Spoilers for "Heroes" coming up just as soon as I take a foot bath...
Well, alright. First episode this fall that I can call good not just by the drastically lowered standards of season two, but on its own. There are some things here and there that could be tweaked, but that was a pretty solid hour of television.
"Cautionary Tales" was helped by both its narrow focus and who it focused on. Usually, episodes try to pack in so many stories and characters that none of them has the time to build momentum and make an impact, and it's especially annoying when we jump away from a good story to the likes of the black oil twins or Peter hanging with Irish stereotypes.
Only three stories here that, for the most part, stuck to the more interesting characters: HRG, Hiro and, in a surprise to me (not that they used him, but that I found him interesting), Parkman. We got a straightforward thriller plot with the HRG/Bob double-kidnapping, a sentimental farewell with Hiro and Papa Nakamura, and some mystery thrown in with a corruption of the hero tale with Parkman and Ma Petrelli.
And, in a "Heroes" rarity, all the stories were thematically tied together as tales of parent-child legacies. Hiro and Kaito, in the moments before Kaito's death, finally recognize what they mean to each other. HRG and Bob, go to war over having made very different choices with their superpowered daughters. And Parkman gets too drunk with his expanded powers to realize he's slipping down the slope towards becoming the father he hated so much. (And not that I ever want to see Mrs. Parkman again, but the season already began with a Matt/Nightmare Man parallel, as he walked out on his wife and her child -- albeit a kid that wasn't his.)
The episode even managed to use West, arguably the most annoying addition of the season, in an effective way, by turning him into HRG's latest superpowered sidekick (after Invisible Claude and then The Haitian). West practically flew more in this one episode than Nathan did all of last season, and he was too busy pulling of high-speed rescues and abductions to creep me out like he so often does. (Though his behavior in this episode suggests that we weren't supposed to find him so disturbing in earlier episodes, which suggests poor acting and/or writing back then.)
Even with only three stories, some shortcuts still had to be taken. Parkman's slide into mind-control junkie is a rare case of a "Heroes" storyline that should have been stretched over more episodes (not that I think we're done with it, but he slid awfully quick here). I think Hiro and Kaito's journey could have easily filled up a whole episode without getting dull -- say, with Hiro taking his father on an extended This Is Your Life journey before finally stopping at his mother's funeral -- and, like others, I'm annoyed that, once again, Kaito is dead without us having any idea what his powers were. But damn if the funeral scene didn't get to me, anyway. Hiro's actions have always been driven by a childish love of comic books and legends, and he finally seemed to become a man (even moreso than when he "killed" Sylar) in that moment when he realized he was thinking exactly like his younger self. I don't want to lose the optimistic enthusiasm Masi Oka brings to the character, but I also don't like characters (even the usually paper-thin ones on this show) who remain stagnant, so I'm curious and hopeful about seeing a slightly more mature Hiro down the road.
Meanwhile, the writers found a way to, once again, make one of Isaac's paintings come true while dodging the repercussions of it. (See also the painting of Claire's homecoming, where Claire and Peter looked dead but got better.) I couldn't imagine them being dumb enough to kill off HRG -- for all the series' other missteps, Kring and company are smart enough to kill off the more disposable characters like Simone and D.L -- and we had just seen the amazing curative powers of Monroe's blood last week, so it wasn't a huge shock when HRG came back from the dead. But it was also a fun little callback to Claire waking up on the autopsy table at the end of the series' third episode. (One question: just how potent is that blood? Will HRG still need his trademark glasses? Are he or Nathan going to be missing some childhood scars?)
Two episodes to go in this arc -- and possibly in this season, depending on how the strike goes -- and it feels like there are even more loose ends to tie off here than there were with two episodes to go at the end of last season. Can they really pull it off, or are we in for another round of Parking Meter Beatdown Theater?
What did everybody else think?