Maybe I’ve been wrong about Heroes. All along, I thought the show was supposed to be a serialized science-fiction mytho-pop thriller, one of those post-Lost shows that hurtles a diverse cast of eccentric characters through a morally ambiguous world filled with long-running mysteries and soap opera played like epic melodrama. By that criteria, Heroes has become one of the worst shows on TV. The characters have been shorn of all dimensionality and purpose: it’s often unclear why anyone does anything now. The only real mystery of this season is what, exactly, Samuel Sullivan is planning to do, and since none of the good guys know what Big Bad’s evil plan is, all of their actions have an airless quality.
And maybe the biggest problem with the show – again, this is working under my assumption that Heroes comes from the same genre as Battlestar Galactica, FlashFoward, Firefly, The 4400, and the Nickelodeon stealth classic The Tomorrow People – is that the characters themselves never really change very much. Our main characters have experienced some wonderful and terrible things, but it never seems to alter them one bit. Sure, nowadays Mohinder can punch through a door, and Ando can fire red lightning out of his fingertips, but they’re still the same old characters, destined (doomed?) to repeat the same old scenarios. Mohinder will accidentally use his science for evil. Ando will help get Hiro out of a jam. And Noah Bennet will have a deeply weird paranoid fixation on the safety of his Claire Bear.
In that sense, last night’s episode was a repetitive snooze.
Quick, tell me where you’ve heard this before: Noah’s been lying to Claire for her own protection. Claire finds out and is upset. Noah tries to make it up to her by doing his Company Man thing, hence digging his hole even deeper. He thinks Claire needs a protector but all she really needs is a father. Ding ding! If you said, “I’ve heard that exact plotline every single time Noah Bennet appears on Heroes,” then you’re correct!
Fate has decreed that Noah will always be protecting his daughter from something. This season they even gave good ol’ HRG a romantic subplot, but the only thing he and Lauren ever bond over is protecting Claire. The fact that Elisabeth Rohm looks a little bit like Hayden Panettiere makes the whole thing seem creepily pathological. It doesn’t help that Jack Coleman’s flirtatious smile is also his fatherly smile.
However, last night’s Heroes was eerily watchable. I’m not going to say that it was good – I’m not even sure that the ingredients are still in the mix for this show to ever be good again, at least without an immediate Timkringectomy – but it was pleasantly inoffensive. The show’s mediocrity has become leisurely. The myriad clichés have almost become comfortable, like posters your parents still keep on the walls of your old room. As I sat on my couch last night frantically typing notes, I found myself yearning for a big book (perhaps a Presidential biography) and a cup of warm milk, with maybe some light jazz playing on the record player and some fresh carrots to nibble. And a fire in the fire place. And a cat at my feet purring quietly in her sleep.
What I’m saying is that Heroes is best enjoyed not as a serialized show, where everything can change at any moment, but rather, as an old-fashioned family drama (cynics can call it a sitcom), where the particulars might change but the character dynamics are always lovingly consistent. Last night, there was lots of talk about “friends” – Peter called Noah his friend (as in, “The last time I saw a compass like this, my friend got stabbed!”), Noah called Matt his friend, and Matt spoke sorrowfully about letting down “Friends… people I care about.”
Everybody is everybody’s pal on Heroes now – Sylar is the neighborhood delinquent, Samuel Sullivan is the kooky neighbor next door, but no one’s ever really in much danger, except for the Multiplier’s Multiples, who evaporate bloodlessly into thin air if anyone is even a little rude to them. (“Oh no, my only weakness: mild hostility!” Least threatening henchman/men ever? Yes.) This isn’t the stuff of great drama, but on a well-oiled episode like last night – which had a couple of good lines, a great guest-star, and the first hint of playful self-awareness we’ve seen in years – Heroes approaches something reasonably compelling. Call it negative boredom.
Fun Times at the Carnival of the Lame
Lydia the Tatooo Lady epitomizes everything I was just rambling about. She’s not really a main character, but she appears all the time (certainly more than Mohinder or Ando). She never really does anything, but she’s always threatening to do something. If you actually expect her to do anything, you might get frustrated. But if, like me, you have come to realize that the whole purpose of Lydia is to frown and look like she has a secret, then the beginning of this episode was as comfortable for you as the sound of a rooster crowing at the start of another day on Grammy’s farm.
