Kicking off NBC’s week of Halloween-themed shows, this week’s episode of Heroes was promoted all last week on the network with ominous spots showing Sylar cooing, “I’m back in charge now,” and almost immediately after this week’s episode started, it became evident that those bits of footage weren’t as self-explanatory as I’d explained last week. Mostly because, after a three-week hiatus, Matt Parkman reappeared, bringing with him the subconscious Sylar that Nathan/Sylar appears to be missing, despite Samuel’s best attempts to bring it out last week.
“Strange Attractors” opens on Parkman and his wife making love. Parkman quickly dissolves into Sylar, and as the camera moves back down we see Parkman sleeping next to his apparently-sleeping wife. For a moment he (and the viewers) can assume it was only a dream sequence—but she quickly looks over to tell him how great it had been last night, and Parkman looks the other way to see the intangible Sylar eating some of Parkman’s food and mocking Parkman by way of making a pun to horrible and witless to bear repeating.
Moments later, Jeremy the teenage healer has been taken into custody by Podunk Sheriff #2 (you’ll excuse the lack of a name as long as I can excuse the lack of any sincere human characterization), who has decided to lock up Jeremy because the evidence that Noah forged in “Tabula Rasa” to make the deaths of the kid’s parents look like an accident wasn’t convincing enough for him. Or something. At any rate, the cops aren’t going to release him into the custody of the “family friend” who appeared just in time to report the deaths of the victims, even if he’s cleared of charges. The sullen kid looks on, continuing to be sullen, and Noah makes a mysterious phone call. In the next shot, Tracy appears in Georgia and is presently convinced to impersonate the kid’s aunt (using some fake ID that Noah managed to manufacture, apparently out of thin air) and sign him out of jail.
At the nearby (and fictional) Arlington University, Claire and Gretchen are having their first heart-to-heart conversation since the bizarre, random lesbian kiss that happened a few weeks ago. The pair’s conversation is again interrupted (as it was last time) by an invasion of sorority sisters, this time dressed as cartoon ninjas and trying to kidnap the pair for some kind of initiation rite. The insidious sorority leader (who’s part of Samuel’s carnival family) has a few seconds to chat with Claire before throwing a bag over her head and tossing the pair of girls in a trunk. More suggestive dialogue implies that there might be a future for Claire in a lesbian relationship.
Frankly, this doesn’t bode well for the show. It seems that, since Claire as a character has zero history as a lesbian and a string of boyfriends, the “I don’t know,” “I could be open to it” kinds of responses really mean “We’re gradually easing the viewers into a new dynamic for Claire, because the writers appreciate that suddenly dating a girl would be somewhat out of character.” And while I have no problem with the notion of Claire as a lesbian on principle (and I’m sure many, many others will), I do have a problem with one of the show’s most likable characters getting into a relationship with another person of any gender, where the significant other is irritating and dull, and where there is no discernible sexual chemistry when the two appear onscreen, even when bound together and bouncing in the dark, their lips nearly meeting by serendipity or inertia.
The sorority, apparently totally unaware that two of their new “sisters” are working their way gradually toward a very un-sister-like relationship, arrive at their destination, re-bag the pledges’ heads and send them off on a “screaming scavenger hunt,” which divides their numbers in half and gives whomever finds the “treasure” at the end amnesty from “Hell Week.”
Tracy, meanwhile, finds herself in a room with Jeremy where, despite the lack of any soundproofing or, you know, WALLS that aren’t made of glass from floor to ceiling, and despite a guard stationed right outside the door, she proceeds to tell him in explicit terms how Noah forged paperwork to help get him out of jail. Jeremy suggests that maybe he shouldn’t be allowed out of jail in the first place, given that he killed his parents. Tracy, who has been pretty standoffish about helping Jeremy so far in spite of the hefty bodycount she’s racked up in the last couple of years, just kind of stammers awkwardly and viewers familiar with this season’s dynamic can anticipate the scene change even before it comes.
