Heroes: "The Kindness Of Strangers"
B+

Heroes: "The Kindness Of Strangers"



Hey, who likes answers?

The fickle Heroes viewing audience, that's who–the ones pampered from watching their TV on DVD, who chafe at playing a show's sadistic little guessing game from week to week as it deliberately delays gratification and introduces more subplots to pad out its story arc; could anything be more antiquated? I'll be the first to admit that I've counted myself in that number: My disappointments with the second season thus far have mainly been due to diversions that I feel to be tacked on, that are only there to keep the main storyline from developing too quickly. "Stop fucking around with swords and princesses!" I've said to Hiro. "Put your shirt on and open that damn box!" I've said to Peter. "Die already!" I've said to Niki. And yet here it is the fourth episode, and the writers have yet to oblige.

I'll also admit that I'm notoriously impatient about such things. When I was a kid, for example, I always found my Christmas presents early. I've been known to flip to the last page of a book. I read spoilers all the time. It's a bad habit, but I can't help it. I always want to know how things are going to turn out, even if it completely kills the experience for me. I guess I don't really like being surprised. It's probably a sign of narcissism, like I just can't stand the idea that I don't know everything. But lately I've been trying to quit. After I absolutely ruined last season's Lost finale for myself (and thank God The Sopranos spoiler I read turned out to be a fake), I feel like I've actually grown a little. I've crossed a line where the pleasures derived from seeing a show pull a game-changing revelation out of nowhere outweigh the smug satisfaction of knowing it's coming before anyone else. And of course, keeping this blog has actually helped me appreciate the journey; I've learned to stop and smell the children, because tomorrow we may die, etc. etc. As long as I don't feel like my time is being deliberately wasted–and you keep tossing out a few surprises like those in "The Kindness Of Strangers"–I hereby swear that you can keep stringing me along, Heroes. Who knows what adventures we'll have between now and when the show becomes unprofitable? (Besides, it's not like I'm leaving before Kristen Bell gets here.)

Anyway, about those surprises: Tonight's revelation that Parkman's father is one of the "Original Heroes" was somewhat less than shocking; we already know that both of the elder Petrellis and Hiro's father were members, so finding out that Parkman is also a legacy isn't too much of stretch (plus it should come in handy for Parkman around Rush Week). But Molly's revelation that Pa Parkman is "The Nightmare Man" was a genuine surprise to the newly spoiler-free me, and it had me musing on the show after it was over in a way I hadn't since just before the end of last season. Matt's sappy abandonment story aside, I find the idea of Parkman's father sharing Matt's telepathic powers intriguing. Not to get too nerdy (on a blog written about a superhero show on a website dedicated to pop culture), but it's a bit like Parkman is the Luke Skywalker to his father's Darth Vader: They have similar gifts, but Parkman's father has obviously taken it to a very dark extreme. Perhaps his "gift" also ruined his life the same way Parkman's appears to be ruining his? Now that we know that Parkman knew his wife was carrying his ex-partner's baby, for example, we can understand a little bit more about how hard it must be having that kind of omniscience all the time. It's like Parkman is reading spoilers on life itself.

What's more, putting Molly in a coma (having Matt hear her trapped screams from inside her head is a nice touch) by forcing her to confront The Nightmare Man is going to weigh especially heavily on Parkman. Obviously this won't be resolved without a face-to-face showdown with his father, the mysterious guy who left him with little more than "$120 and a pat on the head." (That won't even get you the first six seasons of Roseanne.) Speaking of which, this show sure does love its daddy issues, doesn't it? In one of their many alternately bickering and tender couple's spats, Parkman points out that Mohinder has them as well, but they're certainly not alone: There's also Hiro and the domineering Kaito; the Petrelli brothers and their suicidal father (whose tendency towards depression Nathan appears to have inherited); and–while we have yet to get anything concrete on him–there are hints that Sylar's father may pop up. Why else would Sylar give his real name ("Gabriel Gray") to Maya and Alejandro if the writers didn't want the viewers to remember it? Something tells me that we'll hear that surname again soon once Matt and Nathan identify the rest of the faces in that picture. (So hey, maybe there's hope for that Leonard Nimoy cameo yet.)

