Hiro's spirit walk gives us some insight into the history of Arthur Petrelli, Sylar, and Agent Thompson

Heroes (TV series)

‘Heroes’ recap: A brief history of villainy

Buenos días, everybody. Hope you had a nice Heroes-less week off. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself: I dug into an ever-threatening tower of unread comics, played with my kids, and finished by pre-election rewatching of The West Wing‘s first two seasons.

I’d forgotten just how good that show was, especially in Aaron Sorkin’s hands. How deft it was at handling such a large ensemble cast — in any given episode, you never felt like anyone was slighted in favor of someone else, and the personal stories of the characters were only as present as the story required them to be. Those people — President Bartlet, Leo McGarry, Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler, C.J. Craig, Charlie Young, Sam Seaborn, Donna Moss, dear sweet Mrs. Landingham — were their jobs, so you never felt cheated by not knowing who their significant others were, or what their hobbies were. And when The West Wing flashed back to reveal how everyone got involved with the Bartlet presidency to begin with, it was a sharply focused affair.

I bring this up because while you can say many things about this week’s flashback hour, focused isn’t necessarily one of them. Neither, come to think of it, is necessary.

Our way into the past is through Hiro, who gets all spirit-walky in Africa and gets some one-year-ago history on three different characters: Claire’s hot mom, Meredith; Sylar; and Arthur Petrelli. Let’s take ’em one story at a time, shall we?

We met Meredith and her brother, Flint — I wonder why her name wasn’t something equally flammable, like Tinder or Blaze — in the middle of knocking over a convenience store. They’ve also got très cute red-and-blue fire patterns. Flint, apparently, is stupid, leaving Meredith to be the brains of the operation — which means that there aren’t much brains in the operation. They were interrupted by Thompson (Eric Roberts), a Company man, who wanted to train Meredith to be an agent. They rolled together on a training assignment to a shanty town to nab a shaggy colossus, which Meredith did quite handily. From there, we detoured through the Company hoosegow to find that Flint’s been locked up — but only until Meredith sprung him and they hopped a freight train heading south. Naturally, Thomson was on that train.

Now, follow me here: Meredith set a train car on fire, then the train crashed, but didn’t kill Meredith or Eric Roberts, and then he asked her why she hates the Company so much, so she could tell him about her daughter that was killed 14 years ago. He felt a pang of guilt, so he let her go…just before little Claire — all growed up and invulnerable — ran into the train wreck, cheerleader-style. And that’s about when I called bulls—. I call it the Serendipity Syndrome: When things line up too damned perfectly to be believable, all to achieve a resonance that comes solely from familiarity. Like in that John Cusack-Kate Beckinsale romcom.

And what did we learn from this flashback? That Meredith once had a petty crime past and Flint’s her brother (and Claire’s uncle). And that Thompson isn’t such a bad guy. And that the best offensive weaponry the Company has to offer is tasers. In other words, nothing important.

NEXT: Gabriel’s love of a not-so-good woman

Next, let’s roll with Arthur Petrelli. We meet him as the toast of the town so nice they named it twice, regaling a black-tie crowd with an ode of love to his wife. But beyond that, we see that he’s in tight with Daniel Linderman (Malcolm McDowell), and Nathan’s role as an assistant district attorney all set to investigate Linderman will undoubtedly uncover a Petrelli-Linderman connection. Mr. Petrelli is a bad guy. How do we know? Well, first, he orders Linderman to hire a dude to Road Warrior Nathan off the highway, which cripples Nathan’s wife, Heidi, instead. And, second, he’s been systematically monkeying with his dear wife Angela’s mind: planting thoughts, erasing memories. All to protect what they’ve got in store for New York — which must’ve been a different plan, since Linderman and Angela wanted to use the destruction of New York to set Nathan up as president.

Anyhoo, all of Arthur’s malfeasance comes home to roost when Linderman — in what looks like a genuine display of affection for Angela and her brood — repairs the mental damage in Mrs. Petrelli’s noggin. And, with the help of the power-dampening Haitian, she gets to poisoning her hubby. She’d have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for her pesky kids. And Arthur’s refusal to die.

So, what’d we learn here? The mechanics of Arthur’s demise and eventual survival. It was more impactful than the Meredith stuff, but aside from the logistics of Arthur’s one-year con, none of it was crucial information.

And, finally, Gabriel. Poor dude is despondent over having killed to further his power collection. Suicidal, even. That is, until Elle (Kristen Bell) comes into his life, and convinces him that there are things worth living for, and that he doesn’t have to be a bad guy if he doesn’t want to be. Unfortunately, that directly contradicts what Noah Bennet wants from Gabriel. Mr. Horn-Rimmed Glasses wants to study Gabriel’s transformation into a villain, like some kind of oceanographically inspired sociology experiment.

So, while Elle goes undercover as a hot Muggle chick — and legitimately begins to feel for a repentant Gabriel over lots and lots of pie — she finds the next names on Gabriel’s hit list of people with tasty abilities. And she betrays him by inviting one of them over — an emo boy named Trevor, who had a trigger finger. (There was a weird moment there when the whole Trevor affair felt like an intimate portrait of a couple where one of them wanted a threesome but the other one very much didn’t.)

Her betrayal is what sent Gabriel over the edge into abject villainy. According to Elle, ”We created a monster, and set him loose in the world.” And Noah responded with ”We’re not missionaries. If they’d wanted us to bring him in, that would’ve been the assignment. It wasn’t.” Since we’re led to believe that Arthur ultimately gives the orders in the Company, he’s a man who wanted to kill two out of three of his sons.

Now, there was some real revelation here. That the Company went out of its way to turn Gabriel into Sylar. That they knew exactly what they were doing, which is perfectly sinister. What didn’t play quite as well to me was the idea that it was the love of a woman that did the job. Sylar was such a perfectly shark-like villain — part of his allure was that he just was; no rationalization and no explanation — that to explain too much is to do him a slight disservice. But still, at least there was some real meat.

Of course, the episode ended with the following, weirdly rushed series of events: Hiro wakes up, babbles about some stuff, discovers that Usutu (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) has been decapitated, and then comes hand-to-head with Arthur Petrelli — who somehow found them in the middle of nowhere and knew that Hiro was dreaming about him. Apparently, the entire episode existed simply to get us to that last-minute confrontation. Which is kind of lame.

Heroes has had a rocky couple of weeks, what with the cover stories, creative shakeups, and a general softening of the ratings for what’s an incredibly expensive show to produce. Can Heroes be turned around? Sure. In my heart of hearts, I know there’s vast potential there. But not with installments like this.

My wife said it best: This episode was like a clip show made of footage we’ve never seen before.

What did you think? What was Arthur’s grand scheme to remake the world? Did Linderman have a little something going on with Angela, or did he really act out of the goodness of his heart?

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