Lydia was hanging out with her daughter Amanda, the star of the Heroes Sprint webisodes Slow Burn. I was going to watch Slow Burn, but then instead I just carried on living my life. “If this family is going to survive, we are going to need a new leader,” explained Lydia. She could feel someone out in the world, someone who “may be the next Joseph. He’s just so far away.” “Well,” said her Sprint-sponsored daughter, “Maybe you can call him.” I was waiting for Amanda to hand her mother a Sprint phone and say “Best of all, no roaming charges!” But instead the camera just zoomed in nauseatingly close to Lydia’s face, as she used her amazing powers of whatever to contact the only remotely interesting character left on this show…
I Am Become Peter, Destroyer of Musical Instruments
Peter also had some calls to make. “That tattoo on my arm showed up again,” he said, leaving a message on Noah’s presumably-Sprint phone. Suddenly, a strange tune called him up to Emma’s apartment, who explained: “I brought you here! With music!” Peter noticed the compass on the cello and said, with something like gravitas, “Where did you get this cello?” Emma then showed him the compass that Samuel gave her. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s three compasses in one scene. Spooky! Scary!
Right then, Mama Petrelli showed up and freaked out. She doesn’t like the looks of Emma. “Peter, she’s gonna kill thousands of people,” she explained. She had another one of her scary future dreams. But she wouldn’t explain to Peter what she was so worried about. So Peter borrowed her power to see for himself.
And what did he see? Well, Emma was playing her cello inside of the hall of mirrors. The camera was shaking, Emma looked sad, and people were screaming in the background. Apropos of nothing, Sylar showed up and said, “Don’t worry. I’ve come to save you.”
Hmmm, so Emma is somehow going to be used to kill a whole lot of people? Is this Samuel’s master plan? We haven’t had any hints that Samuel is planning mass homicide, but whatever, the premonition dream has spoken! Peter went to see Emma, and in what might be the most hilarious non sequitur moment ever, he walked into the deaf girl’s apartment, picked up the cello that had brought her so much happiness, and crushed it against the floor. He then tried to explain: “I have these dreams about you!” “You broke my cello because you had a dream?”
Peter Petrelli, attempting in vain to connect the dots of this strange Season 4 plotline: “That compass you have? My tattoo? It’s all connected to the cello!”
Bennet and Parkman: Best Friends Are We!
You want to talk about freaky dreams? Matt Parkman had a freaky dream. He wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. He wanted to cook his wife and son some god damn ratatouille. He didn’t want to be a regular character on Heroes anymore. But then Noah Bennet showed up and ruined everything.
Noah: “I’ve left you five messages!” On your Sprint phone! “Ever heard of a guy named Samuel Sullivan?” No, Parkman shook his head, I wasn’t in that plotline this season. I had Sylar in my head because the Heroes writers have BSG envy his personality downloaded into my brain. “Listen,” Noah explained, “The Sylar thing was a terrible idea. We all admit that.” See what I mean about self-awareness?
“This Sullivan guy,” explained Noah, “He’s a very bad man.” Parkman: “Well, so’s Bin Laden. You’re gonna have to do better than that.” Zing! But Noah managed to convince Parkman to help out, and next thing you know, the Dynamic Duo were hunting down Samuel’s old galpal, Vanessa… played by KATE VERNON, aka, Ellen Tigh of BSG fame! Kate Vernon is such a great actress that she managed to make the undigestible lumps of dialogue given to Vanessa sound like something out of the Vagina Monologues:
“He used to write me these poems… it didn’t matter that his family lived in a carriage house and his father called my father sir… He showed up in my room one night. I was just in the right place for a bad boyfriend… He wanted me to run away with him. I mean, a carnival! I was getting a music degree at Yale.”
Can we see an entire TV show about this lady instead? Anyway, Noah convinced Vanessa to call her freaky Big Bad stalker ex-boyfriend terrakinetic. “Do us a favor, and call him,” he said, and cherish the way that the show went to slow-motion as he pushed his Sprint phone across the table to her.
Naturally, Noah and Matt had a plan to snag Samuel, and naturally, their plans were all for nothing, and Samuel got away with his lady love. Noah learned a valuable lesson from Matt about paying more attention to his family instead of being a hero, while Matt learned a valuable lesson from Noah about being a hero even if it means not paying attention to his family. Round and round the merry-go-round!
Meanwhile, Back At The Asylum
God help me, viewers, but I thought the Hiro/Ando/Mohinder plotline last night was enjoyable. Okay, enjoyable is too strong a word, but considering how utterly stupid and pointless everything about this plotline was (we saw them escape from the asylum three episodes ago, recall), I was surprised by how snappy the dialogue was. There was a time when Hiro was a hero, Ando was a noble sidekick, and Mohinder wasn’t intentionally annoying, but if you buy the fact that they’ve all become all lobotomized clowns dancing a clownish puppet dance for our amusement, then their idiotic antics will flow right past your brain into the pleasure receptors at the base of your skull.
