Powers S:01 E:02 & E:03

The Powers saga continues, and I don’t use that word lightly. The pacing is a slow burn, exposing the story little by little, rather than providing neatly encapsulated episodic stories. This time around, fallout from Calista’s falling out shows us how each character reactions to that little encounter, and Johnny makes his move…

Episode Title: Like a Power
Original Airdate: 3-10-2015

When we last left our heroes, non-heroes, and ordinary folk alike, Calista the wannabe Retro Gal fangirl had just jumped off a building in a fit of power-envy based despair. Both she and Christian (failing to save her and endangering himself in the process) are instead saved by Retro Girl… and we’re off to the races to battle for Calista’s soul.

Each character has their own views on who Calista is and what to do with her. Retro Girl, her idol, plays things cool and distanced. She doesn’t want to “hang out” with the girl, and only pretends to believe her bald-faced lie that Christian pushed her off the building so she can dig in a bit deeper and find the truth. Her world is closed off, isolated; a mountain retreat decorated in Retro Girl color branding, ice white and basic red, oddly cold despite the warm colors.

(May I also say that I appreciate the writers NOT falling into the trap of allowing a simple communication breakdown to devolve into a massive issue? Too often the “Idiot Ball” is used as a device to keep people from believing the hero, requiring artificial stupidity that doesn’t suit the characters involved. Instead, Retro Girl absolutely does not take that bait, and quickly sorts through the problem like an adult. It’s refreshing to see.)

Christian, who pushed for her to accept her normalcy — also pushing the show’s main theme that “heroism” and “powers” are not married concepts, that there’s heroism to be found in the ordinary and powers actually make you weak — ended up pushing her away. Almost literally, as in “off a building,” with Calista refusing to accept his truth. While he’s definitely the viewpoint we’re intended to agree with, he doesn’t line up with her daydreams and she can’t accept it.

Lastly there’s Johnny, the one who ultimately wins Calista over. Despite being the villain, he takes on an oddly empathetic and paternal role for the girl. He brings her into his trust, exposes his secrets, offers her an understanding home and promise of the future she craves. Again, Johnny completely steals the show; instead of a lurking villain who simply must be found and punched in the head, he comes right out into the open as a public figure with a Lex Luthor-style ploy which ensures he’ll be around long-term. Legitimacy is a lovely trait in a villain; someone who isn’t entirely wrong, isn’t entirely awful, and cannot be defeated by a simple comic book thwarting. Every minute of Johnny’s arc is an enjoyable romp of manipulation, lies, and actual truths.

There are only two real down notes here. One, there’s a going-nowhere minor subplot involving a disaffected college kid named Crispin who apparently idolizes powers. But did we really need Calista Mark II? He gets about three scenes, which are completely unconnected to anything else in the plot whatsoever and feel like filler material. Here’s where a more episodic approach would’ve helped the show — being able to dedicate a full episode to his arc rather than jamming it into the middle of Calista’s story would’ve helped. As is, it feels… weird. Wrong. Off.

The other issue is the continued unimportance of Deena, the everyman partner. She serves to bridge the worlds of powers and ordinary folks, to push the idea of ordinary heroism as an unpowered cop; she brings Christian down to Earth when he feels frustrated that he can’t fly out and punch Johnny and save the day. But aside from that single moment, she’s window dressing here. I’m waiting and hoping for her to get an arc beyond being merely a background support character for Our Hero Who Is Allergic To Shaving.

Still, all told, Powers is finding its groove now. It stuck to its guns on the choice to embrace a slower paced narrative, and pushed things forward. All the stark flaws of the first episode (the budget, the pedestrian dialogue, bad effects) didn’t cause any real issues here as the story narrowed in on its characters. If you can accept the more casual pacing of the story, the ride it offers is starting to satisfy.

And let’s talk about episode 03 while we’re at it, why not?

Episode Title: Mickey Rooney Cries No More
Original Airdate: 3-10-2015

This is the one where all the plotlines finally converge and crash into each other. Calista, the heart of the series, is being pulled in a three-way tug-of-war between Christian the Justice Guy, Retro Girl the Celebrity Power Player, and Johnny the Sympathetic Drug Czar. Who will she ultimately go with? How will they pull and push? Let’s find out.

After some distractions involving a super powered prison and development of a power-draining green beam which is similar-to-but-legally-distinct-from Kryptonite, the story focuses on the centerpiece of a single encounter with every single character at Johnny’s nightclub. We get to see Christian interacting with his former allies in the hero community, we get to see Johnny’s backstory to dig him deeper in the sympathy hole, and we get to see Retro Girl’s mindset laid bare as she makes a celebrity impact with intention to do harm to Johnny’s reputation. It doesn’t work, but hey, she tried.

Ultimately, Calista goes with Johnny, to no one’s surprise. Retro Girl continues to be cold and aloof, an intimidating presence even with only a single physical altercation on file. Christian and Deena continue to screw up their encounters with Calista, being forceful when they need to be gentle, and gentle when they need to be forceful. The only one she can identify with is the so-called bad guy, because he’s the only one who seems to care about her.

Seeing all the characters finally cross paths feels like a grand payoff, and it’s delivered upon well. Packaging up all three episodes as a single release was smart, as it provides an actual climax for a series that was content to slow-burn until now. Having periodic engagements followed by splitting the characters up again could work in favor of the series.

That’s not to say it ENTIRELY works. Crispin’s subplot continues to go nowhere. Is he a Power fanboy? Does he hate Powers? All he does here is show up, somehow get past the bouncer and into the club despite being a nobody, leave some graffiti behind… and leave with Calista after deep smooches. No doubt his power-hating would-be hacker girlfriend will be thrilled. Obviously what the audience wanted and craved is another damn teen romance love triangle, yes! Aargh. I predict vastly tiresome shoehorned naked demographics grabs with these three, unfortunately.

And again: I need to slag off on Deena. Because again: she’s always doing exactly the wrong thing. When they need to back off, she pushes hard. When they need to push hard, she advocates for backing off. Generally she rolls aggro on powers more often than not, and is always shown as being in the wrong for doing so. She’s a tool for the writers to screw up any given situation. Is it too much to ask for her not to be a living example of what not to do? Can she please get her own victories, her own successes, and be her own character instead of a foil?

Despite these two wobbles, this episode satisfies as it delivers a few “Finally!” moments across the board. I’m growing to love this series, now that the characters are growing on me. It’s got room for improvement, it’s hardly the second coming of Breaking Bad that the producers want you to think it is, but there’s not much like it out there and it does what it sets out to do.


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