As the title of the episode suggests, “Shaking the Tree” sees the Powers detectives get down to some actual police work. Considering Walker and Pilgrim are already pretty sure they know who killed Retro Girl (don’t count out the possibility for a twist through), episode 5 is largely concerned with tracking the killer down. Now half way through its second season, the PlayStation Originals show is at a stronger point now overall than it’s ever been. That said, while propelling the season arc forward with a handful of interesting developments, “Shaking the Tree” unfortunately lacks the focus and subtlety that made last week’s episode so riveting.
Where the previous episode, “Stealing Fire,” centered on the FBI and Agent Lange, “Shaking the Tree” spreads itself thin. Jumping between all of the new characters instead of giving them time to really come into their own, episode 5 just doesn’t dive as deeply.
Powers continues the trend of each new character being legitimately fascinating. But without that time to delve into any of the many oddities hinted at for each one, it’s hard to fully appreciate it. As a way of getting around that, we’re instead left with very blunt displays from each character. None more so than Senator Brown.
The episode opens with the senator in a rather compromising position. While the immediate shock value is good for a couple awkward chuckles and certainly plays into the delightful, off-kilter world of Powers as a whole, seeing the same approach used for other characters lost its appeal. The episode handles both Supershock and the newly introduced Conrad Moody with similar amounts of subtlety. By the end, I found myself missing the deft peeling back of narrative layers that defined Lange’s backstory.
This rushed, jarring feeling also pops up in the sudden directional shift for Triphammer’s story arc. Since the beginning, Triphammer has been one of the most interesting characters on Powers. Essentially a damaged, darker, more realistic version of Iron Man, Triphammer has plenty of potential to explore. While the show has only hinted at the murkier depths and conflict at the base of the character, it’s always been there.
Watching the grizzled, aging Triphammer try to put on his armor and go out to help, all while still semi-recruiting Martinez, set up an intriguing contradiction earlier in the season. It would have been nice to actually see that conflict between what he wants to do and what he knows he has to do play out. Instead, at the start of episode 5, the question is brushed aside. Triphammer has made up his mind to train others and its as simple as that.
While this does pave the way for a touching scene between Triphammer and Zora, and a couple of flashy fight scenes, the decision feels sudden. Even worse, the decision feels more like a way to get Zora and Martinez to meet each other, instead of actually fitting within Triphammer’s narrative.
The episode overall kept a quick pace, a fact that worked in favor of the investigation story line, but hurt the new characters. Regardless of that, the pace makes one scene in particular stick out like a sore thumb. Spending time together, Calista and Conrad decide to play some Street Fighter V.
Taking what could have been just a fun nod to PlayStation, the scene stretches on for far too long. As the pair rattles off cringe-worthy ‘look at us and how much fun we’re having playing this game’ dialogue, straight out of a bad E3 demo, we’re treated to long lingering shots of just the PlayStation 4 controllers. Not only does it echo the worst of Calista’s character from season one, as she again spends all her time just having fun with some guy, but every bit of momentum and immersion the episode has going for it also just crumbles.
Beyond those faults however, “Shaking the Tree” does have its highlights, namely when it comes to Walker and Pilgrim. Simply put, it’s enjoyable whenever the two of them actually get to be partners. With both coming together against the FBI, there’s a sense of restrained camaraderie between them that we never got a full taste of in the first season.
Pilgrim in particular gets a chance to shine as her relationship with her father takes center stage. A reoccurring piece of her narrative, Pilgrim’s interactions with her father have never managed to be as interesting as everything else that’s usually going on around her. But that finally changes here as she’s given more to do and work with than in just about any other episode.
“Shaking the Tree” sets up a lot of plot points for a lot of different characters. Come next week, it’s entirely possible all of it will pay off. And, considering some of the events happening, that pay off could be massive. But for now, we’re left with an uneven episode that doesn’t quite hit the right mix of notes that Powers has so far nailed this season.