Heroes: "Once Upon a Time in Texas"
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Heroes: "Once Upon a Time in Texas"

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Heroes

"Once Upon a Time in Texas"

Season 4, Episode 8

More than anything, Heroes wishes it was 2006 again. It was the cool new show on TV, it hadn’t gone to its well of narrative tricks so often that they all became boring, and people were legitimately enthralled by its myriad plot twists. While I’ve always been fairly skeptical of Heroes’ virtues, even I’m a little saddened by just how bad the show has gotten, but just how little anyone involved seemed to understand how to capitalize on the show’s moment and ran virtually all goodwill the show had into the ground. For God’s sake, it should have been so easy, Tim Kring. You had the more accessible Lost, the series that could take that show’s goofy sense of genre fun and translate it to a storyline that people could jump into and out of at their leisure. Have the heroes band together, send them up against a new and colorful villain every season, rinse and repeat, as necessary. Instead, the show just kept … doing the same things over and over. Picking on the sorry state of NBC is fun and all, but most of that mockery ignores just how thoroughly this show botched being the big hit the network needed.

At this point, the only reason we run these Heroes recaps is because everyone loves some good, old-fashioned mockery, as well as kicking a show when it’s down. Sadly, mockery on the scale Mssr. Heisler is capable of is not my strong suit, but I can at least recognize how much “Once Upon a Time in Texas” eschews anything that’s working this season – which is getting out to a better start than season three did, though that’s not exactly a tall order – in favor of some nostalgia for when things were merry and bright. To that end, they’ve brought back Jayma Mays as Hiro’s ain true love, Charlie. Mays is an actress I’ve really liked since she was Rachel McAdams’ contact back at the hotel in Red Eye, so even though it felt like pointless fan service to bring her back, I was mildly looking forward to seeing what the show would do with her.

There’s a sad desperation to nearly everything in this weird interlude back in 2006. “Remember when Claire wore that cheerleader uniform all the time?” the show asks. “You liked us back then! How about when you didn’t know what Noah’s name was? Oh, and when Hiro was the character everyone wanted more of, and Masi Oka was getting Emmy nominations, and he wasn’t just an excuse for bumbling comic relief? Guess what, everyone? It’s 2006 again! Please love us!” Then, the show held out its arms (here symbolized by the winsome Ms. Mays) and asked for a hug. And as powerless as I am in the face of outstretched arms begging for a hug, the best I can manage for this episode is an awkward back pat.

I know Steve’s been talking about this every so often, but this season of Heroes has been better plotted than the show has been these last couple of seasons. The stories mostly make sense, even if they’re stupid, and they don’t wander off in inexplicable directions for no apparent reason. Heroes is teetering on the edge of no longer actively working to make you hate it so much that you’ve had to hide away your season 1 DVD set in a safety deposit box and is, instead, working its way up to so-bad-it’s-good guilty pleasure, particularly any time Robert Knepper and the evil carnies are on screen. The evil carnies are the best example of the show pretty much just abandoning anything other than being a camp sensation, and thanks to Knepper just overselling the hell out of everything, they’re more entertaining than any of the longtime characters on the show at this point.

Now, if you guessed that when Hiro traveled back in time to 2006 Texas, he would end up dressed in ridiculous “redneck” clothes, like a Knight Rider T-shirt and a little kid’s cowboy hat, well, you were right. But you probably didn’t guess that he would then engage in some terribly literal dialogue about how good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black hats and then IMMEDIATELY RUN INTO SYLAR IN A BLACK HAT. That’s the kind of ridiculous camp that makes me think someone on Heroes is trying, at this point, to make the show a goofy good time, at least until the series attempts to do a serious storyline about a family man realizing that his dreams are still out of reach and that he could probably have an affair with his attractive partner, who’s just coming up now, four years into this thing.

Heroes probably doesn’t have long for this world, with its terrible, terrible ratings and its lackluster critical reputation (and that’s an understatement), but I wish the show would chase this new camp muse. As long as I’m going to be watching this show (and I seem unable to quit it for some reason), it may as well be ridiculous, so I can look up from whatever it is I’m doing as I watch the show and guffaw at how preposterous it’s all getting. Instead, the show is attempting to play almost everything featuring the long-time regulars as deeply serious and heart-rending, particularly anything having to do with Hiro’s illness. This might be OK if these characters had any dimension beyond their superpowers, but they just don’t. All too often, what the show does feels like bad fan fiction, attempting to fill in parts of the story no one cares about. What if Noah HAD thought about that affair? And what if Hiro went back and revealed his true love to Charlie and somehow managed to save her, only to have her whisked away by the evil carnies? Honestly, it’s hard to care.

The mark of what has brought Heroes down is the fact that it’s constantly trying to give the fans what they think they want instead of attempting to give the fans what they actually need. Fans don’t become fans because a show gives them instant gratification. They become fans because a show is a little withholding, because it teases things out and keeps the good stuff back so long that you feel like you can barely stand it. For every neat little moment in an episode of Heroes – like Lauren revealing that she was Haitian’ed because she didn’t want to remember her attempts at an affair with Noah – there are a thousand really terrible moments, like all of the cutesy things featuring Hiro running around Odessa with Sylar on a hand cart. Obviously, the correct response to Heroes is making fun of it, but at this point, the show also makes me really sad.

Stray observations:

  • I know this is something that everyone who writes about the show has touched on, but man, did this show botch the character of Sylar, possibly starting from the very moment he was introduced.
  • If you are a spoiler-phobic Heroes fan (are there any?), you may want to avoid this link. I have to say I think this is a very, very odd decision, especially at this point in the series' run.
  • Also, now Suresh is back? Was anyone calling out for this? Will we get more tedious voiceovers? We can only hope!
  • Another, “God, don’t you remember how fun season one was?” moment: Isaac turned up out of nowhere, and he was nowhere near as irritating as I remembered him being.

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