luke off early. His is the first of the episode’s many tragic sacrifices and while he remains an utterly misjudged character to the end, Zachary Levi does his best to send Luke off well. Levi’s earnestness in his goodbye is affecting and closing off at least one thread of the season so early in the finale leaves more time for everyone else. The sequence is overly long—though admittedly, had the character worked, the pacing would feel appropriate—but having Luke absorb or disperse the first of wave of the H.E.L.E., buying Malina and Tommy some time, makes sense and most importantly, pays off spending what felt like an eternity with the character over the season. Luke needed to be at Gateway; he proved essential to the finale, and that makes swallowing just how long the rest of the season spent on him much more palatable.

Another smart move the finale makes is returning to Tommy’s connection with his mother, one of the very few relationships on the show to carry any weight. Krista Bridges has done good work on Heroes Reborn as Anne, often without strong material backing her up. She grounds her scenes well, a strong and warm presence that has been sorely missed in much of the back half of the season. Robbie Kay also delivers in these scenes, his performance as Tommy watches his memories almost saving this annoyingly convenient twist. The finale also learns from the mistakes of recent episodes and provides appropriate spectacle as Malina faces the H.E.L.E. The much-anticipated arrival of the solar flares feels apocalyptic, as it should, and that helps raise the stakes. Everyone watching knows Tommy will arrive in the nick of time and that he and Malina will save the day; that’s the ending this story has always been heading towards. Committing to an epic scale for the H.E.L.E. helps the climax of the finale feel more than perfunctory and makes their victory at least somewhat satisfying.

Less successful is just about everything with Erica. Her holding Tommy at gunpoint is laughable, as is her actually asking Tommy if he’s willing to sacrifice a thousand people, when the alternative is sacrificing six billion. Had her foolishness been the point of the scene, it could have been a fun anti-climax, but she’s treated as a legitimate threat. This exchange is indicative of many of Heroes Reborn’s biggest problems. It betrays an utter lack of perspective from the characters and the writers, it contradicts established character traits, and it abandons any semblance of internal logic. Tommy doesn’t need to split himself in two, he can just freeze time, casually send each person back to when they left, and then go back himself. He is a time traveler, this isn’t a complicated concept. More than that, the scene levels Tommy up and gives him this new and utterly unnecessary ability by contradicting the rules established in the very same episode. Tommy can’t escape Evernow because he can’t use his abilities, but apparently he can train and master his abilities there, while not using them. That’s impressive.

This scene is the turning point for “Project Reborn,” taking it from a surprisingly interesting, only occasionally irritating culmination of the season to a tiresome series of contrivances. A third party is added to Angela’s prophesy to fill time and allow Noah to sacrifice himself heroically, Noah manages to survive just long enough breathe a few touching final words, and of course, Quentin emerges as a beacon of morality, refusing to divulge the identity of Malina and Tommy. When Heroes Reborn debuted, it seemed like an interesting idea. With a shorter episode order and theoretically, over five years to ponder what did and didn’t work about Heroes, a return to this globe-trotting and at least initially character-driven world could have been an opportunity to right the mistakes of Heroes and refocus on the promising germ at the heart of the show. Instead, Heroes Reborn missed the mark entirely, doubling down on mysteries and the volume of characters without remembering to make sure the audience cared about any of them. It’s disappointing, because that core of a good idea is present in both series and with better writing and greater perspective from creator and showrunner Tim Kring, as well as the other executive producers on the show, Heroes Reborn could have been an entertaining, satisfying series, and not the forgettable retread it became.

Stray observations

  • Quentin? Quentin gets the series-ending monologue? I guess it’s better than Mohinder returning for one more voiceover, but not by much. Quentin is a prime example, along with Luke, of the writers not having any sense of which characters were working and which really were not.
  • Speaking of, why are Carlos, Farah, Micah, and Jose here? Luke’s involvement eventually paid off, but these characters could have been removed from the series entirely and only minor adjustments would have been needed. I kept waiting for something to happen that necessitated their inclusion in the series, let alone the finale, but it never came.
  • Also never materializing, Hiro! If you’re going to travel back in time to pluck someone away before their untimely off-screen death, Tommy, how about saving your father. That may have been a card the writers were holding on to for season two, but once the writing was on the wall, it’s surprising they didn’t get Masi Oka in for a reshoot. Bringing Hiro back at the end would have been convenient, sure, but at least it would have been entertaining. Plus just about any new recovered memory between Tommy and Hiro would have been better than the clip reel the finale went with.
  • I was more positive on Evernow than most, but even I tired of it in the finale. We cut from Malina struggling to hold back the sun with her bare hands to CGI Ren slicing up non-existent baddies in order to save Tommy, just so we can get him to Malina, who we’d rather be following. Miko and Ren were a blast together over the season, but there had to be a better way to use them here.
  • Joining Luke in heroic sacrifice is Quentin, who shoots his sister instead of just tackling her or knocking her out, and Noah. After being the focus of the premiere and carrying so much of the first half of the season, Noah and Jack Coleman deserved better. A more interesting show would have had Tommy sacrifice Erica instead, but as Tommy’s one of our heroes, his murder of Erica (through deletion of her timeline) is kept on the subtler side. Leave your pick for who Tommy should have sacrificed in the comments.
  • So ends Heroes Reborn coverage here at The A.V. Club. It’s been a lot of fun reading the comments; thanks to everyone who played along!