Let's set aside everything that happened this episode: the heartfelt father-daughter chats, the introduction of new love interests, the hilarity of David Anders playing a samurai — and focus on what is clearly the most important thing in this, the premiere episode of season two of Heroes: Nathan Petrelli's beard. Pitch-black like Nathan's guilty soul, unruly like the thoughts of his exploded brother that won't stop rushing through his head, the beard is the greatest signpost of Character Dissolution we can remember seeing on TV. It far outstrips the usual three days of stubble and a whiskey bottle most actors would settle for to portray a character hitting rock bottom. But Adrian Pasdar does not settle. We're already dreading the inevitable scene three weeks from now when a resurrected Nathan, galvanized by the news that Peter might be alive, triumphantly razors off that facial masterpiece and returns to civilization. Don't do it, Heroes! Don't make Nathan shave!
In the premiere's other totally ridiculous scene, Claire, now hiding out in a Southern California high school, faces off with a gang of cheerleaders who move in hilarious Mean Girl lockstep and seem about as real as Pasdar's beard. Also, literally the first person Claire meets at her new high school also has superpowers. C'mon, Heroes. You're not even trying.
In other news, Peter shows up in an Irish shipping container … with amnesia. Hiro meets Takezo Kensei … and he's a Brit, a cad, and a lush. Suresh meets Stephen Tobolowsky, the new face of evil … and gets recruited to join the paper company. We're cautiously interested in the new brother-and-sister team, one of whom — Maya, played by The Sopranos' Dania Ramirez — has some badass power that kills everyone around her, apparently by liquefying their brains. Oh, and Mr. Sulu dies.
All in all, though, while this was a perfectly serviceable episode of a superhero-based TV show, we had a hard time getting as worked up about Heroes as we surely were last spring. It's hard to get excited about the shocking! return! of characters whose shocking returns you've already read about and seen in promos. (That's why the appearance of Sylar, seemingly sunning himself in Puerto Vallarta, in the preview of next week's episode wasn't as exciting as NBC probably thought it was.) It's too early to panic, but it's worth asking: Has the shine come off Heroes? And if Heroes jumps the shark, will the shark at least be some kind of telepathic super-shark, with a frickin' laser beam attached to its head?