This week’s “Heroes” was all about connections. Or rather, disconnections, to be precise. In Season 1, the show tried to plunk extraordinary abilities into a recognizable world. It employed archetypical characters in order to build a bridge between the viewing audience and those onscreen, exploiting and expanding our understanding of these tropes to great effect. Well, tonight’s episode, “Pass/Fail,” tried to take a step back from the weighty, mythological burdens its accumulated over the years to ask a very simple, but important question: at what point do gifts become burdens?

This is hardly the first time the show’s addressed this concern, so for some tonight’s episode was redundant at best, tedious at worst. But I personally found some of the smaller character moments quite compelling. Maybe I’ve just lowered my standards after repeatedly being pelted by sub-par episodes over the years like so many snow balls of suck, but if “Heroes” returns to giving me characters I care about, maybe the story might start sparking my interest as well before all is said and done.

[Full recap of Monday's (Jan. 18) "Heroes" after the break...]


I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Claire’s back at Arlington University. She’s still rooming with Gretchen, but the two are nearly as far apart from each other as when Claire lived at the carnival. Gretchen tries to reach out to her roomie in ways both literal and figurative, but Claire Bear’s having none of it. She hurries off to a study session across campus, unaware that Sylar’s interested in re-enacting The Police’s hit song “(Don’t Telekinesis) So Close To Me” there.

Cut to the lecture hall, where Sylar threatens to kill Gretchen unless Claire helps him cure that pesky loneliness problem that’s been ruining his murderous mojo. Claire refuses to acknowledge the similarities between them that Sylar lists: both adopted, both abandoned, both raised by foster parents that didn’t truly understand them. Professor Sylar has a point here, people. He wants to know why these formative building blocks yielded a relatively well-adjusted co-ed in one corner and a mopey killer with impeccably waxed eyebrows in the other.

With Claire less than forthcoming, Sylar TK’s here into stasis, and uses Lydia’s gained ability to detect Claire’s inner-most desires. He does so with a kiss (“It is college, isn’t it?”), setting off a flurry of fanfic that might take down the internet…that is, if “Heroes” still had its Season 1 audience. Sylar realizes that Claire’s ache for connection mirrors his own, noting the subtext in her interactions with Gretchen as a cry for help. (Ha! “Heroes” and “subtext.” I laugh at the insinuation one has any relation to the other.) It’s a revelation that buys her time to stab a pencil into his eye and peel out. So much for being hot for teacher.

She runs back to her dorm room, having deduced Sylar was holding Gretchen there. The two run into a literal closet (see above re: subtext), in which the show reminds me just how much I hated the Claire diversion into the carnival. Not only did that plot make Claire look dumb, but it deprived us, the audience, of some really sweet chemistry between Claire and Gretchen. It’s one of the few things “Heroes” has gotten right all year long, and they’ve generally gotten it really right. How can you hate dialogue like this?

Claire: “I like to think of myself as just a girl who just happens to have powers. And it’s just one thing on a list of attributes: loyal, friendly, regenerative, good skin…”

Gretchen: “You do have good skin.”

To me, it’s OK that this conversation actually happened with Sylar-posing-as-Gretchen, a twist I might have seen coming were I not weary from trying to make sense of “24” earlier this evening for Hitfix. That chemistry still holds, and when the two agreed to walk out of the cafeteria hand in hand, I felt the type of human connection that used to be the rule, not the exception, in “Heroes.”

As for Sylar’s plan to rid himself of powers to make himself more human…well, look, as long as it makes him a less mopey and more compelling character, I’m all for it. The fact that he’s going back to Parkman (aka the source of all his anger and aggression this year) to do so is classic “Heroes” plot amnesia, but Sylar’s simultaneously too powerful and too boring to keep as is for more longer. Change is good.

