After last week's misstep, "Heroes Reborn" gets back on track -- mostly, at least -- in its fall finale. While still filled with some of the twists, turns, and timey-wimey stuff that have weighed down lesser episodes (and, of course, made some of its stronger sing), "11:53 To Odessa" mostly succeeds in sticking with the basics: giving its characters things to do and reasons to do them, all while slowly drawing them together.
Of course, the biggest problem with the "Heroes" reboot--and, to be fair, with the original--is that not all the characters are as interesting as others. After getting Quentin-napped last week and ending up at Erica's, Tommy wakes up in a giant bed and some comfy-looking PJs with a mysterious scar on the back of his neck. As Tommy's storyline is swiftly cementing itself at the center of the story (and given the preview for the next episode, likely to stay there) much of what works in "11:53 to Odessa" is his. It's a very Petrelli-like conflict, putting Tommy in danger while forcing him to weigh the lives of the many against the future as a whole. After Erica explains her plan -- take people to a colony Renautas has built in the future, thus ensuring the future of humanity through the survival of a small percentage of its members -- Tommy demands to see this future colony, and so off they pop.
Robbie Kay isn't the strongest member of the cast, and unlike both Claire and Peter (the characters on whom Tommy seems to be modeled), he doesn't have much to his personality besides being (understandably) angry, having a crush on a girl, and liking comic books. There's no trace of Peter's inherent caregiver and frustration when he can't save everyone, nor Claire's desire to first be normal and then be honest. Still, despite the underdeveloped nature of his role and some disappointing outings to date, Kay does great work in this episode, making the larger philosophical struggle clear without resorting to histrionics. Rya Kihlstedt also does excellent work. Whether Erica is telling the truth or not remains to be seen, and my instinct is that she is -- about Tommy being able to bring his family and friends to Gateway, if nothing else -- but the way in which she treated Tommy was refreshing. She spoke to him not as a child, but as a young man, and at the very least seemed to be earnestly pleading her case, rather than threatening, cajoling or manipulating him. It may not be honest, but it seemed to be, and that honestly gave their scenes a clarity that was long overdue. It's always best when the villain doesn't think they're a villain.
That plot wasn't without flaws, however. It's possible that the effects of the Quentin-shaped butterfly on which HRG stepped may be near an end, as Quentin seems, at long last, to be reacquainting himself with his moral compass. It doesn't ring true, however. A massive bombing? No problem. Violent attacks? Sure thing. Kidnapping Tommy? Whoa, whoa, slow down there. More effective was Phoebe's reaction to his about-face. The dark nature of her ability, unsurprisingly, seems to have left her thinking that she, herself, exists in darkness too.
But Tommy and company aren't the only people who've made a jaunt to the future. Last week's episode ended with Miko in the future, and as it turns out, it's exactly where she needs to be ("She's a tenacious little construct"). After what must have been a long, dry walk to Gateway, Katana Girl arrives and promptly starts kicking ass while searching for her father (who she finds) and Ren (who she doesn't). Kiki Sukezane's scene with her "father" (Hiro Kanagawa, never better) is the episode's highlight -- Katana Girl finally gets an explanation of who and what she is, and what she's meant to do. In the moment of that realization, and her father's subsequent seeming betrayal, horror and confusion play over her features, but Katana Girl has a mission, and even heartbreak can't stop her. She races off and hides in what turns out to be a most convenient place, as it allows her to drop down to Tommy just after he sends Phoebe and Quentin back to the past, tell him that she's there to free him. The two of them pop off, and Erica is not having it.
In our own time, more stories collide. The Grandpa-Granddaughter reunion tour picks up right where it left off, and as they prepare to go get Tommy back, Luke chases them down and says he wants to go, too. After overhearing his conversation with Joanne, Malina is understandably skittish about the whole thing, and Noah clearly isn't having it, so they turn him down -- and he, of course, follows. Most of this story is spend traveling, with HRG and Malina getting some quality time in the car (Jack Coleman's speech about Claire is one of his best, simplest moments of the season thus far) and another confrontation in a gas station (in which Luke owns up to the cold-blooded murder thing -- points for honesty, dude, but maybe not the best tactic). The big moments, however, come near the episode's conclusion. Malina stops a storm using her powers (and while they still look a little silly, it's an undeniably cool moment), but not before a giant flying car almost squashes HRG into a really stoic, bespectacled pancake. Just before it happens, though, a hand reaches out and they pop off into some other time and place. Presumably we'll find out which master of time and space it was when the show returns in January (my money's on Hiro -- no way they'd kill off that character and not give Masi Oka a death scene).
The crowd, full of ingrates and idiots, turns on Malina, but luckily Luke is still stalking them, and he rushes her off before the shotgun guy can shotgun her. It's a truly upsetting scene, made more so by the political climate in which it aired. Fear can be a powerful force, and for some, it creates the worst kinds of impulses, leading people to violence or to refuse to help the suffering. While obviously produced long before the events of the last week, the resonance was significant, both in this moment and in the scenes in Matt Parkman's detention facility.
Oddly, the weakest story of the night contained some of the best moments. Farrah and Carlos's reunion fell flat -- the underdeveloped nature of both characters makes an emotional reaction a tricky thing to achieve -- and the plans of Taylor and the Hero-Truthers played out as more than a little anti-climactic. Still, after a few episodes of not giving Greg Grunberg nearly enough to do, Matt Parkman came to life this week. The funniest moment of the series to date came when Harris shot one of the two Parkmans without so much as a question to indicate which one was real, and Matt's outsize (but totally legitimate) response was pitch-perfect. In his interrogation scenes, we finally got an indication that maybe this whole being-a-bad-guy thing isn't sitting all that well, and best of all, his realization that perhaps Erica doesn't consider him a person of value forced him to pay a visit to Micah. Silently but unsettlingly played by Noah Gray-Cabey (who also played Micha when both the actor and the character were children), his brief reappearance may be the best series callback to date. While Micah finds Parkman's name, and the names of his family members, on Erica's list, it feels like too easy a resolution to be the end of that particular question. We'll have to see what happens when the show returns in January.
So Ren's on his way to the future (a brief but effective story, which saw him chasing a Shogun through the streets only to be given a quest by an Otomo construct), and Miko's not there anymore. The Hero Truthers have teamed up with Farrah and Carlos, although they haven't accomplished anything yet. HRG is missing, Malina's with Luke, and Tommy's off on an adventure with Katana Girl. Not a bad place to leave things before the winter break. While still lacking the magic of its previous run (and even some of this season's highlights), it was an effective hour of TV, and sets up nearly all the storylines for an explosive, wintry return. See you in January!