(Note: This review covers the second half of the two-episode event that aired on 04 January, 2010. A previous review covered the first half of the event.)
The previous episode focused on Samuel, Claire, and Hiro, and managed to give two out of the three subplots a reasonably compelling treatment. This episode focuses on Noah, Claire and Peter, and Sylar and Samuel, and only one of those subplots manages to be interesting. And frankly, even that is debatable.
Sylar is finally back together in one piece, but as usual, the writers have figured out a way to keep him reined in, so the rest of the characters can be moved into position in the meantime. The writers seem to have looked back on three and a half seasons of inconsistent characterization of Sylarâs psychology and ability and cherry-picked the aspects they wanted or needed. So while it is once again acknowledged that Sylar doesnât need to kill to acquire new abilities, his rationale for killing is framed in a more convenient manner.
The third season made a very big deal out of the notion that Sylarâs ability itself was the driver behind his homicidal ways. He had an insatiable hunger for power, overriding his sense of morality. This was directly tied to his ability, and not his psychological state, when Peter acquired Sylarâs ability and struggled with that hunger himself. In fact, when Sylar was trying to be âgoodâ, it was all about overcoming his âaddictionâ.
This season, and particularly this episode, it has been all about Sylarâs choice to kill for power. Itâs much closer to his original depiction in the first season, thankfully, but it reminds the devoted viewer that Sylarâs characterization has been a mess. And that being the case, itâs hard to accept or anticipate what kind of internal shift is causing Sylar to once again come up short in the bloodthirsty department.
The implication seems to be that Sylar cannot simply erase or ignore the imposition of Nathan and Mattâs memories on his psyche. However much he wants to believe that he is the same as he was, there are subconscious limitations built into his software, holding him back. In effect, Sylarâs murderous drive is mitigated by Nathan and Mattâs moral codes. The nice thing is that this new status quo for Sylar has a well-established cause. The bad thing is that it seems awfully convenient.
If Sylar is eventually meant to revert to his old form, then this is just another delaying tactic, a crutch that the writers have been abusing with Sylar, Peter, and Hiro since the second season. It might allow the story to build for a little while more, which may be necessary to give the climax the necessary gravitas, but itâs transparent by now.
The alternative is that the writers intend for this to be Sylarâs means of redemption. Unable to kill anymore, Sylar could find himself forced to integrate with the rest of the metahumans. Either that, or he may be forced to side with the âheroesâ against Samuel. Regardless of the intention for such a âredeemedâ Sylar, it would display a complete lack of understanding of the meaning of redemption. People are redeemed by internal choices and subsequent actions. If Sylar is forced by subconscious remnants of Nathan and Matt within his psyche to change his ways, then he is limited in spite of himself, not out of a conscious desire to change his ways.
The solution may be some sort of middle ground. Samuel alluded to something like that when he said he was a villain, but thatâs not all he has to be. Itâs the very thing that keeps Samuel interesting and worthwhile, but itâs hard to argue that such an approach would work for Sylar anymore. It was already attempted in the third season, and it felt contrived. Sylar is much better when he is simply evil. So the problem is this decision to hobble Sylar in a way that can only be, in the end, unsatisfying and frustrating.
As much as I acknowledge and appreciate the fact that Nathanâs death leads Claire to help Peter overcome his reckless ways, I was annoyed by the lack of a solid next step in the process. It seemed rather obvious that Claire was going to turn to Peter to help take down Samuel, but that moment never came. Instead, Claire just helped Peter see the light. Given her previously established lack of wisdom, that felt contrived, but it also seemed to be a missed opportunity.
It could be that Sylarâs arrival at Claireâs dorm room is meant to be a surprising twist: that Claireâs ally against Samuel will be Sylar instead of Peter. I could almost see the logic in this, if this were meant to be the end of the series. Sylar has a vested interest in being with the carnival âfamilyâ. Samuel made a reasonable case for it in this episode. Sylar could gather all the abilities he wants, and without the ability to kill, he could be a surprisingly good (if ruthless) leader, since he would have a reason to protect his âinvestmentâ.
After all, if the tedious Noah/Edgar subplot proved anything, itâs that Noahâs penchant for forcing a solution to the metahuman problem on the metahumans, however well-intended, is not going to work. The Company didnât work for a reason. For every metahuman willing to integrate, there will be those who resent the implication that they must hide who they are. Yet, even so, there must be those willing to police those metahumans who refuse to integrate or separate themselves from the mundane population.
But even if Sylar was to become the solution to the Samuel problem, I donât think he could become the leader of the âfamilyâ for very long. The âfamilyâ would see him as just another Samuel, and the âheroesâ could never trust him. So I think this is where Peterâs long-established role as Sylarâs opposite number comes into play. If there is a strong argument for Samuelâs dream of a âpromised landâ for the metahumans, but a new leader of the âfamilyâ would be needed, then Peter feels like a fairly logical choice.
This kind of endpoint could even bring the arc for the Company to a logical and fitting resolution. If the Company failed because it tried to police the metahumans within the constraints of mundane society, then perhaps it would succeed as the basis for security of a metahuman community. It would resolve Noahâs mind-numbing season-long search for a purpose, and it could even give Matt a way to bring his life back into order. (And, should the series somehow reach a fifth season, it would force the writers out of their comfort zone.)
All of this is, of course, pure speculation, built around the weaknesses of the episode itself. These ideas are potential ways to make what takes place in this episode more palatable. The main problem is this apparent decision to hobble Sylar once again. His earlier appearances were much more entertaining because he was, in many ways, finally unleashed.