To many longtime "Heroes" viewers, last week's episode, "The Kindness of Strangers," was the first second-season episode that seemed to have some of the excitement, development and forward movement of the show's first season. The big villain first mentioned by tracker Molly in the first season got a name, a face and, since it turned out to be mind-reader Matt's father, a whole boatload of instant implications.
The Kaito Nakamura murder mystery also took an interesting turn, as Angela Petrelli delivered a false confession for undetermined reasons. Meanwhile, serial killer Sylar intersected with death-bringing twins Maya and Alejandro, which can't be good.
Notably missing was any sign of power-absorber, Peter, or time-space bender, Hiro. And, surprisingly, it seems as though some fans were just fine with that. Peter is grappling with amnesia in Ireland, and Hiro is stuck in 17th-century Japan, trying to convince legendary swordsman Takezo Kensei (whose exploits thrilled him as a kid) to actually be the hero that history says he is.
Neither character has even a remote connection to anything else happening on the show, and that's a gigantic step backward for "Heroes."
A season of discovery
The entire first season was built around a superpowered cast of characters slowly but surely discovering that there were others like them. What began as individual stories of each of the supers slowly converged, as one character met another and discovered connections, whether they were common goals, shared acquaintances or new animosities. By the finale, everyone had been brought together for one reason or another to Manhattan, where their stories all came together.
The second season should be building from where the first left off. With the characters aware of their place in the world, "Heroes" has the opportunity not to simply find connections between the characters, but to explore them.
But instead of telling one story with eight or so subplots, it seems like the show is telling eight stories all at once.
The result is something like narrative overload, especially with the introduction of plotlines involving new characters such as Maya and Alejandro. At least their story, which finds them fleeing to the U.S. to get answers about their powers, is off to a good start with their introduction to Sylar. And inevitably, they are going to intersect with the rest of the cast.
That puts them well ahead of Hiro and Peter, major fan favorites (up until now, at least) who've been almost completely isolated from anything else happening in the world of "Heroes."
Take Hiro, who seemed to be the only character during the first season who saw his powers with a sense of wonder and duty, both gleaned from his comic-nerd personality. After blindly teleporting himself in last season's finale — away from the building toward which Sylar had telekinetically flung him — Hiro found himself in Feudal Japan. There, he's palling around with his hero and falling for the woman Kensei is supposed to marry.
It's been a charming, if occasionally repetitive, take on "Cyrano de Bergerac," with the added dimension of the disappointment that can come with acknowledging the humanity of one's idol. But it's also completely self-contained, keeping Hiro at a distance from the other characters. One episode introduced a ludicrous messages-in-the-hilt-of-a-sword mechanism through which he could communicate his adventures to his sidekick, Ando, whose role was reduced to reading tiny scrolls in his cubicle.
Worse still is the storyline in which Peter is stuck. As an empath and power magnet, he acted as the nexus for the arc that fueled the first season and was arguably more closely connected to the rest of the supers than any other character. His powers made him the only person capable of standing up to Sylar's wave of destruction and resulted in him exploding in a nuclear fireball over the city.
The show's second-season approach to Peter, its central character? Dump him half naked in a cargo container in Cork, Ireland, and let the Irish sort it out. Saddling him with an amnesia storyline leaves him even more stranded than Hiro, who's at least aware of where home is. Not only can't Peter remember his days of saving the cheerleader and saving the world, his bursts of violence (and telekinesis and electricity) have led him to wonder if whoever he was was all that swell to begin with.
That leaves Peter effectively off on his own, completely independent of anything else that's happening on the show until he's dragged kicking and screaming back to his family. From the looks of the commercials, that's exactly what the arrival of the new character played by Kristen Bell is all about. Until then, though, Peter's been cut off from all of the relationships that the first season worked so hard to forge.
Of course, "Heroes" may yet bring Hiro's and Peter's story lines back into the main narrative stream. There has been rampant fan speculation as to how they'll eventually intersect with the rest, with possibilities ranging from Peter's adventures (like Hiro's) happening at a different time from the rest of the show, to Kensei's invincibility allowing him to survive to the present day and connect with the group of originals.
But until those connections are finally made, the show is left with two plotlines that might as well be running their course on different shows entirely.
"Heroes" certainly isn't the only show ever to have gone down this particular path. "Malcolm in the Middle" effectively became two shows, one chronicling the title character's homelife and the other more or less an in-show spin-off featuring the adventures of older brother, Francis. "Battlestar Galactica," meanwhile, left Helo to survive on Caprica amidst the Cylons for almost two seasons while everybody else was involved in actually protecting (or betraying) the last surviving humans. On "Battlestar," however, Helo's story eventually had consequences for everyone, even if it took too long to get there.
If "Heroes" doesn't do the same, then Hiro and Peter's stories have simply become pointless diversions that did nothing except to further split an already-fractured season. Whatever the show is building toward, it seems to have razed most of what last season already built, scattering the supers once again and preventing them from exploring what it means to know about the existence of others.
Until the stories begin to impact more than just the specific characters in them, "Heroes" viewers are, just like Peter and Hiro — stranded.