When I was a kid, I had a best friend. His name was Bobby. This was, like, third grade, and the first interaction I ever had with him was when I learned that this other kid, Mikey, had the goomba action figure from Super Mario Bros. that I needed to complete my set of all four Mario-themed McDonald's Happy Meal toys. See, Mikey and Bobby sort of looked the same; I was a new kid in school, and was promised by Mikey that he would bring his extra goomba for me the next day. I was so excited that this guy, my future best friend, was going to look out for me. So I showed up, and asked Bobby, the actual future best friend, where my goomba was. He called me stupid and said I had no idea what I was talking about. I was crushed, but for some reason, I wanted to be this guy's buddy.
Thus began our shaky friendship, now predicated by the fact that Bobby knew he had all the power. One day he'd come to my house and we'd hang out in my living room—looking up dirty words on his pocket dictionary (yep, that was a thing third graders had), and play with my dad's unfortunately interactive car window decal, a plastic droppin'-trou dolly named Seymour Butts. Another day, I'd accidentally knock Bobby's plastic-sealed coin out of his hand, causing it to break and the untarnished coin to roll around the school hallway, collecting bits of colored paper and accidental pee-poop from the floor. Sometimes he'd pick me for his basketball team in gym class. Sometimes he didn't. Often, the turns in mood couldn't be traced to anything at all. But even now, as I write this, I look back on those years and one person immediately springs to mind: my best friend Bobby.
This little story also immediately sprang to mind while attempting to put my feeling about Heroes into words. Having now watched the two-part season four premiere, I can't help but think back to season one, the season it seems every Heroes fan can agree was awesome. Was it? I remember cool power things and an evil guy named Sypress Hill who ate brains with glasses of brain juice and a dessert of lychee nuts and brain sauce. But let's be honest: There was a lot of Claire Bear coos and Peter standing on the edge of a roof for a really long time, looking pensively and slack-jawed-ly out onto the Houlihan's-filled Manhattan streets. Maybe it was kind of a little dumb, but we all watched. It was the only show of its kind on a major network; we wanted to see where things were going. Then the show looked around, and realized it had a following; once it did, it also had a following it could let down. And let down it did, over the span of one misguided season finale and pretty much every single episode to this day.
Much like my friend, Heroes didn't seem to care about figuring out why its fans liked it; or, even if it did know, it didn't do anything about it. Each episode was as self-contained as could be, explaining at the top what was going to happen, doing literally one thing in each plot line, then patting itself on the back for a job well done, retiring to Houlihan's for the ol' Houlihan's special. It's like they were afraid of taking the show in the wrong direction, so they attempted to take it in every direction; and if they failed, they could easily knock one of those directions out of the running without so much as an explanation (Irish girl in the future, I hear you!). But all of those directions were wrong. All of them. Petrelli dad gathering heroes, Sylar searching for his father, Hiro in feudal Japan. Wrong. Because the only direction the fans wanted the show to head in was a direction. One. Pick one, and stick with it.
Then, every so often, Heroes would do something nice for those fans. There'd be an episode where, holy frak, it seemed like something big was going to happen, that would unite all the heroes and give the show a much needed sense of purpose. (Just look at the grades Josh Modell and I gave the last Heroes volume—they're all over the place, and not simply because we traded off reviews.) Everyone would rejoice; the phrase "Heroes is back" would be shouted from the roofs of Houlihan's across this great nation. But then, just as quickly as it had come, it was gone. And there we sat, unable to leave, praying for our good times friend to return.
And while it seems that friend is back (!) as of this episode (in some very small part), let's all be cautious. We've been burned before.
Regarding season four/volume five, Tim Kring has said—as he's said after just about every episode in the last two years—that this was going to be a return to form. This time, he shared, the heroes would be living their regular lives instead of, random example, doing what they have to do to Protect. This. Family. And yeah, I have to give Kring credit for accurately describing the episode he wrote half of, but more accurately, the heroes start "Orientation" having lived their normal lives for six weeks. Though normal is a stretch: Nathan is still Sylar deep down; Peter is working as a paramedic, but going all Spiderman noble in his free time thanks to borrowed super strength from Suresh; Hiro and Ando are running a "Dial A Hero" business by placing ads on the sides of buildings and buying, get this, two laptops (we know this is their business, because they talk about it with each other the way nobody talks about a business they co-founded with each other); and Bennet is keeping tabs on all the crazies. Only Parkman and Claire are attempting to do anything resembling normal, both venturing into new and uncharted territory (fatherhood/collegehood) while exercising complete power refrain.
But who cares? Certainly not Heroes, which deals with all this backstory in a few sweeping sentences for each respective person. No way. This season, it's all about the carnies; the episode itself even starts with Robert Knepper, playing what appears to be a Johnny Depp/Criss Angel stream-cross baby, giving a funeral for one of his fallen brethren, dumping a compass into the grave and covering it by pushing his hands together and watching the dirt follow. (You just got reverse-Moses-ed, coffin!) It's time, they say, and—hell yeah, those'm some damn carnies.
And not only are they carnies, but they play completely against type and seem to maybe be a bit of shady characters. The lead guy, Samuel, appears to not only have the dirt-push ability, but also the seeing-the-future-in-tattoos one, and one where he can sic tattoo hands up people's necks and strangle them. (In the words of Chuck's Captain Awesome, "This honky grandma be trippin'.") And his mission appears to be twofold: assemble a team of powerful carnies to do… something, and acquire another compass from Danko. Oh, and the third thing he has to do is run the darkest carnival known to man, attracting business for some reason.
