SDCC: Marvel: Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends Panel
Well, there’s only one left.
On the heels of the news that the season finale will likely be the end of the line for the rejuvenated Tim Kring story, it’s tempting to go pretty easy on “Heroes Reborn.” Frankly, any week that an episode had bright spots makes one want to write about the good things, not the bad–and “Reborn” has had both, though more of the latter at times. This week is no exception, with one striking fact: the highs are higher, and the lows lower. That makes writing about a series that’s doing it best to end on a high note a tricky proposition.
The events themselves make such a task more difficult. “Company Woman” is basically a place-setting episode, getting all the pieces in order before we head into the big bang. That’s not to say there aren’t big moments–Quentin, Erica, Taylor, and Tommy all face some pretty major developments–but a solid half of the episode is just the beginning of the end. It makes for an entry that’s at times a little tedious, and not what you’d hope for from a penultimate episode.
Still, there’s another half to the episode. And boy, that Rya Kihlstedt, huh?
Erica, the “Company Woman” of the title (more on that title and its history later), gets the bulk of the episode’s attention, for better or worse. It’s mostly better, giving Kihlstedt a chance to showcase the chops that have mostly gone underused while she’s been working that mysterious villain thing. Erica’s choices cost her in ways that actually matter, resulting in fractures that can’t be mended. As Taylor, Eve Harlow’s fine, and better with Kihlstedt than she is with the rest of the cast, but the scenes their scenes belong to Erica, and Kihlstedt doesn’t disappoint.
As promised in the last episode, Matt Parkman brings Taylor back to Mom as a hostage and trades her safety for three Fitbits/time-travel watches and a little revenge. Parkman was always a lot more morally flexible than his nice-guy persona (at least after the first season of “Heroes”), but this year they’ve managed to make him into the worst kind of bad guy: the one who’ll do whatever serves him best, and damn the consequences. He’s a real Joel Cairo (or to put it in more contemporary terms, a total Peter Pettigrew). After threatening a pregnant woman with a gun and getting his shot at fleeing the planet like a rat from a sinking ship, he talks on his cell phone while driving, gets in a car crash, and watches as his Fitbits float down a river. Greg Grunberg’s panicked sliminess suits him better than being either a traditional hero or a nefarious bad guy, and if that’s the last we see of Parkman, it seems fitting that it’s in the throes of a massive dose of karma.
But the point of the Parkman story is to reunite Taylor with Erica, and to give “Company Woman” what emotional heft it has. Let’s get this out of the way now: rape’s a pretty lazy secret subplot. Sexual assault gets treated like a plot device far too often for comfort on both film and TV, and while it’s understandable (though not justifiable) that a traumatic sexual attack perpetrated by an Evo (and a caregiver) would compel someone to hate all Evos and plot their destruction, it feels like a cop-out. Tell us that story if you want, “Heroes,” just tell it better and with more thought. You’ve got an actress that’s more than up to the task.
Still, the frame in which those flashbacks exist is an excellent one. Erica comes face to face with the cost of her actions: a pregnant daughter who didn’t confide in the woman she thinks is a monster; a family torn apart, most likely irreparably; a life spent (she believes) in service of protecting her little girl made basically irrelevant. Kihlstedt allows Erica one small moment of grief before pulling herself together and getting back to work, but look at her stance afterwards–she even walks differently. Life is different now. Something just broke.
There are developments elsewhere, and we’ll tackle those storyline by storyline, but this is where the episode lives. It reminds me a lot of one of the best episodes of the first, excellent season of “Heroes.” Guess what that one’s called? “Company Man.” It’s the story of how Noah Bennet became Claire’s dad, and how he fell in love with the kid he was supposed to simply mind until the time came. Coincidentally, the non-flashback storyline of “Company Man” also involved Matt Parkman and taking a family member hostage, but as with this episode, it serves mainly to shed light on an ominous figure, and to make clear the loves, fears, and loyalties that tie them to the past. Clumsy assault storyline or not, it’s a nice hat-tip to the original series, and like it’s predecessor, it’s a terrific showcase for a standout member of the cast.
In contrast, “Company Man” stays almost entirely within the Bennet house when we’re not in the past, creating a tension that makes every break with time all the more unsettling. “Company Woman” is all over the place–across the state, scattered throughout time, and far from unified. If “Heroes Reborn” had the time and the energy to stay in one place, this could have been a stellar entry. Instead, we kept cutting away from the story that resonated so we could see where exactly the cast’s many members had traveled since we saw them last.
People in car one: Malina, Luke, Quentin, and Phoebe. When it’s obvious that their car is going to be searched, they change plans–how they get away from the evacuation zone isn’t exactly clear–so that Luke can “get rid of that extra baggage.” He hesitates with the gun in his hands just long enough, giving the now completely awful Phoebe time to escape, and Quentin switches teams, saying she’s no longer his sister. They head to Claire’s alma mater to find some TV cameras, in hopes that a broadcast will help Tommy find them before Erica does. It’s fine. Quentin’s conflicted state has been brewing for awhile now, so it’s nice to see him make the jump, but otherwise it’s just more of the same, until they get to the gym.
People in car two: Farrah, Carlos, Micah, and Jose head to Odessa. At some point they stop by a looted gas station (the mass panic, by the way, is much scarier than the HELE, if only because it feels more real) and see Malina’s broadcast. Micah does his thing, gets the transmission on a loop, and off they head to the gym.
People who aren’t in a car: Ren (welcome back, Ren! I almost forgot about you!) finally makes his way to Gateway, courtesy of the Otomo avatar’s instructions, where he promptly meets Emily. They’re just delightful together, despite the fact that either of them openly discussing their respective worries and quests is utterly implausible. They spend the rest of the episode trying to get to Tommy. It’s wonderful, and improbable, and doesn’t do much other than get them in place for the episode’s big finish. Whatever. Team Ren!
People who are Tommy and his Mom: Tommy spends the beginning of the episode helping Erica despite knowing she’s lied to him over and over again, in hopes he can save lives. After realizing they only intend to save 12,000 people, he pops away and saves his Mom (Anne) from some of Erica’s thugs. After that, he’s mostly off-screen for the rest of the episode, popping around looking for Malina, but all of his scenes with Anne work–and luckily, Anne catches Malina’s broadcast and sends him off to Malina. Krista Bridges is great here, and I hope we see more of her in the finale.
People who are in that gym: Joanne shows up to kill Malina and Luke sun-blasts her into ashes. It’s incredibly anti-climactic. Before Joanne goes up in flames, she gets a shot off at Malina, and it looks like it hits–but really it’s invisible Farrah, who arrived at the gym just in time and leapt in front of her former charge. Carlos scoops her up and they’re off to the hospital. Where’s Peter Petrelli when you need him? Tommy also shows up, but so does Otomo, who makes him disappear into the Evernow prison (a fact Ren and Emily learn while sneaking about Renautus). And Quentin also helps Malina dodge a bullet, so good on you, Quentin.
So Tommy’s in the video game prison that formerly held Hiro prisoner, and getting him out will be the first order of business in the finale. After that, anything goes. I’m glad “Heroes Reborn” spent some time on character development this episode. I just wish it had happened earlier–after all, that HELE is imminent, and so is the end of “Heroes Reborn.”