Last night's No Ordinary Family saw the Powells under attack from a shapeshifter who could pretend to be any member of the family. This was an adversary who could be among them at any time - and who had orders to kill. This episode wrapped up long-running plots, expanded the show's mythology, and offered a crazy Jim-on-Jim fight scene...I just wish I still cared.
"No Ordinary Powell" was the episode that, in theory, I'm guessing most people around here were waiting for. The family-centric hijinks were put aside completely and the entire episode was about building mythology and paying off the show's arcs (I use the term loosely). Dr. King now knows that the Powells have powers - oh goodness, I think I just realized why they're called the Powells, and it's the worst pun of all time - and anyway, he dispatches his personal shapeshifter Victoria (Rebecca Mader) to infiltrate the family and learn all their secrets.
While Jim and Stephanie try to deal with the shapeshifter, Daphne and J.J. are off investigating the long ago murder of J.J.'s would-be girlfriend's mom, which is launched by the insanely unbelievable contrivance of Natalie recognizing a barista wearing her mom's old locket. Now, this might be the most ludicrous plot twist I've ever seen, and I've read Great Expectations. Seriously, I need to stop a moment and explain the full ridiculousness of this conceit.
First off, Natalie comes to this coffee shop every day, but she only noticed the locket on the one occasion she's talking to J.J.? And, on a much more basic level, this locket is apparently the one possession of her mother's that went missing after she was murdered, it happens to be totally one-of-a-kind so that there's no chance it's just some other locket...and it happened to be stolen by a barista working at the exact same coffee shop Natalie always visits?
And, on top of all that, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the one thing we learned about Natalie is that she's moved all over the place, bumped from foster home to foster home, which would make it seem pretty improbable that this is her hometown - I honestly suspect the writers just forgot that earlier detail, even if it's not technically a continuity error. Anyway, this all makes the fact that Daphne and J.J. can find the murderer in a single day apparently without even having to use public transportation even more ridiculous.
Am I being unfair in belaboring this point? Honestly, at this stage I'm not even sure it's worth pointing out that No Ordinary Family doesn't pay attention to its plotting - that's just part of the fabric of the show. Of course, that's doubly bad when we have a plot-heavy episode like this, where the characters - such as they are - become subservient to the main story.
This means that, if Victoria doesn't know that Daphne and J.J. have powers, she can just pretend to be Daphne, and then J.J. will helpfully rehash the basic premise of the show for her. It also means that, after Jim gives fake-Stephanie the laziest identity test ever, he will happily volunteer his one weakness to a particular type of lipstick, right down to the specific brand. I would say J.J. and Jim were acting out of character when they did this, but it's worse than that. At this point, I'm not even convinced they have characters, and I've heard them spew reams of exposition for no apparent reason so many times before that it doesn't really seem any more silly that they do it for a supervillain.
My problem is that, at this stage, I'm just not sure I care about what happens to the Powells, and even a superficially decent episode like this just left me cold because of that. They don't feel like characters to me - they just feel like pieces being moved around the board in a phenomenally stupid game of chess. And just when I think I'm being too harsh, along comes the scene where Daphne telepathically learns who the murderer is, and J.J. is still too stupid to realize she wants him to come with her to safety. That might have been meant as a humorous moment, but all I could think was why the hell I've spent so much time watching this family waste my time.
What really kills me is that this show still has some potential. The moment where Jim tells Victoria to leave his family forever actually gave me goosebumps, so good was Michael Chiklis's reading. For just a moment, Jim Powell was gone and, in his place, there was a deeply scary, superpowered man who would do anything to protect his own. (I won't say he read the line like a superpowered Vic Mackey, but yeah...basically.)
There's also the moment where Stephanie has to pretend to flirt with Dr. King right at the end of the episode as part of her incredibly unrealistic plan to impersonate the now dead Victoria. That scene didn't do all that much for me - particularly because this episode seems to have pulled King's attraction for Stephanie out of thin air, with no prior suggestion that that's actually a thing - but Julie Benz's look of horror and degradation after walking away from him was actually quite affecting. It suggested a vulnerability to Stephanie's character that felt far more natural than what we've seen before. These sorts of little moments make me think, if only for a moment, that I'm watching a show with actual characters that I should care about.
Now, I'm not suggesting "No Ordinary Powell" is worthless beyond one line reading and a facial expression. The scene where Jim fights fake-Jim was well done, assuming we weren't supposed to have any idea which Jim was which. In any event, the body double was convincing, and it was well choreographed. And the Watcher had a couple decent moments, as he and Stephanie reached an uneasy agreement over his powers and he revealed the conspiracy is far greater than Dr. King...which would be interesting, I suppose, if this show had a track record of not completely botching the execution of its occasionally interesting ideas.
But still, if you were putting together the showreel of No Ordinary Family's better episodes - again, using the term loosely - I'd definitely include this episode. On balance, yeah, this is a pretty good hour of No Ordinary Family. It certainly has some sizable flaws, but compared to some of the recent clunkers it's a masterpiece. But that's just the problem - unlike (apparently) the show itself, I can't just forget every previous episode and enjoy this on its own goofy terms. I need some consistency, I need some sense that this is headed somewhere interesting with characters I'll be rewarded for investing in.
Sure, "No Ordinary Powell" was, on balance, a step in the right direction for this show. But No Ordinary Family never seems to zig without also finding a way to zag, and I dearly wish I had any reason to think we won't be right back where we started next week.