Last night's No Ordinary Family found the Powells chasing after some stolen super-serum, fighting a suddenly superpowered ne'er-do-well, and grappling with collateral damage... while also revealing just how unsettling a supervillain can be when he starts feeling some fatherly love.
Before we get into the rest of this episode, I present my favorite thing about last night's episode, and often the series in general: Stephen Collins's increasingly unhinged performance as the villainous Dr. King, who often seem to put so much effort into maintaining his kindhearted exterior that he forgets to be evil. Collins was in particularly fine form in last night's episode, give a monumentally creepy toast at Joshua and Katie's engagement party, complete with lots of twisted talk about how Joshua is actually his son. If nothing else, Dr. King's weird little wave is worth the price of admission.
Anyway, in last week's recap, I offered a damning view of not so much that particular episode - which was actually decent enough - but of the show as a whole. This show has taken tons of steps in the right direction, but only because it undoes all its progress so many times that there's always room for a fresh round of improvement.
As a regular viewer of this show and someone who actually would quite like it to be good, this constant cycle of betterment and re-crappening (that's a technical term) is immensely frustrating, and more than a little exhausting. It means I spend every episode now patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop, not because I want to see it relapse but because that's all this show has ever shown itself to be capable of.
Well, I'm glad to say that "No Ordinary Proposal" kept up and improved upon the quality of last week's episode, offering some more entertainment and expanded mythology without making the characters too brainless. Briefly, Joshua proposes to Katie, and the Powells throw an engagement party...where somebody steals the super-serum. It turns out to be Daphne's boyfriend Chris, who gives it to his paraplegic dad Ray (Anthony Michael Hall) in the hopes of allowing him to walk again.
The serum works all too well, making Chris's dad super-strong, which gives him the bright idea of smashing ATMs for cash. Jim goes after him, but Ray is even stronger than he is, and a recent accident that left a bystander with a bullet in his chest has Jim afraid to risk any more collateral damage. With a little help from George, Jim uses some boxing finesse to bring down Ray, while Dr. King gives Stephanie some damning information about Joshua - information that makes the Powells realize why Daphne lost her memories a couple months back.
Since this is still No Ordinary Family, there's plenty here that didn't really work. The whole business about an innocent bystander being accidentally wounded by Jim's crime-fighting was so silly and poorly developed that I think even the episode kept forgetting about it — at least until the completely ridiculous revelation that Jim's deflected bullet unearthed a tumor in the victim, which means the bullet actually saved his life.
Also, I might have liked a little more thematic weight behind Anthony Michael Hall's villainy - it seemed like there was room to play around with some potentially interesting ideas as an angry, recovering alcoholic paraplegic got out of his wheelchair and went right back to a life of crime, but it just felt like a bunch of stuff that happened. Oh, and I'm not even getting into the silliness of J.J.'s academic decathlon subplot, because the phrase "J.J.'s academic decathlon subplot" should tell you everything you need to know.
But yes, there was a lot that worked well here. It's taken a little while, but Michael Chiklis has finally found a groove with Jim and is bringing some much-needed darkness to the character - for a moment, I really thought he was capable of punching Joshua's head off. This story had way fewer plot holes than usual - that's an achievement, dammit! - and this episode actually found a way to buy back its great midseason wimp-out by making Daphne's mind-wiping an important plot point.
All in all, it was a decent hour of television, and a couple more like this might actually convince me that No Ordinary Family is worth a second season. (Maybe - I may be a sucker, but I'm not a complete idiot.) But honestly, everything I said last week still stands - for me to remain invested in a TV show, I need to have some faith that the show is actually going somewhere. No Ordinary Family has shattered my trust way too many times for me to be optimistic that the good times will last, but hey...I'm willing to give it another week.