Admit it: you read the words "two-hour 'Heroes' premiere" and wondered why your just and merciful God had chosen to spite thee so. Two hours of what might be the last gasp of a once mighty franchise, fallen from such great heights down to such lows? Two hours of fleeting glimpses of greatness pummeled by insensible plotlines and shocking tonal shifts? The horror. The horror. 

Tonight’s reality? A two-hour premiere that essentially cancelled itself out, with an hour full of promise weighed down an hour of the same problems that have plagued the last three volumes of the series. This volume’s title, “Redemption,” is a conscious one, a meta name meant to ensure the faithful (if dwindling) viewer that they too recognize the show’s shortcomings. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that show has a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t in this universe, and as such, I fear any positive developments are almost accidental. 

[Full recap of Monday's (Sept. 21) "Heroes" after the break...]

I am but mad north by northwest 

Let’s start with the good: Samuel, the show’s best villain since Sylar. In a mere two episodes, the Artist Formerly Known as T-Bag swept onto the show’s landscape and demanded the audience’s attention. Admit it: when you first heard about this season’s “carnival”-themed nemeses, you laughed. Maybe a lot. Samuel will kindly let finish your fit of laughter and leave you dead on the ground before you realize what’s happened. Unlike Sylar, he’s not much for showmanship. He’s all about brotherhood.  

Unfortunately, “brotherhood” for Samuel has been shattered by the death of his brother, Joseph. Each possessed a compass that, like Captain Jack Sparrow’s, does more than point north. These old (ancient?) devices seem to respond not to magnetic poles so much as superpowered abilities. Why? Who knows? Frankly, I don’t care, which means these devices soon will be explained like so many midi-chlorians before them. 

Speaking of midi-chlorians, how about Ray Park (aka Darth Maul) as a man with a way with a knife as well as the sound barrier? Unfortunately, he’s named named…Edgar. Not the most terrifying name ever bestowed upon a villain. It also doesn’t help that he looks like “Chuck”’s best friend Morgan, only on HGH. Yikes.  

He’s a killer with a soul, you see. OK with killing to protect the “brotherhood” established under the carnival tent by the Sullivan Brothers but forced into retribution thanks to the work of Danko and Building 26. In a fit of retconning so brutal and nonsensical that only “Heroes” could dare attempt it, we’re now to understand that Danko killed Joseph Sullivan during the “Fugitives” volume, locked the compass away in the New York Federal Reserve, ATE THE KEY, and then caught a matinee of “Mama Mia.” OK, maybe I made that last part up. 

Peter Parker Petrelli  

If “Fugitives” did one thing right, it managed to fix the character of Peter Petrelli. For the first few volumes, he unwittingly unleashed nearly every major catastrophe that befell the world. When he wasn’t inadvertently causing the apocalypse, he was whining about it. Just brutal. But at some point during “Fugitives,” the show managed to finally find a balance between earnest individual and superpowered demi-god. By limiting Peter to one power at a time, they removed him from his nearly omnipotent (and uninteresting) pedestal and gave the character a focus and, quite frankly, a coolness I thought impossible. 

“Redemption” finds Peter is full Spider-Man mode (between possessing Mohinder’s spider-like powers and obsessively listening to the police scanner) when not saving lives as a paramedic. His sparsely appointed apartment points to a streamlined lifestyle in which he lives to single-handedly undo the wrongs wrought by his family, the Bennets, and The Company. However, when Noah comes calling for help, the old Emo Peter doesn’t sulk and complain; of moping in the shadows for episodes on end, he comes out to stop Egredious Edgar from stealing The Copper Compass. 

What follows is a fight that should absolutely not work (Edgar/Peter in a “Matrix”-esque knife fight) and yet surpasses every Peter/Sylar fight to date. Granted, me opening a peanut butter jar exceeds a typical Peter/Sylar throwdown, but still, this fight showed glimpses of Peter’s power while also putting him on Samuel’s radar. While not as powerful in terms of abilities, Peter’s plenty more powerful as a character, and gave the show more than a few great moments tonight. 

 

Park(man) and recreation 

If I have but one wish for this volume, it’s that the show finally stop teasing Evil Parkman and just freakin’ give me Evil Parkman already. I wants it. I needs it. It’s my preciouusssss. Since Season 1’s “Five Years Gone,” the show has hinted at Matt’s dark side. The fact that the Nightmare Man from Season 2 turned out to be Papa Parkman only further planted this notion. And over the years, Matt found himself at a moral crossroads in terms of balancing his telepathy’s use for good with its seemingly unlimited potential for abuse. 

By sticking Sylar inside his noggin as a side effect of brain-wiping the baddie inside Nathan’s appearance, “Heroes” may have struck upon both the best way to realistically keep Zachary Quinto in heavy usage AND finally push Parkman to the dark side. Sylar as Parkman’s own Dark Passenger? Yes, please. I shouldn’t have cheered when Parkman mind-frakked Water Boy Roy, but I didn’t. Did I ever. About 18% of that was due to Roy’s mullet, but the other 82% was all about delicious evil Parkman unleashing his id. 

