Monday, November 12, 2007

Temporary Hiatus...

Since I, like many other fledgling writers, find myself irresistibly drawn every November to take on an overly ambitious writing project (NaNoWriMo), I am taking the month off from blogging. I didn't plan to, but I find blogging and writing a novel at the same time is a teensy bit too much work.

Back, therefore, in a couple weeks. Happy November, everyone!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heroes Review -- 2x06, "The Line"


We're back in the pub where Heroes left us off last week -- with Caitlin crying over her dead brother and Peter promising to avenge his murder. They decide to go to Montreal, with Peter resisting taking Caitlin till she points out that she was in the painting too. When she finds Ricky's murderer, she's going to "kill the bitch." OK Caitlin, there's cute spunky, and then there's annoying cliched spunky where you're just saying things that overly-macho men say in movies. We don't see the outcome of their little field trip till we have sat through the rest of this messy, aimless episode.

Claire, in California, tries out for the cheerleading team, and she's good according to a Kristin Kreuk lookalike, but the head cheerleader Debbie has taken a dislike to her. And it's not a democracy, people -- it's a cheerocracy. Unfortunately, the show isn't quite as clever as Bring it On, and I think we can all agree that when you're being compared unfavorably to Bring it On you might want to stop taking yourself so seriously, but oh well. It ends up that Claire doesn't make the team, and she and West gang up on Debbie to stage a fake abduction in which West scoops Claire up into the sky and drops her to the ground. Debbie gets humiliated on top of being traumatized, and the police also discover that she's been drinking. With Debbie suspended and out of the way, Claire gets a spot on the team. West tries to assuage her guilt by saying Debbie deserved it.

Noah brings the Haitian to Russia, where he confronts one of the elders, Ivan. He wants to know about the paintings, but Ivan refuses to tell him until Noah begins erasing his most treasured memories. Finally he breaks, and then Noah calmly says that actually, once the Company sees the memories are gone, they'll know he was here. So unfortunately, he pretty much has to kill Ivan anyhow. Poor Ivan. Noah's pretty damn cold when he shoots him. He and the Haitian go to look at the paintings, one of which shows a blonde woman struggling, one of which shows a man pulling a gun, and one of which is the dead!Noah painting. It's a good scene, one of the few that actually makes you feel like something might happen in the near future. (Clearly a delusion.)

The Longest Road Trip Ever continues with Maya and Alejandro still not over the fucking border. Sylar convinces Maya to use her gift for evil -- to defeat a vigilante border patrol, which is admittedly a bit gratifying, but also incredibly sinister and wrong. Alejandro starts a fistfight with Sylar, since he sees the danger of trusting the guy. But he can't convince Maya to get rid of him: she keeps saying he's a gift from God. Her superpowers don't include super deductive skillz, obviously. So then Sylar takes his first opportunity to corner Alejandro alone and tell the incomprehending Spanish speaker that he plans to kill them both and take their powers back, and also to use Maya as a new toy.

In a plotline completely unrelated to these, we see Mohinder testing Monica in the Company facilities. He basically treats her like a lab rat, even though she's kind of tired and the whole thing feels extremely exploitative. But he balks when Bob asks him to inject Monica with a modified form of The Disease that might stop her abilities. Somehow, this changes Bob's mind, convincing him to stop trying to inject people without their consent and to keep Mohinder around as a sort of ethics expert. (When you're a Company Man, pretty much anyone who can grasp that murder and violence are wrong probably has a much more advanced understanding of morals than you do.) He also assigns a supposedly recovered Niki to join Mohinder as his partner, but Niki is so confident and glinty-eyed that I bet she's Jessica. In the end, Bob drops Monica off at home with an intrusively product-placed iPod on which are loaded all the videos she needs to learn new skillz.

And, Hiro. He and Yaeko and Kensei free Yaeko's dad from the White Beard camp, who reveals that they have to destroy the guns of the White Beards so they can't ruin the way of the samurai. At one point as they try to escape, Hiro just scoops up Yaeko and teleports her out to the fields. She realizes that it was he who had the time-traveling power all along, and he who did the cool cherry-blossom thing, and says "everything I loved in Kensei came from you." So they kiss, but Kensei sees them! Hiro promises it will never happen again, but Kensei betrays Yaeko and her father to the White Beards.

