Idol Chatter

When “Heroes,” the NBC hit about ordinary people who develop extraordinary powers, returned from winter break several weeks ago, we met a new citizen with supernatural abilities, Claude. Played by “Dr. Who’s ” Christopher Eccleston, Claude–whose full name is Claude Rains (a not-so-subtle homage to the actor who portrayed the invisible man)–is a dishelved loner who has the power of invisibility and takes full advantage of it by picking the pockets of fellow New Yorkers. But low-and-behold, Peter Petrelli, a nurse with the ability to replicate the powers of other “heroes” with whom he comes into contact, can see him as clear as one of Hiro’s comics or Isaac’s paintings.

From the get-go, Claude wants nothing to do with Peter. But having just come out of a coma induced by his body’s inability to store and make sense of all the powers he’s been absorbing (flight, self-healing, etc.), Peter is desperate to find someone to teach him how to control his ability, so he won’t blow up from an overload of these powers, literally, and destroy the world. After some hemming and hawing, the misanthropic Claude agrees to mentor Peter, perhaps realizing that New York blowing up would eat into his purloined profits.

By last week’s episode, Claude had not only turned into the character with the best one-liners on the show, but a real Zen master. Peter can’t access his powers, control them and use them at will, says Claude, because of his attachments; a very Buddhist concept indeed, the idea that attachment brings about sufferring. In this case, according to Claude’s theory, Peter’s attachments are not only causing him to suffer, but are putting the world in danger. Besides, that’s what works for Claude who apparently has even disentangled himself with an attachment to bathing.

“You worry a lot about your people, don’t you?” Claude asks Peter. “Your friends, your mother, your brother. No wonder your head’s all clogged. You’re still sunk under.”

“The people I love are not distractions!” Peter retorts.

“Then why can’t you fly?” asks Claude. “You’ve done it. Your body remembers how. The only thing standing in your way is you.”

And even more bad news for Peter, even the mere fact that he’s on a quest to Save The Cheerleader, Save the World could be detrimental to his mission. sums it up quite well when describing the importance of non-attachment:

“Buddhism goes beyond doing good and being good. One must not be attached to good deeds or the idea of doing good; otherwise it is just another form of craving.” Just can’t win for losing.

And while Claude doesn’t break into any real koans–traditional Zen riddles meant to break down logical thinking–he emphasizes breathing and engages in unconventional training often described in ancient Zen texts: slapping a student or yelling at them as a means of encouraging focus.

Of course, Claude takes is a little bit further and pushes Peter off a 30-foot building. Peter plummets to the ground like a bowling ball only to end up crumpled on top of a taxi cab with a metal bar protuding through torso. It looks like a failed experiment, unitl Peter says that not only did he not disengage from the people in his life, but the fact that he thought about them saved his life; admitting that thinking about the cute Texan cheerleader who could heal herself allowed himself to survive the mortal wound.

“You were wrong,” Peter tells Claude. “I don’t have to cut her out! I have to remember her! How she made me feel!” (Bringing to mind Harry Potter and his Patronus.) But, before Peter can elaborate his eyes white over and he starts screaming that he’s losing it. At which point, Claude masters a very un-zenlike right hook, knocks Peter out cold and sagely declares, “Well, it’s a start.”

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