Heroes episode 17 - "Company Man" - is the finest 45 minutes of television I've ever seen.
It's been an astonishing series so far; I can't recall any other show that's made me howl in disbelief as another cliffhanger presents itself. Almost every episode ends with the viewer desperate to see next week's installment. To achieve that level of captivation, and sustain it for 17 episodes, is unequalled.
24 attempts it, but the increasingly ludicrous adventures of Jack Bauer are attractive more because we want to be surprised by the next set of twists and turns rather than a ferocious need to see what happens to our favourite characters next week. Buffy achieved it from time to time, but couldn't sustain it, and didn't achieve it in its first season.
As an audience, we're used to the flashback technique — we've seen it all before. But in this episode, as we're treated to visions of the past, more pieces of the Heroes puzzle - a puzzle that's plagued us for so long now - fall into place, and yet we're left with more questions. Just as some doors are closed, other doors are opened. This is one of Heroes' greatest strengths.
Over the course of the last 16 episodes, the titular heroes have transitioned from hero to villain; at times mysterious, then tantalizingly revealed, before being plunged back into mystery again. We never quite know who's who: preconceptions formed in the first few hours of the show are revealed to be way off the mark. And yet, just when you think you've figured things out, the rug's pulled from under you again and you're lost — desperate for that next episode so you can see where things end up.
From the very first show, Heroes has been magnificently written, directed, and acted. It's not just about the Heroes we see on-screen, but the heroes involved in the production of such a brilliantly realised show. Tim Kring, series creator, is as much a hero to his audience as the characters he puts on screen. The inclusion of Stan Lee in a previous episode tips the hat to what must be one of Kring's own heroes — not to mention an idol of a good percentage of the show's fans.