Heroes ratings plummet. Do you even care anymore?

Remember "Save the cheerleader. Save the world"? It was Heroes' first season, and and people loved it. More than 16 million of them. I was one of those people, and Heroes could do no wrong in that first season.

Well, I would have liked a bit more of a battle to save New York in the finale between the heroes and Sylar, but you can't have everything.

After watching the fourth-season premiere of "Volume Five: Redemption," I realized the roller-coaster ride the Heroes' writers have put me on. I mean, think back where the show first really went wrong, in "Volume Two: Generations" with the long trip from Mexico with the annoying brother-and-sister team, Alejandro and Maya. I have to admit I wanted Sylar to kill them both. And I barely remember Monica, the New Orleans chick who could mimic people's actions perfectly. Hiro got stuck in the past, and Peter forgot who he was.

And I didn't really care about the Shanti virus story. A virus is just not as cool as the thought of blowing up New York. I think we all thought it was a good idea to take a break thanks to the writers' strike that year and completely avoid the planned third volume, "Exodus," which would have dealt with the virus.

But then I got excited again in season three. I mean, a volume called "Villains" with Sylar back in real form sounded great. Imagine the possibilities. There was a new Bigger Bad, and it was Nathan and Peter's own dad, Arthur. And for a little while I loved it all over again. Although it was a little creepy when future Claire told future Peter that she'd always loved him. She's his niece, for Pete's sake.

Somewhere along the way, though, during "Villains," Heroes stopped feeling like it was about real superheroes. It's not that the writers didn't try, but the magic from season one never quite returned. And when Nathan suddenly turned against his own and became the bad guy for "Volume Four: Fugitives," I realized Heroes had completely gone off the rails again. What were they thinking turning Nathan into the bad guy? Seriously!

There were moments in "Fugitives" I liked, and I have to admit the ending with Sylar killing Nathan and then being forced to become him by Matt blew me away. Unfortunately, the roller-coaster ride of Heroes has taken its toll. Only 6 million of us watched Monday's two-episode premiere, the kicker on a sad but continuing erosion of ratings through the seasons.

I would have loved for "Volume Five: Redemption" to be the true redemption Heroes needs to get some of its viewers back. But that doesn't look like it's going to happen. The first hour of the premiere, "Orientation," moved at an agonizingly slow pace as we caught up again with all the characters, who seem not to be that far from where they were in season one, with Claire struggling to be normal, Nathan battling his nature, HRG being conflicted about work, Matt's worry that his wife is cheating on him, Niki's struggles (which are now Tracy's struggles) with her dark side, and Peter and Hiro's desire to be heroes.

The best of things certainly seem to be the cool new villain in carny master Samuel, played by Robert Knepper, and his main henchman, played by Star Wars' Ray Park, who has lightning speed and some really big knives. And thank God Hiro and Ando are back to add some comic relief to the too-serious events. Without them and their plan for Dial a Hero, the premiere wouldn't be much fun at all. And then there's Super Peter, saving lives as a paramedic with his super powers ... Although couldn't Super Peter just stop time and save people that way? I'm just saying.

Still, for every cool thing, there's a worrisome turn:

  • I had thought the whole Nathan/Sylar thing would give writers some juicy material, but it seems the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of it has more to do with Matt/Sylar since Sylar has taken up residence in Matt's brain, forcing him to act like a lunatic.

  • Tracy comes back for revenge and ends up bonding a little too weirdly with HRG.

  • Danko, an intriguing villain from last season, was killed off too quickly, without a satisfying end to the character. Creator Tim Kring ... you could have done better.

  • Claire's in college now and feeling out of place, but could she stop moping already? She's in college and indestructible. And then her irritating roomie jumps, is pushed or falls from their dorm room window, which should be a good thing. Instead there's a mystery to be solved. Most college kids would just ask for another room. But not our Claire. She takes a header out the window, and, what a shock, someone sees her not die. Maybe Claire should go to her classes and get that college education rather than try to solve murders. Being indestructible leads to only so many types of jobs, and not many of them are appealing.

  • Mohinder is missing. Okay, actually I don't find that worrisome. Since the whole creepy Fly incident in "Villains," the once promising character has been ruined for me, and the thought of him popping up again is worrisome.

    I find myself in the situation of Entertainment Weekly's Marc Bernardin. "I've invested four bloody years in Heroes, at the very least, I need to see how it ends," he wrote. "At this point, it's become a matter of pride. I am, however, pretty sure I'll spend much of the show's remaining life shaking my fist at the TV."

    And so it goes. My love/hate relationship with Heroes continues. I love Hiro and Ando and HRG and Peter (although I wish he was sweet, as he was in season one) and Claire (although I wish she would stop whining and start saving the world again). I'm even fond of Matt and the Haitian. I love some of the wonderful places Tim Kring has taken me with these Heroes. And I love to hate Sylar (although he's beginning to look like Mr. Spock to me).

    I know there will also be plenty to make me unhappy this season as well, and I imagine, like Mr. Bernardin, my fists will get a workout. However, since I'm sure this will be the last season for Heroes, I'm just hoping Mr. Kring takes us out on a high note so that final episode pays off in a big enough way to make me be glad I stuck by the show that, if nothing else, has given me one hell of a ride.

    What do you think? Do you still care about Heroes?