Ando was committing Hiro to the insane asylum in Florida. Hiro was still talking in a language of pure nerdspeak, but Ando figured out that he wanted to rescue Mohinder. (I have no idea how Hiro used his powers of time and space to get Mohinder into the insane asylum, but Plot! Listens! To no one!) Mohinder was checked in under the name Ahmadi, and in the interest of providing you with the complete recap experience, I have to note that Ahmadi is the name for a follower of Ahmadiyya, a religious movement that believed, among other things, that Jesus died of old age while searching for the Lost Tribes of Israel. (Since this is Heroes, I’m guessing that information is unimportant.)
“But Dr. Suresh has super-strength. Why hasn’t he broken out?” asked Ando. Hiro: “The stormtroopers have drugged his senses with Jawa juice.” I don’t know what’s more depressing about that line: that I was about to call “Shenanigans!” on Hiro because there’s no such thing as Jawa juice, or that I actually discovered something called Jawa juice on Wookieepedia, or that this isn’t the first time I’ve looked at Wookieepedia this week.
It was up to Ando to exchange Mohinder’s meds for aspirin. The heist was so amateurish (he walked up to the orderly’s medical cart and slipped in the aspirin when the orderly’s back was turned) that it turned the corner from ridiculous and back to realistic. The orderly was suspicious. “I was just admiring your cart!” said Ando. “I work in a cart factory.” Viewers, a smile cracked my impervious stone face.
The orderly held out his hand to shake. “I’m Buck.” Ando looked horrified: Mohinder’s Jawa juice pills were in his right hand! He faked a sneeze, then held out his hand: “I’m Chuck!” The orderly eschewed a handshake, but settled for a hardy pat on the back. And Ando swallowed the pills! I guffawed. What a charming little scene. I wish the show could stay in this farcical asylum forever.
Mohinder managed to break out of his cell. More importantly, the aspirin cured his chronic back ache. But Ando was shooting off red lightning and cruising on a kooky trip. Hiro and Mohinder pushed him out of the hospital on a wheelchair. Ando: “It’s like swimming, but inside out!” James Kyson Lee FTW!
Because this is Florida, the renegades ran into a swamp. Hiro: “We must away before the stormtroopers are upon us.” Mohinder: “I’ve had just about enough of your nonsense, Hiro.” The way that Sendhil Ramamurthy delivered that line, with all his haughty aristocratic bearing and his strait-laced Paul Henreid sincerity, made me love Mohinder Suresh for literally the first time ever.
Hiro was still acting lobotomized, but Mohinder had a great idea: “You can use your red lightning!” he explained to Ando. (I like how Ando’s power is just “Red Lightning” – the actual powers change depending on what the plot demands, but whatever happens, you can bet that red lightning will be involved, yessir!) And then, out of nowhere, came the best dialogue exchange on Heroes since Season 1:
Ando: “Hiro once saw a future where I killed him with my red lightning.”
Mohinder: “Was it in Florida?”
Mohinder: “Then we’re good to go.”
Further up the Eastern Seaboard, Noah Bennet was just in the midst of telling his Haitianized love just how much he cared (because Heroes is a Sprint production, the first thing he asked her was: “You get my messages?”) “I care for you more than I want to admit,” he said. This touched her. Something about this man – his wry smile, his taser, his horn-rimmed glasses – made her heart go aflutter. They kissed.
Boom! Cue Hiro, Ando, and Mohinder, their mental-patient outfit covered in Everglades mud, teleporting into the far corner of the Bennet apartment. “Sorry to pop in like this!” said Hiro. And Noah Bennet, bless his soul, looked bemused and nonplussed as he delivered the valedictory line of the night: “Hello, boys!”
Listen, like I said, this was all pretty stupid, and Heroes certainly isn’t the show it once was. It’s not exciting and fast-paced the way that other serialized shows are (by way of analogy, imagine if Lost was still all about Claire’s mysterious pregnancy and Boone’s secret romance with Shannon). But by god, it actually seems like this show might get a fifth season. Foreigners with atrocious taste have made it the most pirated TV show, which means more smartphone-related plotlines in the near future. The budget has been cut down – presumably, the actors work for food.
Perhaps most important, Heroes definitely, defiantly IS. It exists. It is a thing. And when you’ve got five new primetime hours to fill, existence is a huge advantage over nonexistence. And you know what? It might not be good, but I can confirm that Heroes did indeed exist, last night, for an hour that felt like it lasted for exactly one hour.
Check out Michael Ausiello’s interview with Robert Knepper, Jack Coleman, and tonight’s MVP, James Kyson Lee: