Wednesday 20 January 2010

Heroes – I wanna hold your hand

Heroes Season Four Episode Sixteen: Pass/Fail.

I really have to work on the passive/aggressive relationship I have with “Heroes”. First of, the past few episodes were incredibly frustrating. Samuel moved from being the interesting father figure to people with abilities who was willing to kill in order to keep his people save to the selfish, power-craving villain, to the man who was desperately trying to get the love of his life back. One of the biggest issues with “heroes” ever since the end of season one are the twists and turns that come out of nowhere and make no sense whatsoever: characters don’t develop, they do whatever the plot requires, and that’s exactly the wrong way around. Claire had moments of greatness, taking matters into her own hands, finally fulfilling some of her potential – only to completely lose it the next moment, making stupid decisions,, putting herself into peril. She found that the Carnival was odd because of Samuel – that the Carnival itself was an important place, but deeply flawed because of its new-found leader. Lydia told her that Samuel had killed his brother, but instead of leaving right away after finding that out, Claire confronted him, and was shown what he was doing: creating a beautiful, green paradise in the middle of the desert, with the help of a special Emma found for him with her siren song.
The return of Emma was a welcomed surprise, although the little space the show gives her barely suffices to understand her (despite the amazing job Emma Brae does). Adding another vital plot in the final episodes of this season (and possibly the show itself), Peter finds out from Angela that Emma has the power to bring great destruction. She doesn’t just manipulate sound waves, but she can apparently do pretty much anything with them, depending on her emotions: and when Emma’s angry, things get destroyed and people might die.
Peter’s arcs coincides with Noah’s. He is obsessed with finding the Carnival, but in the wake of Nathan’s death and Claire finding out what her father did (her anger is understandable, considering what Sylar did to her, but this would be a stronger point if she had actually had scenes with the elusive Nathan/Sylar in the episodes leading up to his death). Noah decides that he can’t involve her, and with the help of Lauren, he finds other ways to get to Samuel (and becomes indirectly responsible for leading Vanessa, Samuel’s long-lost love, right back to the Carnival, thereby continuing the theme that his attempts to keep people away from Samuel usually back-fire). Claire, meanwhile, is bonding with Peter in her betrayal, and is still figuring out the Carnival, coming to a similar conclusion that Edgar, the exiled carnie, has: the preservation of the Carnival is essential, and Samuel is the problem. But Noah would destroy the Carnival, so he can’t help her, and might just end up as one of her opponents.
Hiro’s path over the past episodes was the most excruciating one, considering how much you are inclined to love his character. Once again, following the terrible “Hiro is a child” episode from last season, he becomes impaired. Samuel’s attempt to get inside his head has muddled his ability to express himself, so he can only talk in geeky references. This was probably supposed to serve the fanboys and girls who knew their references, but keeping Hiro’s ability in check (since he, theoretically, is the ultimate deus ex machina for every problems) is one of the biggest challenges of “Heroes”, a challenge the show continuously faces to overcome. Last episode, a returned Ando finally snapped (or rather: Zapped. Remember? Ando has powers!) him out of it, and they managed to free Mohinder, but it still remains a mystery which role Hiro will play in the fight against Samuel, considering that he is just as single-minded as Noah (wanting to get back Charlie).
While “Close to You” was all about protecting the people you love and failing miserably because you don’t have the resources and information to do the right thing (in that episode, it was Noah trying to find a way into the Carnival to protect Claire, Matt deciding that being a stay-at-home dad wasn’t going to protect little baby Matt from Sylar or Samuel, and Peter failing miserably at preventing the horrible future Angela shared with him by smashing the cello and losing Emma’s trust in him, turning the “Emma is unhappy and destroys the world” thing into a self-fulfilling prophecy), “Pass/Fail” is about the awesome little thing called love. Love, in the context of the overarching theme of redemption in this volume of “Heroes”, acts as the great motivator, and also the thing that, on the desperate search for identity, sometimes steers you into unexpected directions. The episode felt better-paced and more coherent than anything that happened in “Heroes” for a really long time. There were only three stories, and each of them brought the characters closer to the ultimate end-game, whatever that may be, instead of just letting them run in circles (which is very much what Noah and Claire seem to have been doing with every decision they made up to this point).


The new layer added to the character of Samuel doesn’t help create a better villain: Like I mentioned before, I liked the idea of an outsider desperately trying to create a safe homeland for his people, that was actually a pretty good idea that fit in very much with the things we saw in earlier seasons: The brutal opposition of “normal” society to everybody who is different. Here, Samuel turns into the infantile teenagers we saw from the flashbacks to a time when Joseph was still looking out for him, a man trapped in his own pass, evoking nostalgic stories to get Vanessa to stay. But Vanessa has moved on, she has a life elsewhere. In “Pass/Fail”, Samuel failed to get what he wanted for the first time. He showed his big love the house he had built for them and she refused to stay (“I can’t live here”). The man who usually can sweet-talk anybody into anything (“You always know the right thing to say”) failed, and the fall-out was terrible: he turned an entire town into a sink-hole. Unrequited love here finally turned Samuel into the villain we were waiting to see emerge. As he becomes the epicentre of the crater, he tells a waitress:
“Am I scaring you? Do I look scary? You don’t think that I can see how you’re looking at me right now? That I’m different. Looking down your nose at me, like I’m not good enough. I’m done trying to change myself for you, trying to fit into your world, play by your rules. From now on, you’re all gonna play by mine.”
Hiro: “Adam Monroe? But you are dead. Am I dead?”
Adam Monroe: “That’s for the judge to decide.”
I take Hiro’s trial not as a real thing, but as Hiro dealing with his own issues, his own bad conscience about having broken his code. The fight for his life takes place in the OR. Hiro has been the one true hero of “Heroes” from the beginning. As he defends himself, he repeats his origin story: he wanted these powers, and he got them. He wanted to be a hero, “noble and true”, and instead of using his powers for selfish reasons, he did good. He saved the world, twice. The question posed by Adam Monroe is: if Hiro’s code is that he is allowed to change the course of time if it does not hurt anybody, then how does he justify letting Sylar get away to go on his killing spree? He expressively told him that he could kill the cheerleader and whoever else as long as he saved Charlie.
Adam Monroe: “If Hiro was acting out of nobility, perhaps he should have stopped this vicious killer, before these countless murders. Saving Charlie wasn’t for the heroic good. It was for the good of Hiro.”
Hiro: “Romantic or not, Charlie was a good person. Charlie was special. The world was better because she was in it. I believe that. I stand by that.”
The argument Hiro has with Adam Monroe is actually one with himself, and the sword fight at the end is him fighting himself too, and finally forgiving himself, coming to the conclusion that whatever he did wrong, he still did it with the best of intentions: “To make the world a better place, for family, and friendship, and love”. Finally, when his mother appears in the white light and kisses his tumor away (“some things are more powerful than science”), he is saved. This might be a bit of a cop-out from the apparent impossible situation of having a hero with an inoperable brain tumour, but at least Hiro now has his focus back.

Claire / Sylar

When Claire turned up as a tattoo on Sylar’s arm at the end of last episode, after he had taken Lydia’s powers, I feared for this episode, remembering the creepy scenes from the end of last season when Sylar was trying to recruit her as his very own eternal bride. This wasn’t a scenario I wanted to see repeated. But it turns out that Sylar has a different idea about what he needs from Claire, and in retrospect, he isn’t that wrong.
Claire is at the cafeteria with Gretchen in the beginning of the episode, still clearly shaken by the loss of Nathan and Noah’s betrayal. Gretchen offers to help, but Claire pulls away, using her old line of “I think it’s one of those things I have to figure out by myself” (cause that worked so well at the Carnival?). So Sylar’s argument that Claire and he are pretty similar is valid, although the points that he mentions aren’t the most relevant ones.
Sylar: “We got a lot in common. We’re both adopted, abandoned by parents who didn’t want us and raised by parents who didn’t understand us…”
Claire: “My parents understand me just fine.”
Sylar: “Stop lying to yourself. Both of our dads were cold-blooded killers, which is ironic because you and I can not be killed.”
Claire: “I get it. OK, we have a few arbitrary things in common. What is your point?”
Sylar: My point is: they’re not arbitrary, they’re formative. The basic building blocks of our lives. And we have the same blocks yet here we are content college co-ed, and me. How do we end up so different.”
Sylar understands the true level of likeness between them when he uses Lydia’s powers on her, and finds, right there on the surface, Gretchen (which is an interesting move considering that Gretchen has been absent for so many episodes before this one). It’s not really clear what exactly Sylar is looking for here: does he want his ability to kill back, which he lost at some point during Nathan’s stay in his body, does he want to become a human being again, does he want to connect to other people? Samuel’s argument in the last episode was that Hiro’s prediction that he will end up completely alone still haunts him, and that he fears an eternal life without anybody to share it with. So when he finds that Claire also has trouble connecting…
Sylar: “You do exactly what I do. You use this gift, this curse, whatever it is, to build walls. Make it impossible to actually connect with another person. Like Gretchen. All those memory hits I got from your stuff while I was tying her up have such a different context now, everything in that room is so full of…pauses.”
Claire: “What did you say?”
Sylar: “Pauses, all these moments, so ripe with...subtext. Can I borrow your book? Cut my hand with these scissors. All these interactions and you still can’t say the one thing you really want to say to this girl. Heck, you keep this up you might end up alone forever too. […] The indestructible girl can’t put herself out there to get hurt.”
Apart from (intentionally) giving away where he supposedly stashed Gretchen to use her as ransom, Sylar also articulates what Claire has been struggling with ever since the trunk scene in “Strange Attractors” – the paradox of being indestructible, yet afraid to get hurt (although I’d argue that she’s probably also put a lot of thought into the danger she’d put Gretchen in). Probably Sylar also mentions the subtext for all those viewers who “didn’t get it” (but how could you watch “Ink” and miss this?), for which the show also gets points, although it’s a little bit odd to hear this sympathy and understanding from the psychopathic killer.
Claire’s answer to the speech is a pen in Sylar’s eyes, as she races for her college dorm room to save Gretchen from peril. It actually pays off viewing these scenes a second time after finding out that Sylar is posing as Gretchen, to get an honest reaction out of Claire: all the little hints that this can’t possibly be Gretchen, the little jokes (“Sylar, huh? THE Sylar?” / “do you want to talk about it?” / “your skin does look good”), and finally, the insight into what he needs to do to become human again (so he wants to find a companion, and in order to this he needs to be a real boy? Aw, cute).
Claire: “I do want to. I just…I’m scared, and I get afraid that I’m gonna get hurt, So I use my specialness to build these walls instead of jumping off bridges. I suck at metaphors, but what I’m trying to say is… […] this guy Sylar. He sat there and told me that we’re very much alike and he’s not wrong. And I’m afraid that I’m gonna end up alone in my life just like him, and I don’t know how to fix it. I like to think of myself as just the girl who happens to have powers.  And it’s just one thing in a list of attributes – loyal, friendly, regenerative, good skin. But when you put the chips down and life gets tough, I buy that one label, that one attribute, then I close myself off. And… no wonders Sylar’s so messed up. I can only imagine what having a bunch of excuses to someone’s humanity.
Gretchen/Sylar: “Maybe that’s his answer. In order to become human again he has to get rid of all of his powers.”
Claire: “Yeah, maybe.”
Sylar: “Now was that so hard?”
Claire: “You son of a bitch. Where is she?”
Even if this isn’t the actual speech Gretchen gets to hear, it’s still interesting to observe how much Claire is channelling Sylar, how much of his advice she has taken to heart. In a season where she was struggling so hard to find something to define her, and trying out everything anybody else offered (except Gretchen), it’s finally Sylar who gives a good piece of advice, that actually might work for her. I just hope we are done now with the “I want to be special / I want to be normal. / I want to be special but feel normal. / I want to be special and surrounded by other people who also are special and therefore ordinary” stuff that seriously bothered me, especially because Claire is that much more interesting when she is a self-assured, responsible, independent character (that can also kick ass occasionally). The actual speech she then gives a clueless Gretchen, who has no idea what just happened, is a little bit less coherent and deep than this, but still cute.
Claire: “I’m really lucky to have you. And I’m sorry about this morning.”
Gretchen: “Forget it. You know me, impulsive Gretchen wants to hold hands and so she does it.”
Claire: “I know and I love that about you and I want to be more like that and not be holed into any label or definition and who I’m supposed to be and I… I wanna hold your hand.”
Gretchen: “People are gonna start to talk.”
Claire: “Let em talk. Talking’s good. In fact I could use some talking if you still have a sympathetic ear.”
Gretchen: “I in fact have two ears. Come on.”
Nobody actually does notice them as they walk out of the cafeteria holding hands. The “this isn’t about whether Claire is gay or straight, it’s about whether she allows anyone to be close” card was also very well played, and much better executed than expected (like I said: with a show that fails at so many basic things, it’s so amazing when the most unlikely thing is handled so well).
In the end, Claire and Gretchen *talk in their dorm room (I missed the last few minutes of the episode because I was doing a dance of joy, especially because I know how many “fans” of the show won’t like this. Sometimes complete disregard of popular opinion is awesome.), and Sylar seeks out the help of Matt Parkman, who I am sure will be thrilled to comply.

