In the opening scene of Heroes’ third season premiere, Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) tells Claire (Hayden Panettiere), “It wouldn’t be like this if they’d never known about us.” It’s a little bit of cheek, of course, thinly referring to public “scandals” over the romance between the two actors that began before Panettiere turned 18. Following Peter’s line, one wonders if they wish they’d stayed in the closet.
That line also refers back to last season’s finale and forward to this season’s interest in coming-out narratives and the effects of public disclosure. The end of last season saw Congressman Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) shot at a press conference he called to come out to the nation and the world about his and other queers’ secret powers. This raised the question that jumpstarts the new episode: who is so invested in keeping these genetic freaks closeted that she would want to assassinate Nathan?
Coming out is always fraught and can have unexpected consequences. Peter and Claire’s exchange (which takes place “four years in the future”) suggests these do-gooders have changed dramatically since their own self-disclosures. His facial scar and her now-chestnut hair, their dark clothes and toughened demeanors, make these shifts visible in possibly conventional ways: have Peter and Claire become two of the titular subjects of “Chapter 3,” that is, “Villains”? Claire has long wanted to be “normal” even as she also wants to be recognized in and for her extraordinary difference. Either option—whether she stays in or comes out—carries dangers and rewards that Claire must consider, consciously or not, every day.
As the third season begins—with a two-part new episode (only the first hour of which is reviewed here)—Claire’s fellow heroes are struggling with similar quandaries. After the death of his father (George Takei), Hiro (Masi Oka) has been installed as CEO of the global family-business, Yamagato Industries. He is also tasked with a “sacred duty,” which is to act as a “sentinel” to safeguard a family secret that could destroy the world. Hiro proclaims that he doesn’t want to be a sentinel, but rather a hero. Sentinels, apparently, are too below-the-radar, too reactive rather than proactive, and they don’t get the public glory. Hiro chooses the splashier publicity of the active hero, and the consequences of his actions are immediate and possibly apocalyptic.
Similarly inclined to self-exposure, Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) finally owns up to his own repressed desires in relation to the genetic mutations he has spent his adult life studying. Prompted by Maya (Dania Ramirez) to continue his work to find a cure for her power (or “curse,” as she calls it), Mohinder comes clean about why he’s been dragging his feet. He’s more interested in the possibility of creating mutation through medicine than in curing it, largely because of his own feelings of insignificance in comparison to the powerful freaks he runs with.
While the heroes struggle with these choices and consequences, the villains are comparatively steadfast in their desires. Sylar (Zachary Quinto), after some self-doubt last season, returns in all his bad-ass glory. Mr. Linderman (Malcolm McDowell), despite the opacity of his end goals, remains assured of his evil righteousness. In their certitude, the villains are more compelling than their wishy-washy heroic counterparts. The real excitement of “Villains” is its promise to expand the series’ assortment of baddies: their unabashed queerness and freakery make for more fun.