Last night's Heroes brought on some seriously good evil with Sylar getting a cute new friend, but it also brought on the lameass evil with Nathan becoming the least authoritarian dictator ever. Spoilers ahead!

Normally I don't criticize a dictator for being non-authoritarian, because obviously that's a good thing. But on a TV series that needs a good, strong, scary-ass Big Bad to propel the action forward - not such a good thing. Last week's episode showed us the evil side of Nathan, who has now abandoned all pretenses of being a nice guy and is simply arresting and locking up every single mutant he can find. That made for good drama last week, but last night's episode, "Trust and Blood," took it all back.

Once the plane full of mutants crash-lands in Arkansas, Nathan suddenly goes all soft. His main military helper, new bad guy The Hunter, is trying to hunt down (and kill) the escapees, but Nathan keeps backing off. First he keeps making exceptions for Claire, even though she's responsible for crashing the plane and letting the mutants get away in the first place. No matter what this indestructible brat does, her two daddies are willing to cut her slack.

Each time Nathan and HRG catch Claire, they're all about sending her off to college instead of into lockdown. OK look, if they were really serious about being bad guys, wouldn't they finally lock up the one person who seems completely determined to fight them - and has a relative degree of success doing so? Let's push Nathan over into Big Bad territory and have him finally snap and go after his little Claire Bear. Otherwise he's not a real bad guy - he's just a whiny politician with a funny chin.

To make matters worse, Nathan even gets soft on his brother Peter. When Tracy goes turncoat on Peter and gives him up to Nathan, Nathan basically lets Peter go. And then when HRG has a chance to shoot Peter later on, but doesn't, Nathan gives HRG the old secret thank-you nod.

You might argue that this is an effort to show the gray areas in Nathan's plan - perhaps he really does believe he's doing something good for the world. First he tried to give everybody powers, but that alternate timeline got squelched. Now he's rounding up everybody and thinking it will do them some good. No wonder The Hunter asks him at one point, "Did you think they'd treat us as liberators?" More heavy-handed references to the Iraq war do not make this tortured allegory work any better.

What did work well in this episode were the sequences where new mutant alliances formed. Sylar got a cute teen sidekick named Luke who understands Sylar's mommy issues and likes to use his heat ray to melt action figures. Actually the whole sequence where Sylar and Luke hook up was jam-packed with sado-masochistic, homoerotic zing.

Here's how it happened: Sylar decides to torture a random family who live down the street from his long-lost daddy's house. Somehow he thinks hurting the mother and her kid will make the ninja who tried to capture him reveal all about Sylar's mutant heritage. All it does is reveal that mom resents her kid, who has heat ray powers. After torturing Luke's mom for a while, Sylar is almost killed by the ninja - but Luke heat-rays him, steals his mom's car keys, and promises Sylar he'll drive him to long-last daddy (who might be Luke's daddy too?)

While Sylar and Luke head towards Batman and Robin territory, Peter is rounding up a resistance force to defy Nathan. (By the way, he also expositions that he can only have one power at a time now. And yes, I think "exposition" should be a verb, at least when it comes to cheesy superhero stories.) After Speedy and Ando try to rescue the gang, Speedy is killed by the Hunter - giving the normally sweet-tempered Matt a burning vengeance feeling. I have high hopes for Peter's resistance force just because it will create some good action sequences and allow some of the less badass heroes to get tough.

As the episode closes, the college-bound Claire has started receiving mystery messages on her Treo from someone called "Rebel" who promises there's hope - and that Rebel hates the people Claire hates too. My suspicion is that Rebel is a bad guy trying to draw Claire out. Good guys never talk about hate.

Lingering questions: Why is Parkman still going all white-eyed? Do we really need that? Can Claire's relationship with adoptive daddy HRG survive this latest round of nastiness? And most importantly, why didn't Hiro want to wear that "Rednecks are better lovers" t-shirt?