At the end of the episode, Caitlin and Peter find their destination in Montreal and ener a large abandoned building full of old artifacts. Peter finds a note to himself on a mirror, signed from Adam (the same name as a file that Bob gave to Mohinder, BTW), saying that they were right about the Company and the world was in danger. He and Caitlin hug and are magically transported to New York in 2008 -- a totally empty New York with evacuation notices randomly and conveniently floating around the street. "This is next year!" Peter announces helpfully. End of episode.


In a highly self-conscious show, one particular instance of meta-textual commentary stood out for me in "The Line." Ando, in trying to decipher Hiro's scrolls with the help of a lab technician, gushes about how much suspense he's in with regard to Hiro's adventures, and how much he wants to hear every single detail. Rather than reinforcing any hypothetical sense of excitement I had, this scene simply highlighted the difference between the hoped-for response and the apathetic actual response we've all actually had to season 2.

This, like the episodes before it, contained only a few developments sprinkled in a large number of meandering, disconnected or loosely-connected, often pointless plots. The discovery of the note, for example, suggested the larger concrete purpose and project that the season might contain for our heroes: stop the disease from spreading. Fine, but why didn't we see this back in episode 2 or 3? Yaeko falling in love with Hiro all of a sudden doesn't have the ring of truth that it should have after so many minutes of screentime -- it's a simple event, with as little emotional resonance as a seventeenth-century fable has once it's filtered down to our time. Also, Bob's near-instantaneous change of heart is explained by one simple monologue; it's simply ridiculous to have a character so separated from ethics that he wants to infect people with diseases without their consent, and then to have him change his mind just because Mohinder throws stuff and yells a little.

The fact that Maya and Alejandro are still on their roadtrip is ridiculous. It's been six weeks, and the only significant development is that Sylar has joined them: why has Maya been added to the cast when she's barely, if at all, connected to the main story? Not to mention that the culmination of the Alejandro-Sylar conflict, in which Sylar reveals his evil plan to Alejandro in English, is anti-climactic. Even in its unsubtle comic-book style, Heroes should, and I would argue did, show us what Sylar is doing and why he's doing it. Before he said any of it, it was clear that he meant to kill the sibs to take their power, and it was equally clear that he enjoyed manipulating Maya simply as a manipulation, separately from the part where he wants to slice off the top of her head. Having him reveal it to Alejandro was neither chilling nor surprising nor dramatically useful; it was a lazy attempt at sensationalizing a conflict that itself lacks basis in real human emotion or character development.

Meanwhile, the characters who were arguably at or near the center of it all last year, Claire (the object, the person to save) and Peter (the subject, the constant agent, the one who saves), have spun off into their own worlds. Maybe that's the problem: the show is working to connect Matt, Mohinder, Nathan, Niki, and the Company without the benefit of already-established nodes.

Let's not even get started on the dialogue. Actually, okay, let's. West to Claire: "You're a total babe, and you have powers!" (on why she is not ordinary). Caitlin: "Kill the bitch" (already mentioned, but worth resurrecting). Monica comparing Bob to Oprah (because he gives her gifts): seriously? The list goes on, but it's all kind of like this -- forced, cheesy, or just plain nonsensical.

Heroes, I thought you were going to replace Alias in my heart with your cheesy addictiveness, but that show had the most amazing second season ever and right now you are actually worse than the Sydney-Vaughn-Lauren debacle that was season 3. This isn't a slump. This is an emergency. Heal thyself!

In Summary: *whimpers*

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Devil's Backbone (2001) (aka "El Espinazo del Diablo")

Last year Pan's Labyrinth took the world by storm with its chilling horror, fable-like storytelling, eerie mysticism and deeply human insights into the life and mind of a child. Recently I had the pleasure of watching The Devil's Backbone, an earlier work by the same director, Guillermo del Toro, exhibiting the same qualities. This also involves a child and the Spanish Civil War, this time a young boy of about ten, Carlos, who is abandoned at a dirt-poor orphanage haunted by a ghost who sighs. The orphanage is run by an aging woman with a wooden leg, her equally venerable support and romantic love, and a younger man with a sinister side; in the center of its courtyard functioning as a constant reminder of the war outside is a large bomb that landed once, didn't explode, and was eventually disarmed. Reflecting the cruelty of their environment, the other boys bully Carlos at first, but he manages to befriend them and solve the mystery of the ghost.

The grittier camerawork and burnt-sienna color scheme distinguish The Devil's Backbone immediately from del Toro's more recent hit. The ghost itself is grotesque and truly horrifying, and the violence in the film reflective of both the personal cruelty of the human heart and the social cruelty of fascism and poverty. Unlike a Hollywood film, the movie doesn't begin its resolution at the biggest explosion or the most bodies acquired; it isn't over till the ramifications have been played out, till everything is even more ravaged than you thought it could be; like ghosts, the characters live on, demanding attention after they've been written off as doomed.

This short review can't begin to do justice to such a film, but I highly recommend it, especially for anyone who loved Pan's Labyrinth.

Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee)

Penguin :: 2000 :: 224 pp. :: $14.00 :: paperback

Read for the Complete Booker Challenge -- winner in 1999.

"For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well," opens Coetzee's slim, coolly-narrated novel of a middle-aged, divorced professor at a South Africa university named David Lurie who has, in fact, not solved the problem of sex very well at all. Regular appointments with a prostitute eventually don't suffice to quell his fears of aging, and so he seduces a young student in his class named Melanie, not even realizing how close he comes to destroying the girl. When the affair comes out and David refuses to apologize, he's fired.

From there what has been a claustrophobic, evenly-paced story of academic sterility expands messily outwards, sending David out to the country where his lesbian daughter Lucy is eking out a living from the land. There, what at first seems to be an entirely different story begins. Living with Lucy, David helps a plain woman named Bev put down sick dogs, and begins to write a libretto on Byron, whom he takes as a romantic idol. Only when a horrific act of violence is committed on himself and Lucy by do things really fall apart, however. Then the romantic, complacent, masculine solipsism with which David has always been able to view his life really undergoes a challenge. The problem of sex and the problem of power, so terrifically manifest in the novel's setting of post-apartheid South Africa, come to seem similar, even as one.

"Because a woman's beauty does not belong to her alone," David says to Melanie when he cajoles her to stay the night, in the beginning of the book. "It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it." He quotes Shakespeare to support his point, but the point is no longer appropriate, no longer acceptable, in our time. In fact it is merely a prelude to the violence of rape, and the novel takes us through the spectrum of violence and violation with a dooming sure-footedness.

I found this book subjectively difficult to get into, because its sexist, oblivious protagonist was naturally, immediately antagonistic to my sensibilities. But the book seems to draw back from David further and further as more characters from lower in the hierarchy of social power are allowed to view him, and to speak. The terror that enters the book when David and Lucy are attacked, the sheer physical horror of it, is like a release of tension from all the subtler attacks that David carries out earlier on in the novel, not only on Melanie but on the prostitute he believes he's treating well, the daughter he believes he's a good father to. They say there's no surer way to create sympathy for a character than to punish him far more than he deserves for a small sin, but the irony of it is that David's crimes against others are inextricably linked to the crimes committed against him.

Eventually, David begins to change his libretto and give Byron's women a voice. As he does so, he makes an attempt, which I see as doomed, to understand his daughter. Befitting the large and unsolvable problems with which it grapples, Disgrace doesn't wrap things up tidily at the end, not even, really, with a complete redemption for its protagonist. The David Lurie we see at the end of the novel is still a product of his environment, still essentially rooted in the power structure to which he belongs, and still easily recognizable as the same crudely, deeply flawed man he was when he was visiting the prostitute every week -- but the story and the subtle change in his perspective are all the more moving for that.

In Summary: Complex and beautiful and quietly moving despite its theme of violence. I highly recommend this book and definitely expect to pick it up many more times throughout my life.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gossip Girl Review -- 1x06, "The Handmaiden's Tale"


The Party of the Week on last Wednesday's Gossip Girl is a masquerade ball, once again arranged by the peerless Blair Waldorf, who spends her prep time ordering Jenny around to get things. The poor girl even borrows a bracelet from a jewelry store Blair patronizes, believing she'll get to wear it tonight.

