With the season rapidly coming to a close, this is really the first part of the three-part finale. A number of plot threads are left dangling by the end of the hour, and as a result, this episode lacks a sense of internal closure. On the one hand, this is understandable, given the serialized nature of the series and the intentions of the episode itself. But in light of some of the shortcomings of the season thus far, it also magnifies some of the issues.
Unlike the bulk of the season, where an effort was made to keep each episode down to a handful of major plot threads, the writers had to start pulling things together. The result is an episode that seems to be more scattershot than organized. The Samuel plot thread does dominate the landscape somewhat, which does provide the right kind of perspective. Nearly every other plot and subplot is designed to feed into some kind of final showdown at the carnival.
Unfortunately, perhaps as a function of budget, Samuel didn't launch into some massive scheme to enforce the sanctity of his newly staked territory. He's completely unstable, as has been evident for quite some time, but he seems to take his time to drive home the notion of war against the mundanes. To a certain extent, I understand the thought process. If Samuel is embracing his darkest impulses, and he knows that keeping his "family" close is vital to amplifying his power, then he has to ensure that they still see him as their leader.
That means making the vague idea of the external threat of the mundane majority and making it real and personal. Noah's little plan played right into Samuel's hands, but it's likely that Samuel would have thought of something similar without that sort of convenience. Beyond giving his people a reason to support his anti-mundane crusade, it also gave him the perfect means of eliminating dissention.
As much as I liked the concept, and the fact that this episode underplays the role of Vanessa in Samuel's overall psychosis, there are definitely some flaws. Two things come to mind. While the carnies had little reason to listen to Claire, she might have mentioned the little fact that her father probably wouldn't have shot her in the neck. Sure, they probably would have rationalized it anyway, but it bugs me when something that seems to be tagged as important is just dismissed.
The second issue is more a sense of where the story is going. Samuel has now aligned his flock behind him in a scheme to strike back at the mundanes. It's been established that his power gets amplified in a major way when surrounded by fellow metahumans. So, with all that power, and the will to use it, Samuel appears to be preparing to stage a concert where Anna will be duped into using her power to kill thousands.
At least, that seems to be the direction that this plot thread and the Peter/Sylar plot threads are heading, and if so, that is a rather disappointing way to end Samuel's story arc. And this is especially true when one considers that Peter and Sylar seem no closer to that oft-delayed on-screen throwdown that was all but promised in the first season. If anything, the whole confrontation between Matt and Sylar seems to have been designed to allow Sylar to jump into Peter's body.
It's all just speculation, but after everything that has happened this season, it seems pretty obvious that Peter has switched places with Sylar, and is now trapped in the mental prison that Matt created. Sylar, armed with Peter's body (complete with the built-in compass to lead him back to the carnival), will decide that maybe the carnival is the only place for him to be, so he won't be alone. Matt will release Peter, who trapped in Sylar's body, will be the one to try to save Anna, as seen in the visions.
But if that's the case (and there's nothing revealed to this point to suggest otherwise), then what is the point of Samuel's ability? Is it just to make it that much harder for the "heroes" to take down Samuel once the Concert of Doom is foiled? Is it so that Samuel is so powerful that only someone like Sylar could take him down, leading to a "redeeming" sacrifice by Sylar? That would eliminate two problems at once, leaving Peter to take up the mantle of leadership. It just feels like the familiar Heroes shortcoming: a fairly interesting build-up that escalates into a drab, scaled-down resolution.
There is some hope that it could get more complicated and interesting. After all, there's still the small matter of Hiro and his friends, and it's not yet clear how they will factor into the equation. Considering how weak that character arc has been, however, I'm not sure I want to know. With only two episodes left in the season, that's probably not the kind of attitude the producers are looking for from their loyal audience members.