A Crow T. Robot look at the season finale climax of Heroes, or, "I wanna decide who lives and who dies."
We're comic book fans, right? Not only do we follow a "Don't believe it until you see the body" faith, we know not to believe it even if we do see a body, because comic book plots are like that. But especially without a body. Every one of us knew, when Nathan took off with Peter, that Peter has the ability to survive (Claire's powers can protect him in space and even falling to earth) and Nathan has the ability to survive (Nathan can fly Peter to a safe distance and then get a safe distance away himself before Peter goes off). Hell, we may have thought it up before the episode even aired. The question is, did they.
The power of good story structure goes against "don't believe it until you see the body," because good stories have to have characters put themselves in risky situations and the audience has to believe death can occur. Death sometimes needs to occur to show the audience its faith has been correct, and because heroes have to accept some things are worse than death, some fates are worth dying for. This is why comic book stories are often crap, because they insist on resurrecting characters even when their deaths suited story structure. So I had the feeling on watching the season finale that an ending this serious deserved a noble death beyond even what had gone before; I came away from it thinking the story would be served if Peter had survived but Nathan had not. This despite knowing how both of them could have survived.
But something doesn't fit. Along with "no body" and story structure, there's the element of character--of what fits for each character. By the argument of character, both Petrelli brothers should both be alive, and to understand that it's all about Nathan. Nathan, I think, does not go to the plaza to see what's going to happen and to see if he can redeem himself--Nathan is a smart guy, and Nathan is going there with a plan. Nathan's failure to act up unto this point--his inaction that gets him labeled a villain by Hiro--is not that of a man who does not want to die or is a coward or any such interpretation. His inaction is due to his belief (reinforced by those close to him) that the future cannot be changed and that his best chance to help is to follow the path destiny has laid out for him, pick up the pieces and do what he can after this terrible inevitable event. At the end, Nathan finally, finally disavows this belief and decides to take action to avert the destruction of New York.
Why does Nathan not go with an intention to "redeem" himself? It comes down to this. Claire, faced with the burden of shooting Peter to save New York, pleads for another way; Nathan arrives to offer one. If Nathan's alternate way is to kill both himself and Peter, something really doesn't fit Nathan. Observe: Claire shoots Peter, Peter dies, New York is saved. If Nathan flies Peter away, both Peter and Nathan die, New York is saved--but it's a worse plan by one death. You think Nathan wouldn't realize that? Nathan is neither foolish nor illogical nor so sentimental that he does not want to go on living without his brother. Yes, one could argue that his way spares Claire having to shoot her uncle and live with that burden--but Nathan could avert that by picking up the gun and shooting Peter himself.
But Nathan is a smart guy, and he, like the audience, has had time to think this one through. As I said, it's not lack of solution that kept him inactive, it's the belief that destiny couldn't be averted. Nathan knows Peter can survive the blast--he just has to be taken somewhere where he won't endanger others. Nathan can do that. Nathan not only can do that, he can do that and he can get away himself--he's the only one who can. Is there risk? Yes, there's risk if he can't get away himself in time, but that to Nathan is acceptable risk if it means there's a way no one need die. More, it's part of the reason Nathan does not waste time reminding Peter that he can get away himself--Peter might not be able to control his borrowed flight powers well, as he struggles with his nuclear meltdown, plus Nathan has a better chance of getting back to a likely-unconscious Peter afterward and bringing him home safely. Nathan can do this with minimal risk, so he need not look for further alternatives.
Back to story structure--does Nathan's speech to Peter sound like a goodbye? It does not. Nor does it sound like he expects them to die together. It sounds like the moment before they become heroes together, taking a risk, saying enough of what matters in case they've miscalculated and do die, one or the other (or both). But we do not see Peter urge Nathan not to do this, not to sacrifice himself--Peter would get it, if he realized Nathan was proposing they both die instead, or for Nathan to die instead of Peter. This is Peter; he totally would. But it's not that kind of moment. It's the moment when Nathan defied destiny, not the moment he gave up his life for others. Nathan can have one of those later, if the story demands it. But this climax didn't.
Now, I haven't the faintest idea if the story writers notice these elements, so I will not, Isaac-like, tell you that this is a prediction on what next season holds. I'm just saying what story structure and comic book logic and character logic told me. Petrelli brothers for the live.