Blair and Serena are busy curling up in Blair's bedroom and discussing the plan for tonight. Blair is casually explaining that she's sending Nate on a scavenger hunt tonight, during the ball: she'll give him a clue leading to the first handmaiden, who will give him a clue to the second handmaiden, and so on and so forth until, eventually, he finds Blair. She concludes that if Nate finds her before midnight, he gets a prize. What's the prize? inquires Serena. Blair gives her a look that clearly says, My virginity -- duh! The most brilliant part of this scene is the way Blair nonchalantly explains the whole plan like it's a totally normal thing to send your boyfriend on a scavenger hunt for your virginity.

Of course, Serena's a little surprised, and even more so when Blair asks her to be the handmaiden who gives the last clue, saying she trusts them both. After making sure that Blair's certain of this kooky plan, Serena makes light of the awkwardness, the way I'm sure she's learned to make light of the fact that basically, she always, always wins. The girls move on to discuss inviting Dan. Serena insists he would never go to something so "pretentious." I'm sorry, I think that word is completely misused here. It's not pretentious to be rich, dress up, and get drunk. It's pretentious to believe you're too deep for such activities as having money and spending it. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being uninterested in Serena's lifestyle -- but as the one who's sitting around and judging everyone else for their shallowness, Dan gets the Pretentious Award.

Aaaanyway. While this is going on, Dan is talking to his father about how he's not invited and says it's because S. knows he'd never attend something so pretentious. (Grr.) Just then, a mysterious entity named Vanessa -- the very name brings a significant look onto Rufus' face -- calls Dan on his cell and asks if he has her copy of The Crying of Lot 49 (which is written by the supposedly great but super-challenging Thomas Pynchon, reading whom is often the very epitome of pretentiousness). He gives her crap for getting in touch with him after a year incommunicado when he rounds the corner and -- there she is, sitting in his apartment like she owns the place. She's cute, dark-haired and dark-complexioned, and very smiley. And she's back in town for the rest of high school! I smell a threat to Serena!

Just then, Miss van der Woodsen herself calls Dan, describes the event with her typical bashful acknowledgment that it's "pretentious," and Dan starts being totally shifty, saying that the female voice Serena hears is his sister. Just then, of course, Jenny walks into Blair's room and Serena looks absolutely crestfallen, following up her description of the party with a "Have a good night" instead of an invitation. In the Humphrey Hovel, Vanessa brightly asks what they're doing tonight. In the Waldorf Palace, Serena says sadly that she thinks she needs a date.

Prep time for Saturday night: Nate wanders downstairs to hear his mother and father preparing for Eleanor Waldorf's party that night. Dan and Vanessa try to pick a movie as they wander along the streets of New York -- The Angelika is suggested, a theater that's great for seeing cool indie movies, and I love the Angelika so I guess I'm pretentious like these two. I hope their relationship gets nicknamed VD. Think that'll catch on? Anyway, Blair finds Serena a hot date, who IMs her later on. And Blair spends her prep time crushing the hopes of Jenny Humphrey, saying that freshmen never get to come and gently making her feel like an ass for having borrowed the bracelet. "Your time will come, I promise, now if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready," she breezes. Lily asks Serena for dress advice and denies having a hot date, but her pants are very much on fire, as we will see later.

Anyway, Nate finds his dad's drug stash. And it's not marijuana, if you know what I'm saying. He calls Blair, but the girl is of course unavailable, so he goes to Serena for help. Having answered the door in a bathrobe, she acts all uncomfortable -- Serena honey, I'm sorry, the boy's already seen you naked, now just think how awkward you'd feel if it was someone who hadn't yet! Basically, just don't answer the door in a bathrobe. She's happy to comfort him, but when he tries to hold her hand she uncomfortably jumps up and kicks him out of the house, basically. For this scene, and basically the entire episode, Nate walks around like a robot whose emotive software has been destroyed by a virus. I know his acting is normally bad, but not this bad, so I suspect he pulled a Robert Downey Jr. on his dad's stash.

Night arrives, and the Humphreys resolve not to let their lives be ruined by B. and S.'s B.S. Dan cancels on Vanessa in order to stalk Serena at the ball (aka, "write his history paper"), while Vanessa, ditched, saunters into the Humphrey Hovel and encourages Jenny to crash the party ("Handmaiden is Jane Austen for 'slave,'" she counsels). Meanwhile, Rufus, who turned out to be Lily's date (duh), realizes he's there to make Bart Bass jealous and is both shocked and, when he sees Bart brought a hot young thing as his date, sympathetic. He also makes out with Lily "to make Bart jealous." Lily goes weak at the knees, but when Bart calls, she goes.

