Since its very first episode, Heroes has been about perpetual forward motion, setting small goals for itself and moving its various characters around like pieces on a chessboard and always with a primary objective in mind: Saving the cheerleader. Finding Sylar. Stopping an exploding man. Now that it's done all of those (and in one of the more anticlimactic season finales in recent memory) Heroes has a choice to make in its sophomore year. It can do more of the same by setting up a new impending threat, which might attract newcomers to the show who don't have time to learn, for example, who "The Company" is (and who apparently can't be bothered to rent the DVDs). Or, it could reward the faithful by refusing to retrace its steps and diving headlong into some of those loose threads left dangling by last season's drive to the finish line. Thankfully, Heroes chose the latter with "Four Months Later," picking up a short time after the events of "How To Stop An Exploding Man" with nary a glimpse of pandering exposition and even a jarring time-shift to leave diehards in the lurch.
As Mohinder's narration tells us, "It's a new dawn," with the world saved from imminent destruction by those who "dwell among us, anonymous." (Considering last season's showdown took place in a painfully fake, deserted Manhattan, obviously nobody was around to pass out medals afterward.) The theme of anonymity looms large in this first episode, with everyone seemingly trying to forget the events of last year and somehow go back to being "normal"–particularly former Company man Bennet, who's uprooted his family yet again, assumed the surname "Butler," and moved to California. While I understand Bennet's pressing desire to keep Claire safe and also carve out a normal life for his family, isn't this pretty much a lost cause? By this point she's survived several attempted murders, seen her best friend's (and mother's) memory wiped by her adoptive father, met her biological parents and grandmother, seen her uncle explode Shouldn't she be a little less concerned about getting a new car and flirting with "alien" hipster boys? Something about her slipping back into the routine of school life rings a little false, as does the rest of her family gamely trying to "bloom" in their fresh start. Last time we saw them, they had witnessed Claire regenerating after being caught in a massive explosion and Bennet supposedly left their memories alone–thereby involving them in the larger conspiracy–but the dinner scene here seems to hint that Claire's mother is back to her Mr. Muggles-obsessed blissful ignorance, along with Claire's goofy, suddenly mute brother.
"Four Months Later" was all about this kind of in medias res checking in on characters without providing much explanation as to how exactly they ended up there. We saw brief glimpses of a shattered, bearded Nathan Petrelli finally standing up to his manipulative mother and haunted by visions of Peter, but we got no answers (yet) as to what happened in the sky that day. Debate has raged in the Heroes fan community as to what exactly Nathan did to "help" Peter–did he just fly him up into the atmosphere and wing him towards the sun, like what happened to those nuclear missles in Superman IV?–but whatever he did, he didn't stick around to see how it shook out, and he obviously didn't die in the explosion. He also apparently threw away both his office in the Senate and his marriage, and he refuses to talk to anyone–even Claire–about what happened. Parkman hasn't fared much better: While he's fully recovered from being shot and is back to being a cop again, he's also divorced, and no doubt it will be a while before we find out what happened to Janice and their unborn baby. In the meantime, he's shacking up with Mohinder and Molly, My Two Dads-style, even enrolling her in school–somehow without Social Services ever getting involved. (I suppose this is a fantasy.)
Speaking of Mohinder, he's undergone the most severe personality change, traveling the world with a new violent streak and stumping for research into that power-depleting virus he discovered last season–you know, the one that supposedly only he can cure with his own blood–while asserting that the problems of global warming and terrorism can only be solved with the help of superpowers (guess those of us in the real world are screwed). He's also conspiring with Bennet to infiltrate and destroy The Company, and–while I suppose it's completely moot to wonder how such a radical transformation could take place between those two, considering where everyone else ended up, and since we'll most likely learn the stories behind all of this in the upcoming "Four Months Ago" flashback–right now it requires a big leap of faith to accept that these two former adversaries last seen pointing guns at each other are suddenly partners. (Then again, I'm also not clear how The Company continues to function now that Linderman and Thompson are dead and Kaito Nakamura appears to have defected–and is now dead himself–but obviously there's some more top levels to that organization that we've yet to discover.)