 Random stuff:

Poor Mohinder. After not being in most of this season, he only got around to fixing the compass that started all this chaos for Noah before leaving for India again. As Noah said: I guess that’s it?

Madeline Zima impersonating Sylar impersonating Gretchen. Sometimes it’s eerie how potentially alike “Heroes” and “Dollhouse” might be, but they really aren’t, at all. And the main reason is that “Dollhouse” is a good show and “Heroes”, sadly, is possibly unfixable and flawed.

I know I shouldn’t like Sylar in this episode because he is only good as the unapologetic psychopathic killer but this was actually pretty good, in that really weird, kinky way that “Heroes” sometimes has (like the weirdness of the Tracy-Claire scene from a couple of episodes ago – by the way, where’s Tracy?). Sylar helping Claire to figure out that she wants to be with Gretchen? And actually secretly enjoying that he managed to help Claire and had real insight into someone, instead of just having literal insight into someone’s head? Neat.

But I could have really done without the kiss. Obviously he picked up some of Gretchen’s thoughts without snogging her. My eyes, the pain!

Does anybody else find it ironic that Claire and Peter talked about West of all people during Nathan’s wake, although Peter is supposedly the guy Claire can trust and talk to, just to have Sylar be the guy to make her realize what she wants from Gretchen? Also, at least a little bit amazing that this was the one thing Sylar picked up, not her recent issues with Noah, or any of the Carnival stuff. Claire must have been thinking about Gretchen a lot.

Claire calling this version of Sylar the “emo apologist”. So he came there looking for a way to learn how to kill but left wanting to be real boy?

Claire babbling. Wacky fun. Also with the Beatles-quote (although that was clearly the PG version of what was actually going on).

In the same category as the above: Sylar turning up at Matt’s doorstep, being greeted by Janet. “Have we met?” Err. I seem to remember a rather explicit scene playing into the ultimate rule of “Heroes”: There are no sex scenes. Except when Zachary Quinto is somehow involved.

Best line:

Adam Monroe: “Objection, your honor. He’s reciting the opening to Quantum Leap.”

That’s how you reference. Not with vague Watson-Sancho Pansa – Arkham stuff. It’s also very in-character for Hiro to take his moral code from 1980s Sci-Fi shows starring guys with awesome hair who later move on to be part of the last unsuccessful bit of Star Trek before JJ Abrams took over.


Anonymous said...

Great review, I agree. This episode was great and they handled the Claire/Gretchen stuff well :)

flame gun for the cute ones said...

Yes! Although I'm starting to have a hard time pretending that I'm not just watching for their story arc.