So now Dan and Jenny are at the ball, and so is the dazed-looking Nate. Poor Nate is doing really badly at the whole scavenger hunt thing -- there's an amusing scene where Kati and Isabel give him a clue that's actually about one of them, and all he can say is "What?" -- and Blair's getting upset about it. Meanwhile, Serena's dancing with her date and getting really bored, so the minute she excuses herself Dan waltzes in, so to speak, and sweeps her off her feet again. Vanessa finds them and gets all upset, saying that Dan said he loved her before she left! "Loved," Dan says, "In the past. In a pre-shaving, sixteen-year-old kind of way." Erm, ouch, Dan. She chokingly says it looks like he's traded up, and runs out. Dan runs after her.

But Jenny's having her own little drama, since the mask she's wearing hides just enough of her face for Chuck to mistake her for a new victim instead of someone he's already tried to date rape. She gets him to strip and then locks him outside. I was looking forward to an actual naked!Chuck scene, but unfortunately, Jenny only gets him down to undershirt and boxers. Cheap! She finds Serena and they have a brief girltalk about Dan, wherein Jenny convinces Serena that Dan really likes her. Serena gives her her own mask and sweater, and since they're both wearing yellow and have luxurious enviable masses of gorgeous blonde hair, it's kind of foreseeable that people might, just might, get mixed up about their identities. So Nate chases after Jenny, thinking she's Serena, to tell her he loves her. Then Dan, who changed his mind about the whole chasing-Vanessa thing, tries to follow Jenny around yelling pathetically, "Serena! Serena!" But Dan and Serena find each other eventually and avow their feelings once again. Nate gives up on Serena and finds Blair, but she says he didn't even try to find her and tells him there's no happily ever after. He arrives home to see that his parents have found "his" stash. And Vanessa apologizes to Dan and they decide to be friends. The end.

Whew. Masked balls are complicated!


Gossip Girl had a major opportunity to go big and glamorous with the masked ball concept, but it didn't. The visual appeal factor was high, but the mistaken identities and intrigues were sort of minor and accidental. Instead, Blair and Serena were at an all-time high for tranquility, "doing besties" for real by supporting and trusting each other. I like to see that, and they make it feel real, and Blair's trust in Serena kind of breaks your heart because it's so doomed to be disappointed.

The introduction of Vanessa, which I realize came from the books, was just a poor choice in my opinion. She's an extremely annoying character who's always sailing into the Humphrey apartment like she's part of the family and asking prying questions about Rufus' and Jenny's love life, not to mention her being all up in Dan's grill all the time (to use an old and beloved phrase from Josh Schwartz's first TV masterpiece). She's also too easy a foil for Serena, too smiley (it's annoying!), too one-note a character (likes pierogis, movies with subtitles, pomo writers -- got it), and doesn't have any obvious potential to interact with the main characters outside of the Dan-Jenny-Serena bubble of social marginalization. Let's see something better than one of Schwartz's patented lightning-fast love triangles.

Best moments of the episode: Lily and Rufus simultaneously saying "I need a drink" after their big kiss; Jenny responding to Chuck's compliment of excellent taste with "Apparently not, I'm talking to you"; and the requisite primping montage wherein the various ball-goers pull on their mask -- Chuck, particularly, donning his in a dark, creepily-lit shot. Fun stuff, but next week I want more sass from Gossip Girl and less self-congratulating blather from Dan and Vanessa.

In Summary: Shut up, Vanessa. But the sheer genius of Blair's virginity scavenger hunt made the entire episode worthwhile.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Meta on Spoilers; Also, Brothers & Sisters Spoilerrificity

I don't read spoilers in general. Sometimes when I'm anxious for a relationship to happen I'll read ahead, so to speak, for rays of hope, and sometimes with shows like Gilmore Girls that are not really about plot anyway. But, particularly with shows I care about, I've grown much more disciplined about avoiding them. The beauty of serialized fiction is that suspense factor. Knowing what's coming weeks in advance sometimes lets me pick up on small hints that I would have missed (or the super-obvious ones that are apparent to everyone but me -- it happens). That's what marathons are for -- I like to go in search of those drop-dead moments of awesomeness. I nearly fell out of my chair when Logan and Veronica first kissed, for example, and I liked that feeling.

