Heroes (S03E03): “One of Us, One of Them”

Grade: B

As if the creators heard my disgruntled cry, “One of Us, One of Them” is almost like the Heroes of old, full of many of the elements that work best for the show, and is surprisingly entertaining television. The spectacle that was the premiere launched too much mellow drama and too many cheap plot twists at the audience, but episode three is tamer and more focused. And save for a few seconds of voiceover, Mohinder and his bleeding eyes babe are thankfully nowhere to be found.

The stories I had the most problems with before–Mohinder in general, Nathan and his sudden religious turn, and Sylar and Future Peter being grossly overpowered–are either not focused on this week or changed up to try and resolve the issue. While Mohinder, Nathan and Peter are mostly ignored, Sylar’s quest takes an interesting turn. The cheesy and unecessary “I am your mother” twist aside, the scope of Ms. Petrelli’s schemes are unfurled more, and part of her larger, yet unknown plan involves nurturing Sylar, making him do her bidding and become the partner of a reluctant Noah Bennet. Sylar works best when he’s not pure evil, but struggling with his inner demons and revealing the complexities that make him who he is. He was back to being his relentless, evil self before, but this new development has him questioning things again. He still has a buffet of super powers at his disposal, but he feels less powerful and more interesting because of it. His new partnership with HRG is fantastic, even if we all know they have no real loyalty to one another, but I’m still not even close to sold on Sylar being the darling baby boy of Angela.

Sylar aside, I still think the show needs to create more compelling villains. Angela Petrelli is great and the development with her character is welcomed, but I think some opportunities for new villains were already squandered by the end of this episode. We had a handful of villains escape from Level 5, but they’re either all dead or back in evil villain jail by the end of the hour. For a season called “Villains” I would expect some of these characters to have been fleshed out rather than wasted on a quick arc, and in the end they were just a couple of unmemorable faces I will have forgotten in several weeks. As Mohinder (*cringe*) said in his wonderfully brief voiceover, there is the potential for heroes and villains to emerge in everyone, so I take it that the writers are going less for creating new villains and more for exploring the potential for evil inside everyone. This is interesting and could give more depth to characters, like I already mentioned with Sylar, but I still can’t help, but want some more real bad guys to come into play. Even if they are just used in a few episodes, they could be developed way better than the escaped convicts were and not just killed off, never to be seen again. Comic books villains come and go, but they’re always popping back into the picture with some new and nefarious scheme.

Although I would like a few new and compelling villains, this episode reveals what Heroes needs is not the continual addition of new and unmemorable faces and twists, but a proper amount of restraint and focus on what works best for this show. With the exception of the demise of almost all the escapees, the rest of the stories hit a much better note than they did in the premiere. I already mentioned Sylar, but Horn Rimmed Glasses also benefits from this new direction and their unconventional buddy cop team up was unexpected in a good way. Hiro and Ando’s antics felt fun again, finding them in a theater playing old silent films trying to intercept a slip of paper capable of dooming the world. In addition, the growing rivalry between them was written more genuinely and felt less forced, and the speedster chick, Daphne, is still one of my current favorites. Even Not-Niki’s storyline ramped up, with the revelation that she truly is a different person, born at the same time and place as the truly deceased Niki, whose dead body is finally shown. Perhaps the premiere suffered because of its attempt at stuffing everyone back in and giving them new directions, while this week took only a handful of the cast and advanced their plots. It also helps that the characters chosen tonight were among the ones I find more interesting, though I am curious if they can improve the others as they did here.

What made these issues improve, I think, was the inclusion of elements originally present in Heroes that had gradually vanished. Matt and his spiritual journey, for instance, reintroduced the prophetic paintings aspect that was so cool in season one, but in a way that doesn’t feel too much like we’re retreading the same ground. I do think Heroes needs to get more original with its choice of powers, but sometimes reusing one works. Just please, no more fire powers. Also, Claire deciding to try and be normal again for the moment and the return of some of the old dynamics she had was a nice change from the Claire we saw last episode. And HRG back to work and back to having many different faces is another missing piece returned. Oh, and the Haitian is back!

I haven’t so much seen our heroes struggling with their inner villains, but what I did find in this episode were characters with inner turmoil of different shapes and sizes that felt real and less like the things of soap operas. Ando is questioning if he’s merely Robin to Hiro’s Batman, Tracy’s search for who she is in a very different way than with Nikki, Claire’s deciding to help herself before others, and Sylar and HRG’s motives and drive are getting muddied.

Heroes took a few more big steps in an increasingly bad direction in the premiere, but “One of Us, One of Them” took some small steps back towards the place that I first became a fan. Even if they’re not in the clear yet, at least the writers have shown they can still write a good hour of TV, and I’m feeling cuatiously optimistic. But from here on out, I’m lowering my standards and expectations and, like tonight, considering a good hour of Heroes a pleasant surprise.

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