Well, that happened. Heroes closes yet another labored volume, and "sets the stage" for the next one in February. I can hardly believe 13 episodes have come and gone. And not because I had so much fun with any of the previous ones (oooooh no), but because "Dual" could have been taken as a completely stand-alone episode. The good parts were good–if you completely overlook anything that's happened in the season, or the show, before. The bad parts were bad–but could have been forgiven as a one-off fluke. Basically, if Heroes had any goodwill saved up, this episode would be considered pretty okay, rather than offensively out of character for everyone. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Take, for example, Sylar, and forget everything he's done in this season thus far. He has become the ultimate bad guy–but now that the raw hunger has subsided, he's taking a more intellectual tack with his kills. He locks them in rooms with one another, posing psychological riddles that force the people to act in ways they never thought possible, just to survive. He stabs Fire-Mom (I don't remember her name, nor do I care) with adrenaline, then puts Noah Bennet in the room with her, with one bullet. Will he kill the mother of his daughter to live? I…kinda want to know, and I don't care that the whole thing's a watered-down Saw rip-off.

But the problem–and we've been over this in great depth before–is that the words "Sylar" and "character" have never belonged in the same sentence. Earlier this season he turned to good for the love of his "mother," then let himself become evil again to get more powers. He embraced Elle and got her power through empathy, then killed her because she made him a monster, which he sort of knew before. Now the people he thought were his parents aren't, and they (or, should I say, the one remaining live one) aren't telling. And he's going ape-shit at the same time, questioning the morality of heroes and villains, and what it means to be evil. Bra-vo. We did not need 13 episodes to get to that point; it could have easily been done in a few. This is the season three Sylar we were promised at the end of season two–as a fan of the show concept who's really, truly rooting for its success, I'm downright insulted they took so long to bring him out.

Nathan's the same way. He punched his own brother! He swept his leg with a metal pipe and chewed him out on some beach somewhere! Great! I'm all for that. He, too, is dealing with a kind of power he's never seen before–he resents his father, but has grown to understand the kinds of important decisions Arthur Petrelli constantly made, and now he wants to make them himself. Slow. Clap. Recall two episodes ago, he was dead set on fighting against Pinehearst–he just hated them so much! I, for one, don't buy this quick turnaround. It speaks to a fundamental failure on Heroes: You can't do things you haven't earned. No one will care.

Thus nothing that happens in "Dual" is satisfying or speaks to any sort of resolution. So what if Mohinder finally has control over his powers? It's been so long, I had forgotten what exactly the problem was. Claire and daddy reunite? If it hadn't been for the belabored back and forth of the entire season, that might have been, at best, not the worst thing on television. And might I add how incredibly painful it was to watch the Hiro trapped on a flagpole plot be resolved using–get this–time travel. You know? The thing we've all been shouting at the screen from day one? Just send Hiro back in time to do something? Ringing any bells? So Daphne and Ando rescue Hiro by traveling back in time, but Hiro was just about to tear up the formula. Then, and this is the really good part, they decide to go after it in the present day. They were just in the past! Do what you just did! And for fuck's sake, read more than one page of the future-telling comic book.

As Mohinder says during his voiceover at the end, "Our destiny is rerouted by the choices we make." I can think of no more generically apt way to sum up the entire volume of "Villains." Anything anyone did on this show had to speak to a larger goal–and should you for a second forget that, they would remind you right away. If everything is important and has very serious, brow-scrunching implications, nothing is important. Not that important things can't happen, but some things just have to, you know, happen. On their own.

I find it astounding that even in the fantastical world of Heroes, created on whims limited only by imagination, there isn't a single character inhabiting it naturally.

Grade: D

Stray observations:

- At this point, what can't Tracy try to solve with "spin?"

- Ando's power has some definite implications, but I'm already dreading this piece of season four dialogue: "Man, if only there was a way to extend the reach of my power just a little!"

- I believe Sean will be back in February. Thanks for letting me hang out for a bit.