Someone over at Topless Robot had the good fortune not to see any of HEROES thus far. He asked if anyone could give him any context going into the show.
Well, I love a challenge and I could use a catharsis to keep me awake tonight. So let's just see how well I can sum things up and how funny I can make it.
First, a list of the major players.
The Company - a shadowy organization founded after the Vietnam War, dedicated to policing/controlling people with superpowers. It was founded by 12 people with superpowers, who decided that there were a lot of corrupt bastards who would abuse their gifts if they weren't monitored. Corrupt bastards like them, to be exact. The Company (as an entity or through the actions of its' founders) has been responsible for 90% of the bad things that happen on this show.
Angela - the only surviving member of the Company founders going into Season 4. Has two sons, Nathan and Peter as well as a granddaughter, Claire - all of whom have powers. Angela is the queen of manipulative bitches and is the only person, up until the end of Season 3, who was written with a consistent IQ. She has dream visions of the future and a deep hatred of time-travelers, whose antics give her headaches when they 'change' things.
Peter - emo male nurse who had the power to copy the abilities of any other powered person he'd ever met, even if he never sees them use their powers. Would be the most powerful person in the world if he weren't a complete idiot. Currently working as an EMT in NYC and has his powers nerfed to where he can only store one power at a time and he has to touch a person to copy their power.
Nathan - ex-Congressman appointed state Senator. Had the power to fly but he didn't like using it and spent most of the first three seasons either denying his powers, giving the shaft to other people with powers and secretly overseeing a project to give everyone superpowers. Has been President of the United States in at least two alternate futures. Is currently dead, but being impersonated unknowingly by major villain Sylar.
Sylar - a watchmaker who had the power to instantly understand how any complex system works by looking at it. What made him a cracker-jack watchmaker also enabled him to "steal" the powers of others after he cut their heads open and took a look at how the brains worked. Was an effective villain in Season One and an afterthought in Season Two. And as for Season Three... well, wait for the season summaries...
Claire - the invincible cheerleader, with a Wolverine-style healing factor. Most of the show's main storylines have focused on how important she is and how very important it is that she not be put in any kind of danger. This is ironic (and stupid) since the show has shown Claire (or anybody with a healing factor) can regrow limbs, survive prolonged exposure to radiation and that they don't age after a certain point. So Claire is actually in the least amount of danger compared to any other character.
Noah - a.k.a Bennet a.k.a. HRG (Horn Rimmed Glasses) - Claire's adopted father, Company Agent and the one person who has kept the world safe from the stupidity of his bosses and the idiots who won the genetic lottery and got superpowers.
Hiro - the time-traveling, time-stopping, teleporting otaku. Alternates between being genre savy and a complete idiot as the plot requires. Would be able to solve most of the problems on the show in five minutes if he weren't easily distracted by the side-quests the writers keep throwing at him. Also has his powers nerfed, to where he can now only freeze time. Also, using his power might be killing him.
Ando - Hiro's long suffering Hetero Life Mate. Started out with no powers but, thanks to a dose of McGuffin Juice, now has the power to boost other hero's powers. (i.e. a moderately powerful telepath could read minds across a city) He can also shoot red lightning bolts when the plot says he has to.
Matt - the series butt monkey. He's a telepath AND has the power to see the future, but is continually distracted from actually doing anything to affect the plot by various side-quests. Exists primarily to show an Everyman suffering at the hands of characters who actually do things.
Mohinder - a.k.a. Mohinderance. Geneticist whose geneticist father apparently did a lot more harm than good with his research into superpowers. Mohinder is continuing the fine family tradition of dabbling in SCIENCE! and is here primarily to explain things to the viewer. Created a formula that gives people superpowers after spending the better part of four months trying to find a way to take their powers away. Tested the formula on himself and has now settled - after a brief period where he was turning into a giant cockroach - on having super strength.
Tracy - a lobbyist who spent most of Season 3 either working under Nathan (in every sense of the phrase) or being chained up in an oven. Was thought to have the power to freeze things but her powers may extend to controlling and becoming water, based on the Season 4 preview. Exists primarily to provide fan service until Claire is 21 and lusting after her is officially "no longer creepy".
Around the world, ordinary people are developing extraordinary powers. Three of them (office worker Hiro, junkie artist Isaac and nurse Peter) join forces after each of them is confronted with evidence that New York City will be destroyed in a nuclear disaster.
In Hiro's case, he accidentally went forward in time and saw the devistation. In Isaac's case, he paints visions of the future when he is high. And in Peter's case, he was approached by a man who claimed to be Hiro in the future, who only gave him the cryptic message "Save the Cheerleader, Save The World".
This message, it turns out, referred to Claire - a Texas cheerleader, who was the next target of a serial killer called Sylar. Sylar targeted other superhumans so he could take their powers. Using Isaac's paintings, Peter was able to figure out where to go and saved Claire. Everything was wonderful until Peter started having visions of exploding and realized that whatever destroyed New York would still happen and he was the cause.
It turned out that The Company had also foreseen Peter's impending doom and was planning to use it to put Peter's brother Nathan on the fast-track to the presidency, letting him milk the sympathy of having his district "nuked by terrorists" in order to run for higher office.
Sylar was captured by The Company but quickly escaped and set about continuing where he left off. At the same time, Claire's father was working to hide Claire's powers from his bosses, eventually putting her into hiding rather than let her become a guinea pig. This led to him being imprisoned and orchestrating a jail break with several others, including a scientist who had the power to manipulate radiation.
For a while, it looked like Sylar (who killed the radioactive man) was going to become the human bomb instead. But after he killed Isaac and gained the ability to see the future, he was able to manipulate things toward a final showdown with Peter, where Peter lost control of his powers and threatened to explode. Disaster was averted when Hiro showed up, killed Sylar with a sword through the chest and Nathan - feeling guilty over the deaths of the people he was supposed to represent - showed up and flew Peter into the sky, seemingly killing them both. The season ended with a time lost Hiro crash-landing in feudal Japan.
