Just when you thought Heroes might have a chance of getting good again, it comes back with an episode so bad that you'll yearn for the days when Hiro time-traveled to feudal Japan. Can't Sylar just die already?

In "The Five Stages," he can't. Which is just one of its many, many problems as an episode. Unfortunately it was also an episode where we finally get to take a good, long look at the carnival and it's so painfully pasteurized that you'll want to inject your eyes with heroin just to feel normal. So what's brewing among the carnies, anyway? Well, now that Hot Tattoo has told swordy Edgar that Samuel killed his brother, and Edgar escaped with help from Hiro, Samuel needs a new right-hand man. He picks a guy who has about a zillion right hands because he's a "multiplier," which means he can make a ton of copies of himself. In addition, this adds further evidence to the idea that every single power on Heroes was ripped off from X-Men. Honestly, they can't pay somebody to come up with a few cool, interesting powers that we haven't seen before?

Anyway Samuel is playing around with MultiBoy now, and asks him to deliver a message to HRG and the other Primatech emeriti. He also starts lecturing everybody within earshot about how awful the world is, and speculating about whether "we are the last generation on Earth." This lecture eventually merges spongily with a mishmash of Magneto-isms about how the mutants should live proudly out in the open (or at least in the scrubby fields of Southern Ohio) and have a homeland (in Southern Ohio). I think we all know what this mega-quake-causing dude is leading up to. MAKE US YOUR CARNIE RULERS OR WE'LL SHOVE THESE TECTONIC PLATES UP YOUR ASS.

Meanwhile, inexplicably, Hot Tattoo is still sucking up to Samuel even though she's said she knows what he did. I guess that's because her Sprint-sponsored daughter wants to stay in the carnival.

Then, in the only interesting subsubsubplot of the episode, Lauren comes over to HRG's place and he thinks he's on a date. When he confesses that he got married "before the sexual revolution," so he has no idea how to act, Lauren suddenly gets all weird and says, "Who said anything about sex?" Excuse me, missy, but I have a lot to say about you having sex with HRG because you guys are the only interesting couple on the show and you've been totally flirting with him. But OK, fine, I guess it's non-sexual flirting. I can accept that. But NO! I can't accept it because then when HRG gets a call and has to go to work, Lauren gets all up in his face and whiny about how he's canceling their date. WTF??? Are we on a date or not? And if we ARE on a date, then don't get all mean about how HRG used the word "sexual revolution." Is her mutant power killing anybody who has sex with her? Because if it's not, then she needs to be a little bit nicer when her DATE uses a phrase that contains the word sex. What is my point here? Don't fuck with my ship.

But in the meantime, on the date that might not be a date, Lauren isn't afraid to use all her CIA powers to help HRG use a phone to locate Claire and the carnival on Google maps. Did you know that SPRINT CAN USE TEH GOOG? Thankfully, Heroes has told you. Also, again with the bad product placement - why would you want to buy a phone that allows off-duty CIA agents to track you recreationally on Google? Isn't that bad somehow? My point ultimately is that Lauren and HRG are sublimating all that ambiguous sexual stuff into engaging in an extremely illegal game of stalk-the-Claire.

But that's just nothing compared to how Sylar and Peter are sublimating THEIR sexual tension. Oh my goodness. We join our buxom boys right after Mama Petrelli tells Peter that he hasn't entered the fifth stage of grief - you know, the one where you realize that your dead brother has been reconstituted as a mindfrak inside the head of a serial-killing mutant. So Peter, always the overachiever, decides to leapfrog right to the seventh stage of grief, where you take the powers of Rene the Haitian so that you can turn off Sylar's powers, beat the crap out of him, breathe heavily into his face while you lie on top of him dripping sweat and other bodily fluids, and tell him to give himself "body and soul" to your brother Nathan. Oh yeah, that stage of grief. We've all been there.

