The Best and Worst of Heroes: Volume II – Generations

For previous installments:

 

Character Analyses

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Claire Bennet

Generally, the ability discovered that she can regrow back limbs is ridiculoys, and stupid. Furthurmore, she is protected again, this time by Wes Rosen.

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Niki Sanders

New foe Bob Bishop approaches Niki about the fear of a new personality, Gina, which becomes tiresome by this point. Gina is not much of a sympathetic character, at least in comparison to Jessica. She eventually agrees to work with him, being tested as a guinea pig for a cure, which fails, so she goes to New Orleans (where Micah is), and a situation leads to her saving Monica Dawson from a burning building. Ironically, Monica would not return next season making her sacrifice all the more dumb.

Nathan Petrelli

Nathan has a weird story this season, dealing with a sort of Jekyll and Hyde face thing. It never actually gets resolved, but it supposed to show dealing with guilt, or regret, for something, Who knows, and who cares? Never went anywhere.

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Peter Petrelli

Thus begins shirtless Peter Petrelli, as the focus becomes on storytelling and more towards eye candy.

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Hiro Nakamura

Spends most of his time teaching a white guy how to be a hero, rather than essentially show concern for himself, because, you know, the most important heroes must be white, while heroes of color have to support them.

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Angela Petrelli

Although a considerable threat during Season 1, she is reduced to whining, crying baby because Adam Monroe was returning.

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Elle Bishop

Although is given a cool introduction, she is fundamentally her father’s lackey.

Caitlin

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Primarily a love interest for Peter Petrelli when he has amnesia, she faces tragedy becoming trapped in a dystopian future.

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Monica Dawson

Never really a relatable character, I’m not sure why they had a character somehow tied to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Although she speaks of how it feels to “have your house blown away,” flooding was actually a larger concern to begin with.

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Maya Herrera

Introduced as a whining, crying, intermission within the show I didn’t find myself remotely interested in her story at all. Spending time calling herself “cursed,” and even repeatedly getting taken advantage of by white male characters (bus driver, Sylar), there was literally nothing to actually sympathize with here. According to the Grunge article, “Characters that almost single-handedly ruined a television show“:

NBC’s Heroes brought forth a comic book mentality, an interconnected world and sense of adventure before such a thing became completely oversaturated in cinema and television alike. When the series climaxed in its debut season, creator Tim Kring was left with quite the problem, namely trying to top a season that introduced lovable time traveler Hiro Nakamura, power-slurping villain Sylar and the iconic phrase “Save the cheerleader, save the world.”

When Heroes returned for its sophomore season, they gave it the old college try with the addition of a new character, Maya Herrera. Played by the gorgeous Dania Ramirez, Maya and her twin brother crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, seeking help in controlling her powers, as black liquid leaked from her eyes, poisoning everyone in the vicinity. Great party trick.

A great amount of time was spent developing Maya’s story, which was met with apathetic viewer interest. She represented Season 2 going off the rails, with no hero to rescue it. Her character didn’t connect, lost among the other slow, plodding stories of the season. Worse, Maya remained mostly independent of the series’ established characters. She was seen as an intermission, not an addition to the mythos of the show. Maya showed little prowess as a hero, had repetitive scenes and ended up being hoodwinked by Sylar, who predictably kills her brother. He died. Viewers shrugged.

With a writer’s strike causing the season to close with just a handful of episodes, Maya is cured, and rushed out of the series. Kring showed some tact (rare for Hollywood), admitting they had screwed up the season, specifically mentioning the newer characters, while apologizing to fans. Kring promised to get things right, so Maya was never seen again, curing Heroes of its own poison, at least until it was canceled, rebooted, and canceled again.

Candice Wilmer

Originally a cool character during Season 1, Candice’s final scene turns her forever into a fat joke.

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Adam Munroe/Takeo Kinsei

Originally introduced as a drunk, there is nothing truly redeemable about him. His motivations aren’t truly at heart of being a hero, but of getting by, getting his, or coasting along, like Ralph Dobny of The Flash.

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Princess Yaeko

Referred as the ‘Swordsmith’s daughter,’ Princess Yaeko is a female charactrer whose entire existence revolves around Hiro Nakamura, the English Takeo Kinsei, and her father. Her life, it would seem, is all about men, not her. As such, she does fall into a specific type of character of Asian fetish, as according to the BitchMedia article, “The Madame Butterfly Effect: Tracing The History Of a Fetish“:

Asian women might be the flavor du jour, but the construct of the sexualized Asian female has been centuries in the making.

“There’s been a very long history and tradition in Europe of a kind of fascination with and terror of the Eastern ‘Other,’” says Kim Brandt, associate professor of Japanese history and author of Kingdom of Beauty: Mingei and the Politics of Folk Art in Imperial Japan and the forthcoming Japan’s Cultural Miracle: Rethinking the Rise of a World Power, 1945–1965. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Western male fetishized the veiled Middle Eastern woman. One need only watch The Thief of Baghdad (1924) to catch a glimpse of some of these perceptions at work. In the 1840s, following the end of the First Opium War, the treaty port cities in China, Japan, and Korea were the site of a feeding frenzy for the United States and other Western powers—all desiring a piece of the profitable trade-route action. This led to a rise in the Western bourgeois desire for Oriental art and collectibles: decorative fans, postcards (more often than not bearing sexualized images of geishas), and other bric-a-brac.

Imagine the Victorian Western man—buttoned-up, moving stiffly through a society with strict social codes and uneasy views on sex and bodies—confronting the image of a Japanese geisha: a diminutive female dressed in rich fabrics, thick makeup painted across her face, jet-black hair piled high on top of her head. The geisha—the name coming from gei (art) and sha (person)—was at her essence an artist/entertainer. She was a separate entity entirely from the paid-for-hire prostitute (though she did engage in sexual favors if she so chose). Still, the geisha became a highly sexualized image for the Western male. “The East Asian female in native dress,” Brandt says, “was viewed as a decorative object but also a sexual object.”

At its core, to fetishize something—or someone—is to objectify it to the point that it becomes divorced from the person herself. And it’s easy to see how the fetishization of Asian women developed. Valerie Steele, in her book Fetish: Fashion, Sex, and Power, turns to 19th-century sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing for an early working definition of fetishism: “The association of lust with the idea of certain portions of the female person, or with certain articles of female attire.” According to Krafft-Ebing, “in pathological eroticism the fetish itself (rather than the person associated with it) becomes the exclusive object of sexual desire.” There is an inherent deconstruction at work in this definition of the fetish, one that breaks down the actual female body. Steele posits that some degree of fetishization is the norm for men (but not for women); to indulge the old adage “divide and conquer,” one reading of fetishization could be the male attempt to conquer the foreign female body.

French writer Pierre Loti’s wildly popular 1887 novel, Madame Chrysanthème, largely cemented Western perceptions of Japan and, in turn, of Japanese women. (See our abridged timeline of the Madame Chrysanthème/Madame Buttefly archetype here.) The book is a semiautobiographical tale of a naval officer who travels to Nagasaki and takes a temporary wife—a woman who is painted as a plaything, another piece of Oriental artifact to be acquired. The wife he desires? A “little, creamy-skinned woman with black hair and cat’s eyes. She must be pretty and not much bigger than a doll.” The novel is peppered with details of “slim,” “graceful,” “dainty” “little women” with “delicate hands, miniature feet” and “natural skin of deep yellow,” who are the “exact types of the figures painted on vases.” In one scene the narrator describes how the local women “grovel before me on the floor, placing all this plaything of a meal at my feet.” What we see emerging from Loti’s text are continual images of tiny, doll-like Japanese women no more human than, in Loti’s own words, “china ornaments.”

In The Chrysanthème Papers: The Pink Notebook of Madame Chrysanthème and Other Documents of French Japonisme, Christopher Reed describes the unquestionable impact of Loti’s novel—translated into every major European language and reprinted over 200 times during the course of the author’s life alone—on the Western construction of the East Asian woman. Reed writes that while Madame Chrysanthème still evokes a nostalgic pleasure for its era in French literature, recent scholarship on it and Loti’s other popular novels—which include similar travel narratives of Western men taking on a native woman as lover from Turkey to Tahiti—“often assess them as tools of sexual and cultural exploitation.”

Reed goes on to tell us that Loti today “is widely read as exemplifying what went wrong with Western approaches to the East.” Still, the image of miniature Asian dolls scuttling about with food trays was already set in motion.

Madame Chrysanthème is widely acknowledged as the source for Puccini’s famous opera, Madama Butterfly. The opera, which premiered in 1904, chronicles a similar story: Pinkerton, an American officer, travels to Japan and takes on a local wife during his sojourn, only to return to the West to legitimately marry a white American woman. Cio-Cio-San, the abandoned Japanese wife who has given up everything—her religion, her family, her son, and finally her own life—to be with Pinkerton, became a new archetype. Now the image of the Asian female—dainty, diminutive, doll-like—gets compounded with yet another feature: self-sacrifice. This specific narrative is so intertwined with the perception of Asian women that it was reworked with another Eastern locale in the 1989 musical Miss Saigon, set in Vietnam with the American war as a backdrop. After an announcement of the 2014 London revival of Miss Saigon, presale tickets were reported to be $4.4 million on the first day, breaking box office records and proving that the narrative is not just still popular, but profitable as well.

Loti’s and Puccini’s influence also found its way onto the pop charts; the band Weezer gave a direct nod to Madama Butterfly in their album Pinkerton (1996). Take, for instance, the lyrics to the song “Across the Sea,” dedicated to an 18-year-old Japanese girl: “I wonder what clothes you wear to school/ I wonder how you decorate your room/ I wonder how you touch yourself/ And curse myself for being across the sea.”

Hollywood’s Golden Age gave rise to another archetype of the sexualized Asian female: the dragon lady. Unlike her “butterfly” counterpart, the dragon lady was a fierce Asian woman who wielded power—more often than not of a sexual nature—to the detriment of the men around her. This vampy femme fatale was first popularized by the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, who, as the only high-profile Asian American actress of that era, “fascinated European and white American men at the time,” says Elaine H. Kim, professor of Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley and writer and director of the short film Slaying the Dragon Reloaded: Asian Women in Hollywood and Beyond. The character was an exotic (read: dangerous) seductress, and Wong’s dragon-lady status was epitomized in her role as Fu Manchu’s daughter in Daughter of the Dragon (1931). Yet the characters Wong played always met the same tragic end; in many ways, dragon-lady roles were merely a racier rehash of Loti and Puccini’s quivering butterflies.

But perhaps the biggest factor sealing the image of the sexualized Asian female as we know it in the United States was the U.S. military presence in Asia, beginning in World War II and continuing through the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Military camp towns cropped up around the U.S. bases, and a local industry—namely “juicy bars” and brothels—was created with the sole purpose of servicing U.S. soldiers. With the universal draft, American men who may not have held preconceived ideas of Asian women were now shipped to Asia, where they would be confronted with local women working in the sex industry. Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket (1987), about American gis in the Vietnam War, made famous the following quote, uttered in broken English by a Vietnamese female prostitute: “Me so horny. Me love you long time. Me sucky sucky.” Mixed in 1989 as a sample in 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny,” the quote has taken on a pop-culture life of its own.

