If one person says it, it's a rumor. If two people say it, it's gospel. But what if a chunk of the viewing audience is not only saying it, but also tuning out? That's the problem facing Heroes this season as it slips in the ratings and in the eyes of television critics. Complaints of slow pacing, too many new characters and not enough action have plagued the series this season, which has been suffering from sluggish momentum and redundant storytelling.

When the season began, viewers were faced with unanswerable questions: Why is Nathan's face burned up in the mirror? What happened to Matt's pregnant wife? How did Peter end up in Ireland? The questions went on and on, but many fans accepted them knowing they were the product of a four-month time jump and they would be answered eventually. We even welcomed the Doom Twins, Maya and Alejandro. As jarring as their introduction was, the actors were compelling and if there's one thing "Heroes" excels at, it's family dynamics. But what fans didn't know back then was that the road to "eventually" was going to be agonizingly long, slow and repetitive.

Let's be honest. "Heroes" has never brilliant television. It broke out last year by tapping into the current comic phenomenon and the human desire to be special. Most of its actors are far better than the material they're given. The extremely overlooked Ali Larter, who has come a long way from guest starring on Dawson's Creek and wearing that whip cream bikini in Varsity Blues, is stuck in a tiresome and uninteresting family plot.

In fact, most of the actors are far more interesting than their characters, and the "Heroes World Tour" this summer certainly proved that. With each new photo-op and YouTube posting by Adrian Pasdar, the actors' chemistry and their genuine camaraderie captivated fans more than the actual show. Still, the show itself was an entertaining hour of escapism last season. This year? Not so much so.

Once again, we were forced to watch Claire try to fit in at high school among the cheerleaders (let's leave Hayden the cheerleader to Bring It On: All Or Nothing, okay writers?) and this time they'd taken away sweet, funny Zack and replaced him with the charmless West (any bets on him being a Company plant?). The two lovebirds don't even have any chemistry or humor to balance out their cliché-filled - he literally swept her off her feet - puppy love. At this point, the storyline can only redeem itself by revealing West to be as evil and duplicitous as he seems.

For weeks, we have been forced to watch Maya repeatedly bleed black...blood? When Sylar finally joined them on their road trip to the United States, it seemed like things were finally going to get moving. Instead, I was reminded of why they should have just killed Sylar for good in last season's finale. By bringing back Sylar, a villain that never quite lived up to our hopes in the first place, the writers are capitulating to the fans. It's time to stop holding on to tired safety blankets. In the circle of life one character dies and another one is born, but with "Heroes" there are far too many new faces and not enough old ones being given the boot.

But worst of all, perhaps, is that the show separated some of its best duos: Hiro and Ando and Peter and Nathan. Creator Tim Kring acknowledged to Entertainment Weekly in a mea culpa to the fans that maybe romantic relationships are not a good fit for the show. What Kring fails to realize is that he's already got wonderful relationships of a different sort.

The Petrelli brothers' relationship is one of the most compelling, driven by an excellent performance from Adrian Pasdar. Sure, having Nathan believe that Peter was dead gave Pasdar even more opportunity to shine, but it also resulted in an amnesiac Peter (amnesia, seriously?) having to learn about his powers all over again. Thankfully, as we found out in the Nov. 12 episode, the memory loss wasn't the result of a bump on the head but the work of the underused Haitian.

The show also suffered in the splitting of Ando and Hiro, who bring comedy and earnestness to the show through their friendship. Instead, Hiro was stuck in feudal Japan in a slow moving and transparently obvious storyline. Was there anyone who didn't immediately recognize that Hiro would become the real hero behind the legendary Kensei? And while Masi Oka is great at portraying exuberance and comedy, mooning over a princess is definitely not his forte.

We did get one good thing out of that plot: another delightful and enigmatic performance from David Anders, who also played the delightfully evil, British spy Sark on Alias. His reveal as Adam was truly welcome in that it promises us a lot more of Anders (as a villain, hopefully) and a welcome reunion for Hiro and Ando. Yatta! indeed.

All this spells good news for the future of this season. Adam showed promise of being a worthy Big Bad in last Monday's episode, which finally seemed to move things along. Peter's vision of a virus-stricken New York gave the season a cohesive driving force, at last. The building blocks of the season are finally revealing themselves and instead of just being messily laid out all over the place, they are starting to build up.

The episode also brought back HRG's morally gray side, allowing Jack Coleman to show off his character's complicated colors and willingness to do anything for the family to which he is so deeply devoted. His and Claire's relationship, a great mixture of love and deception, is the third in a trio of non-romantic relationships that shine on the show. With HRG and Coleman's layered performance, you can never really judge who will win out: the Company man or the family man. It's a shame he and Claire were nowhere to be found in this week's episode, "Four Months Ago."

Despite the lack of favorites HRG and Claire in the recent episode "Four Months Ago," it was an entertaining hour. But "Heroes" is always best when it diverges from its usual format in episodes such as "Company Man" and "Five Years Gone." It's the show's go-to narrative device. Next week's return to things as usual in the present time may not be so kind.

The hour brought back Kristen Bell's Elle, too Veronica Mars-like in her first appearance, showing off a different side. With her blond locks and fascinated, child-like play with Peter she resembled a demented china doll. The two - pardon the pun - sparked. Considering that the last person of the opposite sex who sparked with Peter was his niece, Claire, that's good news.

The best sign of hope may be Kring's own acknowledgment of the failures of this season thus far and his willingness to respond to audience and critics' complaints. Although he may wish that he had Hiro's ability to go back in time and have a "do over" this season, there's still the next best thing. After Volume II wraps up on December 3, the beginning of Volume III, the start date of which is unknown due to the writers' strike, will have "a clean slate," Kring tells Entertainment Weekly.

Story by Vlada Gelman
Starpulse.com contributing writer