Halfway through Monday's (Jan. 11) lackluster episode of “Heroes,” Samuel throws up a literal roadblock in order to stop Noah Bennett’s pursuit of him. It’s a fitting visual metaphor for the episode, in which most characters stood stubbornly in place, unable to move on to where they were should be going. And unfortunately, we the audience stood mired as well, wondering when (or even if) someone on this show might obtain the power of narrative propulsion to pick up the pace of this flailing volume. 

Let’s break down the various threads in “Close To You,” even if said threads seem to be unwilling to overlap in any meaningful manner. 

[Full recap of Monday's "Heroes" after the break...]

Bridge over troubled waters 

In the glory days of “Heroes,” the pairing of Matt Parkman and Noah Bennett proved a creative high. In the aftermath of “Company Man,” the duo left for New York City with Geico Caveman look-alike Ted Sprague in order to shut down the Walker tracking system. That was good stuff. Compelling stuff. Tonight’s version centered around ratatouille and poorly conceived entrapment. Much less compelling stuff. 

Noah wants to locate the carnival. But he’s unwilling to use his best resource (Claire’s compass) in order to find it. Were he to actually ask for it, or at the very least steal it, this episode would have run about 8 minutes long. So that was right out. Afraid to fully burn the already smoldering bridge between himself and his daughter, Noah employs Matt Parkman to use Samuel’s would-be flame Vanessa as bait to trap the ever-powerful ringleader. 

If you’ve forgotten who Matt Parkman is, don’t worry. The show itself barely remembers. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have glossed over the fact that he’s wanted in several states for various illegal acts towards police officers. But hey, all fun and games, right? Certainly no reason to track him down to his place of residence where he spends all day playing Mr. Mom while trying to not make direct eye contact with his wife’s hideous new haircut. I’m pretty sure she got the ‘do to spite him, but that would be assigning subtext to a character in “Heroes.” Not sure that’s allowed. 

Parkman begrudgingly accompanies Noah to find Vanessa, using his mind control to make her spill the beans about their past. Samuel answers her call to come, but senses something’s amiss. He employs Eli to provide cover while securing her safely within the traveling circus. Although Noah and Parkman plant a tracking device on Vanessa, it’s abandoned in an open field, the carnival long gone. Samuel promises to show Vanessa something beautiful, and at this point, it could be anything from a pony to a YouTube clip consisting of photos of the two of them set to Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad.” After all, Samuel’s freakin’ whipped and about to end the world just to impress her. Anything’s possible at this point. 

By ep’s end, Noah’s decided that he wants to make nice with the blondes in his life. He drops in on Claire (producing a short, tense conversation) and confesses his affection for Laura (producing a short, tongue-filled kiss). Parkman, for his part, decides to stop be a coward and re-enter the world and its problems. Although, to be honest, no coward could spend five seconds looking at Janice’a haircut without running away in terror. Did I mention that it made her look like the cross between Katie Holmes, Rosie O’Donnell,  and the lead singer of Kings of Leon? Because it did. Sweet Jeebus. 

Music…makes the people…come together… 

Looks like when Peter buried his brother Nathan, he also buried that part of himself that prevented him from inadvertently causing the end of the world as we know it. So sad. I’ve been a big Peter Petrelli fan this year; while I’ve been hard on his character in the past, the show seemed to figure out how to utilize this milquetoast man to the best of its abilities. Last week’s grief-induced episodes were a highlight for him in the show’s run.  

But, that was last week, so in “Heroes” terms, it never, ever happened. While deemed by Lydia to be the potential heir to Joseph Sullivan’s throne, Peter spent the majority of this week’s episode forgetting the cardinal rule of prophetic dreams: the more you try and prevent them, the quicker they actually come true. Freaked out by his mother’s reaction to seeing Emma in his apartment, he steals her ability to dream about the future to understand the look of horror in Mama Petrelli’s eyes. 