The American soldier–Asian female union began as one of commerce: money exchanged for sexual services. But historians layer a possible second reading to this narrative: colonization. The American GI—representing a first world power with first world resources and privileges—colonizes the Asian female, who comes from a place of poverty, weakness, and everything else often associated with the “third world.” The Asian female sex worker could be read as another version of the “dragon lady”—a seductress capitalizing on the demand for sex.

The end of the Korean War in the early 1950s created a rise in overseas adoption. War orphans were airlifted from Korea and later Vietnam. The aftermath of the wars abroad brought about “an idea of benevolence toward Asian countries—of bringing women and children into our beautiful families,” Kim explains. “At that time, it was possible to think of bringing an Asian woman into your family, and not just someone you take in the back alley.”

A savior narrative began to take shape—Asian women became the native women who needed to be whisked away from their impoverished homeland. In the backdrop of the emergence of “blended” families came two films introducing the archetype of the “noble-hearted” Asian prostitute in need of salvation: Sayonara (1957) and The World of Suzie Wong (1960). The “native” woman gets her fairy-tale ending: The Western man marries her.

This salvation narrative is also exemplified in Graham Greene’s 1955 novel The Quiet American, set just before the dawn of the Vietnam War. When the titular American, a young, overly idealistic man named Alden Pyle, first lays eyes on Phuong, a young Vietnamese dancer who is already mistress to an older British journalist named Thomas Fowler, he says, “She seems fresh, like a flower.” Later, Pyle informs Fowler of his plans to steal Phuong away from him and take her back to America as his wife. “I want to keep her,” Pyle insists. “I want to protect her.” To which Fowler, who is already married to an Englishwoman back home, retorts, “I don’t. She doesn’t need protection. I want her around, I want her in my bed.” Greene’s novel presents both forms of the romanticized Asian female: the native woman as “layover” wife during your foreign sojourn as well as the native woman you want to airlift from the wreckage and whisk back to the safety of American soil. As for Phuong, the object of desire for these two Western men, she remains ever silent. For the majority of the novel Pyle and Fowler talk over her, filling in her desires and wishes with their own.

Surveying the history of representation in text and film, the Asian female has continually been exoticized and eroticized, an image that persists today. Last year Katy Perry’s performance of “Unconditionally” at the American Music Awards was both lauded and derided as a form of “yellowface.” Perry appeared onstage in a Hollywood (read: sexier) version of a kimono, along with a troupe of similarly clad backup dancers. They spun their paper umbrellas on a set designed like a Japanese garden and sang about, well, unconditional love. Bloggers dubbed it Perry’s “geisha performance” and criticized it as perpetuating images of the groveling, self-sacrificial woman who has been abandoned.

Cases of extreme “Asiaphiles” abound—the subject of Debbie Lum’s recent documentary Seeking Asian Female is a self-described Asiaphile named Steven Bolstad, a 60-year-old white male who finds his bride in China through an online service. When asked what drew him to his prospective wife, he simply responds, “She looks so Chinese!” but fails to elaborate on what he actually means by “Chinese.” The abhorrent and potentially harmful case of Michael Lohman, a Princeton graduate student who “admitted to pouring his urine and semen into the drinks of Asian women more than 50 times” in the graduate school cafeteria is an example of an Asian fetish gone too far.

But perhaps the Asian fetish is best captured in the song “Asian Girlz,” released last summer by a band called Day Above Ground—a song that quickly went viral with lyrics like the following: “I love your creamy yellow thighs/ Ooh your slanted eyes/ It’s the Year of the Dragon/ Ninja pussy I’m stabbin’/ Asian girl, you’re my Asian girl.”

Rivaling the lyrics was the video itself; it featured a skimpily dressed Asian woman who drinks a magic potion, shrinks down a troupe of (white) men, and locks them up in a cage. The public may have decried the crassness of the song, but no one was asking for explanations for the references made in the lyrics—once again demonstrating how pervasive stereotypes of the sexualized Asian female have become in our culture. The band quickly released a statement explaining what they called their satirical tribute to “the always lovely Asian woman […] some of the most gorgeous women on the planet.”

In a recent New York Times piece, Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Mahler writes, “When you fetishize—as opposed to value—something, you wind up celebrating the idea of the thing rather than the thing itself.” In other words, the fetishized subject becomes the objectified. And when this fetishization applies to a whole group of people, like Asians, it translates to an obsession with the idea of the Asian woman, rather than the individual herself. UrbanDictionary.com, that shorthand source on all matters current and crude, cites the “primary” definition of the Asian fetish as a “strong attraction to Asians, most prevalent in Caucasian males. Although Asian girls have A’s in more than just grades: what they lack in boobs, they make up for in beauty. Usually exotic and petite, guys don’t necessarily feel superior but more masculine around them.”

The perception of sexualized Asian women was informed by a long tradition of the Western male writing and controlling that perception, leaving the women with no agency and no control over their own representation. Asian women in the media have been few and far between; what few there were often had no choice but to take on the archetypal roles of Asian females. But the landscape is changing. The earlier Asian female icons are joined by a growing rank of women working to shed the stifling images of self-sacrificial butterflies or the dragon-lady seductress. From Connie Chung to Julie Chen, from Margaret Cho to Sandra Oh to Saving Face director Alice Wu, we are seeing a rise of Asian American women taking control of their own representation. With heightened visibility and the increased diversity of voices in our culture, we hope to have more nuanced narratives about the lives of Asian women. It might be only a matter of time before these pervasive, confining archetypes of Asian women themselves become dated. Soon the Asian female may no longer be presented as wordless Phuongs, leaving the Western male to fill in the ellipses of her narrative.


Themes

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Shanti Virus vs Legacy Virus

According to the Marvel Universe Wiki article, “Legacy Virus“:

The Legacy Virus was actually a viroid and was released by Stryfe, a terrorist from approximately 2,000 years in the future. It originally existed in two forms, Legacy-1 and Legacy-2, but later mutated into a third form, Legacy-3; all were airborne agents.

Legacy-1 and Legacy-2 searched for a target organism’s “X-factor”, the sequence of mutant genes that gave a mutant his/her superpowers. If it did not find an activated X-factor in the target, the viroid would die off, leaving the person completely unaffected. If, however, it did detect the X-factor, it would begin inserting introns (junk DNA sequences) into the transcription codings of the victim’s mutant RNA, the process commonly being triggered after the patient used their powers for the first time after contracting the disease. The result was a major compromise of the replication and transcription process so disruptive as to eventually render the body incapable of creating healthy cells, ultimately resulting in the death of the victim.

Legacy-1 attacked general transcription and replication of all cells, a messy and non-selective process that resulted in a condition akin to a fast-replicating cancer. This is the version that infected Illyana Rasputin, sister of Colossus. Legacy-2, however, was much closer to Stryfe’s original template and more in tune to his desire to stir a species war between humans and mutants. Its attacks were selective, working only on the X-factor genes. The net result was that a victim would eventually lose control of his superhuman powers. In addition to developing at a far slower rate than Legacy-1, victims of Legacy-2 developed skin lesions, fever, cough and overall weakness (symptoms displayed by the telepathic X-Man Revanche). The slow nature of Legacy-2 is why St. John “Pyro” Allerdyce survived for years following his initial infection. Legacy-3 was a complete fluke, accidentally created in the body of the mutant woman known as Infectia. Her powers allowed her to scan and visualize the genetic structure of a living being and then alter it according to her own whims; she was essentially a walking genetics laboratory. Infectia had herself been infected with the Legacy Virus, which her own powers tried to stave off. In doing so, they caused a replication error in the Legacy-2 viroid that was killing her. The viroid’s conditioning-to not infect if no X-gene was found in the host-was stripped. When Henry McCoy opened Infectia’s containment chamber in an act of compassion to allow her one final look at the night sky, he inadvertently released this new “free agent” strain.

Legacy-3 was capable of infecting any living being that fit within the parameters of its general original template; that is, hominids only, not canines, felines, etc. Moira MacTaggert, long-time ally of the mutant X-Men and one of Earth’s top geneticists, seemed to have been the first non-mutant human to be infected with Legacy-3. She passed on the data she had gathered to McCoy, before being killed by an explosion, at her research station on Muir Island, caused by the shapeshifting terrorist Mystique. Professor X did manage to telepathically retrieve the critical information before Moira died, and Beast was able to synthesize the cure a few weeks later. Though one that had a price; the virus had first been released by the death of the first victim, so the release of the cure would cause the same reaction. They vowed to keep working until a safer cure could be found. Colossus, whose little sister Illyana had succumbed to the Virus months before, could not abide by that decision and injected himself with the cure, sacrificing his life to save the world from the disease.

The Legacy Virus was based on a virus created by Apocalypse in the distant future, which was intended to kill the remaining non-mutants. At the time that this alternate version of Apocalypse was killed, the virus had not been perfected, and much like Legacy-3, it targeted all humans indiscriminately. As a result, this virus was never deployed, until Stryfe acquired it and altered it for his own purposes.

As such, it is important to remember that the Legacy virus “searched for a target organism’s “X-factor”, the sequence of mutant genes that gave a mutant his/her superpowers” which would result in the victim “eventually lose control of his superhuman powers.”

In conjunction, according to the Heroes Wiki article, “Shanti virus“:

Original Strain

According to Adam Monroe, the first and original strain of the virus was discovered in Shanti Suresh on February 14, 1977. The effects of this disease are harmful if not treated and can block evolved human abilities. The only known cure is Mohinder’s blood, which contains antibodies capable of destroying the virus. Because of the lack of specific equipment against contamination when treating patients, this strain of the virus appears not to be contagious through inhalation. According to Mohinder, only evolved humans are vulnerable to this strain of the virus.

The known victims of this original strain are Shanti Suresh, who died from the disease (Homecoming); Molly Walker, who was cured by Mohinder’s blood (The Hard Part); and the Haitian, who was cured by Mohinder’s blood. With the Haitian, Mohinder commented that the virus was starting to get more virulent and would have killed the man by the next morning with its reproduction rate inside of him (Lizards).

Unnamed Strain

A mutated version of the original strain of the Shanti virus, this strain is used by the Company to block abilities without any apparent harm to the subject (similar to the ability negation pills). Besides this effect, this strain appears to be asymptomatic; infected characters don’t show any visible sign of health damage. Bob Bishop claims that this strain, what he calls a variant and is later referred to as a mutated strain, was created both in an effort to block people’s abilities and to find a cure for the virus in case it ever crossed over into the general population. Mohinder tells Noah Bennet that this strain has been biologically altered from the original and as such, his antibodies may not work as a cure. (The Line) This indeed proves to be the case as this strain is too strong for Mohinder’s antibodies to work, (Out of Time) but combining Claire’s regenerative blood with Mohinder’s antibodies fortifies the antibodies enough to be a cure.

The known victims of this strain are Niki Sanders (Out of Time) and Sylar, who was cured by a mixture of Mohinder’s blood and Claire’s regenerative blood (Powerless). However, it seems that not even this mixture was capable of fully restoring Sylar’s stolen abilities: aside from telekinesis, this strain removed all his acquired powers (The Second Coming). While in an alternate future, a few of Sylar’s abilities were restored (I Am Become Death), but he may have simply stolen them again from other people possessing those powers.

