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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Heroes: "Shadowboxing"

Illustration for article titled Heroes: "Shadowboxing"
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Here's the problem with Heroes, if you overlook the bad acting, writing, directing, producing, special effects, and sense of subtlety with episode titles: All Heroes ever does is explain away powers. It used to be that there were people who had every ability, and people started complaining that it was just too easy for them. Peter, Sylar, and even Hiro—cause he's master of the space-time continuum, if his shrill words mean anything—were juggernauts waiting to be unleashed. So the writers of Heroes started figuring out ways to limit their abilities. This was, like, starting at the end of season one, mind you, so it's been happening for a while. Sylar spent some time with no powers trying to get them back, then he needed to "find" "himself" before he could be "cool" again, and now he's searching for his body. Peter, meanwhile, got stripped of his powers, then regained them, now he can only take one at a time, and even that's putting strain on him. Hiro was broken, then magically fixed, and now has a brain tumor. LAAAAAAME! If only these guys could just be whole again, just think about all the damage they could do.

But calling Heroes repetitive is like kicking a legless girl when she's down due to lack of legs. It is what it is, so I'm trying to enjoy the ride as much as I can. And boy, what a ride we had tonight! Never before in a Heroes episode have I so wildly shifted my opinion and projected grade so often. Whether it was chanting, "A! A! A!" when Parkman was shot, or seeing him in the ambulance and switching to "F! F! F!", I was having fun. Heroes is back, baby—and by that, I mean back to the laughably bad dick-sawing I haven't seen since season three. And the shouting, boy, it just felt so good.


I've gotta hand it to Todd VanDerWerff, who was nice enough to step in last week in my absence: He's all class, that fellow, a far better person than me and a by far more forgiving Heroes watcher. He was able to find some redeemable things in last week's turd sundae. Me? I hated it with a fire I haven't felt since I attended that Nazi Right-Wing Eggplant-Baking Twitter-Hash-Tag-Trending Rally Against Video Games. Hiro wheeling a frozen duct-taped Sylar mere steps away from the diner; Charlie snapping on Hiro then forgiving him then getting trapped in subspace with Peter's Irish girlfriend and Scott Pilgrim; the show introducing a character in Bennet's life in the past, then wiping her memory so every scene with her meant absolutely nothing (thus Heroes becoming the first show to introduce a new person as passively as possible). F! F! F!

"Shadowboxing" starts right where that episode left off. Oh wait, no, not that one, that one. You know. From two weeks ago? Yeah, started right there. (This show makes no fucking sense.) Claire, Gretchen, blood-spattered girl, and The Other One are in the dark, drippy warehouse, and Becky—who most of you might fondly remember as BKH from two weeks ago, and Wallace's girlfriend on Veronica Mars—has been exposed for the invisible person she is. That, and everyone saw Claire totally heal herself, only Claire doesn't want them to know that. So she explains it away as a drug-savvy college kid might explain it to another drug-savvy college kid: That Becky slipped each of them a supremely targeted amount of some LSD or whatever, so they saw things in shocking clarity for a few seconds that didn't happen, and then the sensation is gone right away. Never mind that the two of you probably had the same vision, take Claire's word for it, it's crazy drugs! Even Gretchen saw something crazy! Two girls making out! LET'S SEE YOUR SCRUNCHY FACE REACTION SHOT, CLAIRE BEAR! Theeeere it is.

Claire returns to campus and calls her dad, who rushes to her side and brings with him—oh my God. Oh. My. God. Ohmygod. It's him. It's… The Haitian!

Yes, The Haitian! The best and by default least offensive character on the show because he does absolutely nothing!


The Haitian (Haitian!) wipes the other girls' memories clean, then stays with Gretchen so invisible girl can't come in and kill her (that is, if she can penetrate the "occasional wimpy spray of talcum powder" master security system). That's not enough for Gretchen, so she freaks out and runs away, leaving Claire all alone—if only she had professed her love, though that's what the finale is for. So she and daddy separate, and each are cornered by their own little stalker. Samuel barges in on Claire—though at least he had the sense to pick up that visitors pass—and tries to woo her over to the dark carnival side, of which we still know nothing nine episodes in. Bennet finds himself in Becky's room, Becky tries to creep up on him, and Bennet uses the invisibility tracking he, what, picked up from his former partner or something, to pin her against the wall. She tells him some sob story about how he shot her dad (since when does the company use freakin' force like that?), and how she wished herself invisible as a kid. And sometimes, fair viewer, wishes do come true. (I wish I had my very own Mohinder to read me the Bible every night.) Then she vanishes, just like the real, white Katie Holmes.