Now, if only “Heroes” would lay off the “powers as drugs/alchohol” metaphor with this storyline, we’d be set. It didn’t work in Season 6 of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and it won’t work here. Just the fact that Parkman spoke of his abilities like a drug he was trying to kick made me queasy, but then the show had to clang the anvil that much louder and send him TO A FREAKIN’ AA MEETING. And you wonder why I keep saying the show has no idea when it stumbles onto really cool ideas.  

Then again, it certainly has no clues about storylines that just need to stop cold. 

 

Non-linear thinking 

Poor Claire. Poor Hiro. Alas, poor characters, we hardly know ye anymore. Actually, we do: you’re the ones that start off every season broadly proclaiming that things will be different, and then you go and do the same thing again. You’re like dogs that haven’t quite figured out the proper Pavlovian response just yet. 

In Claire’s case, she just can’t stop accidentally revealing her powers to strangers , somehow failing to recognize other superpowered people right in front of her, or accidentally revealing her superpowers to other superpowered people. No, I’m not talking about Annie, who’s only power was Super Annoyance. No, I’m looking at Gretchen, who might as well have worn a sweater that read “I’m Totally Evil” across her chest. You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to assume she’s Samuel’s spy, even before her face popped up on the back of the carnival’s tattoo lady/human GPS device/INTERPOL database. I’ve stopped trying to figure out why every evil mastermind determines that Claire is so important by this point and just learned to pray for her scenes to end. 

In Hiro’s case, he once again managed to break the cardinal rule of time travel (not changing the past) by the end of the premiere of the series. Honestly, you could add that to “death and taxes” in terms of life’s certainties. When the volume starts, he can no longer time travel…until he suddenly can, and don’t you dare ask why because I sure as heck have no clue. But after a massive set of exposition in which we learn five volumes into the season about the supposedly pivotal moment in Hiro’s life, Hiro somehow transports himself to the scene of his “birth” as a wanna-be hero: the Sullivan Brothers Carnival, 14 years ago. 

Using his own, old, dilapidated form of Hiro, Samuel transports himself back to that same moment in order to start Hiro down a path that, I assume, will eventually bring his brother Joseph back to life. But for now, all we get is a minute change in which absolutely everything in the history of “Heroes” has changed…except now Ando and Hiro’s sister Kimiko are in lurve. That might be the smallest butterfly in the history of course correction. Naturally, this leads Hiro to believe it’s his destiny to change everyone’s life for the better. Naturally, THIS leads me to down bottles of beer in one gulp. 

 

We are company…I got all my heroes with me… 

Samuel’s plans for both Hiro and Claire call for him to strip away their sense of family and then replace it with his own “brotherhood,” one that is solely dependent on Samuel for survival. That’s not so much a brotherhood as it is a dictatorship, but hey, you say potato, and then Samuel tattooes one on your hand and you eventually choke on it. Just semantics, really. 

Noah Bennett and Tracy Strauss serve to point out just how useful isolation can be when it comes to Samuel’s plans: Noah’s alone burning microwave dinners while Tracy turns on the water works (literally) because revenge is the only thing left in her life. Noah and Claire manage to actually recapture some of their old charm during his visit to her school, but sure as the sun sets these two will be bickering in no time over her safety. By episode’s end, Noah and Tracy have formed an uneasy but potentially useful alliance through the power of trust and Boston clam chowdah, courtesy of Peter Petrelli’s Edgar enhancements and extreme product placement. Can’t wait for next week when Sylar scolds Parkman over his selection from the Burger King Value Menu. That will be a WHOPPER of a good time. 

Speaking of uneasy families, let’s end the Nathan-as-Sylar stuff before people start making up names for this duo. (Nylar? Sythan? Damn, too late.) As much as I enjoy Adrian Pasdar’s line readings letting a little Quinto cadence enter his speech patterns, I’m worried that his interactions with Angela will have worn out their welcome long before I tire of Sylar brain-frying Parkman. The Parkman plot does not entirely erase the awful taste this “solution” left at the end of the last volume. It was bad then, and it’s no better now. 

If you’ll recall, I had about the same reaction to the start of “Fugitives” as I did to tonight’s premiere: cautious optimism. There are seeds of potential greatness in these back-to-back episodes. Unfortunately, we all know what happened during the rest of the last volume. If I had one bit of advice to the show? “Grow a pair.” Make the stakes real. Make people hurt. Really hurt. Make Parkman evil. Twist the psychological knife. Let people actually die. Above all, make what happens in this volume actually matter. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in Volume 6 much like we do know: with characters who barely seem to register any lessons from their pasts, blindly going forth to make the same mistakes all over again. 

 

What did you think of tonight’s “Heroes” premiere? Leave your thoughts below!