Strain 138

A strain created through biological engineering, Strain 138 is the first strain known to infect normal humans. Its symptoms are deadly, and due to its high contamination rate, it was responsible for killing 93% of the world’s population in an alternate future. That future’s version of Angela Petrelli stated that the virus would eventually kill everyone in the world. Victoria Pratt also stated that if this strain of the virus ever got out, it would wipe out all of humanity and Mohinder Suresh tells Bob Bishop that even the smallest amount being released would destroy human civilization. (Truth & Consequences) It also has the property of remaining dormant and undetectable once it has infected a victim, capable of suddenly becoming active (Quarantine). No cure is known. Since Peter destroyed the only known vial of the virus (Powerless), this strain is believed to be extinct.

Billions of victims were affected by Strain 138 in an alternate future, including Nathan Petrelli, who died in the first outbreak of the virus (Out of Time). There are no known victims of Strain 138 in the actual timeline.

Like the Marvel Legacy Virus, the Shanti virus can “block evolved human abilities,” which is obviously more than coincidental.

 

The Best:

Four Months Later…, Out of Time, Four Months Ago, and Cautionary Tales

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  • While Four Months Later… introduces Takeo Kensei, Maya and Alejandro Herrera, Four Months Ago gives us important background on Nathan, Bob and Elle Bishop, and Maya and Alejandro Herrera;
  • Out of Time sees Peter and Caitlin travel to an apocalyptic future, which is the norm for this show; and,
  • Cautionary Tales sees Hiro say goodbye to his father, who was killed by Adam Monroe.

According to The A.V. Club review of Four Months Later…:

Since its very first episode, Heroes has been about perpetual forward motion, setting small goals for itself and moving its various characters around like pieces on a chessboard and always with a primary objective in mind: Saving the cheerleader. Finding Sylar. Stopping an exploding man. Now that it’s done all of those (and in one of the more anticlimactic season finales in recent memory) Heroes has a choice to make in its sophomore year. It can do more of the same by setting up a new impending threat, which might attract newcomers to the show who don’t have time to learn, for example, who “The Company” is (and who apparently can’t be bothered to rent the DVDs). Or, it could reward the faithful by refusing to retrace its steps and diving headlong into some of those loose threads left dangling by last season’s drive to the finish line. Thankfully, Heroes chose the latter with “Four Months Later,” picking up a short time after the events of “How To Stop An Exploding Man” with nary a glimpse of pandering exposition and even a jarring time-shift to leave diehards in the lurch.

As Mohinder’s narration tells us, “It’s a new dawn,” with the world saved from imminent destruction by those who “dwell among us, anonymous.” (Considering last season’s showdown took place in a painfully fake, deserted Manhattan, obviously nobody was around to pass out medals afterward.) The theme of anonymity looms large in this first episode, with everyone seemingly trying to forget the events of last year and somehow go back to being “normal”–particularly former Company man Bennet, who’s uprooted his family yet again, assumed the surname “Butler,” and moved to California. While I understand Bennet’s pressing desire to keep Claire safe and also carve out a normal life for his family, isn’t this pretty much a lost cause? By this point she’s survived several attempted murders, seen her best friend’s (and mother’s) memory wiped by her adoptive father, met her biological parents and grandmother, seen her uncle explode…Shouldn’t she be a little less concerned about getting a new car and flirting with “alien” hipster boys? Something about her slipping back into the routine of school life rings a little false, as does the rest of her family gamely trying to “bloom” in their fresh start. Last time we saw them, they had witnessed Claire regenerating after being caught in a massive explosion and Bennet supposedly left their memories alone–thereby involving them in the larger conspiracy–but the dinner scene here seems to hint that Claire’s mother is back to her Mr. Muggles-obsessed blissful ignorance, along with Claire’s goofy, suddenly mute brother.

“Four Months Later” was all about this kind of in medias res checking in on characters without providing much explanation as to how exactly they ended up there. We saw brief glimpses of a shattered, bearded Nathan Petrelli finally standing up to his manipulative mother and haunted by visions of Peter, but we got no answers (yet) as to what happened in the sky that day. Debate has raged in the Heroes fan community as to what exactly Nathan did to “help” Peter–did he just fly him up into the atmosphere and wing him towards the sun, like what happened to those nuclear missles in Superman IV?–but whatever he did, he didn’t stick around to see how it shook out, and he obviously didn’t die in the explosion. He also apparently threw away both his office in the Senate and his marriage, and he refuses to talk to anyone–even Claire–about what happened. Parkman hasn’t fared much better: While he’s fully recovered from being shot and is back to being a cop again, he’s also divorced, and no doubt it will be a while before we find out what happened to Janice and their unborn baby. In the meantime, he’s shacking up with Mohinder and Molly, My Two Dads-style, even enrolling her in school–somehow without Social Services ever getting involved. (I suppose this is a fantasy.)

Speaking of Mohinder, he’s undergone the most severe personality change, traveling the world with a new violent streak and stumping for research into that power-depleting virus he discovered last season–you know, the one that supposedly only he can cure with his own blood–while asserting that the problems of global warming and terrorism can only be solved with the help of superpowers (guess those of us in the real world are screwed). He’s also conspiring with Bennet to infiltrate and destroy The Company, and–while I suppose it’s completely moot to wonder how such a radical transformation could take place between those two, considering where everyone else ended up, and since we’ll most likely learn the stories behind all of this in the upcoming “Four Months Ago” flashback–right now it requires a big leap of faith to accept that these two former adversaries last seen pointing guns at each other are suddenly partners. (Then again, I’m also not clear how The Company continues to function now that Linderman and Thompson are dead and Kaito Nakamura appears to have defected–and is now dead himself–but obviously there’s some more top levels to that organization that we’ve yet to discover.)

In the meantime, the answer to who really controls The Company, the identity of Molly’s “boogeyman,” and the hints at a deeper mythology that have always been there–namely, the story behind the eclipse and the meaning of that symbol that pops up everywhere from the “bag-and-tag” tattoos to Takezo Kensei’s flag to the mysterious “Black Spot”-like pictures that both Kaito and Angela Petrelli receive–are being delayed by the introduction of new characters (promising), the mystery of who killed Kaito and who’s trying to kill Angela (meh), and the unfortunate subplot of Hiro’s journey back to 1671 Japan. Outside of a funny throwaway line or two (“Oh no! I broke history!”), I just don’t find myself very engaged in this storyline. While I trust that the writers are leading up to something, what with all the constant references to Kenzei since the first season and this episode’s subtle poking of holes in hero mythology, I’m not especially interested in seeing Hiro train with samurais only to eventually save the day, get the girl, and then have a tearful goodbye with her before rejoining Ando in the present. It’s one of the few times I feel like I know where the story is going already (please let me be wrong!), and I’d really like to skip ahead.

But then, that would be indulging in those cheap pleasures of instant gratification and forward motion, and to the writers’ credit they’ve done an excellent job thus far of delaying answers–while introducing new questions–just enough to keep it tantalizing. Even the final cliffhanger featuring an obviously-not-dead Peter mysteriously chained up on an Irish dock–although predictable and totally clichéd (he has amnesia; who didn’t see that coming?)–just before the familiar “To Be Continued…” reminded me why I like this show in the first place: I’m already thinking about what will happen next.

According to The A.V. Club review of Out of Time:

Is it becoming a cliché to whine that a Heroes episode was anticlimactic? Although I have to say, doing this blog has made me realize that when it comes to disappointing Heroes episodes, it’s not really the individual episode’s fault. More often it’s because the show spends so much time building tension and setting up plot twists that seem like they’re going to pay off promisingly, the show can’t help but fail when it comes to delivering the big bang. Think about last year’s “Homecoming” episode and all of its “Save the cheerleader” hoopla: Aside from that one nifty scene of Sylar tearing open Jackie’s head, the meat of the episode was over in less than three minutes, with Peter doing little more than fall heroically. Then, of course, there was “How To Stop An Exploding Man,” whose ludicrously small-scale showdown generated grumbles that are still echoing across the Web. When it comes to making you think something really cool is about to happen, nobody does it better than Heroes. But actually having something really cool happen? That’s where it always comes up short, over and over again. Tonight’s episode featured two “final showdowns,” a big revelation about one character, a major turning point for another, and no less than three joyous reunions–and yet the way the show rushed through them all left me with the same “That’s it?” feeling that I got from both of those aforementioned episodes. And as with everything else this season, it all had to do with pacing: Too much time was spent setting these events up, so that by contrast their resolutions naturally felt like an afterthought.

Hiro’s confrontation with Kensei was supposed to be dramatic and layered, undercut with the theme of betrayal to which both characters kept explicitly referring. Unfortunately, when it comes to how the two of them “made a good team,” as Kensei said, we’ll just have to take their word for it, because nearly every scene of the two of them actually fighting together on the battlefield was cut in favor of Kensei getting drunk and acting like an ass, Hiro getting misty-eyed while his voiceover did all the work, or Hiro and the princess frolicking under those damn cherry blossoms. Had we actually seen them working side by side at some point, that swordfight might have been a lot more poignant. Anyway, I’ll admit that I misjudged where this arc was headed initially, but not by much. Hiro did indeed have a tearful goodbye with the princess–under those damn cherry blossoms again–after realizing he couldn’t possibly be with her, and it did turn out that Hiro was the storybook Kensei all along, which I’m pretty sure we all saw coming from Day One. Hopefully his heroic deeds and the confidence he gained from true love has made his character stronger, else that was an especially egregious waste of time. While last season I was fine with squinty, excitable Hiro as the show’s comic foil, it’s beyond time for him to grow up a little and develop a more serious side. Hopefully finding his father’s murderer will play a role in that.

Or, you know, he could just zip back in time and save him from the rooftop. Either/or.

So onto tonight’s big revelation: Those rumors and speculation that Kensei is Adam Monroe? Turns out they were completely true, which would explain why we’ve been seeing Kensei’s “godsend” mark splattered all over the place since the beginning of the show. As Company Bob tells us, Adam/Kensei is an all-powerful hero (clearly, considering he survived that gunpowder explosion and after 400–plus years he doesn’t look a day over, uh, 37?) who began to believe he was a God, leading The Twelve to lock him up for good. Now he’s pissed, and while using Pa Parkman as his “weapon” didn’t exactly pan out, he’s also busy manipulating Peter onto his side—which, as we’ve seen from Peter’s recent Locked Box And Two Smoking Stock Characters diversion, ain’t all that hard. So anyway, uh, everybody got all that? Everybody just happy to finally be out of feudal Japan? Me too.

Speaking of Pa Parkman, tonight’s “climactic showdown” between Parkman and the father who abandoned him also probably would have been a lot more effective had we spent more than 10 minutes of screen time with the guy–and had the whole thing not been wrapped up with such a hokey, Twilight Zone, “This is an incredibly banal nightmare of your own making!” scenario. So Pa Parkman felt so guilty about leaving Matt that he keeps a little room in his head to commemorate it, right down to the brisket and potatoes. Okay, I buy it, and I can dig the pathos, but that doesn’t mean Matt should be able to get out just by realizing that he’s a good man after all and his father isn’t. (And by the way, Matt: Tell that to the wife and kid you abandoned.) We’ve been talking in hushed tones about The Nightmare Man since last season–you mean a little old-fashioned Catholic guilt was all it took to bring him down?