Bennet, Claire, and Samuel head out to the car; Bennet and Claire are attacked by an invisible Becky, and Samuel tases his own niece to stop it. He rushes to her side just as Bennet pulls a gun, but Claire begs dad not to do it. He looks at her, then at Samuel. He and Samuel exchange a knowing glance, and that's that. It was one of the weirdest scenes in Heroes history (and that's including the time Hiro tried to save the butt-copier), because it's becoming clear that Heroes just inserts random drama into episodes now without even trying to relate it to what's happening. Bravo, Heroes, I felt feelings. Then Bennet drops his daughter off and has a conversation with her that had me ask the question, "Do the Heroes writers even have dads?", and then he kisses her goodnight in a way that I thought, at first, he was going for a full-on make-out. (A! A! A… No? F!)


But few plots were ever as scatterbrained, literally and figuratively, as what's happening now with Parkman and Sylar. First Sylar was in Parkman's head and Parkman was in control; now Sylar has taken control, and Parkman's just the talking guy. But he's not completely powerless, because Heroes introduced a GAME CHANGING BONUS ABILITYETTE! Parkman, because he can read minds, can actually use his ability on Sylar to make him do certain things—though one of those things is not, "Not beat a tow truck guy up with a tire iron." Thus begins a back-and-forth between Sylar demanding Parkman help or he'll make Parkman do terrible things, and Parkman refusing to help, then giving in, then blocking Sylar's mind so he doesn't see he wrote, "I have a gun" on a napkin at the restaurant most of the action took place in last week. It's meant to be a riveting series of exchanges, but it only made me think about how shrill and unlikeable Greg Grunberg has been lately.

So, okay, here comes what might be good. Parkman has Sylar write that note, so the diner staff calls the cops and they come to surround Sylar. Sylar points out that if he gets shot, Parkman dies; Parkman, showing "strength" he hasn't demonstrated in any episode of any show for that matter, is okay with that. So the cops draw their firearms, Parkman looks to the sky, probably thinks, "Ima comin' Daphne!", and shots are fired. A bunch. And I shouted and cried a little, I was so happy. Dear God, did Heroes just actually kill a major character? This show is back, baby! A! A! A!


The next scene, Parkman's in an ambulance, riddled with bullets. I think, why would they show that scene? He's dead… but no. There's no way the show would have put that scene in if he was. So what that means is that Parkman got shot not because it would help the plot, not because it would help the character, not because of any discernable reason, but because Heroes thinks all we want is drama. Purposeless drama, give it to us. Drama is always best when, like, there's no drama, then all of a sudden there is drama.

The Peter/Emma (she's the deaf one) plot was the simplest of the bunch, but by no means the best (that would be the riveting action and picture messaging of Slow Burn). Emma stitches up a patient waiting for the ER, and Peter later discovers it's because she used to be in med school. Peter, meanwhile, is healing people but not having a great go at it, as it's a draining experience for him. Why his power all of a sudden has limits, who knows. But it draws he and Emma closer together because they just need each other so badly. Then he and Emma sit at the piano and Emma spills it all. She was babysitting for her nephew Christopher, who drowned because she couldn't hear him, and she dropped out of med school after that. She just talks, and talks, and talks, and I find myself wishing for some subtitles so badly. Then, if you didn't think she and Peter would have yet another wooden piano-playing next-to-each-other scene, you were wrong, and live in a world with "optimism".


This is a good time to bring up another thought I've been having lately: Who is Heroes for? It doesn't do well in the ratings, and it certainly isn't winning any favors from critics. Comic book geeks hate it, as do all people who are, in even the tiniest way, discerning about their culture. Does anyone legitimately, shamelessly, unironically like this show? If they're out there, I certainly don't think they get out much. There's no other show on TV that seems to go out of its way to appeal to a more narrow group of people; why is it still on TV?

I've talked a lot about the overarching plot, and how it needs to cram things further in the beginning of a season and trust things will play out in an entertaining way later on. I'm reminded of this point now, and applaud myself for making it so well. But just think about the carnies for a second. We still don't know what they're up to, but what if we did? Would it hurt the show? Hardly. If anything, I think it'd be great to get an inside look at what's goin' on over at Big Top Evil, like Carnivale did. Heroes is much like an HBO show, in that it tries its best to wrap things up at the end of the season, or volume as it were. (It is not like an HBO show in any other capacity, I cannot stress that enough.) If that's the case, I'd think the big evil thing that's going to happen should happen not in the finale, but about midway through the season. That way, the characters get a whole new world to play in, and there's much more immediacy to the proceedings. No more of this saving-for-the-finale crap, Heroes. Let's do something, finally.


But I guess the real problem with Heroes is that it's a show with real problems, and not ones that ever get fixed. Much like the show introduces new characters without getting rid of old ones, it introduces new problems without even attempting to fix the ones it's already got. I kind of wish there was still at least one character out there who was all powerful, because at least they'd be a constant. I guess at least we've still got The Haitian.

Stray observations:

  • If no character on Heroes ever says "extraordinary abilities" ever again, it'll be too soon.
  • Why doesn't Peter heal Emma's deafness? And other questions that'll never get answered.
  • Spoiler alert if you don't wanna know what happens next week (ha!), but a) Parkman's alive, b) Nathan's scaredy, c) Mohinder. Let this be the first AV Club preemptive F. F! F! F!

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