What did he see? Emma, in the carnival’s funhouse, playing a cello with tears in her eyes. It looks as if she’s playing against her will (Puppet Master-Piece Theatre, perhaps). She looks up and sees Sylar standing there. He says, “Don’t worry, I’ve come to save you,” as he raises his hands in typical slice-and-dice fashion. In order to stop this future from happening, Peter smashes the very cello that united them in the first place during this hour. (She summoned him siren-style early on. To see if she could. Just for funsies. I would have played the “Put Up My Drycleaning While You’re Coming Over Anyways” concerto, but hey, I guess she’s building up to that.) 

Naturally, smashing the cello only furthers the gap between these two would-be kindred souls and further cements her eventual desire to join the carnival. The X factor in all of this, naturally, is Sylar: is he actually there to help her in this future, or simply steal her power? His interaction with Claire next week should go a long way towards answering that question. In any case, it’s now clear to see why Emma’s power is so appealing to Samuel: why keep convincing people to either join the carnival or keep them there, when all he has to do is ask Emma to play a little tune for them? If she were an X-Man, she’d be called “Crowd Control.” 

Help me, Mohinder Suresh…you’re my only hope 

Amazingly enough, the most amusing and entertaining portion of the episode derived from the “Heroes” equivalent of The Three Stooges: Hiro, Ando, and Mohinder. Something about his exposure to the Japanese blood brothers made Mohinder vastly more appealing than at any point in recent memory. In a sense, he had to come down off his intellectual high horse to their level, and in speaking their language, found a potential new voice on the show. (It’s like when parents speak gibberish around their infants, or I’m forced to engaged in conversation with drunken Red Sox fans from Southie on Landsdowne Street after a game at Fenway Pahhhk.) 

Hiro’s “Rain Man Meets Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy” blabber leads him to Riverdale Psychiatric Hospital in Florida, where Mohinder stays in solitary, drugged state. Ando checks his friend in so he can do recon from the inside. Rather than just sit on the sidelines, Ando remember that he actually has a power and uses his red lightning to bypass the facility’s security system and learns for himself that Dr. Watson=Dr. Suresh. 

On a later visit to the hospital, Hiro insists that they have to prevent the nurses from delivering Mohinder his daily dose of dozes in order to unleash Mohinder’s abilities. Oh boy, creepy Spider Dude is coming back! (Don’t get any ideas, Sony. I know the Raimi/Maguire franchise is dead, but if the next Spider-Man monologues the way Mohinder does you will not see a dime from me.) Ando swallows Suresh’s chill pills accidentally, which leads to Mohinder’s escape from his cell but also a bizarre/hysterical escape for the three of them from the facility. While it was improbable on about 154 levels, I was so pleased to see “Heroes” having honest-to-god fun with its outlandish characters/powers that I threw my hands up in surrender and let the amusement wash over me. 

The three escape into the Florida marshlands in what evoked similar scenes in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” But the man that usually provides me with constant sorrow was still on fire, as he pleaded Ando use his lightning ability to jumpstart Hiro’s brain. To wit: 

Ando: “Look: Hiro once saw a future where I kill him with my red lightning.” 

Suresh: “Was it in Florida?” 

Ando: “In Japan.” 

Suresh: “Then we’re good to go!” 

I might have giggled. More than a little. Noah Bennett spent the hour pontificating gravely about The Carnival That Will Eat The World And All That Graze Upon This Suddenly Sad Earth. Peter spent the hour smashing not only a cello but the best current shot he has at a real human connection. As such, it was refreshing to see scenes in which people didn’t feel the weight of the world with every step they took. Their powers weren’t a burden to be dismissed due to future prognostication, but rather a way to solve the problems of here and now.  

But this bumbling triumverate were not enough to overcome the overall slow-moving episode. Their teleportation into Noah’s apartment, coupled with Peter’s re-engagement with the carnival in light of his dreams, point to forces finally amassing against Samuel’s ever-growing army. I should be willing to accept this week as a necessary setting of the chessboard for the final moves to come. However, I seem to reach that same conclusion each week, only to be disappointed with the lack of progress the next time around.  

“To be continued!” screamed a geekified Hiro inside Riverdale. Perhaps for now. But if the show’s glacial pace continues, it’s volume-ending episode next month might not be continued into another season. 

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Leave your thoughts and comments below!