Parkman and Sylar are arguing—I kind of wish that they’d have an “alternate angle” of these scenes that just shows what everyone else sees, with Matt standing around yelling at himself about sleeping with his wife—and while it takes a few minutes to get there, the gist is that Parkman’s mad, but Sylar knows that he’s not mad about the sex, but mad that Sylar was able to take charge of the body for a while. So cop and killer face down about what will happen to Parkman’s wife and son the next time Sylar’s able to gain control for a few minutes.
Claire, Gretchen (luckily, they were put on the same team) and a couple of other girls make their way through an old, abandoned slaughterhouse that the sorority has chosen for their scavenger hunt. True to its name, the other two girls titter and scream through the whole thing, although how having all four girls wander the building together and find things at the same time can possibly result in a winning “team” is anyone’s guess. While Claire is functionally immortal, and has been through so much over the last few years that it’s reasonable she wouldn’t be scared by anything a sorority could subject her to, Gretchen’s total lack of capacity for fear, perspective or empathy for her terrified classmates is a little off-putting, likely sending viewers back our original “This girl is a little nuts” diagnosis. It’s dangerous ground for the writers, as they’re likely to get some backlash from special-interest groups if the first homosexual character introduced on a high-profile show turns out to be an unrepentant loon.
While Tracy finally starts to relate to Jeremy, Noah is outside talking to Podunk Sheriff #2, who still refuses to release him into the custody of his “aunt.” Podunk Sheriff #5 joins the mix, reading entries about death from Jeremy’s oh-so-emo spiral notebook. With a lack of real evidence failing to deter the police from holding Jeremy in custody, Tracy resorts to calling some Washington friends for favors—and her phone call is cut short by Samuel, who tries to sell her on bringing Jeremy to the Carnival when he gets out of jail. Making it appear all around, he explains to her the function of the Carnival (in the truncated, generalized terms that viewers are so used to).
Wandering through the slaughterhouse’s killing floor, Gretchen explains the episode title—an abstract physics concept—to Claire and the viewing audience while the invisible carnie-girl follows them around. If the pair end up as a couple, it’s almost certain that Samuel and company knowing about Gretchen’s sexuality can lead them to understand the relationship and use her as a damsel in distress for Claire to rescue. And that all starts…RIGHT NOW, as the invisible girl tries to nail Gretchen with a flying meathook, but Claire prevents it by tackling her fellow “strange attractor” to the (disgusting, blood-crusted) ground.
Back at the carnival, while Samuel is giving Tracy the hard sell about bringing Jeremy to the Carnival, Nathan/Sylar sees her from a few feet away and starts having Nathan’s memories about helping her. This, combined with Tracy’s apparent rejection, pushes Samuel out of his usual, affable character and into an irritated debate with Nathan/Sylar about whether or not Nathan’s memories are real and, if they’re not his, where his mind has gone.
Which is, of course, answered a minute later when Parkman is seen packing a bag. Confronted by his wife, he’s forced to explain to her what he did to Sylar (in general enough terms so as not to give Sylar any more specifics than he already has, or something, I don’t know). All of this is played for comic effect as Zachary Quinto provides a commentary track for the scene that must have been hard for the other actors in the room to ignore. Kudos to Greg Grunberg and Lisa Lackey (whose real names sound much more like Silver Age comic characters than do their character names, by the way). His wife, who is apparently much smarter than him, argues that she should in fact take the son to an undisclosed location, leaving Matt at their home. In this way, Matt reasons, he won’t know where they are and so Sylar shouldn’t be able to access the information.
And then came the moment we’ve been dreading all season: Parkman calls Suresh for help.
A minute later, though, he realizes on his own that apparently alcohol can “hurt” Sylar, who’s trapped down inside his subconscious. That promises to be an interesting story beat.
Back in Georgia, Noah is pleased to find out that Tracy’s friend has made all the arrangements to have Jeremy released. He’s set the boy up with a new identity and a new apartment a few doors down from Noah in his apartment building. Despite visible reservations about the plan (will she defect to the Carnival?), Tracy stands by Noah in front of the boy and suggests that helping him be “invisible” by controlling his powers and changing locales is a good thing.