The first part involves Hiro (he needs a time traveler), and the way he meets Hiro is as clunky as the rest of the early stuff, the necessary exposition portion of the evening's two-parter—and we all know how Heroes deals with exposition. So I'm going to give you the brief version of Hiro's story: He and Ando start this business using daddy's money, and while on the first job, Hiro has to stop time. But doing this makes him freeze in time for a while and get a nose bleed. Not to worry, he explains it all to Ando. "I'm dying," he says. To which Ando replies, "Oh my God, Hiro, I'm so sorry to hear that. From what?" Just kidding, he doesn't ask what the cause is, because the writers apparently had to make a Houlihan's run, and came back finding themselves working on the following scene. But anyways, he's dying, and he thinks it all started 14 years ago when he was at that creepy carnival and wished he could be big. Then he accidentally travels back in time 14 years to that carnival and sees perhaps the 8th actor cast to play affably chubby young Hiro Nakamura. He wants to stop himself from getting that fortune, but he also doesn't want to mess with time. Luckily, Samuel is there, having been time-thrown by the old guy in the future, and convinces Hiro to do something that will change the future. And remember how Ando was in love with Hiro's sister ever since he saw that picture a few minutes prior? Hiro decides to make that love a reality by—oh, whatever. They're in love now in the future. And Samuel is pleased, like when Emperor Palpatine taught Luke Skywalker the joys of using the Dark Side and Luke almost killed his own father. The difference here is, Mr. Nakamura was already dead. What, too soon? (Also, that wasn't very brief.)
Meanwhile, Claire starts school, her overachieving roommate creates life plan, takes her own life after Guitar Hero 3 bender. Life plan = death wish, so says the police. Or, does it? What really happened? Claire's intent on finding out. ("A long time ago / we used to be friends, but I / haven't thought of you lately at all.")
Then there's the matter of Parkman and Nathan, who are currently enjoying some pretty stupid plot lines. But I'm willing to chalk them up to a desperate decision on the writers' part at the end of last season, playing out now about as best as they can muster. So remember how Sylar was turned into Nathan and absorbed his memories maybe? And everyone feared Sylar would come out? He is. Nathan can't remember ever eating sushi before, and he accidentally uses telekinesis to move cups, turn off lights, and give Ando some mad ridiculous side-part. Parkman's got a little Quinto in him, too—Sylar's mind melded with Parkman's, so now he can torment Parkman and make him see/do things he doesn't want to see/do. (Things Sylar cannot do: shave.) Sylar simply wants his body back, and to get it, he decides to Palpatine Parkman a little himself, getting him to finally use his powers—which he, like, totally swore he wouldn't do—to tell the sexy young water boy frequenting the Parkman household to take a hike. And Sylar was much pleased/unibrowed. (Note: That water boy was played by Zack Morris. Not Mark-Paul Gosselaar; Zack Morris.)
So clearly Quinto needs his paychecks, but what about our other brooder? Well, like I said before, Peter has been spending his time rescuing people and working ridiculous hours—he's so busy, in fact, that he turns down a coworker's very generous offer to join him at Houlihan's. Houlihan's! (Look, New York is a city of no less than two restaurants; couldn't the show get, maybe, The Original Famous Ray's or something to sponsor? Nope. Houlihan's.) He's also not calling his mother. Call your mother, Peter! She worries. (Houlihan's, geez.)
Now comes something I really don't want to explain, because it's really dumb and clearly doesn't mean all that much. The carnies wanted something from Danko, and it turns out Danko had this compass of theirs. The carnies send a really fast moving guy to take it from him, but he's thwarted by Tracy—personality trait: still alive—and runs off. Bennet shows up to dig a key to a safety deposit box out of Danko's chest, and calls Peter to come protect him when he goes to pick up the compass. Peter runs into the fast guy, absorbs his power, and the two duel in what should be normal speed on account of their joint fast movingness, but instead is varying degrees of weird camera angles. The carnies get the compass, and Samuel paints the future once more on the lady's back. And it looks like he needs to add Sylar, Claire, and Peter to his A-team.
So yeah, all the Hiro stuff was slapsticky. All the Claire stuff was borderline unnecessary. Peter's somehow managed to have a one-track mind and seem lost at the same time. Parkman's weak; Sylar raspy; Tracy: still alive. A lot of the same stupidity always present in Heroes is back in spades. But there's something about the carnies that makes me think the show is finally ready to get down and dirty—make the bad guys really bad. Just, please Heroes, stick with this one direction. Maybe, this time, things will be different.
"Orientation" (ending roughly with Claire's roommate's death and the discovery of Sylar in Parkman): C-
"Jump, Push, Fall": B
- Hey, what's up Haitian? I've missed you.
- Claire's new roommate must have a power. Right? A friend of mine pointed out that her ability might be to learn things quickly, since she sure picked up on Guitar Hero 3 quickly, and made note of it out loud.
- She recognizes Claire's name from the news? Since when do murder finders get ID'd in the paper?
- Could that professor have read Pride And Prejudice And Zombies any more blatantly?
- For the record, the toys were a flipping goomba, a jumping raccoon Mario, and some sort of koopa and Luigi thing. Anyone got this?
- See you all at Houlihan's. Unless it's Friday, in which case I eat at TGIHoulihan's.