Television shows will always have one leg up on movies due to one simple capability: they can tell stories with long-term consequences. It’s the single greatest strength any show has. Therefore, it’s that much more heartbreaking to see a series wash all those consequences away.
Origins marks a new start for Powers, much like a midseason premiere, but without the resolution and cliffhanger, or the break in between episodes. In some ways this is good, moving the story forward and introducing a fresh mystery for Walker and Pilgrim to solve. But in many ways, the shift comes across as a hurried attempt to shove the first six episodes of the season under a rug.
Finally addressing the fact that a US senator was killed, Powers transitions away from the Retro Girl murder and introduces what will likely be the story arc for the rest of the season: Who killed Senator Brown? Putting aside how implausible it is that a senator could go missing and no one would think to check his office, there’s the added wrinkle of the seeming lack of public interest.
When Retro Girl died, there were heated press conferences, riots in the streets, and the FBI showed up. Simply put, the event received a level of gravity, proportional to its importance. In comparison, Senator Brown’s murder does not even warrant the FBI’s attention, the case instead left to local law enforcement. While this could be a fascinating twist to the absurdist world of Powers, the fact that powers get more attention and are considered a higher priority than public officials is ironic, a concept that the episode never takes the time to play with.
Even without these contradictions, the change in direction is actually indicative of a deeper structural problem in the show’s narrative. Things have not been going well for the detectives of L.A. Powers Division. With both Walker and Pilgrim out of a job, Captain Cross forced out of his own precinct, Pilgrim’s father being brought up on criminal charges, and the FBI running everything, there were a lot of genuinely interesting conflicts developing this season. In the space of only a couple lines of off-hand dialogue near the beginning of this week’s episode however, every single one of those conflicts disappears.
As the new story arc kicks off, not only has the Retro Girl murder case been wrapped up with a neat bow, the FBI are gone, Cross has his precinct back, and Walker and Pilgrim are suddenly no longer fired. With so many of this season’s largest shake-ups suddenly, and effortlessly, reversed, it’s hard not to feel disappointed and cheated. This is just as true solely in regards to Tricia Helfer’s Agent Lange.
The time spent developing Agent Lange and introducing her backstory was some of the best, well-handled material in the entire series. Yet in Origins, Lange and the FBI are unceremoniously removed from the narrative, without even a good-bye scene between her and Walker.
While it’s always possible Lange might return, for the moment we are left wondering after the purpose behind all the effort made in introducing her in the first place. It’s also worth noting that with Lange gone, that now marks the exit of all three fan-favorite actors (Tricia Helfer, Wil Wheaton, and Enrico Colantoni) touted as joining the show for season two.
It’s true, there are still some consequences carried over from earlier in the season, but in both cases, Origins simply does not handle either with enough care to make them engaging. From the opening of the episode, Pilgrim is racked with guilt over Walker’s less-than-legal policing methods when it came to dealing with Conrad. Exactly why she is so upset does not come though until a fair amount into the episode however, and even then the discomfort and outrage feels forced. It goes in direct contradiction of her excellent ‘I would jump off that cliff with you’ speech last week.
Likewise, Origins continues of the story of Zora, Martinez, and now Calista, trying to pick up the mantel Triphammer left for them. Throughout the course of the episode however, one thing becomes painfully obvious: young attractive people getting together to be superheroes and fight evil is not what Powers is about. There are already plenty of shows that do that (all of them happen to be on the CW), and all of them have bigger budgets and a radically different tone.
Powers is a cop drama about normal people doing their best to survive in a world of super powers. The show is at its best when it’s looking at the weird, dark side of superheroes with the marketing, agents, and celebrity aspects of the world. And because of this, everything happening with the three new heroes is incongruent with the rest of the show. Add in Calista’s ever-plunging neckline and the lack of interesting chemistry between Zora and Martinez, and you end up with what is working out to be the the weakest aspect of season two.
All that said, Origins does get a lot of things right. As the name of the episode suggests, it includes an origin story, but it’s certainly not what you would expect. Going all the way back to WWI, Origins explores the backstory of SuperShock. Introducing a strange new antagonist, along with giving us a glimpse of how the world of Powers developed over the past century, the flashbacks throughout the episode do a good job of setting the groundwork. While it’s unfortunate the glimpses of the past could not have gone a bit deeper, showcasing the world as a whole, the tease was still better than nothing, the main priority being to set up the conflict between SuperShock and the new villain.
Taking it a step further, Origins manages some of its best scenes through blending powers into real-world history. This includes watching more than one notable historical figure step into SuperShock’s life.
While the episode alone did deliver a handful of enjoyable scenes, including a quick look at the history of powers, its implications to the season as a whole cannot be ignored. Even as Walker and Pilgrim move on to a refreshing new case and get back to the nitty-gritty of police work, the fallout from everything earlier in the season seems to have disappeared. The shift could lead to something even better in the future, but for now, it’s simply a sudden change, with no real pay off for any of the events or characters the season spent so much time setting up.