Heroes is now a quarter of the way into its second season, but its sixth episode “The Line” is evident of the lack of progress the show has made since returning in September. The vast (and ever-expanding) ensemble remains scattered to the winds, their various plots lumbering sluggishly towards recycled conclusions. The cliffhanger at the end of “The Line” finally hints at a possible unifying save-the-world arc for the show to rally around—just the thing Heroes needs to regain its zeitgeist credibility. The problem is, the cliffhanger is a lame rip-off of the show’s own material, which just serves to hit home how this season has been a rather pale imitation of the first.
After all, the first season at least had the element of surprise. There were plenty of shocks, most of them character-related, for the writers to reveal. Nathan can fly! Peter absorbs powers! Sylar steals powers! And so on. By now, that’s obviously no longer an option, so we’re treated to far more ordinary plot developments, like Peter’s amnesia, Claire’s suspicious boyfriend, Parkman’s father being evil. Even worse, some of the new characters demonstrate powers we’ve already seen before—Kensei can regenerate like Claire, West can fly like Nathan, and Monica’s ’muscle memory’ bears similarity to the quick learning skills of last year’s recurring character Charlie (Jayma Mays). I’m not ready to give up on Heroes, partly because I think it’s eventually going to pick up speed out of sheer necessity. Nonetheless “The Line” (written by Adam Armus and Kay Foster and directed by Jeannot Szwarc) is another meandering, at times frustratingly dull hour, redeemed only by a similar theme running through all of this week’s stories.
The ’Line’ of the title is undoubtedly the unseen line of responsibility that comes with having superpowers, a theme as old as any in comic book writing, and always a good one to explore. Unfortunately the episode is very light on action, and sadly heavy on clunky dialogue, as it nudges all of its characters into moral grey areas, sometimes rather jarringly and with little warning. Take Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who has been working for the umbrella-corporation/hero-hunter organization known as The Company. Out of the blue, and with little justification, his boss Bob (Stephen Tobolowsky) tells him to experiment on Monica (Dana Davis) by injecting her with a new strain hero-killing virus. I’ll give Tobolowsky credit—he almost makes this startlingly evil proposition seem ambiguous, as his everyman middle-management vibe is making Bob difficult to read. Still, the virus thing is totally out of the blue, and the threat is withdrawn at the end of the episode by the man who makes it, rendering the plotline rather frustrating.
Even odder is Claire’s (Hayden Panettiere) sudden desire to make the cheerleading squad, her motivation being that she told her dad she was trying out for the team when she had instead been hanging with new boyfriend West (Nicholas D’Agosto), who uses his flying gift to hover menacingly outside people’s windows. Claire and West resolve to get her on the team, despite the efforts of a snotty head cheerleader, and everything takes a rather creepy turn. I have to say, I was somewhat alarmed when they staged a faux-abduction, West swooping down to grab Claire and drop her to her ’death’, in an effort to shellshock the head cheerleader and make her look crazy. It’s all too macabre, especially because Claire’s goal is so trivial and the cheerleader looks genuinely devastated. There’s no doubt in my mind now that there’s some sinister element to West—this story is a total ’dark side’ moment for Claire, evidenced further by West’s dismissal of her guilt at the end of the episode.
Darker stuff comes from Claire’s father Noah (Jack Coleman), who started out on Heroes as an ambiguous villain before re-forming as more layers of his character were revealed. Here, he and his memory-wiping partner The Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis) interrogate a Company member in Ukraine about the missing prophetic paintings of Isaac Mendez. This is easily the strongest portion of the episode, because it allows Noah to sink back into his nastier, more threatening side, before finally surrendering to it completely by executing the Company man once he’d gets his information. Quite a nice conceit comes in Noah’s method of torture—although I first scoffed at his threats (which included removing the man’s memory of his favorite flower), by the end it is all very menacing, and a nice variation to the ’jab a knife in his knee and point a gun at his kids’ form of TV torture popularized by Jack Bauer. Still, all of the action is confined to one room (and some brief blue-screen stuff outside), the dialogue is as plodding as usual and even the reveal of the precognitive paintings is disappointing—just who was that holding a gun?
The final threads of ’The Line’ feature two plots that have been mostly ignored over the last couple of weeks: the road trip of Maya (Dania Ramirez), Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz) and Sylar (Zachary Quinto); and Hiro’s (Masi Oka) adventures in feudal Japan. Every episode of Heroes is only going to be as good as the stories it features, and these two reek worse with every passing week. Maya, who Sylar convinces to use her death curse power to escape border control, is too naïve for words or for plausibility, and Sylar’s evil is already well known, so the dynamic between them lacks credibility as well as suspense. Sylar’s monologue (in English) to Spanish-speaking Alejandro about how he plans to murder them is a cool moment, but not enough to redeem a real waste of a new character. Hiro’s antics with legendary swordsman Kensei (David Anders), on the other hand, are so mythic and extraordinary that we simply cannot witness them due to budget reasons—an attack on an army of hundreds of men is left unseen, and instead we have to suffer through the damp melodrama of Hiro ’betraying’ his friend Kensei by kissing the Princess they both love. The gaudy fun of these escapades are diverting at first, but six episodes in they have become an infuriating stall tactic to keep Hiro away from the real action of the show.
Tim Kring, the creator of Heroes, is promising the show’s waning audience that things are about to pick up, especially as the ’Generations’ volume of the story apparently wraps up by episode 11. That’s good news, because it means it gives the writers another chance to reboot and explore some exciting new directions, hopefully ones that feature the heroes together rather than stuck in eight or nine separate mini-plots. I’m not convinced, though, especially after the big reveal at the end of this episode, where Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) teleports himself into New York of the future (June 2008) and finds it evacuated. Last year, Hiro teleported himself into New York of the future and found it exploded. If all we have waiting for us at the end of this season is another end-of-the-world scenario where the heroes all make their way gradually to New York, then there’s less and less hope for this season as a whole.
London-based writer David Sims is a contributor to South Dakota Dark.