Recap: ‘Heroes’ – ‘1961’

04.13.09 8 years ago

Chris Haston/NBC

“Heroes” went down the rabbit hole and ended up in “1961,” the year in which Angela Petrelli met up with other future members of The Company. This week”s episode followed the “Company Man” model of episodes, staying primarily with Angela Petrelli”s mission for forgiveness in Coyote Sands, Arizona. While the backstory was compelling, the present day action was marred by melodrama that nearly derailed the hour.

Work your way through this sudden sandstorm for spoilers…

In honor of the ubiquitous presence of Lewis Carroll”s “Alice in Wonderland,” I thought we could break up the various parts of the episode via quotes from the famous novel.

The King: Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

Picture it: Coyote Sands, 1961. It”s not the barren, skeleton-filled wasteland we see today. It was a lively, bustling…concentration camp. Sorry, “Relocation Camp.” Because that makes it loads better. Mohinder”s father works there on site as part of the Kennedy Administration”s efforts to isolate, curb, and ultimately “cure” the outbreak of powers at the time. They even had their very own Building 26 back then, which is why I always say there are three constants in life: death, taxes, and the government using a Building 26 in an ill-advised effort to rid the world of powered people.

Angela arrives with her sister, Alice. Alice, like X-Men”s Storm, can control the weather, but does so only through mood swings. So, make her smile, and the sun comes out, and tell her that Del Shannon has a girlfriend, and it”s suddenly monsoon season. Angela looks out for her sister, and holy crap, kudos to the casting agent that selected Alexa Nikolas to play Young Angela Petrelli. Dead. On. Just amazing.

But there wasn”t just a young Angela in this camp: future Company founders Charles Deveaux, Daniel Linderman, and Bob Bishop were also there, all held against their will. They concoct a plan, spearheaded by Angela, by which they will escape and contact the local authorities. To stop Sister Storm from ruining their departure with an ill-timed blizzard, Angela tells her sister of a false prophetic dream concerning Alice”s safety within the confines of the camp.

Of course, while out, boys will be boys, so they munch on diner food and decide to hold an impromptu interracial prom in the middle of the 1960″s South. Like you do. Luckily, Charles”s telepathic skills pulled a “these are not the droids you”re looking for” on those in the diner, but their efforts are for naught: in their absence, a scared Alice inadvertently sets of a riot when a lightning storm leads to a long-simmering war between those with powers and those with big guns. And in that type of war, everyone loses.

Well, almost everyone.

Alice: It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.

Alice managed to survive the 1961 massacre, living off food rations in the subsequent years and then scavenging for necessary items in the decades thereafter. Angela returned to confront her after a confusing vision that prophesied her thought-to-be-dead sister was still in Coyote Sands. Why a vision now? Why not in the decades since? And why was Young Angela infinitely more compelling than Present Day Angela this week? Sigh.

I”m a big Angela Petrelli fan, but this week”s episode saddled her with dialogue so cheesy and melodramatic I kept looking for the soft-focus around the edge of my television screen. It was soap-opera level stuff, standing in stark contrast to the sharp retconning of the Company”s origins. And yes, it was retconning, but that just comes with the territory of “Heroes” at this point. Last year, they wanted us to buy that all powers in the world started with an eclipse, even though anyone who had watched the show for more than a few episodes knew that was blatantly untrue.

Now, not content to cast Sylar as more misunderstood than evil, “Heroes” now wants to whitewash The Company, under the argument, “Well, they aren”t as bad as Danko!” Which is a little like trying to argue that gonorrhea is not as bad as chlamydia: would you really WANT either? The Company once stood as a monolith of evil, up there in the pantheon of Eeeeevil Corporations in the television landscape. Starkwood, The Rossum Corporation, Massive Dynamic: these are but three of a myriad of companies that stand in for modern day evil.

I guess I can try to spin this in a positive way: maybe the show wanted to show that understandable anger derived from atrocity could turn purposeful rage into corrupted power. That individuals have the power to change things, but corporations always change the people within them. Which is why the final diner scene was so pivotal: a turn away from a business-like structure to a familial one in order to make a break from the past.

Alice: But I don’t want to go among mad people.

The Cat: Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.

Throughout the hour, Angela kept pushing her sons, her granddaughter, and Noah into reforming the Company, believing that Nathan”s plan to bring the nature of superpowered people into the light undid 50 years of work by The Company to keep such people out of the public eye. Peter, in particular, opposed this plan, which led to him flying away in a snit. Nathan gave chase, and the two seemed at loggerheads, unable to get past a fraternal fight that lasted as far back as the 1986 World Series. Freakin” Buckner. Moving on.

Peter”s ultimate solution, the twist that made working with the other palatable? Framing the union not as a company, but a family. And given that the 21st-century has marked the rise of the atypical family, why not have one that involves a secretive matriarch, two hopeless messed-up brothers, and a girl who has two dads? That”s much easier than trying to describe my family. There was something hysterical, yet tender, in watching both Noah and Nathan try to comfort a daughter that”s almost completely beyond their reach.

Why beyond? Because she”s almost mad as a hatter, and she knows it. That knowledge keeps her this side of sane, but she seems keenly aware that all her previous efforts of either extreme normalcy or extreme heroism were both pipe dreams. She has two fathers, digs up graves while dodging federal agents, and oh yea, is basically invulnerable. But maybe “Heroes” will finally get to the central metaphor that was so strong in Season 1: family can be found in the bonds between people who make little sense to anyone but themselves.

The show”s toyed with this, but never truly explored it. Any show that has this many heroes and yet so little interaction between them seems a huge waste. And while I”m no Mohinder fan, leaving him behind to mope while Angela and Company could use the help seems another huge waste. These people should know by now that going it alone is a fool”s errand, and while the move towards “family” is a touch hokey, it least it promotes our characters working together, not against each other.

And with Sylar acting as Nathan in Washington, they are going to need all the help they can get.

Did Angela”s backstory confuse or compel? And will The Petrelli Family succeed where The Company failed?

Ryan also writes about television and pop culture at Boob Tube Dude.

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