May 10, 2009

The Origin of Self

If it looks like Nathan Petrelli, acts like Nathan Petrelli and thinks it’s Nathan Petrelli, is it Nathan Petrelli? This is the question Heroes fans were left with last Monday, which boils down to a philosophical debate about the nature of the self. On the disturbing season finale, Nathan Petrelli, New York Senator, son of Angela and Arthur Petrelli, brother of Peter Petrelli, and father of Monty and Simon Petrelli and Claire Bennet, was violently murdered, bringing many tears to the eyes of this wannabe-intern. And who better to shape shift into Nathan and be convinced that he is, in fact, Politian and family man? None other than his own murderer, the show’s own token evil guy. Gabriel Gray.

It is established at the beginning of Volume 5 that Sylar will still be very much alive in the now distant and confused Nathan. Perhaps he will begin to show more and more of his true self as time allows his nature to break through the character of the man he has been deluded into thinking he is. Still, there will surely be plenty of time for viewers to work on the problem of whether or not this creation really is Sylar. What makes up the self? We often think of the self as a collection of memories and experiences that are defining to our character. By this explanation, Sylar is no more. If he has the memories and experiences that make up Nathan, then he is, in fact, Nathan. Is there something more to the self? A soul? A genetic coding, or collective consciousness, that biologically separates my nature from that of a killer such as Mr. Gray? If the self is more than a narrative or bundle of characteristics that come from remembered choices and defining moments, then Sylar is alive, and Nathan truly dead.

Either way, it appears Tim Kring, the creator of the show who wrote the finale himself, really made up for a convoluted season that lost many dedicated followers, leaving the series on a very interesting note. The survival of the Heroes fan base rides on how well this situation is played out.

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