“Heroes” mini-cap: The return of Gretchen

2009, the year of Hope and Change, has come and gone, and it was, for the most part, a year of waiting with bated breath with an air of cynicism and itsy bitsy teeny weeny baby steps. So it is no wonder that we believed that the Claire/Gretchen arc, which teased us with a glimmer hope that a major television network would once again air a long-term lesbian storyline between teens — something that had been elusive since Buffy the Vampire Slayer and possibly The O.C., had been swept away and buried by Samuel’s preposterously powerful dust storms and preposterously weak storyline.

Last we checked, Gretchen drove back to school alone while Claire remained in the carnival, wondering whether she should make it her new home. Eventually, Claire realized that Samuel was a megalomaniacal douche and returned to school, but oddly enough, there was no sign of Gretchen — even though Claire and Gretchen were supposedly roommates. A couple of episodes ago, Gretchen left a sign on the door, saying that she was in the library, but other than that, Gretchen was M.I.A.

Studying? Why didn’t the writers choose a more plausible explanation for her extended absence, like discovering the World of Warcraft, in which case, there would be no chance that she would ever be seen again?

So, let’s get to the point. Can an interrupted same-sex romance involving a female teen main cast member of a primetime series become resurrected by a team of writers known for killing off characters as soon as they introduce them? Or more broadly speaking, can an interrupted same-sex romance involving a female teen main cast member of a primetime series become resurrected after sweeps period?

Is it alive? Is it dead? Or is it just lonely?

Welcome to 2010, the year of Hope and Change: The Reality Series, where materialization of the hopes that were dashed last year stop being impolitely swept aside and start being real.

Last night’s episode starts out with Claire poking at her oatmeal in the dining hall, looking all emo and glum.

Wait — is that Gretchen? Is it really Gretchen? The elusive roommate who lives at the library — the only college student in the history of television who actually studies instead of going to parties and working at the coffee shop 24-7? Claire is a ball of angst. Apparently, no one understands her. Gretchen offers an ear — and her hand.

Please take note that both Gretchen and Claire have short nails. I’m just sayin’.

Claire pulls away. She doesn’t want to talk, and she promptly runs off to a review session across campus, leaving Gretchen looking all emo and glum.

Claire arrives at her review session, only to come face to face with Sylar. It’s a trap! Claire learns that Sylar has kidnapped Gretchen and if Claire wants her to live, she has to listen to him explore the source of his loneliness and the tragic path that his life has taken. How emo. How glum. Sylar wonders how he and Claire ended up so different despite having similar life experiences. Claire tells him it is because he is a psychopath and gets up to leave. Mystery solved! Class dismissed!

Not so fast. Using the Dark Side of the Force, Sylar tosses Claire onto a couch and reminds her that Gretchen’s life is at stake. “You’re supposed to help me — or don’t you care how many filets I slice your [intentional pause] ‘roommate’ into?” Even the other characters are aware of the ambiguous nature of Claire and Gretchen’s non-relationship. Nice.

Claire isn’t up for playing therapist to the guy who killed her dad, so Sylar decides to take Claire’s thoughts from her head using Lydia’s powers and proceeds to paralyze Claire and force her to make out with him in an icky rapey scene. Seriously, did the writers really have to go there? Really? Blech on so many levels.

Sylar then informs Claire that both he and she use their power to build walls around them so that it becomes impossible to connect with another person. “Like Gretchen,” he notes. He continues, saying that while he was tying Gretchen up, he noticed that her memories were full of “pauses” that were “so ripe with subtext.” “All these interactions and you still can’t say what you really want to say to this girl,” he concludes. So there we have it. Through the mouth of serial killing co-ed assaulting Sylar, we find out that, yes, Claire has feelings for Gretchen.

Since when is uber-villain Sylar allowed to be the therapist who nudges two women together? (Ilene, did you ghost write this episode? Fess up.) Usually, the role of “person spouting wise words” goes to Hiro, but he’s busy fighting death in an Alice in Wonderland-esque trial in a Texas diner, so I guess Sylar will have to do.

Claire ends the therapy session by stabbing Sylar in the eye, and she runs off to save Gretchen, who she finds bound and gagged. “I’m happy you’re here,” says Gretchen, and they embrace.

Then, before they are able to have “The Talk” part 47, the lights flicker. Then a window explodes and the two end up in House of Horrors redux, sans meat hooks, fortunately.

They take refuge in a storage room, where Claire apologizes to Gretchen and just when it looks like Claire will finally tell Gretchen how she feels about her, Claire proceeds to pour out her emotions — about Sylar. And herself. Gretchen, well, the look on her face is priceless.

But it turns out that the Gretchen in the storage room with Claire is actually Sylar, who had shape shifted. This may actually be a good thing, because if I were the real Gretchen, I wouldn’t put up with that navel-gazing crap for very much longer.

A mopey and introspective Sylar confesses that he never kidnapped Gretchen and leaves the storage room. Apparently, all he wanted was Claire to psychoanalyze him.

Claire finds the real Gretchen in the dining hall and starts to have “The Talk” part — forget it, I lost count — yet again. She makes it through three sentences without a deadly object being launched at them. So far so good. She apologizes to Gretchen for pulling back that morning and after fumbling around with her words, she finally tells Gretchen, “I want to hold your hand.”

Wait. No flying chandeliers. No gravity-defying silverware and hair nets headed for their throats. Will they make it through this conversation alive and uninterrupted?

Claire reaches for Gretchen’s hand, and Gretchen cannot wipe the smile off of her face. “People are going to start to talk,” says the still-smiling Gretchen. “Let them talk,” responds Claire.

They both get up and leave the dining hall, hand in hand. OK, just five more seconds and they’re clear. Will the ceiling cave in? Will a freak lightning bolt come in through the window? Will Gretchen collapse out of happiness? Going — going — yes! They made it out of the cafeteria alive! They finished their conversation! They are an item! Hope! Change! Hope! Change!

Look! They even made it all the way back to their room, and they are still talking. Next to candles. Without flesh wounds. Hope! Change! Yes! They! Can! Yes! They! Did!

So with the entrance of 2010, the Curse of the Parking Lot has been lifted. Lesbians, fear not the Parking Lot. But the guy who can move dirt? Yeah, he’s pissed, because the love of his life rejected him, and he’s looking for trouble. You might want to fear him.