It’s both understandable and frustrating that after the first season of Heroes, in which the characters’ journeys crossed paths repeatedly and various secrets were unearthed, the writers have basically hit the reset button.
The entire cast was assembled in New York for the season-one finale; now everyone is spread out across the world again, pursuing their own interests, although thankfully by now most of our heroes are comfortable in the use of their abilities. Only Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), rendered amnesiac by his journey (and subsequent explosion) into the heavens, is doing the perplexed/amazed facial expressions dance as he shows off his various powers, and in his case it might be a good thing. In the doe-eyed, idealistic Peter (who mimics and subsequently retains the abilities of any other hero he gets near), the writers found a de facto lead character for their show, but also stumbled across a fairly common problem in superhero writing—Peter is simply too powerful for his own good.
He has already been shown using most of the credited cast’s skills (such as flying, time manipulation, regeneration and super-strength), but presumably the many abilities of power-thief Sylar (Zachary Quinto, so far absent this season), who he confronted at the end of last season, also dwell within him. This embarrassment of riches essentially renders Peter invincible and raises the question: where can he go from here? Clearly creator Tim Kring is not yet ready to confront that question, hence the amnesia. Eventually though, it’s gonna come up, and although it seems like they’re positioning Peter to be the do-gooding moral center of the Heroes universe, it could be interesting to take Peter down a more conflicted path. A Superman-like hero who stops bank robbers and rescues damsels doesn’t really fit with the 21st century tone of this show anyway. Whether Ventimiglia could play darker successfully is questionable; he attempted it in last season’s alternate-future episode “Five Years Gone” with mixed results. But it would be a more fitting solution than just giving him amnesia.
Peter’s actual plotline here was probably the weakest of this episode, partly because amnesia is an overused device that’s always played in the exact same way—-here we had a lot of furrowed eyebrows from forgetful Peter, and an alluring maiden who helps nurse him back to full recovery. This particular maiden was Irish, a sister to the small-time crooks who found him in a shipping container that was supposed to be full of iPods. The whole thing was just another chapter in Hollywood’s obsession with supposedly authentic Irish culture, a country that’s apparently chock-a-block with wiseguy thieves and tough but beautiful ladies who can hold their own in a fight. Coupled with the lazy accents and the confining of action to one small set (that set being—surprise surprise—a pub), the whole excursion left me rolling my eyes. Hopefully Peter will rid himself of this lot soon.
This was the only new story of the episode: the others built on last week’s material, but had a little more fun this time around. Probably best of all was Hiro (Masi Oka), who continued his samurai capers in medieval Japan. I had feared Last Samurai-esque over-dramatics when this storyline first appeared, but writer Michael Green played things in a far more vaudevillian fashion, with Hiro magically making the bad guys’ weapons disappear while posing as con artist warrior Kensei (David Anders). It was a step away from having their pants fall down, but Heroes is almost always better when it plays things lighter, and uses powers creatively. Oka’s almost cherubic enthusiasm makes the hokier portions of his material work, here redeeming what could be an entirely lame romantic moment with a sword-wielding Japanese maiden under some cherry blossoms. While all this stereotyping of medieval Japanese culture was just as unsubtle as Peter’s Irish adventure, here it worked because it wasn’t played too seriously. There was a somewhat confusing moment near the end of the episode, where Kensei was shot full of arrows and Hiro seemed to reverse the flow of time in his body, healing him. At least that’s what it looked like. I’ve already seen others theorizing that this regeneration was actually an ability of Kensei’s. This testifies to how unclear the parameters of Hiro’s powers have always been—another question arising from this episode was, if Hiro can manipulate time, why hasn’t he zipped back to the present already?
There was clarification on another ambiguous ability this week, that of Maya (Dania Ramirez), a newcomer to the show who first appeared in last week’s opener. Paired with twin brother Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz), Maya’s power is also her curse, as she seemingly sucks the life out of people when she gets nervous and her sibling isn’t nearby. Twin superheroes are always two sides of the same coin (think of Alpha Flight’s Northstar and Aurora, or Melaka and Harth Fray), and the Herreras are no different, with Alejandro able to reverse Maya’s blight by absorbing it into himself. The twins’ romp through Central America is also trading in pretty dull border-crossing stereotypes, right down to the mystic who read Maya’s palms and started wailing about the blackness of her soul. Nonetheless, Maya could prove interesting, as Heroes hasn’t really explored the “power-as-hindrance” side of things nearly as much. It remains to be seen how her ability will prove itself useful in the long run, however.
All of the above stories are good yarns to some extent, but it’s only in the Company-busting trio of Noah (Jack Coleman), Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) and Matt (Greg Grunberg) where the skeleton of a lasting arc for the season is being laid down. More hints about where things could be headed were dropped this week, especially when Noah told his wife that he needs to find seven more paintings by the deceased precognitive Isaac Mendez before they fall into enemy hands. Now there’s a quest to sink your teeth into! Noah remains all talk and no action, though, still stuck at the copy shop giving inspirational speeches to his irrepressible daughter Claire (Hayden Panettiere), who tested her regeneration power’s limits this week by snipping off a pinky toe, in a nice little reminder about how gross this show can sometimes get. Instead the bulk of the go-getting fell to Mohinder, who travelled to Haiti to pick up ’The Haitian’ (Jimmy Jean-Louis), a mysterious power inhibiter/mind-wiper who served as Noah’s silent partner for much of the first season.
Matt, meanwhile, investigated the death of Kaito (George Takei) last episode, and finally put his telepathy to good use when he interrogated the Petrelli matriarch (Cristine Rose) and her calm demeanor was contrasted with epic screaming inside her head. The limits of Heroes’ budget will never allow it to render telepathy as wondrously as comic books can, where mental landscapes can be writ as large and psychedelically as desired, but this scene nonetheless showed a bit more flair than I’ve been used to in Matt’s scenes, seeing as his mind-reading usually involves picking up helpful expositional phrases, as if his subjects are actually thinking aloud. A later attack on Angela Petrelli, obviously related to the earlier strike against Kaito, furthered the season’s other primary mystery so far: who is trying to take down this inner circle of superpowered oligarchs? Obviously it’s still early days yet, our only clue being that mysterious helix symbol that keeps cropping up everywhere (a motif that is one of the show’s weakest and most obvious steals from Lost).
I’m almost impressed with how Heroes is moving along so far—we’re still light on the cliffhangers (this week’s was nearly identical to last week’s: Claire’s love interest spying on her through a window, only this time she saw him) and we haven’t even seen a glimpse of schizophrenic mainstay Nikki (Ali Larter) or the aforementioned Sylar yet. Tim Kring and his writers seem intent on exploring the reasons and logic behind their superpowered universe, and the implications in terms of human evolution all this has. That’s fine, as long as a balance is struck with swift-moving plots and fun uses of powers. “Lizards” struck that balance confidently, and maintaining that tone will be essential to avoiding any kind of slump into pretentiousness.
London-based writer David Sims is a contributor to South Dakota Dark.