It’s fitting that the main villain of this season’s “Heroes” can create sinkholes, since this week’s episode was all about fighting formless enemies. In “Shadowboxing,” the stories themselves didn’t quite overlap, but all featured fights against an invisible foe. Some were external, and a few were internal. Unfortunately, none were all that compelling. As “Redemption” reaches its halfway point, it’s high time for Samuel’s master plan to start revealing itself. All these feints, dekes, and stalemates are growing colder than Matt Parkman’s body in the back of that ambulance.

[Full recap of Monday (Nov. 9) night's "Heroes" after the break...]

 

I’m beginning to see the light 

A derailed train in New York City puts Peter’s hospital into full crisis mode, in addition to offering him a chance to use his newly obtained power from the lately departed Jeremy. Makes sense that Peter would revel in the ability to literally heal patients with his hand, but it seems that using that ability sucks the very life out of him as well. After the use of his power, he’s more winded than me after a 5K. 

Amidst the chaos, panic, and Petrellian panting, Emma is thrust from behind the filing desk to the front lines. Asked for help by an overwhelmed physician, she seizes the moment to apply a suture to a woozy patient. Peter notices this, and through his interest we learn the real reason why she stopped pursuing a medical career: during her second year of residency, her nephew drowned while she babysat him. Emotionally stunted by her absent-mindedness coupled with her deafness, Emma put her medical school jacket in the closet and never looked back. 

With the train-related overflow of patients, coupled with her interactions with Peter, Emma managed to finally overcome her fear by helping revive a young girl that passed out in a supply closet. Though Peter is no longer able to see the light show that emits from her piano playing, the two nevertheless share three common bonds: their special ability, their desire to help others, and their insanely straight-laced view of life. Seriously, these two make Mr. Rogers look like Sylar by comparison. 

Is this storyline too earnest for its own good? Perhaps, but the actors manage to normally steer away from enough schmaltz for it to be palatable. In a show that goes out of its way to show abilities as a seemingly never-ending burden, it’s occasionally nice to see two people not only embrace their state, but each other as well. Plus, I confess that I’m extremely interested to see if Emma’s power has a payoff beyond a mini-laser light show. The cracks that she created a few weeks back in the plaster indicate that she’ll play an important part in the weeks to come. 

Why do I think that? Because against all odds, “Heroes” is showing flashes of coherent continuity again! 

 

If I was invisible/Then I could just watch you in your room 

While I shouldn’t be this excited about a well-thought out and executed storyline, it’s been year after year in which “Heroes” tends to forget its own continuity on a week-to-week basis, never mind season-to-season. The Rebecca storyline isn’t groundbreaking in terms of content (child wants to exact revenge for her father’s death), but I have to give props to the show for taking its time with the narrative, throwing in enough misdirections and red herrings to keep us guessing but still delivering the full picture without dragging things out incessantly. In a show where characters seem to float in and out of purpose, Rebecca’s story is both clear and consistent. 

In short: after her father’s murder at the hands of Company Man Noah, Samuel adopted Rebecca into his carnival family. He promised revenge in return for loyalty. Rather than attack the man himself, earning meager retribution, she chose to hurt Noah where it hurt most: through the systematic dismantling of Claire. Samuel encouraged this tactic, as it would satisfy Rebecca’s bloodlust and his own family-gathering agenda. But with Noah’s insertion into the college scene in light of the Halloween scarefest, Rebecca’s patience grew thin, her cover was blown, and it was back to the carnival for her. 

While Rebecca confronted Noah, Samuel tried his silver tongue out on Claire in the wake of Gretchen’s freaked-out departure from campus. While I overtly groaned at her begrudging acceptance of Samuel’s skewed take on life, I grinned at learning she’d simply let Samuel ramble long enough for Noah to show up, guns a’ blazing. If only the show had applied Rebeccca-esque continuity, Claire wouldn’t have been the Anakin to Noah’s Mace Windu in allowing the Emperor Samuel to escape. (I’m working on an analogy for Rebecca in this situation, and failing miserably. I’m a bad nerd.) 

