See, THIS is why I keep watching Heroes. Was this week's installment a perfect episode? No.
But it was very, very wonderful and had some visual and thematic elements that tied it back to the good old days of Season One - and, even better, the story went in some genuinely unexpected directions.
To start off, let me say that while there are few things quite as wonderful as Sendhil Ramamurthy's overwritten but melodic Indian-English accented, baritone voiceovers, Robert Knepper's opening narration was, for lack of a better word, delicious.
As for the rest of what Robert Knepper (or rather his character Samuel Sullivan) got up to this episode...oh my. We finally entered the world of the carnival. It's both more and less creepy than what I was expecting. I definitely enjoyed getting more of a look at who else is in the 'family' besides Samuel, Lydia, Edgar, and that dying guy. But what I loved was that we finally get an up-close look at the dark(er) side of Samuel Sullivan. It's one thing to see the aftermath of him dropping a dinner party into a sinkhole, but quite another to hear him explain his twisted vision of the world and his intentions for Sylar with so much relish you can hear him tasting the words.
And the house of mirrors. Oh my lord the house of mirrors. As a rule, any scene including a room with 360 degree mirrors is epic. But Heroes stepped up and delivered - not just once, but twice. We've seen all the horrors of Sylar over the course of the show. But watching the footage over again, creepily zoomed in, heavy on the blood and screaming, reflected from every direction...it made me physically uncomfortable. In a good way. And an appearance by the marvelously talented Ellen Greene? Icing. Decadent, grotesque icing. The Sylar character has always been intriguing, but this is a genuinely new and different direction. I don't buy Zachary Quinto quite as much as an innocent semi-Nathan, but the battle between the physical urge to kill and the mental horror at ensuing violence was presented in a way I can only call ingenious.
My favorite thing I'm taking away from this portion of "Tabula Rasa" is validation for the faith I've kept in this show. There are down moments, but the way they are dealing with the Sylar/Gabriel/Nathan character now is truly masterful. I have absolutely no idea where it's all going to go. I missed that feeling.
Moving on to the other parts of the Heroes world. Hiro. Emma. Peter. HRG....I'm gonna work that list in reverse order, I think.
HRG is historically my favorite character. He's just fascinating, in terms of action and mentality. What I liked about him in this episode was that he finally got up off his couch and picked up a gun again. What I loved was that Noah Bennet's psyche was verbalized for what I believe is the first time in the whole series. "My power is understanding people like you." Can't put it any better than that. I don't know that I'd be a fan of that healer-kid sticking around for too long. But I'm glad to see that HRG finally has a direction this season (and especially glad that it doesn't involve Claire or Tracy).
Not much to say on Peter this episode, except that he was classic Peter - the good, heroic kind of classic Peter. Not the emo one. He mostly just served as a handy plot device. That gunshot time freeze, though? Killer. (No pun intended...mostly...)
To say I haven't enjoyed the Emma storyline much thus far would be a gross understatement. In this episode, though, it took off in a direction that really worked well for me...up until the end. Hiro is kind of like a band-aid for bad power-discovery storylines. He patches it up and does a damn fine job, but it only works so well. Having Emma confront her fear with Hiro's aid while switching back and forth with the terrified healer-kid was beautifully handled in terms of storyline symmetry and balance. Disparate storylines haven't matched up that well thematically in a long time and I really enjoyed it.
Towards the end, Emma's story started to backtrack a little. She went and did some more gratuitous piano playing. The fact that she can make things break with sound was not touched on at all. And (this was actually at the beginning of the episode, but hey) it turns out that the cello wasn't hers, but someone planted it in her home. What? This particular plot is still struggling, although I'm now willing to give it some space to develop. We'll call it two steps forward, one step back for now.
And finally, Hiro. Hiro, Hiro, Hiro. His magic show was delightful, and his sagelike counsel of Emma was even better. Somehow, Hiro can get away with melodrama that I would scorn from any other character. I was almost worried for a moment there that Peter would show up and he'd get healed. But not really. Heroes has never been that incompetent. What I was definitely NOT expecting was this whole Charlie thing. WHAT? I already had Jayma Mays on the brain when they showed a flash of her in Sylar/Gabriel/Nathan's house of mirror-horrors, but I was definitely thrown for a loop. She's not slotted for an appearance, according to imdb. A shame, but not world-shattering. I'm just curious to see where this all goes.
All in all, this was a solid episode of Heroes. I really enjoyed it. Not because it was mind-blowingly crazyamazing. But because the story moved along in directions that surprised and intrigued me, there was a good amount of character development, and there was fodder for both my technical effects/literary device analyzing brain and my sardonic/easily amused crackbrain. It was entertaining. And that is the best thing I can say.
(This review - with a few less intelligent but more funny comments - also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com)