Powers, the first and so far only PlayStation Originals show, is back for its second season, premiering with its first three episodes. Just like before, season 2 is free for PS Plus members, every episode available to stream through the PlayStation Store, releasing one a week going forward.
Based on the widely-loved independent comic of the same name by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oemig, Powers takes place in a world where people with superpowers are essentially celebrities, complete with agents and advertising deals. The show follows Christian Walker, a former superhero who lost his powers and became a cop.
When Powers first hit the PSN early last year, it certainly wasn’t the best show around. Even with a solid cast led by District 9’s Shalto Coply, and both of the original comic’s creators executive producing, the show suffered from a clearly restrained budget. Couple the less than spectacular special effects with a few lackluster plotlines and the first season came off as a quirky, interestingly unique, but somewhat flawed creation.
Fast forward to season 2 and some welcome changes have happened behind the scenes. The special effects are improved (on par with most of what’s on television), the overall production value feels higher, and the show charges into its new season with confidence and more of a sense of its own identity than ever before.
Spoilers for season 1 follow. (But not really. The spoiler is literally the name of the first book, and has been in all the promotional material.)
Picking up directly where last season left off, the premiere, “Caracus 1967,” deals with the immediate aftermath of RetroGirl’s murder. While the episode does try to hit on the heavy emotional beats, especially for Walker, a lot of that unfortunately gets pushed to the side.
Immediately, the change of direction for the new season is evident as Powers introduces half a dozen new characters (including one played by Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer) and the focus of the show widens to include a more national perspective. Everything feels bigger and more substantial. The FBI show up, senators chime in, there are discussions of what the president is doing in response to the murder, and there’s a greater emphasis put on the city of Los Angeles as a whole.
Working all of this in, along with setting up the new status quo for all the characters we already had, leaves very little space for the first episode to breath. After an uneven start it does manage to settle into its own pace, quickly revving up on the mystery of who killed RetroGirl.
Leaving the first episode as a quick but effective transition, the second episode, “The Funeral of the Century” sees Powers hit what will hopefully be its new stride. Written by Bendis himself, the second episode delivers on everything that made the first season worth watching, despite its faults. Embracing more of its comic roots, Powers introduces crazy villains, hammers home the superficial side of superhero celebrities, and delves into the media’s approach to disaster. It does all this while giving Walker and Pilgrim some great character moments and throwing in a bit of the sarcastic back-and-forth fans of the books love them for.
And finally, capping off the three-part premiere, “Hell Night” continues the trend by upping the ante and showcasing a city on the absolute edge. Riots, looting, and super powered gangs taking to the streets? Why not? Just as weird and campy as it sounds, Powers makes it work.
Even with a much larger cast of characters, Powers season 2 is already juggling them all better than in the first. Save for a couple that haven’t quite stepped into the spotlight yet, no one feels stagnant or waiting for the next plot point to drop, and everyone is doing something legitimately interesting.
In particular, Kutter, another Powers Division cop that sat in the background for the majority of last season, is front and center, adding another face to the department other than Walker and Pilgrim. While it would be nice to see even more of the other officers fleshed out in the future, seeing him elevated into the main fold is a step in the right direction.
The first episodes of Powers feel like the team sat down and really took the time to think about what worked in the first season and what didn’t. It’s true, not everything hits the mark, but the improvement alone is notable. From the new comic art style opening credits, the post-credits scenes, and even the lonely, deep, jazz-noir soundtrack, Powers seems like it’s found its voice.