"Heroes" giveth, and "Heroes" taketh it away. In other words? Par for the course in this improved, but still mixed, volume of the show. For everything that works, something else steps in and results in a response often favored by C+C Music Factory. In other words, there were plenty of things that made you go, "Hmmm," in this week's outing, "Strange Attractors."
Since the title of the episode derived from Claire's storyline, let's start with her, shall we?
She seems to have an invisible touch
Let me say this up front: I really, really liked Claire this week. And I'm not even lying. She handled her awkward post-kiss conversation with Gretchen about as well as possible, quickly deduced that something was afoot during the sorority hazing event, and even sprung quickly into action when her new best friend found a hook around her neck. All this plus cracking jokes post-impalement? Stellar! So here's my problem:
Where the hell has this character been for the past four years?
As a stand-alone episode, Claire is epically cool. In that pesky thing known as continuity, she's epically retconned. Everything she said or did reeked of writers' influence, not organic character development. If the show manages to sustain this newfound person that looks like the old Claire but walks, talks, and acts this way, we might forget how poorly she's been handled since Season 1's "Company Man." But for now, the affect is simply jarring, almost as if a spell had been cast transforming a whiny, helpless girl into a kick-ass, take-charge leader.
And if that sounds like a familiar plot, well, "Heroes" made sure you got the reference by name-checking Buffy Summers early on. Heck, Gretchen's description of "strange attractors" would not have been out of place coming from Tara's lips to Willow in that same show. But this isn't "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and this wasn't "Homecoming."
Sure, Claire quipped a good game, but she's far from the iconic character played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Had "Heroes" treated her the way they did tonight over the show's run, maybe we'd be making such comparisons. For now? The comparison just emphasizes the gap between them.
If tonight did anything to link the two, however, it would be in their devotion to family. Ironically, this will make it that much harder for Samuel to co-opt Claire into his own, makeshift family. Her loyalty to Gretchen (and, I'll wager, Peter) will make it hard for Samuel's divide-and-conquer strategy to work on her. Luckily, his plan isn't entirely blonde-proof.
How does it feel/To be on your own/With no direction home/Like a rolling stone…
Last week, Noah promises healer/killer Jeremy that he would protect him in the wake of finding the boy living with the fetid corpses of his parents. However, looks like Noah underestimated that thing called "the law," and before the two know what's happening, Jeremy's in lock-up. Hoping to get him freed, Noah employs Tracy to pose as his aunt and sign for his release.
The connection makes sense both from a practical perspective (her Washington connections secure Jeremy's initial release) and an emotional one (Tracy knows all too well about living with the guilt of a power that has caused the death of another). But that empathy seemingly calls out like a siren to Samuel, who arrives on the scene to magically whisk Tracy to the carnival to secure the boy after his release. While it's a bit lazy to have "Heroes" seemingly invent a carnival member with the power needed for a particular scene, I was fine with the lack of explanation for their travel.
And we finally learned the significance of the compass: it points to the carnival, should you have an invitation. Odds that Samuel leaked Jeremy's release to the press in order to force Tracy's hand? Likely. Odds that he foresaw his plan would result in the death of a protestor, leading to Jeremy's horrific death at the hands of a vengeful sheriff who tied him to the back of a car to be dragged to his death? Much less likely. Watch Samuel's eyes as he sinks the police station into the ground: it's as much external as internal loathing. Watching him in those final moments was watching him finally and completely turn into this show's Magneto, the villain who seeks to protect his own kind but can't see humanity as anything but the enemy in that struggle.
But a brief word on Jeremy's death: yes, it's impressive that "Heroes" went there. And I don't mean to sound morbid as I say that. But by the same token, just as Claire's sudden super-intelligence and wit seemed to contradict all that came before it, the brutal realism of Jeremy's death seemed out of place in the "Heroes" universe. I'm all for the show having stakes, but it's established a reality in which a death such as Jeremy's seems to violate the rules of the show. Was it powerful? Absolutely. But in long-form, episodic narrative, continuity matters.
It wasn't any more violent than any of Sylar's killings, but it certainly was infinitely more ugly in terms of context and motivation. And hey, maybe that's the point. Maybe "Heroes" decided to remember that this show takes place in a world we recognize, and in that world, hate for what is different still exists in spades. Maybe it will take the hate of those different from "Fugitives" and place it not in the hands of a relatively faceless, covert government branch and put it directly into the hearts and minds of everyday, ordinary citizens. Doing so would definitely strengthen Samuel's position and complicate the morality of the show, but is "Heroes" really, truly willing to go there?
Well I think I'm losing my mind this time, this time I'm losing my mind
Well, the good news? We're getting Evil Parkman! The bad news? It's not actually Parkman who will be bad, but Sylar simply posing as Parkman. Less fun, but I still get evil Greg Grunberg on my television. Since "Heroes" nearly never gives me what I want (what I really, really want), I guess this is as close to a victory as I will get for the time being.
So, if I have this right: by displacing Sylar's memories from his own head in order to make room for Nathan's, Matt Parkman did not account for the fact that Sylar's memories couldn't stay in his own head. Not enough room, I guess. So they leapt into Parkman's own head, staying behind what is essentially a mental firewall. From there, he interacted solely with Matt, until he started learning a few ways around the security system and got his freak on with Janice. ("That's the second Parkman I made scream today!" might have gone into the all-time Top 5 Sylar quotes ever tonight.) So Parkman decides he's going to…drink Sylar away. Because vinyasa yoga didn't do squat, I guess.
Now, watching Sylar wince in pain while Parkman sipped beer, did shots, and eventually started copying Will Ferrell in "Old School" actually physically pained me. Just lame to the extreme. So I was pleased to the extreme to learn that the plot I thought was so dumb was in fact all a ruse to make Parkman pass out so Sylar could reverse the firewall and lock Matt's brain up and leave Sylar as the puppeteer of Parkman's body. Looks like Janice is gonna be one lucky lady, people.
So, now we have Sylar's memories in Parkman's body, with Nathan's memories in Sylar's body. So it's only a matter of time before notParkman ends up at the carnival himself. I'm pretty sure Samuel will want to do everything is his power to stop that, but if Sylar can mentally shackle the show's most powerful telepath, something tells me doors will be opening up for him on his long, slow march back to his body.
Which way is your "Heroes" compass pointing: towards the show or away from it?