Claire and Gretchen, realizing that there’s a possibility another superhuman is wandering the slaughterhouse looking to gut Gretchen, decide to join their screaming, preening sorority sisters. In exchange for the peace of mind that Claire will get out of protecting everyone, she tells the others they can have the prize when it’s found and all she’s worried about is everyone getting out safely.
Set upon by an angry townie, Jeremy’s power involuntarily takes over and he kills the guy. While Noah urges him to cure the guy, and an angry mob of gun-wielding Podunk Sheriffs and locals mewl around our trio, Jeremy instead lets the man die in the street and turns himself in to the police. Moments after Noah and Tracy are denied entry into his cell to reason with him, though, Podunk Sheriff #5 has literally taken him out back to shoot him, spewing hateful rhetoric as he does so. Having a faceless townie chain Jeremy to the back of a pickup truck, Podunk Sheriff #5 talks a little smack and goads Jeremy into conflict. Showing the fundamental decency that Noah always saw in him, though, the boy chooses to be dragged to death with a smile on his face, as opposed to making his last earthly act the killing of someone who was literally asking for it.
Another ten or twelve shots into the next scene, Parkman thinks he’s killed Sylar by downing the last of a bottle. He stands to celebrate, but falls almost immediately—which is conveniently timed so that he can fall into the arms of his wife and his partner from the force, who have come to check on him. Or something.
On the slaughterhouse’s killing floor, the pair of bratty sorority sisters decide that really, they didn’t want to stay with Claire and Gretchen anyway and wander off. Claire and Gretchen find “the treasure,” share a moment where Gretchen admits Claire’s life is too insane to be pressuring her into a relationship. A second later, just after Claire says, “I need you” to her unbalanced (girl)friend, another meathook comes floating through space—but this time, instead of eviscerating her, this one’s leather strap is bent on strangling Gretchen to death. Claire, sensing that she’s dealing with an invisible assailant and not telekinesis, gives and takes a few shots with Sister Becky. She impales Claire, who then slices her face with a meathook and she becomes visible for just long enough that Claire and Gretchen can know she’s the villain. When the other girls enter, though, Becky runs like hell (not taking TOO much care not to be invisible in front of the other sorority sisters) and they see Claire hanging from an outcropped wire or hook or whatever it is that’s impaled her, attached to the wall.
While the pair are wondering what to do about their friends who have clearly seen too much, Noah and Tracy are off discovering the body of their young charge. This scene was actually a little disconcerting to watch because every shot of Noah, I expected his phone to ring and Claire to be looking for the Haitian. Tracy, traumatized by the incident and fearing that it truly means that people with abilities will never be able to live openly in society, tells Noah never to call her again for one of these “rescue missions.” Noah’s left to wander the streets while Tracy drives away, virtually guaranteeing that Ali Larter will be playing a villain again when she withdraws one of Samuel’s compasses from her purse and seems ready to set off for the Carnival.
Parkman awakes from his alcohol-induced coma to find his wife and partner/sponsor standing above him in the living room. His partner hands him back his discarded rehab token and suggests a do-over, Janice hugs him and all seems right with Parkman’s world. Of course, to the surprise of absolutely nobody except Matt Parkman, Sylar was feigning injury, using the alcohol to lull Matt into submission and take over the body. And here’s where the “Now I’m in the driver’s seat” that NBC has had plastered all over the ads comes from.
Bringing closure to another beat, the hot Georgia sun beats down on a small town where one police car rolls to a stop on a quiet street. Its lone pedestrian, a man in a duster, stops over a smear of Jeremy’s blood in the street and watches Podunk Sheriff #5 and the local who helped him kill the boy enter the police station. Of course, the pedestrian is Samuel and moments later the station is reduced to a crumbling pile of rocks, presumably killing the pair and anyone else unlucky enough to be inside of it. I’m still wondering what, if any, connection his tattoo/art powers have to his earthquake/matter manipulation powers, but it’s about time we saw a cool, in-story use for the latter.