This week’s episode should hopefully serve to show Heroes’ naysayers that Kring and Co have actually had a plan all along as season 3 finally starts to come together.
Shows are great when they’re all fast paced and action packed, I mean who doesn’t like explosions and sensational plot developments? But sometimes you’ve got to actually slow down and put some flesh on those bones of character development. Every series does it, whether they’ve overspent their budget so decide to set an entire episode in one room (Doctor Who) or try something a little fruitier like having characters switch bodies (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Every now and then writers change things up, which not only keeps the audience on our toes, it also gives the writers room to breathe.
In the case of Heroes they went for a flashback episode that finally slowed the nosebleed-inducing pace at which the season has started, and allowed the writers to actually earn their paycheques rather than churn out another episode of bams, kapows and kablooeys that Michael Bay would be proud of.
Villains (as this episode is called) uses Hiro’s spirit walk to take us back to before even the first episode of season one, which enables the viewer to take on a kind of omnipotent presence where we get to see and hear everything we need to, rather than fight for the scraps of plotline and characterisation which Hiro’s time travel usually throws up. Through Hiro’s journey we are given a glimpse into the past and get to learn more about some characters that I think, until now, have remained undeveloped, but whom it seems have a lot left to offer season three.
First up we see Sylar so wracked with guilt after the murder of his first victim that he attempts suicide, only to be saved by the ever cute Elle, who it seems is on assignment with Noah and The Company to examine Sylar’s power.
It’s an interesting departure from a character that has, until this season, played the pantomime villain and who it seems is destined to continue his journey towards eventual salvation, as we are shown that The Company are partially responsible for his murderous rampage.
Elle is also a subject of examination in Hiro’s flashback and another whose past actions offer redemption for her future self. Her fledgling relationship with Sylar also offers some much needed depth to a character who I think has a lot to offer and gives scope to an actress who has thus far remained largely underutilised, forced as she has been to play the spoilt, if not sassy, brat. Whilst she is led by Noah to participate in the callous act of setting Sylar up so that they might observe how he steals the powers of others, Elle’s humanity comes to the fore, and a crisis of conscience, alongside a sense of genuine affinity with her target, allowing the audience to finally warm to the character.
The Petrelli family are next on Hiro’s magical mystery tour, but with an emphasis placed on Ma and Pa rather than the adventures of their all action boys. Arthur and Angela are characters that have taken centre stage in season three, but who have seemed painfully two dimensional and out of their depth.
As it appears that Arthur is setting up his stall as the season’s big bad, a glimpse into his past provides some much needed depth to a character who could prove a far more sinister adversary than the cuddly Linderman provided in season one. We learn that it is actually Arthur, in league with Linderman, who set up the attack which caused the crash that paralysed Nathan’s wife (where is she by the way, and where are his kids?) We also learn that Arthur is responsible for years of manipulation of his wife, Angela, who, after having her eyes opened by Linderman, attempts to kill her husband, neatly explaining his vegetative state in earlier episodes.
There are some well-written scenes here that gently manoeuvre Arthur to villainy as he is depicted with one part cold logic and one part evil intent. We also get to see a father-son conflict between Nathan and Arthur that I suspect will continue once Nathan and Tracey make their way to Pinecrest in the current timeline. I think credit also needs to be laid at the feet of the show’s minions who often aren’t recognised but who provide the backdrop, costuming and makeup which make Hiro’s flashback indistinguishable from the action in season one. The attention to detail is key to the episode’s success.
The final character given the flashback treatment is Meredith, Claire’s biological mother, who we find out is the evil blue flame throwing dude and go-to bad guy’s sister, and a once failed agent. Her flashback does little more than re-affirm the wrongs of The Company but it also has a beautiful little scene whereby she causes the train fire in which we see some of Claire’s early heroism in season one and. indeed. Kring treats us to an almost nostalgic glimpse of the action, which unfolded all those episodes ago. (She also apprehends a Vietnam War vet who is a blatant copy of Colossus and another X-man to cross off the Heroes trivia list.)
Flashbacks can be a tightrope for writers; if you get it wrong you are reduced to creating lazy back histories and offering up clichés that are more akin to downing a gallon of gloss and suffering the subsequent gut wrenching demise, than simply watching it dry. But Heroes has got it right on so many levels as Kring weaves each flashback into iconic scenes from season one, offering gentle nods in the direction of dedicated fans and face slapping reminders for those who have been paying less attention. It also slows the pace of what has been a frantic first seven episodes, giving him the chance to anchor the show back in a reality, which it seemed to have wholly abandoned a few episodes ago. It is a real return to form and an episode so good I would happily let it go out on a date with my sister if it asked.
But no sooner have we caught our breath and enjoyed the trip back to reality than Kring is pulling the rug out again and thrusting us back into the action as Hiro wakes from his trance to be greeted by his African guide’s decapitation and Arthur Petrelli’s threat to steal his power.
So, it seems Kring has finally got a grip on season three and on my attention as I will, natural disasters withstanding, be glued to my screen come next Wednesday.
Read Daniel’s prior review and thoughts here.