But sometimes, when you innocently google a particular topic and a particular page title shows up that you never, EVER thought you'd see, it's pretty damn hard to resist the temptation. (Those who don't want to know freaky things about Brothers & Sisters will want to click away now...)

Ausiello of TV Guide answers a reader question:

Question: I was so happy Sally Field won best actress. With this news, can you give me any Brothers & Sisters scoop? — Nathan R.

Ausiello: Exec producer Greg Berlanti is confirming what I first hinted at back in June: The, ahem, unique chemistry between half sibs Justin and Rebecca will continue to be explored this season. "We try to examine the relationship truthfully," he says. "They are two young people who, granted, found out they were related, but they just met a year ago. That doesn't mean they'll ever act on those feelings, but it also doesn't mean that there won't be emotions that come up that will be complicated for both of them." I smell an Emmy nod next year for EVC!


So. Effing. Weird.

Another thing about spoilers is that you start making judgments about how a topic's being handled before it, you know, gets handled. So I'm not going to do too much speculating on it. I'm intrigued to know whether the producers wrote in the chemistry from the beginning or simply realized later on that they'd written two half siblings into a flirtation. I'm reluctant to blame or credit the entire thing to the actors, who obviously have chemistry; the lighting, camera and writing all contributed to my sense of that chemistry.

So color me intrigued and shocked. I won't be posting many spoilers here because (as evidenced by the fact that this report is itself weeks old) others will get there first and better, but because no one I know in real life watches, I need to express my intense anticipation somewhere!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Heroes Review -- 2x05, "Fight or Flight"

All right, it's been the Week Of No Sleep over here in the monotony that is my senior year of college and, now that my thoughts on cyclic subgroups and Elizabeth Bennett's sexual awareness have been committed to paper and handed in to their respective teachers, I am going to start catching up on posts I've been wanting to write. First, the moment we've all been waiting for: Kristen Bell's first appearance on Heroes!


Previously, Matt was a jerk who made Molly confront her "nightmare man" and sent her into what appears to be a coma. Because of that, we open on Molly, still unconscious, with Matt and Mohinder hovering over her and arguing over what to do with their baby. Matt wants to find a hospital, but Mohinder points out that since Matt's dad got Molly into this, possibly Matt's dad, you know, holds the key to the problem. Matt starts quoting lines apparently ripped off from movies he's been watching on the Hallmark channel, saying that he hasn't seen his father in decades and he's scared to find him again, blah blah blah. Matt, your father is actually THE BOOGEYMAN. Who cares about the fact that he abandoned you? He kills people for fun. Eventually he goes, however, and Mohinder brings Molly to the Company to help. Bad idea, Suresh.

So Matt's trying to interrogate Angela when Nathan, looking clean-shaven but sporting a shaggy haircut that's very Milo season 1, protests. Matt tells Nathan the whole story, and Nathan insists on coming with him. "We can probably get there faster, you know, cuz you can...," Matt agrees. "I'm not a cargo jet," Nathan mutters (heh). So they go break into the boogeyman's apartment (after a short hesitation while Matt goes into his daddy complex again), and he pulls a very convincing doddering-dad act, even showing them a photo of himself with the Red Helix of Death drawn on it. Then he lures Matt into the back room to "show him something," like, Matt, that's the line every pedophile has used since the beginning of time. Matt immediately goes into a nightmare about being locked into a jail cell, while Nathan, following him soon after, dreams himself onto the rooftop in New York from which he can see the city burning. A baby appears in Matt's cell and Matt, amusingly, starts yelling for a guard to come get the baby as if he were actually in jail and people were going to respond normally to his requests. Meanwhile, Nathan is confronted by the burned version of himself. So Matt fights the guard who shows up, Nathan fights burned guy, and after a lot of pretty cool intercutting we finally realize that it's the same fight. They wake up and realize that Matt can defeat his father's brainwashing. ("I knew it was a con," he says, like, THEN WHY DID YOU FALL FOR IT?)