In the past, Hiro winds up setting up the birth of The Company by accident. His interference in a war leads both to the creation of the legends of Kensei (his favorite mythological hero) and an Englishman with a healing factor (the original Kensei) swearing blood revenge on all of humanity after Hiro accidentally won the heart of his girlfriend.
Back in the present, Peter (who survived the explosion) is imprisoned by The Company, befriends another prisoner named Adam and the two escape together. Peter is given telepathic amnesia and sent to Ireland in a crate, where he is discovered by Irish gangsters who quickly recruit Peter into their organization. Somehow, Peter is much more effective at using his powers without any memories... though he quickly winds up screwing up his new life after he accidentally goes forward in time to a future where a plague has destroyed most life on Earth and leaves his girlfriend there.
Eventually, Peter gets back, meets up with Adam again and we find out that Adam is the bloke Hiro pissed off in the past. He convinces Peter to help him break into a Company facility so they can get this virus "to destroy it", intending to use it himself the whole time. Despite being a telepath AND amnesiac, Peter never things to read his new best friend's mind... just to make sure.
Oh, and Sylar? It turns out The Company had an agent save his life and inject him with a virus that would remove his powers. That's good. But they only leave him with the one agent to guard him. That's bad. And by the end of Season Two, he has his powers back.
Eventually Adam is stopped by Hiro and buried alive in a coffin. The virus isn't released and Peter - after a talk with Nathan (who was healed with Adam's blood in the hospital) - agrees to out the existence of superpowers to the world. But at the press conference, somebody shoots Nathan before he can reveal that he can fly and the season ends.
It turns out that the gunman who shot Nathan was Peter FROM THE FUTURE! It turns out that revealing the existence of superpowers was a very bad thing and the future sucks because of it.
Sylar tracks down Claire and takes her power but it turns out cutting her head open won't kill her, making most of the worries behind Season One - COMPLETELY POINTLESS! He then goes after The Company's main headquarters, intent on revenge. The good news is that one agent is able to stop and subdue him. The bad news is that, in the process, a bunch of other people The Company has been keeping imprisoned escape.
We are told that together they are as dangerous as 10 Sylars. In actuality, most of the escapees are either innocent people The Company imprisoned because they thought they COULD be dangerous (i.e. a man who could create controllable wormholes) or idiots whose first action upon breaking out of prison is causing as much property damage as possible and robbing banks. Sylar is told by Angela that she is his real birth mother and he immediately goes to work for The Company, trying to recapture all the escapees. Most of them are dead or recaptured within two episodes, making the whole break-out plot... COMPLETELY POINTLESS!
All of this is put on hold, however, when it is revealed that Angela's husband Arthur isn't really dead, that he had the power to permanently steal other people's powers and that she tried to kill him after he used his stolen telepathy to turn her into a Stepford Wife. Arthur has some kind of plan to give everyone in the world superpowers using a formula The Company had access to at one point. He also recruits Mohinder, for some reason, to work on the project even though Mohinder's efforts at accidentally creating the same formula are slowly turning him into a cockroach. He also recruits Nathan and Sylar onto his team, along with all the escapees who didn't get recaptured and a few disgruntled ex-Company agents Angela fired.
Meanwhile, Future Peter takes Present Peter to the future to show him how much things sucked after everyone got superpowers. Future Peter is killed, Present Peter is captured and winds up killing his own brother (IN THE FUTURE!) after taking Sylar's power (IN THE FUTURE!) and time-traveling back to the Present, where he promptly loses all his powers after confronting his father.
It all ends badly when Peter destroys the facility where Nathan is mass-producing the formula to make an army of super-soldiers, Mohinder is somehow cured of his cockroachism by being drowned in the formula, Sylar kills Arthur after using his newly-acquired lie-detector power to figure out that he isn't really Angela and Arthur's son and goes back to his villainous ways. Oh, and Peter sorta gets his powers back in that he can still copy powers, but only one at a time and only through touching another person. So yeah, he's basically Rogue now.
Oh, and Hiro was running around trying to recover the formula this whole time... but it's really not worth going into except to say he lost his powers and Ando got powers. So... yeah.
After spending most of the last chapter thinking that giving everyone superpowers would solve everything, Nathan does a total 180 and decides that he has to imprison everyone with superpowers, lest they prove to use them unwisely. He recruits Bennet to help him with trapping and monitoring these people... but things go screwy after The President (who Nathan tells about the existence of super powers) insists that he put a Black-Ops expert named Danko in charge of the field teams.
Danko, in the fine Marvel tradition, hates all mutants. Except for Sylar, who he eventually partners up with. And is screwed over by.
Pretty much everyone is captured by the government, escapes when Claire crashes the prison plane they were being held on and goes on the run. Except for Sylar, who manages to kill every agent who comes after him, tracks down his real father, figures out dad has the same powers and is kind of a jerk and goes back to his old goal of becoming as powerful as possible - by replacing The President of the United States.
Long story short (too late) the Heroes do eventually unite, convince Nathan of the error of his ways (after he gets outed as a filthy mutant to Danko, of course) and Sylar is subdued... after he killed Nathan.
If saner heads were in charge, they'd kill him right then and there. But because Angela is obsessed with the idea that her visions of the future can not NOT happen, she convinces a late-to-the-party Matt to use his powers to make Sylar (who can now shape-shift) think he is Nathan.
The chapter ends with Tracy (who really didn't matter until this point) starting to kill off various officials involved in illegally incarcerating her and other powered people and Nathan/Sylar showing signs that he is figuring out the truth.