After beginning as yet another underwhelming, poorly-plotted installment of the spiral of diminishing returns that Heroes Reborn has become, “Game Over” takes a left turn. Whereas the other episodes this season have treaded water, establishing enough forward momentum with their handful of successful storylines to make up for their useless ones, this entry makes a critical mistake: Instead of building to its own dramatic narrative breakthroughs, “Game Over” co-opts two of the most powerful moments of two of the most acclaimed geek properties in American pop culture, Spider-Man and Star Wars, mining them for emotional resonance the series has been too distracted, or disinterested, to earn. This bizarre and foolish choice erases the little goodwill garnered by the earlier episodes and makes one wonder why is anyone still watching, when even the writers think they could be watching other, better stories.

The Spider-Man reference goes to Tommy, who only a few episodes ago was a highlight of the series. As he wanders along the Seine with Emily, in full Chosen One angst mode, they stop at a cart to look at some comics and Emily passes along the sage advice, “These powers come with responsibilities.” It’s a groan-worthy, painful scene filled with awkward exposition—any guesses on how long it takes Tommy to read the potentially prophetic, rare 9th Wonder comic they stumble across?—and cribbing from Spider-Man doesn’t help. There’s no Uncle Ben-like sacrifice to sear the advice into Tommy’s memory, no mistake made or consequences faced; in fact, the one consequence that has been meted out to Tommy this season is zapped away, the tracking chip embedded in his arm. Emily’s words are meaningful to Tommy because the episode needs them to be. The writers have given Tommy the next puzzle piece, for when he realizes he has it, and so it’s time for him to return home, answers successfully withheld from the audience for one more week.

More frustrating is the Star Wars moment, which goes to Miko and Ren. Like Tommy, they’ve been among the best elements of the series, yet this episode fundamentally misunderstands the draw of these characters. Most of their scenes are fun enough and on par with their earlier interactions, but then it’s revealed that, as predicted by many, Miko isn’t human, but is an avatar of Evernow creator Hirachiro Otomo’s dead daughter. One would think this would prompt a reaction from Miko, but she takes the news in stride, as well as the revelation that fulfilling her quest will likely kill her. This is the time to have a character freak out and take off for some me time, but despite returning from Evernow before saving Hiro—can’t get to the fireworks factory too quickly, here in episode six of 13—Miko is never given the chance to process what’s happening. Neither is Ren. These two have been a breath of fresh air on this series thanks to their supportive relationship and energetic dynamic; they’re two of the very few characters this critic is even remotely invested in. And yet what should be the series’ most dramatic moment for either of them (at least until Miko returns, or her not-dead-in-the-past doppelganger does) falls entirely flat, because it lacks any introspection or awareness. If Miko doesn’t care that she’s dying, and Ren doesn’t care enough to protest, why should the audience? Rather than giving the pair a substantive goodbye, the writers quote the famous Han Solo and Princess Leia, “I love you”/“I know” exchange from The Empire Strikes Back, robbing their final scene of any individuality.

Shockingly, this episode does manage one affecting interaction, the reunion of Quentin and Phoebe, which ends with Phoebe killing her brother. Viewers of the Dark Matters prequel webisodes will likely be much more invested in this moment than those who skipped them, but even without that previous connection to the characters, Aislinn Paul does a good job conveying Phoebe’s despair and desperate need to believe in what she’s done for Erica and Renautas. More depth and nuance is given to Phoebe in her few lines here than Luke has had for episodes, and while Quentin’s death feels like an utter waste of both the character and actor—again, check out Henry Zebrowski in the fantastic “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” to see just how good he can be—should the series choose to continue with Phoebe, there’s tremendous potential for her as a tragic figure or redeemed former villain.

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Unfortunately, that’s about all this episode gets right. Luke remains utterly unconvincing, Taylor spends the episode moping to delay her reaching out to HeroTruther, and the less said about Carlos, the better. The terrible CG of previous episodes returns here as Malina saves the drowning Luke, but unlike the just plain bad digital tree of “The Needs Of The Many,” the combination of horrible visual effects with the reaction and physicality of Zachary Levi as Luke is swept into the air gives the series its first hilarious, laugh-out-loud moment. This could be a turning point for the series: Going for drama clearly isn’t working, why not embrace the camp and go full-on ridiculous? If the writers won’t even try to give their characters’ most meaningful moments weight and pathos, instead borrowing the dramatic beats of better works, that leaves unintentional comedy as the series’ sole draw. At least it’s something?

Stray observations

  • Hiro’s back! And he’s immediately up for altering the timeline, so we’re likely to see the two meaningful deaths of the season—René and Molly—and the all-but-ignored death of Quentin undone. I knew characters actually dying on a Heroes-related property was too good to be true. Who’s excited to see Flashback Joanne next week? Anyone? Bueller?
  • Call me a liberal, but I don’t like my unexamined heroes to be torturers. Noah’s interaction with Miko feels like the HRG we grew to love on Heroes; him drowning Harris to prove he’s tough while Quentin all but quips in the background is a tired, distancing cliché. The same goes for Carlos and NotPaul (Captain Dearing). Carlos is clearly an idiot, Dearing didn’t need to take a beating to turn the tables on him. At least Dylan Bruce is fun as the mustache-twirling Dearing.
  • How convenient that there was a red-bottomed boat for Luke to buy. Also, a note to the writers: If you want us to care even a little about Luke, maybe make him sorry he spent a year killing people, instead of making him sorry that killing people no longer gives him a sense of purpose.
  • Renautas built a super-secret prison in a video game world to hold Hiro, and put their logo on it? *facepalm* Then again, they have terrible security at all of their compounds, so maybe that’s not so surprising.
  • Malina looks way too good for someone who spent a day in the back of a timber truck.
  • To end on a positive note, the reaction of Michael Therriault as Richard Schwenkman when Quentin asks incredulously, “Hold up, you built a time machine?!” is pretty fantastic. More asides like this would help the show’s tonal balance significantly.

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