Meanwhile, a tiny blonde girl shows up on the docks looking for Peter Petrelli. It is none other than the long-awaited "Elle," played by Kristen Bell, and turns out her superpower is a pretty sweet shooting-electricity-from-her-fingertips deal. When she does find the Wandering Rocks pub where Peter's holed up, Ricky, trying to protect Peter after having found the guy making out with his sister, lies to her and gets himself fried. Unaware, Peter is in Caitlin's apartment, opening The Box. After all the hype, it turns out to contain a passport, a few crumpled dollar bills, and a plane ticket to Montreal. So all he knows, really, is his legal name.

Elle calls someone to report on her progress, trying to downplay what happened until she finally exclaims, "All right, I killed him, okay? What is the big deal?!" The unseen person on the other end of the line, whom Elle has referred to as "Dad," sends her home, the very image of a pouty daughter. Peter has just finished demonstrating his mad weird-eyed painting skillz to a somewhat frightened Caitlin with a painting of a church in Montreal when they get the news of her brother's death. Arriving at the pub, she collapses into very real tears, while Peter sort of goes into self-sacrificing hero mode and, instead of comforting the girl, starts blaming himself and planning revenge.

While keeping watch over Molly, Mohinder is nearly attacked by Niki, who's gone into Evil Twin mode trying to escape her "treatment." Once Mohinder uses the Taser conveniently introduced seconds before her arrival, she calms down and explains to him that she wants to be cured. The Company sends Mohinder out on an errand with his Taser to fetch someone similarly out of control, who turns out to be... well, Monica, who's discovered Micah's secret and revealed to him her own, pontificating about the meaning of life as a muscle-mimicking superhero along the way.

Meanwhile back at the Farm of Totally Unrelated Storylines, Ando gets some expert help in deciphering another scroll from Hiro about his adventures with Kensei. Hiro is on the eve of an attack, along with Kensei and Yaeko, against a large army called the White Beard.


Kristen Bell's introduction was much better than Maya's earlier in the season. Partly because she's awesome, partly because she's a villain, but partly because she wasn't shoved in our faces like we were supposed to care on the first shot. Instead, she saunters onscreen emanating pure perky mischief and shoots some bolts from her fingertips. I think she's playing it a bit too similar to Veronica Mars -- not to mention that the first half of the episode had her playing detective to find Peter, which was just too close for comfort. But her phone call to her father was hilarious: her contrition for killing Ricky was about on the level of a teenager who stayed out past curfew.

As a threat, she's not on the same level of evil as Matt's dad or Sylar; she's like Eden, cute and wicked. The sexy villainess thing is fun, but I do think Heroes tends to devolve way too easily into that kind of gender divide in its characterizations -- men protecting women and taking the burden of the world on their shoulders, on the good side, and on the bad side, evil male masterminds bossing around Charlie's-Angels-esque twenty-somethings.

One of the biggest strengths of this episode was that it took big leaps towards tying all the storylines together. Ando and Hiro are still rotting in their irrelevant, boring subplot, and Maya, Sylar, and Claire weren't even there, but we now have Micah and Monica about to get to know Mohinder, who's married to Matt, who's now teamed up with Nathan. So that's an improvement. It sucked to have everyone moving in such separate spheres. Nevertheless, as I've said before, if several regulars have to be cut from each episode in order for said episode to have any kind of coherence, then maybe, just maybe, there are too many regulars on the show. I know that's a revolutionary idea.

The other highlight was the Matt/Nathan/burned!Nathan fight. Great editing and concept there, and Nathan's nightmare, in particular, was quite creepy. Interesting to see Matt's interaction with Janice in his nightmare, too. I think it's possible that it is simply the most nightmarish thing Matt's head can come up with to make him a father when his life has made him so afraid of fatherhood, but more likely that on some level he already knows he's got a kid out there somewhere, and has gotten so attached to Molly in part as a surrogate.

That said, I'm really still not feeling this season. Nothing's happening! I know a couple people died and Peter did the creepy painting thing and there are always hints that shit is about to hit the fan, but it just isn't happening, and rather than creating suspense the overlong build-up is just creating boredom.

In Summary: Part of the upward trend in episodes for the past few weeks, but nowhere near first-season quality.