When "Heroes" deals with ordinary people dealing with extraordinary abilities, the results are hit and miss. But when it deals with the intricacies of time travel, it almost always rushes headfirst into a brick wall of fail. Tonight's episode, "Once Upon a Time in Texas," shows another version of the fateful day before Peter Petrelli saved the cheerleader and (temporarily) saved the world in Season 1. What transpired tonight was unfortunately little more than another example in the ever-expanding saga of "Hiro Never, Ever Learns."
[Full recap of Monday (Nov. 2) night's "Heroes" after the break...]
The best part of tonight's episode? (Besides learning Samuel killed Mohinder, singlehandedly turning him from the show's villain to Ultimate Champion?) Charlie calling Hiro out for his selfish behavior in trying to go back in time in order to save her life. We (as well as Hiro) already know about her aneurysm from Season 1's "Six Months Ago," in which his original attempt to save her life lost to her brain clot. How that death means she's alive in this particular iteration of the past is anyone's guess, as "Heroes" has never much subscribed to the "whatever happened, happened" theory that "Lost" tends to espouse. Theirs is more, "whatever happens this week, happens this week."
Attending to Hiro's potentially apocalyptic lovelorn mission is Samuel, sent back in time by a dying Arnold to make sure Hiro doesn't render the time-space fabric asunder and create the type of horrific world in which dogs and cats cohabitate. (Mass hysteria, I hear.) Samuel intuits the loopholes created by Hiro's meddling, and helps the Nakamura correct those errors so that Hiro can achieve his dream of living happily ever after. What follows is a complicated set of cause-and-effect, by the end of which roughly eight Hiros were one step behind the other, each making sure to pick up the slack left by the previous iteration. It's like "Primer" with subtitles and Knight Rider t-shirts. No wonder time travel gives Hiro and Arnold tumors: I'm developing one just trying to understand what's going on.
Hiro's plan to save Charlie? Tease Sylar with tales of the future in exchange for the removal of Charlie's aneurysm. I must confess that seeing pure, unadulterated, Season 1 Sylar again made me more than a little happy. The way he mentally toyed with Charlie early in the episode reminded me a touch of Adelle Dewitt in the latest, greatest episode of "Dollhouse," slipping in menacing threats amidst nominally banal conversation. But I don't need to pour through my Season 1 DVDs to know that Sylar at this point was more of a "slice first, ask questions later" kinda guy. While I enjoyed Hiro using his power to counter Sylar's telekinesis, Sylar's agreeing to help Charlie reeked more of weekly plot need rather than consistent characterization. Would a later iteration of Sylar agreed? Probably. But that Sylar's a long way from the Burnt Toast Café.
Similarly, Charlie's forgiveness of Hiro for his "selfish" actions in saving her at the expense rang false. Her earlier condemnation? As mentioned before: totally accurate, and completely earned. Charlie would be unable to live with the guilt, and would want to distance herself as far from him as possible in the aftermath. Hiro's stunned to learn this, somehow forgetting her peace with death in "Six Months Ago" in much the same way that Hiro always, always forgets the most important warnings about his God-like abilities. Rather than accept the (borrowed) moments they had, Hiro has now condemned her to a life quite literally stuck in time. What time? Only Samuel knows, using Arnold's dying breaths to put her somewhere only he knows in order to control the younger, more powerful time manipulator. (My guess? In the plague-filled future along with Peter's Irish girlfriend, Caitlin. OK, that's not so much a theory as fanfic. But the line's sooo close, you know?)
So Hiro's now stuck working for Samuel, undoubtedly a hell for him. And since I had to spend nearly a third of this episode watching Elisabeth Röhm's Lauren making moon eyes at Noah Bennett, I can speak about hell from a personal perspective. I'm guessing her character is single because she thinks things like "handing a guy a motel room key 37 hours before his daughter is destined to die" is a smooth move. I'm not the biggest Röhmaniac or anything, but I don't think any actress could have taken on this character and made it non-groanworthy.
Now, I'm all for filling in the gaps through the clever revisiting of familiar scenes. But seeing Noah Bennett recontextualized so brilliantly in "Company Man" made this particular iteration all the more painful. I get that the stress of his dual life made his home life difficult, and clearly these flashbacks were designed to foreshadow the domestic problems that he faces in the show's present. But would the same man that begged (and then forced) Isaac to paint the future high then spend precious Sylar-seeking minutes telling a fellow Company employee the equivalent of, "It's not you, it's me"? Exactly. All filler, no killer.
At episode's end, we're left with our first substantial glimpse into Samuel's actions: his apparent murder of Mohinder. Now, you might rightfully ask, "Does the show seriously want to think that this entire volume is about saving one of the show's most historically loathed characters?" It's doubtful that Samuel feels guilt over Mohinder's death, except as insofar as Captain Voiceover's brain probably contained the only cure for that which afflicted and eventually killed Samuel's brother, Joseph. If I have this right, Samuel needs Hiro to take him back to keep Mohinder alive so that Joseph may live. Which means more Mohinder is on the way. Plus more time travel. It's like a geeky, anti-Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.
It's hard for this volume of "Heroes" to get much momentum if it's constantly skipping around in time. The past few weeks actually built up a little bit of steam, but this episode just stopped the whole mess dead in its tracks. If, as Charlie said, 300,000 people die each day, why does Joseph's matter so much? Is Samuel simply selfish, wanting his brother back by his side? Hopefully not. It's one thing to humanize a villain by giving him a recognizable motivation. It's another to make his concerns so small that watching him tear down the world to achieve it seems the height of overcompensating.
In short, We're risking going from "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World," to "Save The Brother, Save the Carnival." Not exactly the most compelling rewriting of history.
What did you think of Hiro's trip back in time? Headache-inducing, or mind boggling?