Heroes 4.15: Pass/Fail

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Broadcast Date: 18 January 2010
Director: Michael Nankin
Writer: Oliver Grigsby
Cast: Jack Coleman, Greg Grunberg, Robert Knepper, Ali Larter, James Kyson Lee, Oka Masi, Hayden Panettiere, Adrian Pasdar, Zachary Quinto, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Cristine Rose, and Milo Ventimiglia


© Copyright Universal Pictures

© Copyright Universal Pictures

Ando: “You are Super-Hiro!”

As its title indicates, “Pass/Fail” is all about being put to the test: Hiro’s resolve is tested in his coma dream; Sylar tests Claire to work out his own issues; Samuel tests Vanessa’s love; and the writers test our patience with a full hour of action-free talking heads. Given the series’ track record with psychobabble, you can imagine my initial apprehension, but, against all odds, this chapter sold me on its contrived premise and, more importantly, on the prospect of Heroes achieving its own redemption by the end of the volume.

Hiro a.k.a. The Class Clown

The most effective thread is the trial of Hiro, not least because the character is so earnest he can get away with stating his feelings without it seeming trite. Wheeling out the guest stars of Christmas past, the chapter brings the whole tumor thing to a close with, for once, the right mix of humor and drama. Adam Munroe is a hoot as a literal devil’s advocate prosecuting Hiro for crimes against the space-time continuum, and the swordfight at the end makes for a nice change of pace.

More importantly, we finally get a decent explanation for our favorite fanboy’s asinine behavior this season: with his days numbered, Hiro had become so desperate he’s willing to do anything to leave his mark, including endangering the very fabric of the universe to fix his legacy. It isn’t until he admits his guilt that he’s given a second chance, so the lesson here, I think, is that redemption with complete disregard of its consequences is no redemption at all.

Incidentally, this episode makes a strong case that Hiro should never grow up too much. His childlike innocence and unwavering enthusiasm are defining traits, after all, and they even come across as heroic when the stakes are high, such as in this episode. The catch is the character really needs darker storylines to contrast his whimsical nature: Hiro is a resourceful optimist, not a man-child, and his adventures should reflect that. I believe this one does.

Claire a.k.a. The Teacher’s Pet

As Sylar makes sure to emphasize on the blackboard (real subtle, Heroes writers), the purpose of Claire’s subplot is to compare how the two characters deal with adversity or, in this case, isolation. Sylar questions Claire against her will, molests her, and then blames all his failings on his powers. In contrast, Claire acknowledges her past mistakes, overcomes her insecurities, and starts a relationship with Gretchen. Once again, it’s all about taking responsibility for your actions.

This means we may not be heading toward Cuddly Sylar after all. What a relief! Actually, I kind of like what they’re doing with the character. The basic idea is that Sylar hates himself to the core but is too selfish to change, so he’s always seeking validation in the worst ways imaginable. The great thing about this take is it provides a single motivation for all his crazy stunts over the years: his collecting powers and eliminating other “specials”, his predilection for role-playing, his eagerness to please parental figures, etc. Sylar is consistently inconsistent because he’s trying to be anyone but himself.

By the way, have I mentioned how much I like Gretchen? I spent half the episode worried she might die. Now, I know a lot of people have complained about the girls hooking up so casually, comparing it to Willow’s more heartfelt journey in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but you know what? That was in 1999, and Claire’s always been more confident in her decisions anyway. I, for one, appreciate how the Heroes Powers That Be handled Claire’s “coming out”: like it’s no big deal.

Samuel a.k.a. The Head Cheerleader’s Older Boyfriend Who Used to Buy Beer for Us but Would Get Insanely Jealous for No Reason and I Stopped Hanging Out with Him When He Tried to Sell Me Drugs Because Apart from the Alcohol Thing I’m Like Totally Straight-Edge and Now I Forgot What We Were Talking About

Hell hath no fury like a super-powered carnie scorned. Samuel’s courtship of Vanessa is probably the most awkward part of the episode, but it does shed light on key aspects of his personality. His love, it seems, is as genuine as it is suffocating. The problem is that the man can’t tell the difference between what people want and what he wants for them. I suppose his mass-murdering temper doesn’t help either.

Actually, I’m a bit confused about the end. Did Samuel subconsciously set himself up for heartbreak so he’d have an excuse to lash out at baseline humanity, or did he level the town impulsively because he couldn’t contain his rage anymore? The first option paints Samuel as an ambitious demagogue struggling with his conscience; the other implies he’s a well-intentioned man who’s grown too unstable to lead his people. Either way, I’m intrigued.

© Copyright Universal Pictures

© Copyright Universal Pictures

Bits and Pieces

  • It seems all those time-travelling shenanigans had at least one unforeseen consequence on the space-time continuum: Sylar’s current existential angst is directly linked to what Hiro told him three years ago. Why did it take three years to sink in?
  • It’s no one’s fault, as the writers clearly set this up back in the fall, but the earthquake sequence made me uncomfortable. Unfortunate timing.
  • It’s a testament to Madeline Zima’s skills as an actress that I’d figured out what was going on with Gretchen in the broom closet just from her inflections
  • For those of you wondering why I’m so attached to Gretchen:
    A. She’s funny.
    B. Claire could use more people in her life who aren’t morons.
    C. Peter is Claire’s uncle. Just saying.

Quotes

Lots of gems from the trial of Hiro:

Ando: “The defense calls Nakamura Hiro to the stand.”
Hiro: “What? Have you seen Law and Order? That always backfires.”

Mohinder: “I broke a promise to a girl. I need to make amends.”
Seriously? That’s your link to this season’s redemption theme? For heaven’s sake.

Adam: “Who else met their death by your hand after Hiro made this deal?”
Sylar: “Well, there was her, then Eden… Ish. Two Primatech guards, the melty guy, a mechanic, Isaac Mendez, my mother, some guy named Ted… Something. Ted…”
Adam: “And so on and so on. If Hiro was acting out of nobility, perhaps he should have stopped this vicious killer before these countless murders–”
Sylar: “Sprague! Ted Sprague.”

Gretchen: “So Sylar? The Sylar?”
Claire: “Yes. Well, no, kind of the emo apologist version.”

Hiro: “And I found myself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong.”
Adam: “Objection, Your Honor! He’s reciting the opening to Quantum Leap.”
I laughed out loud at that one.

Claire: “I want to be more like that too and not be beholden to any label or definition of who I’m supposed to be and just… I want to hold your hand.”
Guess who’s not joining the writing staff of The L Word next year.

A few problems with the execution as usual, but a really impressive attempt to make sense of the series’ previous inconsistencies.

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Category: Heroes, Verdict: 3.5 | Tags:

          
Editor in Chief / Movie Critic: When he started this site, Dimitri never thought he'd be writing blurbs about himself in the third person. In his other life, he works as a writer, translator, and editor for various publications in print and online. His motto is, "Have pen, will travel."