Saturday, 6 December 2008

Power Trip 6 - Empathy/ Ability Acquisition

Woah, it's been a while since I did one of these...again! Well series 3 is trundling along nicely so I think I'll take another peak at some of the characters in the show and the powers they possess. The third series has really stepped up and made things very interesting for our heroes and none more so than Peter Petrelli, who'se ability has made him a closely watched subject by more than just the viewers.

Peter has an ability known simply as empathy, he is able to take on the abilities of others simply by spending time with them and then 'unlocking' that ability in himself. Initially he only had abilities in the presence of others or for a short duration after meeting them, but in the thrilling episodes of series 1 he discovered that he could call up any ability he'd encountered at will, though his control was a problem for much of the early series - especially when he got the power of nuclear explosion! Peter has since learned much greater control over the multitude of powers he has 'absorbed' but things don't get any easier for him!

I'm struggling to find any 'classical' references to empaths of the kind that Peter is, though my searches are admittedly a lot more cursory than the in depth academic exercizes I once envisioned. I guess it's because people with 'powers' weren't as prolific in classical writing as they are in contemporary fiction. People with abilities generally were Gods or blessed by the Gods for something, and someone who could nick their gifts wouldn't fit well into the story I guess. Empaths of another kind have been around for a while, these are generally seen as people who heal by empathising with, and even absorbing, another's pain or sickness. A contemporary example would be Sean Farrell of The 4400.

Now there aren't many empaths in the Bible, but I will slip in a few references if I may. The 'powers' that occur in the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament, such as superhuman strength and speed come through God the Holy Spirit and abilities always come at the direction of God when he appoints it. This might not be particularly relevant, but when we tie it into to Peter's intense sense of destiny it is quite intriguing. Peter feels he is meant for something greater and is satisfied when he gains his abilities, though a great destiny isn't all it's cracked up to be. The Bible teaches that God is in control of man's destiny and it is at His discretion when gifts are given. The gifts He gives and the purpose of our lives might not be as dramatic, but the Bible teaches that all people are of extreme value to God and to those He has saved He gives gifts and blessings that don't involve flight or telikenisis, but are enough for them to depend on and to fulfil His purpose for them. That might not be clear enough, if so let me know.

The most famous character with the same ability is Rogue of the X-Men. She also has the ability to take the powers of others, though it affects her in a different way to Peter. When Rogue touches someone she absorbs their knowledge, skills and, if they are a mutant, special abilities. However when Rogue does this it drains the person she touches to the point of unconsciousness or death, making physical contact or relationships impossible for her. I find Rogue to be one of the most real of the X-Men as her ability does grant her power, but it does have an enormous cost on her life rather than just having something that's handy in a fight.

Well I said that Series 3 was making things interesting for Peter and when longtime villain Sylar has found out that he is in fact Peter's brother things get even more so. When they both confront Peter's father Peter himself loses all his abilities, but Sylar is trying to find redemption and has learned to take abilities through empathy and satisfy his 'hunger' without his usual method of removing the skull, making him much more like Peter, who now has to struggle to find out what his purpose is without any abilities - but then again with the Eclipse in this week's episode, he might not be the only one to ask that!

Any other empaths we should know about Sam?

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