Santiago Cabrera Santiago Cabrera

What a way to go. Heroes didn't just kill off Isaac Mendez in the April 23 episode: The prophetic artist was crucified atop one of his own paintings by the evil Sylar who then lopped off the poor guy's skull and took his brain. Still, for all its ghoulish gore, this was a profoundly moving exit.

"Isaac stood up to Sylar and went out a hero despite his fears and torment and heroin addiction, and I'm very proud of that," says Santiago Cabrera, who played the troubled heartthrob. "I'm sad to go, but was prepared for it. I always said that if this day came, I'd bow my head in thanks because it's been an amazing ride."

Cabrera says he realized Isaac was on "very tricky moral ground" after he accidentally killed his former lover Simone (Tawny Cypress) in the Feb. 19 episode. He got his walking papers shortly thereafter.

What was with the Christlike demise? (Isaac's hands and feet were pierced by his own paintbrushes.) "It was nothing intentional," Cabrera insists. "It would have been blasphemous to have Isaac's legs together. I think it was meant to be more like a Da Vinci Code kind of pose — an extraordinarily epic way to go out." Seeing himself with his head sliced in half? "It was pretty freaky, actually, but very cool!"

Is Cabrera at least walking away with a painting by Tim Sale, the real-life comic artist who created Isaac's work? "I don't have an original, but we needed to make three copies of the painting of Hiro fighting the dinosaur because George Takei had to rip one up in a scene. I'm hoping to keep one of those."

So why was Isaac sacrificed? "When you have a villain as vicious as Sylar, some characters have to pay the ultimate price," explains Heroes creator Tim Kring. "We've set the bar high as a show that plays truthfully with the audience — and we have to keep delivering on that." Besides, Kring says, we saw this one coming. "We love our shocks and surprises but we also honor our commitments. We showed Isaac dead on the floor way back in Episode 2. Sure, we could have found a way out of that, but it's not our style. We take story seriously."

Cabrera is cool with that. "The entire cast knew going into Heroes that story is king," he says. "There's a whole new season with a whole new concept coming, and Isaac was in the way. Ironically, his ability to see the future was pretty limiting — he had to be in his loft to paint and manifest his power. He never left the building except for that dream sequence where Peter explodes. With a show as sprawling as Heroes, that's a problem."

Adds the actor, "Isaac went out a mystery. He was extremely important to the story of Heroes, but we never knew him very well. In a way, I think that'll help immortalize him."

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