One of the most compelling storylines from the first season of Heroes was the ill-fated romance between time-traveling Hiro and waitress Charlie (Jayma Mays, Glee). This week’s episode “Once Upon a Time in Texas” revisits that storyline in what could be considered a risky move; after all, a poor effort could tarnish a beloved episode or risk drawing unfavorable comparisons between seasons one and four.
The episode begins with Hiro traveling back in time three years to the Burnt Toast Café in Odessa, Texas to try to save Charlie’s life. Arriving on the day on which Sylar should murder her, he enters the café where he watches Sylar talk with her about her total recall ability.
Lurking in the background is Samuel, who has traveled back in time to attempt to recruit Hiro to his ‘family’ of carnies. Realizing what Hiro intends to do, Samuel asks him if he understands how his actions might risk changing the future and if saving Charlie is worth risking history. Hiro tells Samuel that he believes she is worth taking that risk for, though he does take account of Samuel’s point in executing his plan.
Out in the storeroom Charlie is opening a can when Sylar enters the room, intending to kill her. Just as he is about to do this Hiro freezes time, moving Sylar’s body and stashing it in a luggage compartment under a bus.
Returning to the storeroom, Hiro talks with Charlie and the two make plans for their future together. As the pair talks about traveling together, Charlie begins to babble, spewing related facts like she’s part of a Bing.com advert. Unfortunately for her though this condition is not related to being overloaded by Internet searches but rather caused by a blood clot in her brain. Her aneurysm has ruptured, meaning that she will soon be dead.
Hiro remembers Sylar saying that he could fix Charlie’s blood clot and returns to the bus to seek him out for his help. The two spar with Sylar repeatedly trying to kill Hiro who narrowly escapes each time by freezing time. To stop the cat and mouse game, Hiro promises Sylar that he will tell him the future in exchange for his help saving Charlie.
Early in the episode Hiro identifies himself as the hero when he explains his story to a bystander, yet here he does something inherently selfish. His interference in the past could significantly change the course of history and so he risks the greater good for his own love of Charlie. Thankfully the episode calls Hiro out on this, proving quite satisfying although he is perhaps let off the hook a little easily.
Less satisfying though is this episode’s treatment of Sylar who is more than willing to be blackmailed into saving Charlie for the promise of some information. One of the joys of Sylar in season one is the feeling that he is a powerful force, operating on an almost instinctual level. To see his efforts so easily frustrated by Hiro makes the villain seem less impressive while it is hard to accept that he would fall for such a ploy on Hiro’s part.
So far this season, Samuel has proved one of the show’s more interesting characters and the writers continue to do a good job of keeping him visible yet in the background. Here we get more of a sense of the character and particularly what he has done, also learning why he needs to add Hiro to his ‘family.’
As for Charlie, it is a real pleasure to see Jayma Mays (Glee) return to the show, if only for one episode. Those expecting a heavy amount of screen time between Charlie and Hiro may be disappointed but the scenes we do get are well written and consistent with her character. Furthermore, the conclusion to their storyline here should provide Hiro with precisely the sort of personal stakes that he has lacked in past seasons and should tie him more closely to this year’s ongoing plotline.
Woven between the Hiro and Charlie storyline is a story thread that centers on Noah. Here he is shown on the verge of starting an affair with Lauren, a coworker played by Elizabeth Rohm (Law & Order, Angel), confronting his feelings and making a decision about whether or not to pursue that relationship.
This plotline fits awkwardly into the events of season one. Do we really buy that Noah, the world’s most overprotective father, would be contemplating an affair while hunting for his daughter’s would-be killer? I found it difficult to believe he would allow his attention to be diverted so close to the events of homecoming, although the way the situation is resolved feels suitably in character.
The result is that this subplot feels like it is there to simply burn up time rather than add to our understanding of Noah or to introduce an important piece of information. Likely we will see more of Lauren at a future point to justify this subplot but for the moment it feels more like filler material than a genuine set-up.
Going forward it should be interesting to see how Hiro integrates with the carnies, particularly given that Sylar is amongst their number. I also look forward to learning more about Samuel’s ‘mistake’ though the prospect of further time travel stories is not something I am celebrating.
Despite falling short of the classic status of “Six Months Ago,” “Once Upon a Time in Texas” is an episode that should please fans of the show and did not ignore the implications of Hiro’s actions. Overall it is a solid episode and one of the better efforts so far this season.
– Aidan Brack