In the meantime, the answer to who really controls The Company, the identity of Molly's "boogeyman," and the hints at a deeper mythology that have always been there–namely, the story behind the eclipse and the meaning of that symbol that pops up everywhere from the "bag-and-tag" tattoos to Takezo Kensei's flag to the mysterious "Black Spot"-like pictures that both Kaito and Angela Petrelli receive–are being delayed by the introduction of new characters (promising), the mystery of who killed Kaito and who's trying to kill Angela (meh), and the unfortunate subplot of Hiro's journey back to 1671 Japan. Outside of a funny throwaway line or two ("Oh no! I broke history!"), I just don't find myself very engaged in this storyline. While I trust that the writers are leading up to something, what with all the constant references to Kenzei since the first season and this episode's subtle poking of holes in hero mythology, I'm not especially interested in seeing Hiro train with samurais only to eventually save the day, get the girl, and then have a tearful goodbye with her before rejoining Ando in the present. It's one of the few times I feel like I know where the story is going already (please let me be wrong!), and I'd really like to skip ahead.
But then, that would be indulging in those cheap pleasures of instant gratification and forward motion, and to the writers' credit they've done an excellent job thus far of delaying answers–while introducing new questions–just enough to keep it tantalizing. Even the final cliffhanger featuring an obviously-not-dead Peter mysteriously chained up on an Irish dock–although predictable and totally clichéd (he has amnesia; who didn't see that coming?)–just before the familiar "To Be Continued " reminded me why I like this show in the first place: I'm already thinking about what will happen next.
-- Who is publishing Chandra Suresh's book? Everyone in the world seems to have a copy, including Maya and Alejandro in Mexico. Is theirs a Spanish translation? Did they order it from Amazon? Or is there a parapsychology section in their local Barnes & Noble?
-- Maya says, "God would not do this to me." So, uh, where exactly does God fit into all of this "advanced evolution" stuff anyway?
-- Heroes must be one of the most heavily subtitled network shows ever, what with all the Japanese and now Spanish going on.
-- Sad that this was apparently the end of George Takei's character. Do we already know what this "legacy" is that he's supposed to hand down to Hiro? Have we already seen the full photo that his and Angela Petrelli's pictures were torn from? And who are the other seven left from "the nine"?
-- Is Mohinder really convinced that Sylar is dead? Did no one notice that his body never turned up?
-- If you could turn anything to gold, would you really want to work for anybody, let alone a company that required you to go on recruiting missions to Cairo?
-- I find I still can't trust Bennet after they spent most of the first season making him out to be the enemy–although that's probably just Jack Coleman's own inherent creepiness.
-- Nathan grew quite the beard for only four months' time. He must be brimming with testosterone.
-- Speaking of Petrellis and their hair, good to see that Milo Ventigmilia is finally free of that Conor Oberst "emo swoop."
-- And speaking of Milo Ventigmilia, how creepy is it going to be when Peter and Claire are finally reunited, considering we know Ventimiglia and Hayden Panettiere are dating?
-- Would you trade "limited commercial interruption" for regular old commercial breaks if it meant you didn't have to see the same Nissan ad three times in a row? Also, how exactly does having your car autographed by Tim Kring add to its value?
[And on a personal note: Since I'm going to be your guide throughout this season, I thought I should admit to you up front that I am not a comic book fan. Nothing against them, but when it comes to comics I'm more of a Daniel Clowes/Chris Ware/Charles Burns/Adrian Tomine guy; the last time I picked up an issue of X-Men I was probably a wee lad who had yet to discover the joys of masturbating. As such, I will undoubtedly miss any allusions that some of you more attuned comics readers will spot. Feel free to post them in the comments, but try to take it easy on me if I don't catch that "totally obvious Watchmen reference," OK? Also, I have not read–nor do I intend to read–the Heroes graphic novels. As far as I'm concerned, if it didn't happen on the screen, it didn't happen. However, if you feel like they have something to add to the discussion, feel free to post about it. Who knows? You might even convince me to pick one up.]