Powers S:01 E:05

One ten-round bare knuckle boxing match, surrounded by flashbacks and weird psychic wars, comin’ right up. This tale tunnels in on Wolfe’s character, staying focused compared to some of the more meandering episodes of the series… and ends up strong as a result, with fewer of the more tiresome bits that tend to tag along for the ride. Are you afraid of the Big Bad Wolfe?

Episode Title: Paint It Black
Original Airdate: 3-24-2015

The story follows a pretty simple structure, largely a dust-up with Christian and Wolfe where the weird psychic power link they established through Sway lets them peek into each other’s flashbacks while they slam each other up against walls. It’s through these flashbacks that we get to learn more about Wolfe.

Eddie Izzard still steals the show here, showing both sides of Wolfe… the suave Power-supremacist who stands for individual experience rather than the greater good, and the manic Mortal-Kombat-FX laden people eating monster that desperately wants to be put down. It’s actually that dichotomy which I feel needed more exploration… we repeatedly see him ask to be killed, that he wants to be civilized rather than savage, but while he’s lucid he’s also spewing pro-Powers propaganda that rivals only Magneto for evil-minded racism. How and why exactly does he keep swapping between both viewpoints? The general suggestion is that he’s high on his own supply (and his own ego) but I’m not sure that’s entirely clear or entirely feasible. After his moment of clarity in 1994 during which he stopped his OWN rampage, how can he continue to spout Randian powers-first diatribes? It is a mystery. And not, like, an explorable story mystery, more an issue with the writing.

While he and Christian have their fight, various others show up to interrupt the proceedings… usually right at the cusp of a major breakthrough, because of course they’d interrupt a flashback before it could actually explain anything. Zora, the Powerz Kidz wannabe who somehow signed on with a major publicist, shows up briefly to throw a PlayStation 2 BIOS Loading Screen at Wolfe and then gets smacked around. Triphammer shows up briefly to whack him with spraypainted foam club and then gets smacked around. Retro Girl shows up briefly to do a reasonably well choreographed and brutal fight scene… and then gets smacked around. All these are diversions from the meat of the story, but at last episode’s terrible riff on “Alien” where everybody gets hunted down and killed individually was worse.

In the end… Wolfe is captured, Christian very briefly gets his powers back, Calista and Crispin continue to be annoying and teenaged, Zora gets all the credit but thankfully doesn’t become an egomaniac as a result, Retro Girl shows some vulnerability, Christian shows some compassion, and…

…Johnny does nothing at all. What could’ve been a promising character interaction piffles out, as he simply sneaks away without actually doing anything whatsoever. A damn shame and a missed opportunity, honestly. If they weren’t going to do anything with him after he decided to be a hero again and go try to help, why have him try to help at all? It didn’t seem to ultimately change anything for his character or the plot.

The strong central story carried this episode, even if the points it hit on grew repetitive by the end. It felt like closure on a lot of the backstory mysteries we’ve been dealing with along the way, and that’s quite welcome after the slow burn up to this point. Powers is at its best when it explores the world it’s created around the central conceit (“real superheroes, yo!”) and through that lens, they were able to make the characters work in this more intimate and closed-in story. Everybody has their own relationship to power, and those conflicts drive the best scenes.

Now with Wolfe down and the Sway arc completed, I’m not sure where the series is going next. They seem to be building to Crispin becoming an anti-powers terrorist type, although that’s going to involve the ridiculous forced love triangle, so I’m not warm to the idea. (I realize at this point I’m an old man yelling at a cloud, but I’d like to think even as a teenager I’d find that story tiresome.) Will they come up with a new villain? Will they keep Johnny in the comfortably gray butter zone? Will Christian’s brief fling with power corrupt him? We’ll see next week what new angles they’re going to take as they move into the last half of the series.

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