You'll be forgiven, "Heroes" fans, if you suffered more than a slight case of déjà vu watching tonight’s episode, entitled “Cold Wars.” In essence, the show sought to combine Season 1’s greatest episode, “Company Man,” with that season’s overarching “major city will be obliterated” arc, only to yield something far less than the sum of its parts. While the latter regurgitation is lazy at best, the former is almost offensive: it took the remaining shreds of a once iconic figure and potentially threw it under the bus once and for all.
[Continued after the break, with spoilers...]
The progression of Noah Bennett in the show’s first season was a marvel in narrative economy, presenting him as a shadowy figure that only in “Company Man” truly revealed itself. That episode also marked a stunning departure from the usually wieldy narrative, tightly focusing on Noah’s past to illuminate the present. Desperate to recapture its old magic, “Heroes” liberally plagiarized itself throughout this hour tonight, seemingly unaware of what made the first iteration so successful. “Company Man” showed a once heartless man made human by the long-term influence of his adoptive daughter. Tonight showed a man who put members of his family at risk because…he was bored.
After The Three Not So Amigos (Parkman, Suresh, and Emo Petrelli) took Noah to a motel after last week’s drugging, Matt sought to penetrate Noah’s thoughts in order to learn the pecking order of the initiative out to capture those with powers. In black and white flashbacks, we learned…well, pretty much everything we already knew or could have easily surmised. Listless in the face of Primatech’s demise, unable to live a boring suburban lifestyle, Noah all but jumped at the chance to join Nathan’s plans. However, he didn’t join to merely lend a hand: he mistakenly thought he would run Nathan’s operation. His ego (ostensibly egged on by Senator Petrelli) didn’t expect to work under the operational directives of The Hunter inside Building 26. Once there, he tried in vain to win The Hunter towards a less lethal way of thinking…which is a little like trying to convince a Red Sox fan that Alex Rodriguez is a swell fellah.
As Parkman dug deeper and deeper into Noah’s brain, his compadres felt less and less sure of their methods of interrogation. Mohinder went so far as to call them “torture,” though for “24”’s Jack Bauer, this was more like a polite form of greeting. Mohinder’s ambivalence lay not only along a moral line: turns out Noah tried to recruit Mohinder just before the full-scale attack on the superpowered. While recruiting the good doctor seems like a recipe for disaster to anyone who, you know, has watched this show over the past few years, people on this show just keep shouting Mo’, Mo’, Mo’. Let’s just say Parkman didn’t take this revelation too well, and it fueled his burgeoning, post-Daphne death dark side even more. In fact, he might have gone full-on Nightmare Man on us if not for this week’s “bombshell”: Daphne is in fact alive.
I put “bombshell” in quotes because, let’s face it: unless you once donated DNA to produce Micah, there’s a good chance you’ll never die on this show. Knowledge of her being alive temporarily quelled Matt’s inner rage, but it looks like it won’t stay dormant for long: future paintings done in Isaac/Mohinder’s loft show a series of drawings featuring a bomb-wielding Parkman, and Washington D.C. in flames. I can see the NBC promos monkeys now: How do you stop an exploding psychic? Beats me. If I thought the show had the guts to really take Parkman down this dark a path, I’d be all over this retread of Season 1’s apocalyptic plotline. Somehow, I just can’t see the show taking him to full-on Dark Willow land, here.
Why? Because “Heroes” continually saddles its villains with wimpiness. Sure, Sylar’s a killer…but only because he never had a dad. Nathan wants to imprison every superhero…due to guilt over almost killing Peter. Only the Hunter has any purity of purpose. Course, he’s a racist xenophobe, but at least he’s not conflicted about it! Peter’s gun-wielding break-in to his apartment all but confirms the Hunter’s fears that everyone with a superpower is inherently and unequivocally evil. His surprise at Nathan’s immediate arrival on the scene might solve one of this volume’s lingering mysteries: why does absolutely no one in the know simply shout, “Nathan Petrelli can freakin’ fly!” in mixed mercenary company?
Let’s face it: Nathan’s essentially a self-loathing hero seeking to imprison others due to his own insecurities. But rather than play him as the superhero equivalent of say, Ted Haggard, he’s just kinda wishy washy about the whole thing. So rather than violently react from behind a wall of self-imposed psychological entrenchment, he just trotted out yet another oft-used plotline from “Heroes”’ past: “Let’s get Mohinder to scientifically solve the problem at hand.” You have GOT to be kidding me. I found myself this close to rooting for Mohinder as he heroically sacrificed himself so Parkman and Noah could escape from the Hunter’s goons, only to have all good will tarnished to learn he would once again spend half a season peering quizzically into a microscope. If I hear the word “virus” or “formula,” I’m not responsible for my actions thereafter.
By episode’s end, Noah and Angela struck a bargain by which Noah essentially will become the “Heroes” equivalent of Severus Snape, agreeing to do a whole host of very bad things in order to earn the Hunter’s continual trust. Somehow, I think this will involve doing something pretty painful to someone he loves quite dearly. But hey, at least he won’t be bored, right?
Did the Noah-centric episode hit the nostalgic spot, or just serve as a reminder of better days? Is Parkman’s apocalyptic painting just one too many? Leave your thoughts below!
Ryan also writes about television and pop culture at Boob Tube Dude.