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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Heroes: "Fight Or Flight"

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Illustration for article titled Heroes: "Fight Or Flight"

It must be nice to be a Heroes cast member, knowing that–unlike the stars of some other ensemble shows–you don't have to be on set every single week. Those third-tier schmucks over on ER, for example, probably spend half their year hanging around, waiting to scrub in and say, "We're losing her!" while the director tries to decide what lighting best captures John Stamos' stubble. If you're a Heroes cast member, however, you probably just pick up a script, see that it's a Parkman-heavy episode, and you know that you're free to catch up on your TiVo this week. (Or in the case of Hayden Panettiere, your forthcoming album.) The constant flip-flopping of focus is like guaranteed vacation days–and God knows no one needs them more than our nation's overworked television stars.

As I've said before, it also makes the show more than a little schizophrenic. Depending on which storyline you're interested in–or which characters you like and which ones you absolutely loathe–your opinion of Heroes can change drastically from week to week. Many viewers (myself included), for example, have shown little patience for Claire's budding romance with her superpower enabler, Captain Emo, and all of its attendant who-gives-a-shit. I personally have been less than thrilled with Hiro and Peter's respective excursions to foreign lands and their apparent lack of interest in contributing to the main plot. I'm not naïve enough to presume that these three supposedly unrelated tangents aren't going to dovetail with the overarching story eventually, but so far the pacing has been slower than Parkman climbing a fifth-story walk-up.

Tonight that changed somewhat, with the crosscutting between characters and storylines attaining some of the nimble rhythm the show had during the fleeter moments of the first season. (In fact, we managed to check in with just about everyone except for Claire, so maybe the blame for the show's relative leadenness as of late can be laid at her regenerating feet?) The timing seems right for that kind of quickening: "Fight Or Flight" marks the halfway point of the first "volume" of the season, so the hour for dallying is past. If we're going to wrap up the Mystery Of The Hooded Killer by episode 11, then we should probably have some idea of who the bad guy is by now.

Or, I suppose they could just keep tossing us red herrings like Parkman's father and pull some sort of Scooby-Doo twist out of their ass at the last minute. Maybe I'm misreading things, but Pa Parkman's powers of mind control–while certainly evil–obviously don't have much to do with Kaito's death. After all, if Pa Parkman were really responsible for Kaito's murder, it would have probably involved some sort of hallucination–similar to the one that left Matt and Nathan at each other's throats–not something so vulgarly low-tech as an old-fashioned tackle, right? Not to mention he's considerably bulkier than the Hooded Killer, and he certainly wouldn't have gotten up and walked away afterward. Clearly he has something to do with it all–in addition to Angela Petrelli's freakout in the holding cell (and Molly's coma), that Black Spot photo of Company Bob says as much–but there's still another piece to this puzzle.

But we'll have to wait for those answers, because Parkman–despite all of his prior vocal misgivings–melted like the sentimental sad sack that he is and made the very Parkman-like mistake of trusting the man who abandoned him all those years ago after a couple of crinkly-eyed apologies. At least he's not the only one making questionable choices: Peter is still hanging around Ireland despite anticlimactically opening The Box to reveal a passport, an open ticket to Montreal, a photo of he and Nathan, and a handful of wadded bills that the hardened Irish criminals were apparently too thoughtful to pocket. Yet now that Peter finally knows his name and that he definitely, absolutely doesn't belong there, he still shows no interest in seeking answers, preferring to let his past be his past and to start a new life with the Irish lass whose incredible superpower is making the world's most mediocre art. Thank God his old Isaac-sponged powers kicked in; I was half-hoping his finished painting would just be big block letters reading, "What do you see in this girl?"

Speaking of which, Hiro's Wacky Samurai Adventure is progressing apace–by which I mean it's still dragging along interminably. As Hiro himself says, "It's like living in a storybook, only more tiring." Exactly–and with all of the good parts cut out. You know by now that I'm not a big fan of Niki, but her brief scenes tonight were, by contrast, blessedly brief and action-packed, and all the more effective for it. I know some of you have insisted that Niki has the virus, but I still believe my initial reading was correct, and that she's looking to get rid of Extra-Strength Jessica for good. Having Company Bob come right out and say that she's suffering from multiple personality disorder actually seemed like a blunt rejoinder to all the Heroes fans who have long insisted that there's something more supernatural at play. And even if she or he were lying, her telling Mohinder in confidence that only the Company can help her with "what I've done and what I'm capable of" certainly doesn't sound like she's involuntarily losing her powers to me.

Elsewhere this week: For all of those people (me included) who wish the heroes would stop sulking and have a little fun with their gifts for once, we have Monica and Micah frolicking around New Orleans, learning kung fu from Bruce Lee movies and playing double-dutch. The idea that Monica is a "copycat" is promising, since it means she can conceivably mirror anything she sees, not just what she catches on TV, but we're still not sure if this extends to superpowers. For example, since she's seen the Poltergeist-y thing Micah can do with the TV, can she do it too? Unfortunately it doesn't look like we'll get to come back to that for a little while, now that Mohinder has showed up. To tase her, bro. (That witless reference was a public service, saving all of you commenters the trouble.)

And while I've been stifling myself throughout this whole review, all I really want to talk about is Kristen Bell, flaxen-haired goddess of the diodes, who arrived this week looking and sounding a lot like Veronica Mars–albeit with much lamer dialogue and a homicidal streak that manifests in the disconcerting ability to shoot Sith lord sparks from her hand. (Still hot, though.) Darth Veronica would appear to be the source of Peter's newfound powers, and her interest in finding him is obviously tied to the Company–not to mention whomever she calls "Daddy" (besides me in my dreams)–but as of tonight we still don't know much about her other than she's sorta evil, she's a smartass, and she looks great even in a bulky overcoat. Thanks for the tease, Kristen; see you in a few. Of course, the whole thing absolutely reeks of stunt casting, and I definitely sense a soap-operatic "she's Claire's long-lost sister!"-type twist coming on, but still–it's Kristen Bell! Hurray!

Maybe it's just the Bell-related blood rush, but tonight's episode seemed to fly by, Peter and Hiro's bits aside. The giddiness of Micah and Monica's scenes were a nice change of pace from the constant brooding that's permeated the season thus far (some of that was also due to the noticeable lack of The Toxic Twins), and I especially enjoyed the glimpses into Nathan and Parkman's respective nightmares–although who doesn't love a charred, apocalyptic landscape? And hey, did I mention Kristen Bell? I'm pretty sure you could put her in an episode of Mind Of Mencia and I'd still give it at least a B.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

— Seriously, what were those paintings supposed to be? One of them looked like a cell phone crossed with a tombstone. (Not that I haven't also told girls that their art was "amazing" before.)

— So Parkman's wife actually had his own baby, not his partner's, but he pretended not to know that and left her anyway? Or is that just what his innermost fears are? I'm glad we're getting closer to the big "Four Months Ago" episode because all the disinformation is getting a little thick in here.

— I loved the callback to 9th Wonders, although it brought up something I've been thinking about since last season: Was the Sylar storyline the only one Isaac predicted in his comics? The fact that Monica's ability is similar to that of one of Isaac's characters would lead one to believe that there's more info to be gleaned from them, so why hasn't anyone–Micah for instance–studied up on the back issues for more clues as to what's going on?

— Does that Phenomenon show look like the biggest douche-parade since The Pick-Up Artist or what?