Speaking of dads, Claire made Bennet–normally so far ahead of everyone else, he's like a walking spoiler–seem like a sitcom-level tool tonight by sneaking around with her little super-pal enabler, Captain Emo. Again, I can only assume that they have truly dark things in store for West–besides the obvious clues in Isaac's painting, having West spout lines like, "I know you can heal, Claire, but I never want to see you hurt" is just setting us up for a dramatic personality reversal, right? Right?–but in the meantime he's already encouraging her to do things like jump off the Hollywood sign just so he can catch her in his reedy little arms. Can't these kids go get high and have premarital sex like everyone else? And can we go ahead and skip to the part where it all ends horribly?

Damn! I already forgot my new resolution to be patient. Unfortunately, romantic subplots do that to me. Anyway, besides this brief tangent–and thanks to a complete lack of Samurai Hiro, Oirish Peter, or plain old boring Niki mucking up the works–"The Kindness Of Strangers" was full of promising developments. Sylar turning up unexplained in the Mexican desert and hitching a ride in the Rogue (the ultimate in performance, even under extreme conditions!) with the Toxic Twins was a deus ex machina contrivance, sure, but not only did it end in another patented Sylar icing, complete with signature cockroach, it gives that storyline a much-needed boost of now-I-give-a-fuck. So what do you guys think: Is Sylar just biding his time until he can make a play for the Twins' powers, or is he really on a path to redemption? Considering the way the show has taken great pains to make Sylar a sympathetic character whose misdeeds are just a quest for acceptance (there are those daddy issues again), I have to assume the latter. I'm sure you Joseph Campbell/Stan Lee fans have something to say.

And since Maya and Alejandro and their amazing Black Goo Hissy Fit is already played out, this episode gave us a whole new character who may have the coolest powers yet: Micah's cousin Monica, who has the ability to mimic what she sees on TV. Tonight that meant carving intricate roses out of tomatoes and whatever that wrestling move is called, but it's not clear yet whether she can copy absolutely anything she sees. For example, if she watched an episode of Bionic Woman, would she suddenly gain the ability to cram an entire season's worth of exposition into one cliché-ridden line of dialogue? Or are her powers limited to things that other humans do? And is it just television, or can she pop a few instructional videos on her iPod and take it on the road? Or better yet, can she just watch what others do and mimic them, similar to SpongePeter AmnesiaPants? Whatever the rules, it's obvious that Monica has found the one thing that may finally get her out of New Orleans for good–and hopefully before we get another semi-exploitive montage of underwater row houses.

Interesting new heroes, answers to a couple of pressing questions, several tantalizing new ones–this felt like the Heroes of old to me. Of course, that's only because it focused on the characters and plotlines I enjoy and completely avoided the ones I don't, which, as always, is where your results may vary with this show. If you tune in for Hiro's comic misadventures or you're one of the many who swoon over Milo Ventimiglia, for example, you probably felt as indifferent towards "The Kindness Of Strangers" as I felt towards the last two episodes. But for me this was as much a turning point for the second season of Heroes as it was for Nathan Petrelli: It finally stopped sulking in the corner, shaved off its beard, and got down to business. It's good to see it again.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-- Not to spark another Lost vs. Heroes debate, but does anyone else feel like the subtext of both of these shows is really about people dealing with their fathers?

-- Here's another speculation topic for the comments thread: How is the fact that Derek stole Claire's Rogue going to play out once Sylar, Maya, and Alejandro make it to America?

-- The Bennets seem to get quirkier and quirkier with every episode. Mrs. Bennet in particular ("For dessert I thought we'd try that adorable yogurt store near the bus stop") seems like she'd fit right in with the kooky aunts on Pushing Daisies. And what's with Claire's brother anyway? Do the writers just not have any idea what to do with him anymore?

-- "Just because you shaved doesn't mean you're clean and sober." (How many times have I heard that?)

-- Wouldn't it be awesome if Monica's Burger Bonanza coworker turned out to have the power of extreme negativity? They could call her The Underminer.
Filed Under: TV, Heroes

More TV Club