David Bowie was a chameleon back in the start of his rock and roll career, so it’s only fitting that “Heroes” titled tonight’s shapeshifting-filled episode “Turn and Face the Strange” after a line from Bowie’s hit single “Changes.” But the changes in tonight’s episode were not merely physical, but emotional as well. Quite a few characters experience life-altering events that shattered whatever passes as “normal” life within the confines of this show.

So, if I may steal a line from tonight’s resident Asian redneck, “Let’s rodeo!” (And yes, that’s the only time I’m going to mention him. In fact, I’m already regretting the fact that I brought him up at all.)

[Recap after the break...]

Shape Up, Ship Out

Poor Noah. I’m impressed the NBC promo monkeys didn’t cut a trailer of Noah’s exploits to Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” to drive home just how awful an episode he would experience. If there’s a lesson to be learned from his exploits, it’s this: ALWAYS LISTEN TO ANGELA PETRELLI. It’s up there with answering “Yes!” when Gozer the Gozerian asks you if you’re a god.

See, Noah’s a smart cookie, but he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. Sylar and Danko can’t completely fool him for long, but they know how to keep him off-balance. As such, what occurred this week wasn’t so much a full-on assault so much as a form of psychological jujitsu, in which the pair used Noah’s instincts and emotions to do most of the work throughout the hour.

In other words, Sylar more than likely assumed his status as shapeshifter couldn’t be perpetual. But he also knew that impersonating Sandra just once would be enough to throw Noah off his game. Ironically enough, it was that distrust that may have finally ended Noah’s twenty-two years of marriage. Now, I’ve only been married less than two years, but even I know da ladies don’t like it when you put a gun to the back of their head. And if they do…well, can’t really help you there.

The shapeshifting trope is a tricky one: when used effectively, it keeps the audience off-balance. However, when overused, it just feels gimmicky. So, props to “Heroes” for pulling a true bait-and-switch with an HRG-less HRG tricking Danko into admitting that he and Sylar are in cahoots. However, Danko proved every bit as manipulative as Sylar later on; HRG confronted the soldier Danko identified in private, only to have Emile contradict his own confession in public. Long story short: Noah “kills” Agent Donner, runs off after Donner loses approximately 400 gallons of blood, and thus doesn’t stick around to see Sylar later rise up and cough up the slug.

Sure, it’s pretty lazy to have the auto-healing ability suddenly have a snooze alarm, but I’ll forgive it this once since it added to not only Noah’s sense of derangement, but a momentary meta-sense that one of our nominal heroes just went cuckoo for cocoa puffs. And it led to Sylar’s genuinely disquieting line, “I squeezed out a little extra…for show.” With HRG having officially left the building (26), let’s hope the shapeshifting misdirections stop coming at a Vin Diesel-esque pace (i.e., fast and furious).

I’ve Got My Mind Set On You

Danko didn’t only deal with the dismissal of Noah this week. No sirree, “Heroes” was chock full o’ Emile this week, as Matt Parkman aimed to provide the same sense of hurt that the death of Daphne gave him. In some ways, Parkman’s plan mirrored Sylar’s: both wanted to destroy, not kill, their adversaries.

Parkman’s plan? Plant a seed of doubt about the person closest to Danko, and follow him to said person. And said person, Elena, was a hottie! Apparently, watching Faux Emile get jiggy with that young thang in the club last week was no joke. Then again, Danko’s pulled his own version of Faux Emile on this woman, telling Elena that he’s Jakob, Seller of Schoolbooks. Scariest encyclopedia salesman EVER.

Parkman at first uses his mind mojo to mess with Elena, but soon realizes the affection between the two is genuine. Of course, “Jakob’s” backstory is completely false, so he forces Elena to visit Danko’s real apartment and makes Danko spit out the truth in front of her. Parkman’s mind voodoo can sometimes come off as hysterically cheesy (go rewatch Parkman and Peter “think” their way into Building 26), but props to Zeljko Ivanek for selling the holy hell out of Danko’s forced confession. Layers of hate, anger, regret, and absolute despair coat every word that comes out of his mouth as Parkman pries the truth from his mind through his unwilling lips.

Having completed that task, Parkman attempts to shoot Elena. Naturally, he falls short, as “Heroes” doesn’t have the guts to turn Matt Parkman that dark. Danko seizes the chance to put a bullet in Parkman’s brain, an option Parkman willingly accepts. But, halfway through the bullet’s path, Hiro arrives on scene and wheels Parkman to safety. Literally. How did Hiro get there? Glad you asked!

Route Sixty Suck

The less said about this the better. Essentially, Baby Parkman is like a human LoJack when upset. So he keeps stalling the car in which Hiro and Ando are using to drive Baby Parkman to meet his father. Ando eventually hits upon a ridiculous face that keeps Baby Parkman happy, and they drive to NYC. There was also that rodeo dude but I promised to leave him out of it.

Their sole function in this episode? Provide a reason for Parkman to not go completely suicidal, or worse, go emo. So now father and son are reunited, Parkman’s no longer going to play My Chemical Romance MP3s on his iPod, and maybe, just maybe, Hiro and Ando will be given something to do in this volume. It’s a lot to ask, I know.

National Lampoon’s Petrelli Vacation

I’ve been on some bad family trips in my time, but those look like downright utopian experiences when compared to the road trip taken by the Petrellis this week. They head to Coyote Sands, a little out of the way place in southwest Arizona where one can enjoy fishing, camping, and digging up the seemingly hundreds of skeletons that litter the landscape. So, you know, something for everyone.

The skeletons are the remains of something called Operation: Icarus, the latest iteration of “Heroes” trying to establish some Zero Hour for the madness we see today. Just don’t ask Mohinder about Icarus, since he completely butchers the myth in his episode-ending voiceover. For some reason, his version omits Icarus’ father Daedalus who built the wings that led to proud Icarus’ death. In Mohinder’s version, Icarus constructs the wings, not Daedalus. That kind of completely changes the meaning of the myth, but no one ever accused Mohinder of being smart. Or remotely competent. In this construction, “Operation: Icarus” implies a project designed to impart lessons upon the brash youth, too naïve to understand their own hubris. Which is why Angela then went and kept her mouth shut for a few decades. Or something. The less you think with “Heroes,” the more you tend to enjoy it.

At least we’re seemingly due for an Angela-centric episode soon, as we uncover (literally and figuratively) the secrets of her past. I suspect there are as many demons there as skeletons for Mama Petrelli.

In summary: two solid character-based plots connected by two flimsy road trips. Parkman, Danko, and Noah were the stars of the hour and all brought their A game. The rest of the cast was largely stranded, either forced to make silly faces at babies or barely onscreen at all. But overall, “Fugitives” is ending stronger than it started, and its hits outweigh its misses. It’s no longer Must See TV, but it’s a pretty pleasant watch with more than a few genuinely cool moments per week. And given its recent woes, I’ll more than take that as this volume winds down.

Did Danko’s backstory flesh him out or feel forced? Does the shape shifting enthrall or annoy? And is anyone else getting a “V for Vendetta” vibe from Coyote Sands?

 

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