At least Pa Parkman got a few decent mindfucks in before being packed off to Comaland, giving Niki visions of D.L. that urged her to act as an audience surrogate and beat up Mohinder and try to kill Company Bob. Of course, her former part-time lover Nathan managed to talk her out of it at the last second with a combination of saying Micah’s name and his own steely charisma wafting off him like so much Drakkar Noir. Unfortunately, rather than just taking a breather, Niki jabbed herself with a new antidote-resistant strain of the Shanti virus, so now she’s doomed…for a couple of episodes. “I’m going to die?” she asks Mohinder. No Niki, I’m sure you’ll be around to be easily duped for seasons to come. For one thing, I’m not that lucky.

So speaking of dupes, let’s talk about Mohinder for a moment: When I interviewed Sendhil Ramamurthy last month, he laughed about the fact that his character had spent so much of the first season being a gullible pawn, and he told me that this season would find Mohinder “pulling a 180” and becoming a “man of action.” While I can’t argue with that last part–Mohinder has certainly taken to throwing people and chairs around willy-nilly, for whatever that’s worth–so far we haven’t seen Mohinder do anything but be a gullible pawn, whether it’s working with the Company or against it, and it’s cost the character the last shred of likeability he had left. Tonight Mohinder took his last step towards being the man holding the gun in Isaac’s painting, nose bandage and all, and while it should have marked a dark turn for him, the guy has been getting yanked around for so long that it just felt like one more “Stupid Mohinder!” moment. The idea that he can’t buy Bennet’s morally gray world anymore is understandable–but why would he trade it for another that’s not only equally morally gray but deliberately malevolent about it?

The constant machinations and disinformation are obviously this show’s bread and butter, so Mohinder’s abrupt character change isn’t wholly unexpected, but it does make for a pretty tiring viewing experience sometimes. Don’t get me wrong: I like that there are no clear-cut good or bad guys. (Well, except for Peter and Hiro…and Sylar. But even those characters could–and probably will–go either way someday.) It sure beats having a new batch of terrorists show up every week for the heroes to band together and defeat, possibly using Hostess Fruit Pies to distract them. But sometimes it gets damned exhausting watching these people stumble through life never knowing whom to trust. It leads the viewers to assume that absolutely everyone is hiding something, so when you find out that they actually are hiding something it’s not all that much of a shock. (Cue Jane’s Addiction again.)

With that in mind, next week’s episode promises answers galore to some of the biggest questions many people have already kinda stopped caring about. By now, knowing the specifics of what happened in midair with Nathan and Peter feels sort of beside the point, doesn’t it? We know Peter was rehabbed at the Company, and that he and Adam/Kensei became cellblock buddies. And what’s one more damn dark secret in the Petrelli family—and could we maybe get them all out in one big session of sharing this time? Do we really need to know what really happened to D.L.? Will our jaws drop when we find out Darth Veronica is Adam/Kensei’s daughter? (Or, you know, whatever.) Will giving viewers what they want a month or so after they stopped wanting it finally turn this sophomore slump around and garner the show its first A of the season? Or have we been conditioned for too long to “expect the unexpected” only to be disappointed by the results? Will Heroes always, always come up short?

To be continued….

According to The A.V. Club review of Four Months Ago:

Wow, what an awesome season premiere, am I right?

Unfortunately, it came about six weeks too late to stave off the sophomore slump Heroes has been suffering through, and in my opinion all the time-shifting trickery we’ve been gamely putting up with in the meantime actually lessened its impact, just as I was afraid it would. I’ve been holding out hope for weeks now that “Four Months Ago” would somehow make it all pay off–to demonstrate why it was necessary to uproot the plotline so egregiously and scatter everything to the wind–and tonight, sad to say, I was proven wrong. Despite the fact that jumping ahead gave certain characters (Sylar, Nathan) time to comfortably convalesce off-screen without killing the pace, after tonight I really don’t see what the point was of screwing with us for so long. Apparently, the past four months played out almost exactly like they did in our heads, right down to the ridiculously expository, mid-air conversation between Peter and Nathan that sounded like a direct response to all those uppity web commenters insisting that Peter could have just flown away on his own. Never mind that it was the first great action sequence we’ve seen this season; that’s the stuff I was dying to see all summer–giving it to me now is like giving me the chemistry set I asked for (and never received, Mom!) in second grade. Yeah, um…thanks, but now I’ve got bills to pay and stuff.

And don’t tell me that flashing forward heightened the drama: Would it have been any less effective, for example, for us to learn that Adam is actually Kensei concurrently, with both Peter and Hiro meeting him in their respective timelines? Who knows–it might have added a much-needed relevance to all of the feudal Japan scenes that would have saved them from feeling like a deliberate distraction. And while Darth Veronica’s introduction would have lacked the ham-fisted “mystery” of her earlier appearance in Ireland, either way we’re still pretty much in the dark about her other than knowing she’s a lifer over at the Company (I’m still not convinced Company Bob is her actual dad; I kind of got the impression she was being sarcastic in that phone conversation), she’s got sadomasochistic tendencies, and she likes having imprisoned pretty-boys to play with. Oh, and Kristen Bell is still super hot. (That’s the last time, I swear.)

As for finding out how Peter arrived in Ireland with his memory wiped, did anybody not already piece together that the Haitian was involved? Him doing so out of loyalty to Peter’s mother is interesting (we still don’t know exactly what she did to “help” him in the past, right?) but all in all, seeing the various tumblers click into place as Peter found his way–shirtless again!–into the shipping crate wasn’t nearly as satisfying since we already know how his Oirish Adventure plays out. It didn’t have any direct effect on the present day storyline–it just filled in a few gaps that most of us had already figured out for ourselves–so as it is, the whole “Four Months Later” thing ended up looking like an experiment designed to create an artificial build-up of suspense, not anything that was crucial to the storytelling. And why you gotta play me like that, Heroes?

[By the way, if you don’t agree with me, you should probably stop right now and read this illuminating mea culpa from Tim Kring about why even he thinks his show is disappointing this season. One big reason? “We took too long to get to the big-picture story.” I couldn’t have said it better myself (except I already did). Good thing the writers’ strike came along, Tim. With plenty of time on your hands–and no more talk of Heroes: Origins–maybe you’ll be able to take some of your newfound humility and apply it.]

Of course, “Four Months Ago” did have one revelation that I don’t think anyone saw coming, namely that D.L. didn’t die as a result of the wounds he sustained in Linderman’s office, and in fact he, Niki, and Micah got to have some semblance of happiness (for at least a couple of months). While I really would have liked to have seen he and Niki dealing with learning that their whole lives were engineered solely to create Micah (seriously, are we ever going to get a resolution to that?), I found their attempt to put it all behind them and blend into normal society surprisingly sympathetic, especially the sight of Niki in that hideous blazer running through prefabricated car salesman lines. And since we already knew D.L. was gone in the present day, there was a palpable sense of dread as to how he would die, which gave the episode its only real sense of foreboding. Would the Company spot his fireman heroics on the TV and come after him for killing Linderman? Would Niki lose her grip on Jessica after pouring her stabilizing but emotionally numbing pills down the drain and kill D.L. in a fit of rage?

Well, no. Actually some anonymous L.A. douche (resembling a swarthier version of American Idol‘s Constantine) would improbably gun D.L. down in a crowded club after Niki–lost in her new bubbly cokewhore personality Gina–ditched him on the dance floor. Gee, that was…irrelevant.

Elsewhere we learned how Adam and Peter became fast friends (surprise: they talked!) and how The Toxic Twins discovered their special plague powers (surprise: Maya got upset and then everyone died!), plus we got a look at what Nathan’s exposure to all of Peter’s nuclear radiation did to his face. Wait, in truth we already knew that too. So what did we learn tonight? Well, we learned that if “Four Months Ago” had instead been titled “The Minute Peter And Nathan Flew Away In The Season Finale” and had premiered on September 25, it probably would have garnered an “A” from me. But for essentially proving that it’s been needlessly wasting viewer goodwill by toying with the timeline in an effort to create drama that was barely there in the first place–not to mention resurrecting D.L. after what was one of the show’s truly heroic sacrifices, only to have him pointlessly killed off-screen by a complete stranger with no bearing on the story–I’m not really in the mood to slap Heroes on the back and welcome it home just yet.

According to The A.V. Club review of Cautionary Tales:

“Get over your daddy issues and leave us be!”

Oh Angela Petrelli, you ignorant slut: If Heroes were to ever get over its daddy issues, why, we’d have nothing to talk about! What would that even look like–a bunch of well-adjusted heroes using their powers guiltlessly for good without a lot of existential hand-wringing about what it all means? Caped crusaders trading quips while saving the world on a weekly basis? How utterly bourgeois.

No, it’s the daddy issues that give Heroes its patina of intellectualism, its hint of depth beneath all the layers of bullshit and beautiful people. And when it works–as with tonight’s episode–Heroes really delivers. It’s episodes like “Cautionary Tales” that keep people tuning in week after week–not to mention posting snotty remarks about it on the Internet when it disappoints.

But you’ll get no snotty remarks from me tonight. (Well, okay, just one: For every commenter who’s objected to the moniker “Captain Emo,” may I refer you to the scene where West flies Bennet through the clouds crying, “Did she ever really care about me?”) The pacing on “Cautionary Tales” was exemplary, juggling three separate storylines that actually mattered, providing big revelations, killing off major players, fulfilling prophecies, and even allowing for some intriguing character development along the way. Let’s take each daddy issue one by one.

First, the big one: Claire’s daddy Bennet got his bullet through the eye while trying to protect her (and after she told him she hated him), and just as Isaac’s painting predicted it came from the barrel of Mohinder’s Company-issued gun. We still never got an answer as to why Mohinder and Bennet hooked up in the first place–and tonight Mohinder proved he still, er, had feelings for him by pleading with Bennet to trust him again–but whether it was a result of his “going native” or just his ever-iffy “moral compass,” he just couldn’t allow Bennet to kill Company Bob. Of course, judging by the look on Mohinder’s face as he rode in the back of the Company van, even he probably has no idea what he actually believes anymore or even whether he’s making intelligent decisions (he’s not). But fortunately–or very, very unfortunately–for him, they managed to revive Bennet with a little bit of Claire’s blood, so it probably won’t be long before he gets a little closure.

It’s a bit of a cop-out, I suppose, to make Claire’s blood into this magical life-giving elixir, but admit it: You’d be sad to see Bennet go. His barely suppressed rage and lack of trustworthiness (much like Sylar) often give the show its edge, and that’s as much an endorsement of his character as it is Jack Coleman’s performance. You spend every scene waiting for the creepy smile to drop and the torturing to start–which usually makes for good television, as it did tonight when he kept Darth Veronica all tied up and soaking wet and…sorry, what was I saying?–and yet he still manages to have profoundly sympathetic moments that somehow cast his actions in a totally understandable light. (And Bennet has taken a bullet twice now for Claire; you can’t help but feel for the guy.) Anyway, it would be a shame to lose him, so for once we can be thankful for a little outlandish leap of faith.

