Well, you can’t really like Heroes and not have seen this one coming; it was a very Hiro-centric episode this week, complete with one of the lingering, dangling plot threads of his past: Sylar’s first-season murder of Hiro’s waitress girlfriend Charlie, whom he tried and failed to save once before, and whose name on a card at the end of the last episode gave supporting cast members probably their only guess as to where Hiro went when his cancer-addled brain caused him to spontaneously disappear into the timestream. Add that to Samuel’s pursuit of the most powerful of the Heroes cast and we’ve got a recipe for a much more plot-driven show than last week’s sorority-rush placeholder. But…did it measure up to that promise?
Opening “three years ago” at Charlie’s diner with blaring country music, Hiro sets about getting out of his hospital gown and into some decent clothes; absent his wallet (hospital gown and all), and probably not really wanting to dip into the potentially fatal well that is his powers in his current state of health, he steals some from a clothesline, setting up a nice little plot device wherein he’s caught by a child and has to explain the Charlie backstory (handy for anyone who didn’t watch season one, or who had forgotten big chunks of it) in order to justify his actions.
When the kid, dressed as a cowboy, plants his “marshall” hat on top of Hiro’s melon, telling him “Good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black hats,” it’s a cue for Sylar to show up outside the diner, wearing a black baseball cap. Hiro is startled by the villain’s arrival, and so was I, at first, before realizing that Sylar hadn’t yet seen Hiro at this point in the first season and doesn’t realize that he’s a foot from a potential “power lunch” when he just brushes past the pair with a “do you mind?” and heads in to get some more conventional nourishment.
Our story folds forward to the present day, where Samuel is more than a little upset by the impending loss of Arnold, the old man who has the ability to send him through time and who previously facilitated his helping Hiro to change Ando’s personal history. Samuel tells Lydia that the end might come as soon as tonight. A brainstorming session as to how they can woo Hiro to their side, brings on a tattoo session with Lydia, and a conversation about the Hiro-Charlie story. The tattoos link Claire to Sylar and Charlie, and Samuel sets out to convince Arnold to send him back in time again.
We get a lot of colorful character moments in the diner—after Samuel grabs Hiro and invites him out of the room, we get shots of Sylar talking to Charlie and Noah talking to his old partner (who viewers will notice we’ve never seen before; that’s all explained later; for the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to her as always having been there in season one). While Sylar’s “I can tell how things work” speech ties very nicely into the events that have happened this season, Noah’s is a reminder of just how far his family has come in the three years since this story took place. Lying to his (now ex-) wife on the phone about why he’s going to miss Claire’s homecoming, he nearly pops a blood vessel venting the frustration to his partner, only to be reminded that things get ugly when their families start to be involved in the Company’s work. It is, of course, a lesson that Noah would learn firsthand again and again over the coming years, but it’s nice to see him back at a time where his insecurities were about the day-to-day, as opposed to this season’s greater “did anything I do mean anything?” drama.
Samuel and Hiro look on, while HRG and his would-be girlfriend, Hiro and Ando, and Sylar all dine in this one small room. Luckily, Hiro has apparently aged enough in three years that nobody there notices that he looks just like that other Asian guy across the room. He tells Hiro (who is rightly confused as to what Samuel is doing and if he’s being followed, that he’s “making a huge sacrifice to make sure you succeed here. One mistake and it’s kablooey, history.” [Note: I know how to spell “kablooey” because later on, Hiro says it during a Japanese monologue and it was subtitled.] It’s not that Charlie can’t be saved, and the timeline remain intact, Samuel reasons with Hiro—it’s just that you have to do it exactly perfectly or it will all have been for nothing.
Moments later, with Samuel nowhere in sight, Hiro freezes time in the instant before Sylar kills Charlie, duct-tapes Sylar to a hand trolley, and stows him away in the baggage area underneath an outbound Greyhound bus. Then he returns to the diner to approach the now-not-dead love of his life. He realizes almost immediately, though, that if Charlie never dies, he won’t travel to the past to save her and the pair will never fall in love. This is bolstered by a photograph from Charlie’s previous birthday, hanging on a nearby bulletin board, which should, but does not, feature Hiro. He meets himself in the bathroom, unfreezes time (it’s interesting to see Hiro frozen during the time-freeze thing; apparently that power COULD be turned on him by an enterprising villain—or maybe by Peter, who may need to freeze him in place in order to save him as he lays dying later in the season?) and explains to his former self that Charlie has been horribly murdered by Sylar, and that he has to travel six months back to fall in love with her and save her. Past-Hiro excitedly does as he’s told and “our” Hiro sees the immediate result in the form of an altered photograph between his fingers. Cue one of Hiro’s excited cheers of “I did it,” which would probably make for a fun Heroes drinking game.
