After the promising strides of last week’s episode, Heroes takes a turn for the dull again with a wrenchingly uninteresting super-flashback, imaginatively titled “Four Months Ago”. Written by showrunner/creator Tim Kring and directed by Greg Beeman, the episode has been hyped as the answer to unresolved mysteries and a jump-off point to reboot the increasingly derided second season. Sadly, the only answers “Four Months Ago” provides are those that the audience had either guessed or didn’t care enough about to guess. Building a flashback narrative into one-hour dramas has been a popular television conceit since the success of Lost, but “Four Months Ago” is a flashback for flashback’s sake—there is very little here that the audience shouldn’t have just seen in the season two premiere.
It seems the reason for the looped structure of the season so far is to sustain some of the weakest plots and to preserve the surprise of the easily-guessed twists that come out of them. I’m thinking of Peter’s (Milo Ventimiglia) long sojurn as an amnesiac in Ireland, and Hiro’s (Masi Oka, not present this week) adventures with drunken swordsman Kensei (David Anders) in feudal Japan. This week, we find out that both storylines are related (sort of), in that the immortal Kensei, now called Adam Monroe, shared a cell wall with Peter in a hero-prison and persuaded Peter to free him. The bleary months Peter spent in Ireland were an unfortunate hitch caused by the memory-wiping Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis), and all is righted in this episode. Which officially means the whole memory loss stuff was a waste of the audience’s time—all it got Peter was a dippy love interest who’s already vanished, with every other mystery about his character being resolved in this episode, information we could have known ages ago. How did he survive his nuclear explosion? Well, he just…did, using his healing powers. What’s his connection to the sultry Elle (Kristen Bell, still struggling to define a very underwritten role) and the ambiguous Bob (Stephen Tobolowsky)? They were his jailors, although their motives in keeping Peter locked up are questionable. And just how did Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) survive all this? Why, Peter and Adam healed him with Adam’s magical blood! I highly doubt any viewers had been desperate for two months to get that information. It all ties together perfectly well, it’s just the presentation that’s so wanting.
Some of Heroes’ smaller plot devices are really starting to bother me as well. The Haitian is a prime example—as a power inhibitor and a memory-wiper, he’s obviously useful for the show to have around, especially as Peter is incredibly powerful and impossible to imprison without him. Nonetheless, having him show up all over the place whenever he’s needed has stopped being ambiguous and started to be annoying. Wasn’t he sick and dying of the hero-plague in Haiti at the start of this season? Didn’t he break ranks with the Company at some point? I’m probably forgetting something, but it’s still symptomatic of the hasty clean-up jobs Heroes does on its storylines every so often. The resolution of the Nathan/Peter incident in the season one finale was even sloppier—I still don’t really buy that Nathan needed to fly Peter at all, or that Peter wouldn’t pursue information about his brother’s fate more vociferously. Bob’s game of back-and-forth on the release of the hero virus (he seems to change his mind about three times per episode) long ago ceased being intriguing and is now just infuriating as well as confusing.
Perhaps the sloppiest storytelling comes in another revisit of the miserable black-oil twins, Maya (Dania Ramirez) and Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz). “Four Months Ago” is their ’backstory’ episode, as season one’s equally well-titled “Six Months Ago” had sketched out the backstory of most of the original cast. Problem being, the backstory of Maya and Alejandro is a literal replay of the same story we’ve seen five times from them—Maya gets angry, Maya kills people by mistake, Maya is horrified, Alejandro fixes it, they keep running. All that is different about this episode’s pass at it is that it is the first time it happens—to them. Not to the poor audience though, who surely were unanimously snoozing during these interludes. Tim Kring has warned that some of his unpopular new characters will be killed off because they haven’t taken with the audience—Maya and Alejandro are surely top of the list, especially as they’re stuck in a car with psycho Sylar (Zachary Quinto). Although axing them would be the right move, it would just further drive home the wayward pointlessness of these episodes.
For all its revelations, “Four Months Ago” is actually a relatively sparse episode, focusing mainly on Peter’s interactions with Elle and Adam as well as answering another hardly urgent question: just how did Niki’s (Ali Larter) intangible husband D.L. (Leonard Roberts) die? Although he’d never been a major fan favorite, I have been surprised at the hardly-mourned departure of his character, so much so that I assumed he was still alive somewhere. It appears not though, as “Four Months Ago” functions as a sort of coda for the level-headed, if significantly boring, hero—by making him a literal hero, no less, albeit briefly. D.L. is motivated to inspire his son with genuine heroism, becoming a do-gooder firefighter who taps his powers to rescue people from burning buildings. It’s probably the closest the show has ever come to the classic, Golden Age standard of superheroism—with D.L.’s firefighting gear the only real ’costume’ the show’s ever displayed, as well. Of course, D.L.’s continual devotion to his schizophrenic wife bites him in the ass once again, as he is whacked by some lowlife in an L.A. club when he tries to track down Niki after another psychotic break. It is a pretty grim conclusion for the character, as well as a little inconsistent (I get that he was shot at point-blank range, but we’ve seen his body phase instinctively to gunshots before—why not now?). My guess is that D.L. was dispatched because he never caught the audience’s imagination, but being lumbered with Niki was always gonna be his biggest character issue.
I hold out hope for Heroes, if only because last week’s episode was a lot of fun and “Four Months Ago” did nothing to sabotage the narrative wheels that have finally been set in motion. Still, “Four Months Ago” really pushed home the inherent weaknesses in Heroes that the second season has laid bare. Here’s hoping that things can moderately pick up in the final few weeks of the season (unless the strike ends quicker than expected). Otherwise I fear Heroes could be truly doomed.
London-based writer David Sims is a contributor to South Dakota Dark.