As for Hiro’s daddy issue, tonight the Squinty Samurai did some growing up, thanks to a few generic words of wisdom from his own father and a surprisingly touching scene where he met his boyhood self. While Hiro tried to take my advice from a couple of weeks ago and prevent his father’s murder, tonight he learned (again) that while he cannot change destiny, he can at least cheat it a little bit by getting a peek at the Hooded Killer…who not so surprisingly turned out to be Kensei/Adam, as I (and many of you) had speculated weeks ago. So much for the theories I’ve seen floating around that he or Pa Parkman somehow manipulated one of the Petrelli boys into doing it. (And come on, did you really think the show would risk one of its two top-tier male characters by turning them into murderers?)

So now that Hiro knows not only that KenAdam is still alive but he’s also responsible for his father’s death, the glasses have finally come off, and there’s definitely a grudge match brewing. And hey, maybe this really-really-for-super-serious-this-time-we-swear showdown between Hiro and KenAdam will finally deliver in every way that all of Heroes‘ climactic showdowns have disappointed. Or, you know, maybe he’ll just get a couple of stabs in before The Toxic Twins accidentally kill KenAdam with one of their regenerative cell-destroying hissy fits. Either way, Hiro’s journey towards being a man is closer than ever to being complete, which I couldn’t be happier about. I feel like we’ve just about exhausted the “Hiro finds his inner hero” theme for good. It would be nice to finally see a hint of him becoming the cool, confident Hiro we’ve seen in the future.

Parkman, meanwhile, seems to be closer than ever to becoming his father, as Angela helpfully illustrated. Speaking of commenter predictions that haven’t exactly panned out, I noticed last week that several of you were absolutely convinced that Ma Petrelli possessed powers of persuasion, but tonight Parkman’s powers of probing, prodding, and provocation proved…OK, fuck it, it’s too late for alliteration games. Parkman’s reverb-laden inner voice is the one all the chicks go crazy for, and now he appears to be at a similar ethical crossroads as his former roommate Mohinder (and what of that, anyway? Would it kill Mohinder to pick up a phone?) and worrying if he’s doomed to turn out just like dear old homicidal Dad. As we know from “Five Years Gone,” it’s a slippery slope to evil for Parkman, so it will be interesting to see how he chooses to use this new parlor trick. (Oh, and it would be nice to get some closure on the whole left-his-pregnant-wife/shacked-up-with-a-kid-who’s-not-his thing eventually too. Just throwing that out there.) Maybe finding the last woman from the Company photo–now confirmed to be Joanna Cassidy of Blade Runner and Six Feet Under fame, by the way–will be the final piece of Matt’s own journey towards self-confidence. God, for a bunch of superheroes these guys are pretty fucking insecure!

It’s those daddy issues, of course, and obviously nobody’s getting over them any time soon (at least not until half of the screenwriters in Hollywood get over them first). And with only two episodes to go until the Dec. 3 season finale–thanks again, writers’ strike!–our own journey appears to be coming to an abrupt end. In retrospect, it was a pretty smart move on Tim Kring’s part to break the season up into volumes, otherwise who knows when we would have seen the kind of satisfying resolutions we saw tonight? As we all know, it felt like far too long already. And with that in mind, things can only get more resolve-ier from here, right?

 

The Worst:

Kindred, The Kindness of Strangers, Fight Or Flight, The Line, Truth and Consequences, and Powerless

Heroes-S02E01-66cb3f6212e4f8233e2969de6b05710a-thumb

  • Kindred sees the return of Niki, Micah, Sylar, and Candice Wilmer, without much fanfare;
  • The Kindness of Strangers sees Maya, Alejandro, and Derek meet up with Sylar, which can only produce some negative results;
  • Fight Or Flight introduces both Elle Bishop, and Matt Parkman’s father, Maury;
  • The Line sees the first appearance of the name, Adam Monroe, and sees Caitlin and Peter travel to the dystopian future of 2008;
  • Truth & Consequences sees Hiro figure out that man who killed his father was Takeo Kensei, because of course, Kenzei wasn’t a hero to begin with. Noticeably, Elle working with a sling is stupid; and,
  • Powerless is for the most part, an underwhelming finale.

According to The A.V. Club review of Kindred:

So after the much-ballyhooed return of “the villain you love to hate,” this is how we find Sylar: Sitting on a beach Trading Places-style and being tended to by Candice, finally confirming those suspicions that it was she who dragged him into the sewers at Kirby Plaza. Of course, this is Candice, Mistress Of Illusions, we’re talking about here, so Sylar’s not really in Maui. He’s actually convalescing in a dirty bunker somewhere, still suffering from a gaping chest wound and the complete and total loss of all his meticulously ganked powers. And of course, this is Heroes we’re talking about, so actually “the villain we love to hate” doesn’t really get to do much in this episode–besides turn in the season’s first surprise death (more on that later).

While Sylar–and more importantly, Zachary Quinto–gets a welcome return from me, I wasn’t exactly counting the hours until we saw Niki again. Now that she’s supposedly banished (or melded with) that meddling bitch Jessica for good, it’s back to the same old Not Without My Micah schtick that started the show. And now that D.L. is dead, Niki has lost the sole voice of reason in her life, agreeing to let The Company “cure” her in exchange for “something”–which we just know is Micah, right?–without even bothering to question all of that stuff she found at the end of last season. (You know, the stuff that revealed that her whole life leading up to that point was pretty much a complete fabrication, engineered by Linderman solely to produce Micah.) But then, thinking was never really Niki’s strong suit, and to her the best way to make one of her patented “fresh starts” is to get rid of her powers completely, prompting Micah to say something plenty of Heroes watchers have been saying all along: “I don’t see the point of having these abilities if we don’t even use them.”

Luckily, part of Niki’s “starting over” involves dropping him off with a distant relative that just so happens to be Nichelle Nichols (a.k.a. Star Trek‘s Uhura), and from the way Nichols drawls that spooky “Welcome to New Orleans” alone, you just know she has a power of her own she’s hiding, and that she’s going to teach Micah more than just how to rob an ATM machine. Speaking of reusing old things (sorry, Nichelle), Mohinder’s new lab back in New York just so happens to be in Isaac Mendez’s old apartment, a coincidence so amazing it’s actually totally ludicrous (not to mention lazy). While he pretends to poke around with blood samples under the watchful gaze of Company Bob, Mohinder is still secretly checking around for some of those mysterious lost paintings that for some reason Isaac kept working on, even though the timeline of the future he saw supposedly ended with the destruction of New York. Unfortunately, the one painting he’s found spells bad news for his new pal Bennet: He’s destined to get a bullet right through the old horn-rimmed glasses while Claire (?) is busy making out nearby. (Speaking of which: If Bennet is so concerned about establishing a new identity, shouldn’t he get some contacts? Or at least some nice, subtle wire frames? It might save him from potential embarrassments like when he finally meets his daughter’s new boyfriend and realizes that it was he who bagged-and-tagged him all those years ago.)

And as for Claire and her blossoming romance with Captain Emo, this week finally dispensed with the foreplay and got right to the, er, foreplay, with Claire discovering West’s ability to fly in a gee-whiz scene lifted straight out of Superman. At least now that we know West still holds a grudge against Claire’s dad, we can be sure that this budding courtship–all floating in the clouds and tickling on the beach–is fucking doomed. And of course, the same can be said for Peter’s relationship with the Irish barmaid, who somehow convinces him that curing his amnesia isn’t as important as hanging around Ireland’s least popular pub and taking on sub-Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels schemes. Seriously, while it’s obvious that Peter has been frightened into some sort of weird Stockholm syndrome not only by his amnesia but his unexplained powers (those “Sparks!” and “Lightning!” scenes were almost verbatim Spider-Man, by the way), are we really expected to believe he’s “happy” there? Sure, everybody loves an Irish girl, but how is agreeing to a life of crime and Guinness considered a noble pursuit, and yet you won’t even peek at your driver’s license because you’re afraid your scary telekinesis powers mean you might be a “bad guy”?

While Peter is trapped in Ireland, new heroes Maya and Alejandro are similarly stuck in Mexico, meaning this episode was another chapter in their Terrible No-Good Very Bad Immigration, which goes something like this:

“We’ve got to get to America!”

“I will never give up and/or leave you!”

“Oh no, we’ve been separated!”

“I’m freaking out and killing everyone by crying black stuff!”

“We’re reunited! Don’t worry, everything will be OK!”

(Shaky handholding scene)

“Hooray, everyone’s alive again! Now, we’ve got to get to America!

(Repeat.)

Luckily for the Toxic Twins, they managed to hitch a ride with some spring-breaking scofflaw type–in a Nissan Rogue with a “Go Conquistadores!” bumper sticker, no less, so it’s either Claire’s stolen car, or it belongs to a schoolmate who was similarly taken in by the Rogue’s rugged versatility. (Really, have you seen these things? They’re awesome. Buy one today.) It seems like all of the pieces are falling into place….

…except, of course, for Hiro’s Wacky Samurai Adventure, which teased me this week by appearing to wrap up finally and then, at the last second, getting right back to the fairytale crapola. So Kensei is invincible, he defeated the 90 Angry Ronin (spawning a dozen post-hardcore bands), and Hiro realizes he can’t be with the princess he loves. So, uh, your work is done, right Hiro? You can finally rejoin your buddy Ando and get back to providing pop culture references and ameliorating the show’s occasionally poisonous self-seriousness instead of perpetuating this groaning comedy of errors right?

“Not yet!”

At least this episode delivered what it promised, which was a “shocking” death, the first of the season: Poor glimmer-inducing Candice was done in by a power-hungry Sylar, who was desperate to steal her shapeshifting abilities (a move, by the way, that would have fulfilled at least one of the predictions of the alternate timeline in “Five Years Later”). Unfortunately for him, whatever he does when he does what he does (eating her brains?) didn’t work out too well for him this round, and now he’s stuck on a mysterious island that looks remarkably like Lost‘s–still weakened, and with no idea who Candice was working for or what the hell he’s going to do now. Now I know Sylar is impulsive, uncaring, and most importantly eeevil, but would it have killed him to ask a couple of questions first before killing Candice? “Where are we?” might have been a good one to toss out. “Hey, can I use your phone?” might have been another. Also, it might have been good to get a little clarification on her powers: Candice wasn’t actually saying she could whisk you away to London or Japan, Sylar. What part of “imaginary blonde twins on rollerskates” didn’t you understand?

So that’s where we are, true believers. The heroes are still scattered. Most of them–Claire and Captain Emo excluded–are struggling to contain their powers or get rid of them altogether. The Hiro and Peter storylines are still being deliberately delayed by unnecessary subplots. Niki still sucks. Next week promises the return of a clean-shaven Nathan and that a few more pieces of the murder-mystery will be dealt out, with perhaps a little more explanation on that damn “godsend” symbol–which is apparently mystical in nature, seeing as it appeared (and promptly disappeared) when Peter’s tattoo was covered up by his regenerating skin. Plus, Molly’s hissing about the “nightmare man,” and the announcer is teasing that we’ll learn more about the “original heroes” (yeah right). As for this week—other than my usual complaints about Peter and Hiro’s pointless sojourns–this episode was closer to the Heroes I used to love than anything else we’ve seen so far, incredibly stupid leaps of logic and all. It’s amazing what a little Sylar can do. (Too bad he’s leaving soon.)

According to The A.V. Club review of The Kindness of Strangers:

Hey, who likes answers?

The fickle Heroes viewing audience, that’s who–the ones pampered from watching their TV on DVD, who chafe at playing a show’s sadistic little guessing game from week to week as it deliberately delays gratification and introduces more subplots to pad out its story arc; could anything be more antiquated? I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve counted myself in that number: My disappointments with the second season thus far have mainly been due to diversions that I feel to be tacked on, that are only there to keep the main storyline from developing too quickly. “Stop fucking around with swords and princesses!” I’ve said to Hiro. “Put your shirt on and open that damn box!” I’ve said to Peter. “Die already!” I’ve said to Niki. And yet here it is the fourth episode, and the writers have yet to oblige.

I’ll also admit that I’m notoriously impatient about such things. When I was a kid, for example, I always found my Christmas presents early. I’ve been known to flip to the last page of a book. I read spoilers all the time. It’s a bad habit, but I can’t help it. I always want to know how things are going to turn out, even if it completely kills the experience for me. I guess I don’t really like being surprised. It’s probably a sign of narcissism, like I just can’t stand the idea that I don’t know everything. But lately I’ve been trying to quit. After I absolutely ruined last season’s Lost finale for myself (and thank God The Sopranos spoiler I read turned out to be a fake), I feel like I’ve actually grown a little. I’ve crossed a line where the pleasures derived from seeing a show pull a game-changing revelation out of nowhere outweigh the smug satisfaction of knowing it’s coming before anyone else. And of course, keeping this blog has actually helped me appreciate the journey; I’ve learned to stop and smell the children, because tomorrow we may die, etc. etc. As long as I don’t feel like my time is being deliberately wasted–and you keep tossing out a few surprises like those in “The Kindness Of Strangers”–I hereby swear that you can keep stringing me along, Heroes. Who knows what adventures we’ll have between now and when the show becomes unprofitable? (Besides, it’s not like I’m leaving before Kristen Bell gets here.)

Anyway, about those surprises: Tonight’s revelation that Parkman’s father is one of the “Original Heroes” was somewhat less than shocking; we already know that both of the elder Petrellis and Hiro’s father were members, so finding out that Parkman is also a legacy isn’t too much of stretch (plus it should come in handy for Parkman around Rush Week). But Molly’s revelation that Pa Parkman is “The Nightmare Man” was a genuine surprise to the newly spoiler-free me, and it had me musing on the show after it was over in a way I hadn’t since just before the end of last season. Matt’s sappy abandonment story aside, I find the idea of Parkman’s father sharing Matt’s telepathic powers intriguing. Not to get too nerdy (on a blog written about a superhero show on a website dedicated to pop culture), but it’s a bit like Parkman is the Luke Skywalker to his father’s Darth Vader: They have similar gifts, but Parkman’s father has obviously taken it to a very dark extreme. Perhaps his “gift” also ruined his life the same way Parkman’s appears to be ruining his? Now that we know that Parkman knew his wife was carrying his ex-partner’s baby, for example, we can understand a little bit more about how hard it must be having that kind of omniscience all the time. It’s like Parkman is reading spoilers on life itself.

What’s more, putting Molly in a coma (having Matt hear her trapped screams from inside her head is a nice touch) by forcing her to confront The Nightmare Man is going to weigh especially heavily on Parkman. Obviously this won’t be resolved without a face-to-face showdown with his father, the mysterious guy who left him with little more than “$120 and a pat on the head.” (That won’t even get you the first six seasons of Roseanne.) Speaking of which, this show sure does love its daddy issues, doesn’t it? In one of their many alternately bickering and tender couple’s spats, Parkman points out that Mohinder has them as well, but they’re certainly not alone: There’s also Hiro and the domineering Kaito; the Petrelli brothers and their suicidal father (whose tendency towards depression Nathan appears to have inherited); and–while we have yet to get anything concrete on him–there are hints that Sylar’s father may pop up. Why else would Sylar give his real name (“Gabriel Gray”) to Maya and Alejandro if the writers didn’t want the viewers to remember it? Something tells me that we’ll hear that surname again soon once Matt and Nathan identify the rest of the faces in that picture. (So hey, maybe there’s hope for that Leonard Nimoy cameo yet.)

Speaking of dads, Claire made Bennet–normally so far ahead of everyone else, he’s like a walking spoiler–seem like a sitcom-level tool tonight by sneaking around with her little super-pal enabler, Captain Emo. Again, I can only assume that they have truly dark things in store for West–besides the obvious clues in Isaac’s painting, having West spout lines like, “I know you can heal, Claire, but I never want to see you hurt” is just setting us up for a dramatic personality reversal, right? Right?–but in the meantime he’s already encouraging her to do things like jump off the Hollywood sign just so he can catch her in his reedy little arms. Can’t these kids go get high and have premarital sex like everyone else? And can we go ahead and skip to the part where it all ends horribly?

Damn! I already forgot my new resolution to be patient. Unfortunately, romantic subplots do that to me. Anyway, besides this brief tangent–and thanks to a complete lack of Samurai Hiro, Oirish Peter, or plain old boring Niki mucking up the works–”The Kindness Of Strangers” was full of promising developments. Sylar turning up unexplained in the Mexican desert and hitching a ride in the Rogue (the ultimate in performance, even under extreme conditions!) with the Toxic Twins was a deus ex machina contrivance, sure, but not only did it end in another patented Sylar icing, complete with signature cockroach, it gives that storyline a much-needed boost of now-I-give-a-fuck. So what do you guys think: Is Sylar just biding his time until he can make a play for the Twins’ powers, or is he really on a path to redemption? Considering the way the show has taken great pains to make Sylar a sympathetic character whose misdeeds are just a quest for acceptance (there are those daddy issues again), I have to assume the latter. I’m sure you Joseph Campbell/Stan Lee fans have something to say.

And since Maya and Alejandro and their amazing Black Goo Hissy Fit is already played out, this episode gave us a whole new character who may have the coolest powers yet: Micah’s cousin Monica, who has the ability to mimic what she sees on TV. Tonight that meant carving intricate roses out of tomatoes and whatever that wrestling move is called, but it’s not clear yet whether she can copy absolutely anything she sees. For example, if she watched an episode of Bionic Woman, would she suddenly gain the ability to cram an entire season’s worth of exposition into one cliché-ridden line of dialogue? Or are her powers limited to things that other humans do? And is it just television, or can she pop a few instructional videos on her iPod and take it on the road? Or better yet, can she just watch what others do and mimic them, similar to SpongePeter AmnesiaPants? Whatever the rules, it’s obvious that Monica has found the one thing that may finally get her out of New Orleans for good–and hopefully before we get another semi-exploitive montage of underwater row houses.

Interesting new heroes, answers to a couple of pressing questions, several tantalizing new ones–this felt like the Heroes of old to me. Of course, that’s only because it focused on the characters and plotlines I enjoy and completely avoided the ones I don’t, which, as always, is where your results may vary with this show. If you tune in for Hiro’s comic misadventures or you’re one of the many who swoon over Milo Ventimiglia, for example, you probably felt as indifferent towards “The Kindness Of Strangers” as I felt towards the last two episodes. But for me this was as much a turning point for the second season of Heroes as it was for Nathan Petrelli: It finally stopped sulking in the corner, shaved off its beard, and got down to business. It’s good to see it again.

According to The A.V. Club review of Fight Or Flight:

It must be nice to be a Heroes cast member, knowing that–unlike the stars of some other ensemble shows–you don’t have to be on set every single week. Those third-tier schmucks over on ER, for example, probably spend half their year hanging around, waiting to scrub in and say, “We’re losing her!” while the director tries to decide what lighting best captures John Stamos’ stubble. If you’re a Heroes cast member, however, you probably just pick up a script, see that it’s a Parkman-heavy episode, and you know that you’re free to catch up on your TiVo this week. (Or in the case of Hayden Panettiere, your forthcoming album.) The constant flip-flopping of focus is like guaranteed vacation days–and God knows no one needs them more than our nation’s overworked television stars.

As I’ve said before, it also makes the show more than a little schizophrenic. Depending on which storyline you’re interested in–or which characters you like and which ones you absolutely loathe–your opinion of Heroes can change drastically from week to week. Many viewers (myself included), for example, have shown little patience for Claire’s budding romance with her superpower enabler, Captain Emo, and all of its attendant who-gives-a-shit. I personally have been less than thrilled with Hiro and Peter’s respective excursions to foreign lands and their apparent lack of interest in contributing to the main plot. I’m not naïve enough to presume that these three supposedly unrelated tangents aren’t going to dovetail with the overarching story eventually, but so far the pacing has been slower than Parkman climbing a fifth-story walk-up.

Tonight that changed somewhat, with the crosscutting between characters and storylines attaining some of the nimble rhythm the show had during the fleeter moments of the first season. (In fact, we managed to check in with just about everyone except for Claire, so maybe the blame for the show’s relative leadenness as of late can be laid at her regenerating feet?) The timing seems right for that kind of quickening: “Fight Or Flight” marks the halfway point of the first “volume” of the season, so the hour for dallying is past. If we’re going to wrap up the Mystery Of The Hooded Killer by episode 11, then we should probably have some idea of who the bad guy is by now.

Or, I suppose they could just keep tossing us red herrings like Parkman’s father and pull some sort of Scooby-Doo twist out of their ass at the last minute. Maybe I’m misreading things, but Pa Parkman’s powers of mind control–while certainly evil–obviously don’t have much to do with Kaito’s death. After all, if Pa Parkman were really responsible for Kaito’s murder, it would have probably involved some sort of hallucination–similar to the one that left Matt and Nathan at each other’s throats–not something so vulgarly low-tech as an old-fashioned tackle, right? Not to mention he’s considerably bulkier than the Hooded Killer, and he certainly wouldn’t have gotten up and walked away afterward. Clearly he has something to do with it all–in addition to Angela Petrelli’s freakout in the holding cell (and Molly’s coma), that Black Spot photo of Company Bob says as much–but there’s still another piece to this puzzle.

But we’ll have to wait for those answers, because Parkman–despite all of his prior vocal misgivings–melted like the sentimental sad sack that he is and made the very Parkman-like mistake of trusting the man who abandoned him all those years ago after a couple of crinkly-eyed apologies. At least he’s not the only one making questionable choices: Peter is still hanging around Ireland despite anticlimactically opening The Box to reveal a passport, an open ticket to Montreal, a photo of he and Nathan, and a handful of wadded bills that the hardened Irish criminals were apparently too thoughtful to pocket. Yet now that Peter finally knows his name and that he definitely, absolutely doesn’t belong there, he still shows no interest in seeking answers, preferring to let his past be his past and to start a new life with the Irish lass whose incredible superpower is making the world’s most mediocre art. Thank God his old Isaac-sponged powers kicked in; I was half-hoping his finished painting would just be big block letters reading, “What do you see in this girl?”

Speaking of which, Hiro’s Wacky Samurai Adventure is progressing apace–by which I mean it’s still dragging along interminably. As Hiro himself says, “It’s like living in a storybook, only more tiring.” Exactly–and with all of the good parts cut out. You know by now that I’m not a big fan of Niki, but her brief scenes tonight were, by contrast, blessedly brief and action-packed, and all the more effective for it. I know some of you have insisted that Niki has the virus, but I still believe my initial reading was correct, and that she’s looking to get rid of Extra-Strength Jessica for good. Having Company Bob come right out and say that she’s suffering from multiple personality disorder actually seemed like a blunt rejoinder to all the Heroes fans who have long insisted that there’s something more supernatural at play. And even if she or he were lying, her telling Mohinder in confidence that only the Company can help her with “what I’ve done and what I’m capable of” certainly doesn’t sound like she’s involuntarily losing her powers to me.

Elsewhere this week: For all of those people (me included) who wish the heroes would stop sulking and have a little fun with their gifts for once, we have Monica and Micah frolicking around New Orleans, learning kung fu from Bruce Lee movies and playing double-dutch. The idea that Monica is a “copycat” is promising, since it means she can conceivably mirror anything she sees, not just what she catches on TV, but we’re still not sure if this extends to superpowers. For example, since she’s seen the Poltergeist-y thing Micah can do with the TV, can she do it too? Unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’ll get to come back to that for a little while, now that Mohinder has showed up. To tase her, bro. (That witless reference was a public service, saving all of you commenters the trouble.)

And while I’ve been stifling myself throughout this whole review, all I really want to talk about is Kristen Bell, flaxen-haired goddess of the diodes, who arrived this week looking and sounding a lot like Veronica Mars–albeit with much lamer dialogue and a homicidal streak that manifests in the disconcerting ability to shoot Sith lord sparks from her hand. (Still hot, though.) Darth Veronica would appear to be the source of Peter’s newfound powers, and her interest in finding him is obviously tied to the Company–not to mention whomever she calls “Daddy” (besides me in my dreams)–but as of tonight we still don’t know much about her other than she’s sorta evil, she’s a smartass, and she looks great even in a bulky overcoat. Thanks for the tease, Kristen; see you in a few. Of course, the whole thing absolutely reeks of stunt casting, and I definitely sense a soap-operatic “she’s Claire’s long-lost sister!”-type twist coming on, but still–it’s Kristen Bell! Hurray!

Maybe it’s just the Bell-related blood rush, but tonight’s episode seemed to fly by, Peter and Hiro’s bits aside. The giddiness of Micah and Monica’s scenes were a nice change of pace from the constant brooding that’s permeated the season thus far (some of that was also due to the noticeable lack of The Toxic Twins), and I especially enjoyed the glimpses into Nathan and Parkman’s respective nightmares–although who doesn’t love a charred, apocalyptic landscape? And hey, did I mention Kristen Bell? I’m pretty sure you could put her in an episode of Mind Of Mencia and I’d still give it at least a B.

According to The A.V. Club review of The Line:

With this season of Heroes promising little and delivering even less when it comes to the kind of compelling plot that drove the first season, many of you have made your displeasure known, including threatening to abandon the show altogether. While I may grouse every now and again (and again), I’ve yet to be anywhere close to quitting–and even if I wanted to, I’m not really allowed–but I can certainly sympathize. The big problem is that thus far Heroes hasn’t really seemed to be heading anywhere but further up its own ass. Little mysteries like the Hooded Killer subplot and the exposure of Parkman’s dad as the Nightmare Man were interesting (for all of an episode or two) but are ultimately too little to hang a season on, even one broken up into easily digestible volumes.

We need an endgame, and tonight the final five minutes of “The Line” finally gave us what we’ve been waiting for, a glimpse of what will presumably be the season-defining plot. As it turns out, though, we’ve seen it all before: An apocalypse now-ish New York of the not-too-distant future (June 2008, conveniently; nice how the world always ends just before summer recess), and only Peter–and whoever else the NBC announcer was referring to as “The Good”–can save it. Of course, it’s not exactly the same scenario as last time. Instead of a bunch of bombed-out skyscrapers, we saw the after-effects of a viral outbreak (which in turn looks a lot like 28 Days Later) that apparently killed off 93% of the world’s population–Shanti’s virus, most likely, which means someone at The Company either really screwed up, or they’re more evil than we ever thought.

So far I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve sensed the writers digging at something here with all the talk of genetics and viruses this season, but I’m not sure I have total faith in the way it will all play out. It’s a theme that’s been hinted at since the show began, this idea that abilities spring up unwanted and without warning, not unlike a disease. It’s what gives the show its pathos: Yes, having the ability to fly or read minds or regenerate toes makes these people special, but it also makes them different from everyone else, and not being able to change that is scary. In a way, it’s no different from being born with autism or Tourette’s or any other hereditary disorder in that they have zero choice in the matter (no wonder the heroes are always bitching). Unfortunately, X-Men has already pretty much exhausted the idea of superpowers as a form of evolutionary mutation, so Heroes has had to hedge its bets with an increasingly convoluted mythology and hints of the supernatural, when choosing to be one or the other would probably serve the story better. Still, despite my reservations, I have hopes for the virus plot. It’s not as big and flashy (or fun) as trying to stop an exploding man, but it could finally revive some of the deliciously darker undercurrents of the show that have so far been shunted in favor of soapy melodrama.

And those unexpectedly dark moments are really what this show does best–better than light and fluffy romantic subplots, anyway–which is why it was nice to see Claire get a little taste of being evil tonight thanks to Captain Emo, who seems to have studied the Christian Slater-in-Heathers manual on how to turn a good girl bad. Step one: Focus on a common enemy, in this case the stock bitchy cheerleading captain who wouldn’t let Claire join the squad despite her impassioned routine about the importance of recycling. (P.S. WTF?) Having Claire use her abilities toward a shallow, self-centered end is hopefully just the first step on her road to corruption, which can only be followed by a disastrous break-up and–this is just my fantasy–a tear-streaked Captain Emo flying directly into the sun. Of course, we still have a ways to go before she finally wises up to “cool guys” (and I’m still pretty sure West was the one holding the gun in that painting of a capped Bennet) but I’m just glad that the hint of sociopath I saw in Captain Emo wasn’t just wishful thinking. Big Fun.

And really, it can’t be that hard to turn Claire evil. After all, she was raised by Bennet, who–lest we forget after all those weeks of playing overprotective Daddy–reminded us why he used to be considered the show’s villain by torturing his former mentor before killing him in cold blood. Bennet got what he wanted (the remainder of Isaac’s paintings), but at the cost of turning himself into enemy number one to the Company he’s been hiding from–”condemning himself to hell,” as Ivan put it, although I don’t really think it made much of a difference either way. At best, Bennet has been stuck in a Purgatory of his own making ever since taking Claire into his life, and it’s not like he didn’t off Thompson in last year’s finale, so what’s one more dead former partner? Although his way with bosses has pretty much ruined his chances of getting hired anywhere else; maybe he should have asked for letters of recommendation before blowing their brains out.

Also taking a walk on the dark side tonight–albeit in a totally expected way–was Kensei, who betrayed both Hiro and Yaeko after he witnessed them kiss. Of course, any dramatic change in their middling little subplot can only be a good thing, and now we know from the paintings Bennet unearthed that a showdown is ahead for Hiro and Kensei, which should finally spell the end of his little misadventure. Here’s hoping that we actually get to see it; tonight we once again caught the beginning of an epic samurai battle, only to have it yanked away from us at the last moment–literally freezing the action–in favor of rehashing the exposition for Ando’s benefit. If I didn’t know any better I would say the Heroes writers are deliberately fucking with us–but they can’t possibly be that cocky yet, right? Anyway, Hiro’s quest is winding to a close, and even Peter made the first step towards being interesting again by leaving Ireland. Of course, he dragged that damn barmaid along, he’s still suffering from amnesia, and he’s only uncovering more and more questions in Montreal instead of regrouping with people who could actually help him, but hey, at least he’s trying something new besides roll-neck sweaters.

Now while I don’t generally like to discuss sources besides the episodes themselves, I couldn’t help Googling “Adam Monroe,” only to find out that he’s been mentioned before outside of the show: Heroes: The Mobile Gamenames him as one of the original founders of The Company, so it seems as though either he’s turned against his former colleagues, or he’s one of many who’s caught on that manipulating Peter is super easy (not to mention fun!). It’s probably too soon for such speculation, of course, but what the fuck…Who wants to play a round of wild guessing? Monroe is the Hooded Killer! Monroe is Darth Veronica’s father! Monroe is Kensei! Monroe shot Mr. Burns! Whee! Please don’t turn out to be totally lame!

Considering this show is running low on mysteries, Monroe couldn’t have come at a better time; hopefully his revelation will be more like the first time we met Sylar than the first time we met Pa Parkman (and if he really does turn out to be Kensei, I’m going to be pissed). Speaking of Sylar, we got far too little of his oily charm tonight, but seeing him put the moves on Maya and then calmly tell Alejandro that he was going to kill him reminded me of just how much is at stake when Zachary Quinto reports to the Enterprise bridge later this year. Really, this show needs to introduce a worthy villain and fast–and I mean an out-and-out, unapologetic villain whose sole motivation is to hurt and kill, not an “is she or isn’t she?” enigma who toes the line like Niki. While I think having her around to spy on Mohinder certainly ratchets up the tension–and it also cuts down on the number of moral high roads he can take in every episode–there’s just no way she’s going to go black and never go back. (Obviously that didn’t even work with D.L.) She has a kid, for Christ’s sake. Her redemption is just sitting out there waiting in New Orleans, like a big storm system threatening to flood the show with sappy, tear-filled hugs.

All in all, “The Line” was a nice hint of dark things to come, but still somewhat lacking in forward motion. I miss that rollercoaster rush of the earlier episodes, where it felt like everyone’s individual plot was careening towards the dizzying peaks and crushing lows together; so far this season is more like the bumper cars, which everyone knows are way more frustrating than they are fun. Next week we’ll learn about the new end of the world, we’ll supposedly be closer to a conclusion to Hiro’s journey, and hopefully we’ll get one of those decent cliffhangers that have been missing this season before we jump back to “Four Months Ago “(which may or may not undo some of the ill will the writers generated with the premiere). I’m going to cautiously say that this episode marked the season’s ascension–and hopefully it won’t prove to be just another plateau.

And damn it, I knew I painted myself into a corner with last week’s “B.” If there were a mark between B and B+, I would use it. How about

According to The A.V. Club review of Truth & Consequences:

Coming off of last week’s rousing return to form and being the last stop before the final episode (of Volume 2 and–should the writers’ strike linger into ’08–possibly the season), “Truth And Consequences” couldn’t help but be a bit of a letdown. After all, it was more of a means to an end: Its sole purpose was to up the stakes for the finale, and on that note it more or less succeeded. Once again though, in its rush to the finish line, Heroes handled things with all of the tenderness and loving care of a priapic 15-year-old boy. I don’t ask much from my TV shows–I don’t always need a lover with a slow hand, you dig–but would it kill you to take a breath and pace yourself a little, Heroes? Why do I always feel like you’re panting over me, about to make a mess in my hair?

For example, tonight we finally met Victoria Pratt–played by the esteemed Joanna Cassidy, a.k.a. the fabulously self-absorbed Margaret Chenowith from Six Feet Under (and yes, fanboy, she was also in Blade Runner)–and before she had time to so much as toss a withering one-liner in Peter’s direction, she was gone, disposed of by KenAdam with a shotgun blast to the head. In their haste to hurry up and blow their load, the writers used her as a cheap piece of plot advancement meat and tossed her away when they were done; let’s hope Cassidy got considerably more than scale for her pitiful amount of screen time. In fact, Victoria’s most important scenes actually took place in 1977–and were thus played by a different actress–when a time-traveling Hiro happened upon the exact moment that she and his father were helpfully recounting the events that led to KenAdam’s incarceration. So as much as I like Cassidy, I have to ask: Was Victoria’s character even necessary? Aside from her unsuccessful murder attempt on KenAdam, she didn’t really do much besides accidentally give up the location of the virus (which conveniently happens to be one of the main Heroes playsets from last season). She could have at least tossed us a couple of bones and told us what Angela or Kaito’s powers were. Oh well. So much for that last mysterious Company founder. Here’s hoping Cassidy will pop up in a flashback.

