When we last saw "Heroes," those ordinary humans with extraordinary powers were tussling with an atypical foe: a writers strike that cut the NBC drama's second season short.
Several months later, everyone on the show agrees the labor struggle gave the superhero series an inadvertent creative boost.
"The show is made under a certain amount of duress because of the sheer size and scale of it," says creator and executive producer Tim Kring, sitting in his office alongside co-executive producers Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander. "It basically takes us a whole year to shoot a season. We don't really get a break, so the time off creatively helped us."
Kring says the time allowed for a reinvigoration of the creative team — which may pacify fans who lashed out at the "Heroes" writers for a second-season story line focusing on twins Maya (Dania Ramirez) and Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz) and a plot that left time bender Hiro (Masi Oaka) — a fan favorite — trapped in feudal Japan.
Production on the new season began in May, picking up where the second season left off: the small-town Texas police station where high-flying Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) was shot down by a shadowy figure. The set was supposed to play a big role in a volume about the town being quarantined, but that was scrapped because of the writers strike.
On this day of filming, power-absorbing Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) is spending a suspicious amount of time in the janitor's closet with a scowl — and a scar — across his face. While his presumably dead brother, Nathan, is nowhere to be seen, Peter has caught the attention of mind-reading policeman Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg).
"I'm in a really good place on the show right now," says Grunberg during a break from shooting. "I know Matt will soon be getting some frequent-flier miles. Hopefully, he'll now be able to control people with his mind. And I'd like him to get a little taste of the dark side. I think that's something that's certainly tempting with his sort of power."
Hiro will reteam with sidekick Ando (James Kyson Lee) following the murder of his father Kaito (George Takei). After receiving a beyond-the-grave clue from Kaito, the duo will set out to find a super-secret formula. Hiro will also meet his nemesis, speedy thief Daphne (Brea Grant), and will witness Hiro 3.0 when he leaps forward to a very freaky future.
"We're going to see a different version of future Hiro," says Oaka. "The first one became sort of corrupt because Ando died. This future Hiro is not as hardened because there is a future Ando, but this future Hiro gets betrayed, and what he thought was his foundation disappears. It's a big shock that Hiro will be dealing with for a few episodes."
Confused? Don't worry. Kring and company promise more answers are coming. In the two-part premiere episode airing 8 p.m. EDT Monday, viewers will learn who shot Nathan and whether evil Sylar (Zachary Quinto) actually eats the brains of his superpowered victims. They'll also see a few characters wield new powers for the first time.
"Once we answer a question, there's this certain relief from the audience that we know what we're doing," says Kring. "I think the audience has been burned by shows that take them down roads where they're not given a satisfying conclusion. This season, I really feel like great rewards are going to be given to people who watch this show."
Yet traipsing through the "Heroes" soundstages at Sunset Gower Studios provides more questions than answers: Why is a somber horde of extras hanging out near the New Orleans home of Nana Dawson? Who is Tracy Strauss and why does she have such a swanky apartment in Washington? And what's up with the big blood stain in the Bennet's California abode?
The most curious question, however, lies inside power-absorbing Peter Petrelli's New York City apartment.
There's an intricate web of colorful strings — similar to one glimpsed in a few futuristic season-one scenes — amid dingy walls that have been plastered with photos, maps, book pages, newspaper clips and curious scribbles. One note reads: If they knew what the future is to going end up like, how will they go about changing their fate and the fate of others?