Another long sequence featuring Noah, Isaac and his partner that seemed eerily familiar brought a question to my mind that I’ve been wondering about since I realized they were going to spend all or most of an episode lost in the first season: is all of this old footage? Readers with far more acute memories than mine are invited to discuss this issue in the comments (and it seems clear that some of the bits with Charlie are new), but it seems to me that not only are the scenes familiar but that if they were actually bringing this many old cast members back for a guest appearance there would have been more made of it. And if it is recycled footage, the amount of screen time it’s getting almost demands that we ask ourselves: What’s hidden in this dialogue that’s going to pay off big time later in the season? It seems unlikely that a show on the precipice of un-jumping the shark (if a thing that can be done or, even, a thing) would spend half an episode dwelling on the past just to make people feel all warm and nostalgic for the good old days of 2006.
Samuel and Hiro share a moment, wherein Samuel (clearly better at this stuff than Hiro is, which makes you wonder how many events he’s manipulated in the past) reminds him that although it seems all is well, there’s still the small matter of Ando, sitting unattended at their booth, to take care of. A brief conversation with Ando yields the same first question (“where is your sword?”) as did the earlier conversation with himself—the kind of thing that, on repetition, is much funnier. Partly because Hiro dismisses it impatiently this time. He convinces Ando to stay and wait for his younger self to return and then sets about visiting Charlie in the back room where she steadfastly continues not to be dead.
Well, for a minute anyway. It’s not long before, with or without Sylar’s help, her aneurysm is rupturing and she’s speaking nonsense and telling Hiro that she’s dying. Still refusing to lose her, Hiro takes off in search of Sylar, who has freed himself from the duct-tape-and-mass-transit prison and confronts Hiro the instant he arrives. Luckily for Hiro, Sylar’s power loses its effectiveness when time freezes, so at the risk of his own brain, he leads Sylar on a series of reality-freezing mini-confrontations around town and the “man in the black hat’s” telekinesis isn’t able to cut him down. Eventually he promises Sylar that in return for using the telekinesis to fix Charlie’s aneurysm, he’ll tell Sylar everything he knows about Sylar’s future. In spite of his and Samuel’s best-laid plans, it seems that he’s putting the future—specifically, the end of the first season of Heroes and therefore the safety of New York City—at risk by playing with the past again. It works, though, as moments later blood runs out of her eye but Charlie survives and self-diagnoses as all better.
A three-year-old conversation between Claire and Noah that promises to come back around soon: back in the hometown and waiting to see Claire cheer, he reveals that “selling paper” is never what he wanted to do, but that he always dreamt of being a high school English teacher. Based on last week, his ability to connect with young people might need a little work—but could it be that HRG is the one character who might make it out of this season with his hands around that coveted “normal life” that half of the characters seem to be chasing?
Back at the diner, Hiro cheats a little on his deal with Sylar, giving only vague generalities about “the future” and wishing him well halfheartedly before freezing time again and teleporting Sylar far enough away that he can’t—or at least it’s not worth his trouble to—be a bother to Charlie again.
Back at Lauren’s (that’s Noah’s old partner’s name—Lauren—I looked it up on the Heroes Wiki) hotel room, she and Noah have a heart-to-heart in which he lets her down gently after her earlier offer of casual sex and a room key. It’s the first of two breakups as, when she decides that his saving her was “cheating” and he’s “selfish,” Charlie walks away from Hiro in the streets of Odessa.
The next scene takes us back to the Company, where Noah and Lauren share a coffee break and some mail; an envelope containing a hotel room key and a note, and addressed to Noah, was on Lauren’s desk when she came back to it and she brings it to him; the note explains that she has had the Haitian wipe her mind so that she can forget she was into him and they can operate more professionally together.
Back at the diner, Hiro and Noah share in the “messy business” of love over a pair of root beers while speaking Japanese, with Hiro answering “Do I know you?” with a self-amusing “not yet.” Noah leaves after a few warm moments, though, and is replaced almost immediately by Charlie. Having had time to cool off, she says, she realizes that she wants to be with him and to have their happily ever after, too. She leads him outside, but as soon as the doors open she’s gone, replaced by Samuel. He’s kidnapped Charlie, he tells Hiro, and brought her to the future, to his carnival. Hiro brings them there, only to find Arnold’s corpse instead of Charlie.
This brings on one of the sequences fans have waited for all year: something resembling a real mission statement from Samuel. Arnold, he explains, trapped Charlie “somewhere in time” in his final moments of life, and he won’t tell Hiro where because he needs Hiro, and recognizes that once Charlie is safe he has no motivation to remain at the carnival. Apparently, you see, back at the beginning of the season Samuel made a mistake so egregious that if it came to light, the others in the carnival would abandon him and all his “good work” would be undone. He needs Hiro to help him undo that mistake—which led to Mohinder Suresh’s death—and then he’ll give Charlie up.
On the one hand, I have to assume that Suresh will get up and walk again by the end of the season (to the everlasting chagrin of the Internet fan community), since it’s Hiro’s “mission” now. We also know that the previously rumored male main cast member being taken off the show is in fact Adrian Pasdar, which seems to put Suresh in a relatively safe position.