In fact, all that tangent really did was further illustrate how unbelievably fucking gullible Peter is, a trait (inherited from Mohinder) that’s plagued his character all season. I’m really beginning to wonder if, when the producers first mapped out this volume, their notes read something like, “Peter: How can we make people hate him?” so blatantly have they squandered his once banked-upon likeability. Between his frustrating refusal to leave Ireland, his migraine-inducing fascination with Betsy O’Barmaid, and his newly acquired superpower of being manipulated faster than a Giuliani supporter, Peter hasn’t made a good decision yet–much to Heroes‘ detriment. Obviously we’re being set up for a final showdown with KenAdam, where Peter realizes what an asshole he’s been all along for trusting him, but will that be enough? Can he ever go back to being the show’s empathetic center after all this? I’m not so sure. As of now, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Hiro run him through with his sword next week.

Elsewhere we got a look at the fallout from Bennet’s supposed death, with Claire threatening to magically summon the Haitian (I’m pretty sure he can only see those wind chimes when he’s in town, Claire) to come and wipe away the memories of her father–until Captain Emo steps in with a few words of…well, whatever. I sort of tuned out, as I have resolved to do with Captain Emo from now on, until they finally come around and make him evil. Anyway, Bennet’s not really dead–as we saw last week, he’s been revived by a big bag of Type O-Claire being tended to by an unrepentant Mohinder–although Company Bob cruelly plays along, turning up with an urn full of fake ashes and making promises to leave the family alone while simultaneously placing Darth Veronica on “cheerleader watch.” I have to admit, I’m having trouble trying to parse Bob’s motivations on this one (Why all the mincing around? Why not just grab her and be done with it?), so I’ll just leave it alone until Bennet’s “surprise” return next week, when I assume it will make more sense.

Speaking of returns, Niki’s own homecoming was considerably less dramatic, and was immediately overshadowed by a lame subplot involving Micah’s cousin stealing his backpack–and with it, D.L.’s medal–only to lose it to a group of generic thugs. Oh well. At least it gave Monica and Micah an excuse to use their powers to right a wrong, embracing them in a way many viewers probably wish all the heroes would. Too bad Monica’s handy video iPod apparently didn’t have a rewind function, so she couldn’t figure out how to get out of the house the way she came in. Now we have a less-than-compelling “Monica is kidnapped!” thread to rush through during next week’s allotted ten minutes. Will Niki come to the rescue with some clobberin’? Will Micah see his dream of being the Fantastic Four fulfilled? How cloying is that whole “I talk to streetlights!” thing anyway?

As always, the most satisfying storyline of the evening belonged to Sylar, who did us all a favor by finally doing away with Alejandro, who died as he lived: hissing his disapproval. (A moment of silence, please, for my Toxic Twins sobriquet.) Having schooled Maya in the art of controlling her power (which, from what I can tell, just involves thinking about it real hard) and bonded with her over their both being murderers (this is just like an eHarmony commercial!), Sylar somehow convinced Maya to leave behind her twin brother–you know, the one she’d spent her whole life attached to–aided by the hypnotic powers of his hairy chest. (Eat that, Milo.) Then they both somehow found their way into Mohinder’s apartment (that’s some babysitter you hired, Parkman) where we left them, with Sylar watching over a sleeping Molly while Maya makes goo-goo eyes at him. Anyone want to bet that the soothsayer’s foreshadowing of how Maya has the power to “kill the Devil himself” is getting ready to play itself out? Here’s a bigger question: Anybody thinking of bailing if Sylar dies?

And so there you have it: The stage is set for a showdown between Hiro, Peter, and KenAdam in Odessa; Mohinder has no choice but to walk into Sylar’s trap; Claire is threatening to go public with her powers to make the Company look bad (not sure how that’s supposed to work); Monica has been kidnapped; and we’re only one episode away from the end of Volume Two, with the likelihood of a hastily added alternate ending to make it a season finale looking to be all but a certainty. As a precursor to the real action, “Truth And Consequences” was serviceable, but–and this is the last time I’ll say it (at least for this week)–had we not wasted so much time in early part of the season, it could have been so much more. Expertly done, after all, foreplay can sometimes be the best part. Unfortunately, this felt more like a desperate dry hump.

According to The A.V. Club review of Powerless:

Looks like we made it, Heroes fans (and people who hate the show but watch anyway so they can bitch about it). Volume Two is finally closed and we’ve come to the end of our wild, crazy ride–which, OK, was more like a frustratingly cramped ride over an uneven road with several forced detours to lame tourist destinations. Unfortunately, I know about as much as you do as to whether “Powerless” was meant to, as rumored, stand as a season finale–although my guess is that the tacked-on teaser for Volume Three is a way to hedge their bets–but given that the WGA is apparently no closer to a resolution than they were last week, those intentionally vague “Heroes will be back in 2008″ promos are still just wishful thinking at this point. So for all intents and purposes, this was the big send-off meant to wrap the story up for a while, and you have to hand it to them for going out with so many cliffhangers at once. If you’ve bothered to watch the show for this long, there’s just no way curiosity won’t get the better of you when the show finally comes back…whenever that may be.

Let’s get right to the big turn of events: As promised in last week’s promo, two heroes fell, and–despite many of the predictions I read–the show didn’t go with safe bets like Maya or Darth Veronica. Much to my own personal glee, Niki apparently met her end while finally doing something heroic (ironically, without her powers) while saving Monica from a fire set by one of the generic thugs from last week. As to whether she’s really gone or not, well, the ensuing explosion doesn’t look promising, and it would take a lot of backtracking to make any sort of resurrection or escape scenario believable. But then again, this is Heroes, where any death-defying leap of logic is kosher so long as it’s properly explained away with a couple of quick flashback scenes and a little bit of expository dialogue. Although if the show really has the guts to kill off one of its major characters–even an unpopular one whose arc stopped being interesting around episode two–then hey, rats off to ya! Here’s hoping that (after a brief grieving process, of course) Micah and Monica will become the show’s only duo of heroes actively devoted to enjoying their powers. We could definitely use a little fresh blood.

Speaking of which, I firmly do not believe that the show has the stones to make Nathan’s shooting anything but a temporary setback, since we’ve already proved that all anyone needs is a quick fix of Claire’s (or KenAdam’s) blood to make them right as rain. Furthermore, while Heroes could stand to lose Niki’s D.O.A. storyline, getting rid of the show’s other top-tier male lead is pretty unthinkable. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s only mostly dead, and that once Nathan regains his strength, there’s going to be a lot to answer for from Mother Of The Year Angela Petrelli, who not only urged Parkman to put a bullet in Peter’s head, she apparently was in on Nathan’s assassination attempt. Now that Nathan, Peter, and Parkman have resolved that they’re no longer going to put up with any more Company secrets or pay for the sins of their fathers (and one icy bitch of a mother), “Pandora’s Box” is officially open. Er, whatever that means.

And who was that spotted striding away from Nathan’s assassination? We only saw the back of him from a distance so it’s pretty much wild speculatin’ time again, but to me it looked an awful lot like Bennet, who agreed to be reinstated to Company service in order to (what else?) keep Claire safe. The reunion scene with/farewell to his family where he explained all that was as rushed and emotionally hollow as we’ve come to expect from this show, with hardly a word to forgotten son Lyle (seriously, kill this poor kid already) and a nary a hug goodbye, but of course, we’ve been trained to believe that Bennet is always two steps ahead of everybody else–except, you know, the whole bullet-in-the-eye thing–so it’s pretty much a given that we’ll see the Bennets reunited before too long. (Although, if it turns out Bennet actually was the guy who shot Claire’s biological father, things might get a little awkward.)

As for the other troubled blond girl with daddy issues, this week Darth Veronica found redemption by saving Mohinder, Maya, and Molly from Sylar, and got a little taste of what it feels like to be a hero in the process. (Apparently it feels “cool.”) We also got a little more of her backstory–at age seven, her father nearly killed her with his experiments–which didn’t do much to explain why she was so eager to make him proud of her. But then again, plenty of women stay in abusive, love/hate relationships…

..unlike Maya, however, who finally got wise after little Molly told her what any rational person would have figured out long ago, namely that Sylar murdered her brother. Unfortunately, she didn’t get much time to be a sister scorned before Sylar put a bullet in her. (Between Simone, Isaac, and now Maya, that apartment sure has seen a lot of blood spilled. Good thing it’s not carpeted.) But even Heroes knows that killing off the new kids as one of the “fallen” would be a cop-out–besides, she still hasn’t used her power to kill “the Devil himself”–so Maya became the umpteenth person to be revived by a hot Claire injection. Now that she’s back and righteously pissed, the stage is set for her to seek her revenge in Volume Three, and we can only assume that Mohinder, Molly, and maybe even Darth Veronica will play a role in that.

And finally, the most important development of the episode was that Peter accomplished his goal–in the most ass-backwards way possible–of destroying the virus. After a time-freezing stand-off with Hiro and a pretty fun powers-of-suggestion-off with Parkman, Peter finally came to his senses about KenAdam–and whaddayaknow, all it took was Nathan telling him he loved him. (Jesus, how is it that Parkman is the only one who can’t manipulate Peter?) If we can take solace in anything tonight, it’s that Peter’s quest to save Betsy O’Barmaid has finally come to an end–at least, I fucking hope so–and he seems to have realized what an utterly gullible ass he’s been for the last three months. As for KenAdam, he’s buried (for now) in a grave near the elder Nakamuras, while a grim-faced Hiro is back in the office with Ando (I guess having your father die is enough to overlook the months of no-shows?). Of course, we already know that David Anders signed on for a full season, so we’re contractually bound to be seeing him again. Wonder if he and the newly reenergized Sylar will be friends or foes in the “Villains” part of Volume Three?

Questions for another day, I’m afraid, one with a rosier outlook on Heroes‘ creative future than I can offer at present. Pondering whether Niki or Nathan will live, whether Bennet shot Nathan, how KenAdam will escape, whether Peter and Hiro will ever make up, when Maya will get her revenge on Sylar, whether Darth Veronica will become a force for good, how Claire and her family will fare without Bennet to boss them around, or if there’s an all-out war brewing between the Company and the heroes–these are things you’ll just have to kick around on your own for a while. I have to admit, I spent most of this season being disappointed, but this episode really turned it around…just in time for it to be over. Anyway, I’ve done enough bitching about Heroes for the last several months, and I think we (the charitable among us) can all agree that season two has been a pretty middling affair at best. Maybe the forced hiatus and mediocre critical reception thus far is just what the show needs? Perhaps when we meet again, we’ll be talking about what a difference a writers’ strike can make, and wondering aloud at how we ever thought of giving up.

And if not, well, I’ll be here to make more snotty comments. See you then.

 

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Next in the best and worst is Volume I – Genesis.

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