Finally, with its fourth episode, Heroes picked up speed, dropping its more leaden plots for a week and adding depth and intrigue to the key mysteries. We’re not even close to the rollicking, ridiculous heights the first season occasionally reached, but “The Kindness of Strangers”, written by creator Tim Kring and directed by Adam Kane, shone a little hope on what has otherwise been a slow-moving season.
Truth be told, the episode benefited from the absence of two plots foregrounded in previous weeks: Peter Petrelli’s (Milo Ventimiglia) adventures in Ireland and Hiro Nakamura’s (Masi Oka) Back to the Future-esque antics in medieval Japan. While Hiro’s stuff had been fun, in an irrelevant, oddball kind of way, both storylines were draggy and distracting. These opening hours should have set out some general arcs for season two, but instead they’ve been meandering and sluggish, hinting at vague mysteries instead of hooking viewers with exciting new story developments.
Kring set the ball rolling in New York, featuring Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) and Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy), whose constant bickering while playing house with hero-tracker Molly (Adair Tishler) is reaching sitcommy proportions. Matt and Mohinder have had little to do besides spearhead an investigation into the powers that seem to be responsible for much of the show’s events so far. This week, we got to see a picture of these people, including last year’s Ozymandias-lite megalomaniac Linderman (Malcolm McDowell), seemingly felled after someone inconveniently stuck a fist in his brain, and Kaito Nakamura (George Takei), who was murdered in the season-two premiere. Also featured were Steven Tobolowsky’s ’Bob’, a mysterious character who has been liaising with Mohinder, and Angela Petrelli (Cristine Rose).
Most interesting of all, though, were Matt’s revelation that another man in the picture was his deadbeat father, and Molly’s further revelation that this fairly schlubby fat bald guy was the ’boogeyman’ that haunted her dreams. It’s a little disappointing to have such a hyped villain turn out to be a shlubby fat bald guy, but I figure Parkman Sr. will end up being fairly low on the ladder of evil this season. Nonetheless, it was a bold move by Kring to show us a full shot of the secret society that has only been alluded to previously, as well as revealing the identity of a villain I assumed would remain secret until much later. The episode’s cliffhanger, where Molly fell into a coma after trying to locate the boogeyman, was less effective (only because I’d be really surprised if anything bad happened to a cute little girl on NBC), but it was still more arresting than the other cliffhangers dished up in the season so far.
Elsewhere, the travelling Nicaraguan twins Maya (Dania Ramirez) and Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz), who had been repeating the same dull plot for three weeks now (they try to get to the border, they get separated, Maya kills someone with her uncontrollable power but Alejandro fixes it), got to have a little more fun when they came across serial killer Sylar (Zachary Quinto) in the road. Maya and Alejandro themselves became no more interesting—Maya especially displaying shocking naïveté considering what she’s been through. Quinto, not always a favorite of mine, was quite effective; he perfectly sold his uneasiness at being newly powerless and his obvious struggle to be restrained after coming across superpowered twins who he clearly wants to murder. I especially liked his cheerful cry of “Oh, golly!” to the twins just after he smashed the skull in of a drifter they were travelling with (off-screen—they still seem to trust him).
Things are, however, looking up for the second new regular hero introduced this week: Monica (Dana Davis), a burger-flipper who’s living with Micah (Noah Grey-Cabey) and a no-nonsense grandmother (Nichelle Nichols) in New Orleans. The New Orleans setting is bothersome, as Kring is no master of subtlety, and his eagerness to confront pressing contemporary concerns is one of Heroes’ weaker points (a radioactive Muslim character was cut from the original series pilot). Davis, who was impressive on last year’s middling serial The Nine, brought real exuberance to even the most plodding dialogue, and even better, hre character has a cool power: seems she can instantly learn and convincingly imitate anything she sees, at least in the realm of high-kicking action. After watching a wrestling transmission on TV, she proceeded to kick a robber through a window. Of course, such a power has shown up in the comic book world before (take a bow, Taskmaster), but it’s a cool one to assign to a slight teenage girl (even if that’s been done, too).
The episode’s weakest material concerned the Bennett family, still stuck in suburbia. Mostly that’s because Noah (Jack Coleman) was backgrounded, despite just receiving a painting predicting his death (from a fairly accurate artist). All Noah did this week was stare down his daughter, Larry David-style, after she denied that she was seeing a boy. In fact, Claire (Hayden Panettiere) does finally have her first boyfriend, Nicholas D’Agosto’s high-flying West (and it’s definitely West—sources told me ’Wes’ last week, but she was definitely saying ’West,’ no matter how ridiculous that name may be). The trouble with that pairing is two-fold: one, West is seen with Claire in the death painting, and two, West is a pretty unappealing character. He’s just the current paint-by-numbers TV take on what a cool high school student is like right now, which gives him a blandly slimy air. Pannettiere’s performance in her scenes with D’Agosto is strong—Claire is one of the characters most actively questioning her nature and how she came into being, the right sorts of questions for this show. But the couple’s dialogue is completely one-sided and their romantic scenes are cheeseball (perching on the Hollywood sign? Geez). The impression seems to be that West will betray or manipulate Claire somehow, which, if it happens, would be a depressingly ordinary TV plot. Why can’t this strong female lead be allowed to play opposite a strong male lead who’s equally heroic?
The only other truly fascinating development was Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) shaving his beard, which could have become an amusing prop in its own right. This week’s installment confirmed that the figure haunting him in the mirror is his own radiation-scarred face, rather than his brother’s, thus establishing the the question of what really happened to him in the season finale as a pressing one. Next week brings another new character—’Elle’, played by Kristen Bell, a canny bit of fanboy-pleasing casting. Whether “The Kindness of Strangers” was just a slight upswing in quality or a sign of progress after a muddled start remains to be seen; either way, I’m a little more enthusiastic about the prospect of the next episode.
London-based writer David Sims is a contributor to South Dakota Dark.