‘Heroes’: The Evolutionary Cul-De-Sac

Now "," Sternbergh! Photo: Courtesy of NBC

Every episode of Heroes has to have a theme. Sometimes it's explicated during Mohinder's Theme-o-Matic Voice-Over. Sometimes it's clear from the title of the episode. And sometimes, we get a professorial type lecturing us near the episode's beginning, because God knows nothing livens up an action-adventure show like an academic lecture.

This week's episode's theme is helpfully explained by Claire's obviously stoned biology teacher, who's giving yet another one of his conveniently relevant lectures, this time about evolution. "Thanks to millions of years of combined mutation," he says, standing before a bad-trip psychedelic animation of a newt getting its arm chopped off, "lizards are capable of cellular regeneration." Between her powers-oriented coursework and her flying classmate, it sort of seems like Claire's new high school is actually some kind of special Hero School, like in Sky High. If Kurt Russell shows up, we'll know we're in trouble.

At any rate, the theme of evolution is apropos one, because Heroes as a show finds itself heading down something of an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

In its first season, the show coasted by on engaging characters, excellent plot twists, and an ever-expanding mythology. But, as Matthew Gilbert convincingly argued on Slate, Heroes is suffering from character bloat, its twists are getting harder and harder to pull off, and its mythology is starting to seem just a little bit familiar. So far, Heroes' second season hasn't offered much we haven't seen in its first season: characters on the run, secondary characters getting killed, characters discovering their powers. The show isn't growing new, exciting arms to replace the ones that got cut off at the first season's end; instead, Heroes is like some mutated lizard that's sprouting a half-dozen extra, useless arms willy-nilly. How long would a lizard like that survive in the wild?

That's not to say there weren't some nice moments last night. We liked the once-sick Haitian merrily turning up at Copy Kingdom; that scene with Blanca from the Sopranos crying evil black tears was fairly awesome; and Kensei popping back up after getting a half-dozen arrows to the chest was played for comedy, a refreshing change for this show.

But Heroes' problems come to a head in the story line of Peter Petrelli. We spend all of last season watching Peter finally coming to terms with his multitudinous superpowers, and the Heroes writers erase his memory and start him from scratch? How many more scenes of the guy staring at his Emperor Palpatine–style sparking hands in disbelief do we need to see? And then, shortly after Peter effortlessly disarms two guys with pistols, he's brought up short by an Irish rogue holding his credit cards over the fire? You have superpowers, dude. Bug-zap the Irish guy, grab the box of documents with your flame-resistant hands, and get the hell out of Cork — and get somewhere where something more exciting's happening.