 

Your Mother Should Know


The very week after finally getting in something approximating my good graces, Mohinder departs the show. He leaves behind a created compass for Noah’s use, and tells him that he has to go make amends with Maya. OK, he doesn’t actually say the word “Maya,” since the writers of “Heroes” must know that the name gives fans fits. Immediately after he leaves, Hiro sinks into a coma, in which he discovers his subconscious putting him on trial for crimes against the space-time continuum.

It’s the type of idea that sounds awesome on paper, but requires a great deal of wit and skill to actually pull off in practice. Certain moments of the trial were golden (Kaito Nakamura’s use of a sugar dispenser as a gavel, Adam Monroe’s outrage at the invocation of dialogue from “Quantum Leap”), but in many ways, there’s no way to adequately do such a concept justice. Why? Because “Heroes” has violated the narrative rules of time travel so often that trying to justify those attempts would inevitably fail.

Rather than focus on the stunning number of paradoxes achieved, the trial focused instead on the morality of Hiro’s decisions. If you look at the trial as a manifestation of Hiro’s innermost fears, then the tumor seems as much a scientific phenomenon as psychological one. In the time since Charlie’s departure into an unknown timeline, Hiro’s been unmoored, unsure of his place in the world and unable to remember why he started using his powers in the first place. As such, the trial was a method by which to strip away all accumulated weight and get back to understanding his connection to the Hiro that started the hero’s journey a seeming lifetime ago.

As such, it’s fitting that after literally fighting Adam for life and death (again, see: subtext), it’s his mother that greets him at the liminal point between life and death. For me, Hiro/Ishi scenes bypass all my snarky instincts and hit me right in the gut. Their scenes together killed me in “Our Father,” and they killed me again tonight. Something about this material takes both Masi Oka and “Heroes” as a whole to another level. Sure, Ishi’s last encounter with Hiro also ended with her healing his wounded brain, but given how few and far between truly emotional moments happen on “Heroes,” I’m giving the redundancy a pass this once.

Speaking of artificial emotions…

 

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

Quick: tell me what Samuel wants. (What he really, really wants.) He’s only this volume’s Big Bad. Does he want family? Does he want power? Does he want love? Does he want…a cottage in a meadow? I’ve just described the first four stages of Samuel. The fifth apparently is “ginormous sinkholes.” A-zig-a-zig-ah.

In essence: Samuel and Vanessa have a long history of her trying to resist his wily charms with him always knowing the right thing to say to break her defenses. Turns out he also has a knack of remembering every conversation they’ve ever had, which isn’t so much “charming” as “stalker-y.” If these two start singing “Summer Nights,” God help me I’m going to throw my laptop into the television.

Having charmed her with strawberry milkshakes and talks of old dorm-room escapades that Claire and Gretchen might share before long, Samuel takes Vanessa into the Ian Michaels-created wonderland adjacent to the carnival. It’s unclear if Samuel also picked up someone whose ability is “Super Carpentry” in order to supply the cottage of Vanessa’s childhood dreams. In any case, Samuel’s laid out the perfect recreation of Vanessa’s drawing of her former version of Eden.

Unfortunately, while Samuel still lives in a glorified, glossy version of the past, Vanessa lives in the less glamorous present. She breaks Samuel’s heart, which I suppose I would care about except for the whole “he kidnapped her against her will” thing the previous day. I know this plot is supposed to provide pathos for the show’s misunderstood villain, but frankly I’m ready for Robert Knepper to unleash some T-Bag on us already. In my notes, I scribbled, “SAMUEL SMASH,” calmly waiting for him to turn crazy go nuts with his last tether hold on humanity now snapped. And sure enough, by ep’s end, an entire town sinks into the earth, played into the Earth’s core by Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town.”

So, Samuel’s full-on evil now. Great. Any chance anyone else in the “Heroes” world besides Noah caring about this threat? Only a few weeks to go, people. Time’s ticking. The compass is spinning. Get to it.

What’s your grade for this episode of “Heroes”: pass or fail? Leave your comments below!