The fight scene between the newly-enhottened Peter and the always-smokin Sylar is probably the greatest moment in homoeroticism since I watched that Billy Herrington video. The fact is that Sylar has gone from being an extraneous character who should have died at the end of season 1, to being a cocktease for every person who wishes he would just have a giant gay mutant moment with Peter and then go around using his powers to turn every other hot guy on the show gay. Maybe they could bring back Invisible Man Christopher Eccleston for a Very Special Sylar Mutant Gay Episode. Seriously, how are we supposed to watch this "we are using wrestling as an excuse to give you some softcore homotastic moments" and not feel frustrated?

I'll tell you how: First of all, the lameness; Second of all, the drooly, dorky look on Peter's face when the homogasm is over (see video). Let's begin by investigating the aforementioned lameness. Why would Peter be so stupid as to believe that Nathan is really inside Sylar, or that even if he WERE, that Sylar isn't faking letting him out so that Peter will get all shmoopy with him? More to the point: WHY DOES PETER BELIEVE THAT SYLAR HAS BECOME NATHAN AGAIN? We don't know. The double lameness is that Peter doesn't kill Sylar when he has a chance, especially given that he should know Sylar is in there AND given that he never really liked Nathan anyway. Seriously, what is this, the millionth time that somebody had a chance to kill Sylar and didn't?

And as for the tragic edge-of-the-roof goodbye suicide moment, whoa. Peter does NOT look good from that angle. And of course as soon as Sylar falls out of range of Rene's powers, he reSylarizes and looks mega-hot while Peter is still in crumple-face mode. I am going to have to take back everything I said about Peter rehottening, because that scene just drained all the sex out of every relationship on this show, and I think we can probably blame it for making Lauren not want to jump HRG's bones right away.

As if all this wasn't awful enough, Claire decides to stay at the carnival for a while after watching some meathead non-mutant beat up on Samuel - which is all part of Samuel's plan to make himself appear sensitive even though he's a dirt-loving protofascist. Turns out the meathead even has a good reason for punching Sammy, since the carnival's business model is using mutant powers to rip people off. I love the idea that Claire thinks the carnival is where "we can all be ourselves" - which means cheating and lying to regular folk for cash. During the carnival scenes, which Gretchen correctly identifies as a "bad Fellini movie," I kept wishing the Jim Rose Sideshow would come in and beat the shit out of everybody. Especially when Hot Tattoo gives Claire a "reading," and a tattoo of Claire shows up on her back over the words "indestructible girl."

Claire laughs and says, "So I'm going to have a circus act?" And Hot Tattoo is all, "no, that isn't your future - it's your desire." WTF kind of power is "I show you your desire represented as a circus freak act"? And also, that doesn't explain what she showed Samuel at the beginning of the season - people who were clearly in his future, not his "desire." Unless he "desires" Hiro and Sylar (which could be kind of awesome, once I wash that image of Peter's face out of my neocortex).

There is even a fuckwitty scene of Claire integrating into the carnie life by telling a bunch of carnie kids a story about a very special frog who wanted to be special. But then the thing that really clinches her wish to join up is running into the puppetmaster guy who mind-raped her and her mother and tried to murder them. But now he's better because he's a carnie who cheats people out of small amounts of cash? Why would she want to join a group where people use their powers to mess with unwitting tourists and her former mind-rapist is hanging out having a blast?

Could it be that she's persuaded by Samuel's dumb speech about how families are about love, which is why the carnies need to recruit as many mutants as possible to come live in their "a homeland." Are the mutants supposed to be Jews now? Wandering in Southern Ohio until they find their homeland? Seriously? Wow, I have just discovered that my mutant power is an ability to slap my palm into my face 40 thousand times per second.

Tune in next year when nobody has sex and Sylar remains completely irrelevant unless he has some gay and/or "questioning" mutant experiences. Seriously - Zach Quinto needs hot mutant boy action that doesn't end in scrunchyface tears.