Welcome back, kids, to one of the most bashed series currently on television…and that’s by people who used to consider themselves fans of the show. Now, clearly, if you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know that, although I’ve been here from the very beginning of the “Heroes” saga and plan to hang on ’til the bitter end, I’ve had my problems with the show. Clearly, Tim Kring and the gang can’t please all of the people all of the time, but even I can admit that Season 3 started off looking like it was going to blow the disappointment of Season 2 out of the water and only ended up having its own share of problems. Worst of all, the first half of the third season, “Villains,” came to an end with the death of one of the series’ one interesting new characters: Papa Petrelli, played by the ever-awesome Robert Forster. (The only consolation is that, well, we thought the character of Papa was dead throughout the first two seasons, so there’s every reason to believe that they’ll find a way to bring him back to life yet again.)

Tonight, we were presented with the beginning of the second half of Season 3, which has been given the subtitle of “Fugitives.” How was it, you ask…?

We quickly confirm that approximately the same amount of time has passed for the characters of “Heroes” as has passed for the show’s viewers (give or take a week or two), given Tracy’s comment to the governor – with whom she’s sleeping – that she hasn’t seen Nathan in two months. Apparently, he’s been busy, given that he’s moved up the Washington ranks, found himself as the chairman of the Senate Commission on Homeland Security and found himself in close proximity to the Commander in Chief himself. Cutting between Tracy being taken down by a bunch of masked armed figures while Senator Petrelli is talking about the safety of our country was a nice bit of direction, and…hey, look, it’s Željko Ivanek! Wow, they didn’t wait long to bring him into the fold, did they? ONE DOWN.

The idea that Hiro would have a superhero lair is so in character that it made me break out in a smile. There’s considerable precedent for heroes who’ve lost their powers to quickly transition into serving as a mentor for new heroes, so it’s no surprise that Hiro would dismiss the loss of his powers in favor of making sure Ando uses his powers to the fullest. How awesome was the Ando-Cycle? Five words: Rex Smith in “Night Hawk.” It’s about time someone on this show got a kick-ass vehicle to call their own…and I laughed out loud when Hiro implanted Ando’s GPS tracker. Typically, Ando just can’t be bothered with the same priorities as his buddy, opting to fight crime by hanging out in a strip club, but when Hiro screams and gets cut off (TWO DOWN), it’s time to take the Ando-Cycle into action.

Claire’s looking for colleges (way to complete avoid any further high school integration fuck-ups by having Mama Petrelli casually comment on how Claire had gotten her GED), but the former cheerleader is still longing to kick bad-guy ass with HRG, and that desire only intensifies when she learns that her biological dad – Nathan – is rounding up all the super-powered types and doesn’t want her to end up suffering the same fate as Tracy. True to form, Claire does something rash and runs off to find Peter, who’s been trying to save the world one patient at a time (and, at least based on his first scene, isn’t doing very well at it), and get his help to find out more about what the hell Nathan is up to.

The sequence with Peter and Mohinder was filmed in a very cool manner, I’ll give it that, but from the moment we saw who the driver was, I was left thinking, “This is just a little too convenient, isn’t it?” And it was, of course, but it was hard to complain too much when it led to another appearance by Željko, a nice action sequence in a parking garage, and the return of HRG, doing his best Terminator impression. (“Get in if you want to live!”) I didn’t anticipate the way the scene played out, with HRG actually working with Zeljko, but let’s face it: we all know that, in the end, HRG is working for no-one but himself. THREE DOWN. And what about Mohinder’s pre-Zeljko passenger? Same deal, but with a cruel twist: Peter and Nathan get together, have their heart to heart talk, and Nathan unabashedly stabs his own brother in the back…or shoulder. Whatever. FOUR DOWN.

Daphne and Matt are still trying to figure out what kind of relationship they have, and it’s not going spectacularly well, since he’s doing honest work as a bodyguard and she’s constantly suggesting that he should just swipe some money and start up his own detective agency. But…hey, look, it’s Usutu! Isn’t he dead, though? Ah, who cares? This is “Heroes.” So everyone’s favorite African precog tells Matt that he’s a prophet, and moments later, Matt starts doing his best Isaac impression. Bad luck for him, though: he finishes up just in time for Claire to come knocking at his door and for both of them to get taken down. FIVE DOWN and SIX DOWN.

Sylar finds his real dad, and the entire sequence was pretty wracked with tension…not because you didn’t know Sylar was going to kill the guy, but because you never knew when. As it turned out, of course, Daddy Dearest didn’t bite the big one after all. (I’m not saying that this is proof that it pays to tell the truth, but it certainly worked out well for this guy.) But when Sylar follows the trail his pops has set him on, it leads to an encounter with Zeljko and the boys…not that our big, bad Sylar is going to let himself be the seventh man down. (As we soon learned, Nathan never had any intention of that happening, anyway, since he’d already told Zeljko to put a bullet through Sylar’s head.)

Now, here’s where we hit my biggest problem with the episode: Nathan letting Claire go, even though he knows damned well she’s not going to go quietly into that good night. Sure, it led to her kicking the driver’s head into the window, which was pretty bad-ass, but it was just plain stupid for Nathan to release her in the first place. And, then, she sneaks onto the plane like she’s been training under the tutelage of Casey fucking Ryback or something…? Give me a break. With that said, however, the “Con-Air” feel to the plane ride was awesome, HRG’s face when Claire burst into the cockpit was priceless, and I won’t deny my excitement over the idea of finally…FINALLY…getting the original heroes back together again, but the music playing over the slow-motion bit made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.

Who will survive this plane ride from hell…? We shall see. Will even you be back next week to find out? Let me know in the comments section.