A few weeks ago I groaned that while I appreciated the new-and-improved-and-kind-of-hysterical Claire that I saw on display, I didn’t like that she decided to suddenly show up in the middle of the show’s fifth season out of nowhere. But if they want to ret-con her as smart and sassy from this point forth, I’m good and dandy with it. There’s so little humor on this show that I’ll take it where I can get it, like a parched man in the desert who suddenly finds an oasis. Unfortunately, I’m worried we’re going to once again see the dissolution of the Noah/Claire relationship for what I think is the approximately 487th time in the show’s short history, obliterating not only their relationship but the new and improved Claire that’s been on display in this volume. 

 

Hit me with your best shot/Fire away 

So, in case you have not been keeping track at home: the real Nathan Petrelli is dead, but Matt Parkman mind-frakked a drugged, shape shifting Sylar was into thinking he was the Senator from New York. This plan should have pushed Sylar’s memories away for good, but instead those thoughts ended up lodged in Parkman’s brain, eating away at the policeman from inside. Finally, Sylar took control of Parkman’s body after a booze bender, leaving Matt to lie in the Phantom Zone of his own brain, helpless as Sylar takes his body across the country to enact revenge on those that put him there in the first place. 

Whew. Wish I could have seen the writers’ diagram THAT on their storyboards. 

Luckily, watching it is easier than describing it, and while my longings for Evil Parkman are probably never, ever going to be fulfilled, I did enjoy this week’s game of cat-and-mouse between the two adversaries. While Parkman can’t physically stop Sylar from using his own body (a body that perpetually disgusts Sylar in un-PC but pretty amusing ways), Matt can make Sylar’s mind slip occasionally. Such slips result in Sylar thinking he’s packing socks but in reality packing a loaded gun for LAX security to discover. 

Sylar, for his part, uses his physical control to threaten innocent lives around him. Not only does this upset Parkman morally, but also legally: after all, Sylar’s prints aren’t on the scene of the crime. Sylar’s image isn’t on closed-captioned cameras as evidence. So while hunkered up at the Burnt Toast Diner in Midland, TX, Sylar finally learns the truth about the Parkman/Angela/Noah triumvirate and vows to kill all those involved once he recovers his actual body. 

Two problems, however, exist within Sylar’s plan. The first concerns Sylar’s actual body, which now once again thinks is Nathan and managed to fly away from the circus. On auto-pilot, he flies back to Peter’s apartment and gives good ol’ bro a hug that undoubtedly sent the bromance ‘shippers into a frothing frenzy. Secondly: while Parkman can’t allow Sylar to harm anyone else, he’s OK with harming himself. He embeds an SOS into Sylar’s idle napkin doodlings to submit a distress call that Charlie’s good ol’ coworker Lynette uses to send police to the scene. In an act of self-sacrifice, Parkman forces Sylar to reach into his coat pocket to simulate the un-holstering of a gun. Bullets fly, Sylar falls, and Parkman disappears. 

Now, here’s a study question: is an act of nobility cheapened if we as an audience are trained to react as if death is meaningless in this particular reality? In other words, in a show where almost no one important dies (or stays dead), should we view Parkman’s act as heroic or simply inconsequential? (And yes, I realize that asking this question before the worst kept secret in Hollywood drops on “Heroes” in the near future is ironic.) But were this a show that treated death as omnipresent, potentially just around every corner, and above all FINAL, something like this would have a huge impact on the viewing audience. As it stands, many of us sit back and think, “In a show in which countless people have come back from the dead, reality itself constantly shifts, and a major character now has the ability to HEAL PEOPLE WITH HIS HANDS, should we really worry that the show just killed off two major character in one fell swoop?” 

Maybe that’s over thinking things by more than half, but “Heroes” is unfortunately not a show in which a viewer can lose him- or herself. In that way, the show is almost shadowboxing with itself. It’s trying to fight the preconceptions that it’s inflicted upon itself by violating audience trust since the end of Season 1, but no matter how many times it swings, it rarely connects. Even when it does, it’s rarely able to repeat the act with any regularity. Things have to start picking up soon, lest the ratings start to suffer a T.K.O. 

Are Samuel’s sales pitches wearing thin? Do you expect the many storyline strands to all lead back to the carnival, or fizzle out along separate paths?