Monday Morning Critic: Is ‘Powers’ Worth a Playstation Plus Account?
Welcome back to another installment of the Monday Morning Critic. In this space each week, I’ll be looking at the week that was in addition to the week ahead in television. The format will shift each week, as the world of TV will dictate the form and content of each piece.
In this week’s installment: what makes The 100 a continual stand-out this year, and a review of Powers.
The most interesting character dynamic on television is happening in one of the most unlikely places.
To be fair, it’s not unlikely if you’ve been watching The 100 all season, but this is a show that is still far from the radars of most people. I wrote about this show last Fall, as part of my overall praise for what The CW is doing so right this season. (In next week’s column, I’ll add ‘iZombie’ to that network’s win column as well.) But while I really enjoyed that show in early November, it’s taken the proverbial leap in subsequent months, and that has a lot, if not everything, to its depiction of the show’s two haunted leaders: Clarke and Lexa.
I’ve seen The 100 described as ‘Battlestar Babies,’ and I’m definitely guilty of defining this show as the YA version of that recent television masterpiece. But I confidently put this show in the some conversation as Ron Moore’s ‘Battlestar: Galactica’ right now, even while carefully noting that trying to ascertain which show is “better” misses the point. In Clarke/Lexa, The 100 taps into something that makes it incredibly different from most programs of any genre on any network: The almost casual insistence that leadership and strength have absolutely nothing to do with gender and everything to do with backbone.
Take last week’s episode, the first part of the second season’s two-part finale. “Blood Must Have Blood, Part 1” opens with Clarke and Lexa at the center of their respective armies, laying out a dangerous but potentially successful plan that has been an entire season in the making. Not a single person in the room questions their authority, savvy, or centrality. Two girls forged into women through the hardships each has endured unquestionably rule over all within earshot, and not a single person there has a problem with it. That’s not to say these two women are perfect, nor that all is hugs and puppies within the different factions. It’s just that Clarke and Lexa being petite, blonde, and young doesn’t enter into anyone’s minds at all. These two are fierce. These two are strong. These two are leaders. These two deserve to be followed.
Where the true genius of The 100 this season lies in placing actors Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam Carey into the roles traditionally associated with men and then not commenting on this fact at all. It reminds me somewhat of the recent video game Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I’m currently playing, and in which the main counsel has a mixture of men and women making decisions based on merit instead of gender. It’s SO OBVIOUS to those in both worlds that these women have earned their place that even saying something as sexist as, “You are as good a leader as any man,” never even comes close to happening.
And yet, The 100 doesn’t paint Clarke and Lexa as remotely perfect, either. Their decision to not inform their followers of a missile attack from The Mountain Men paints both in a negative light, even if their motives are somewhat understandable. Rather than pillorying them for this decision, those in the show that have subsequently learned about their morally dubious decision have reacted in various ways. Octavia’s trust in Clarke is broken, but Marcus Kane notes that Clarke’s decision is a byproduct of those made on the Ark. The 100 is rife with ripple effects, all of which produce murky, disturbed water in which answers under the surface are impossible to see.
Lexa’s betrayal last week only strengthened my love of this pair. Sure, seeing them kiss the week before felt like the startling yet somewhat inevitable end result of two people that identity with each other so closely. But Lexa’s betrayal didn’t negate that kiss but rather deepen it. That love wasn’t false, and didn’t die when Lexa made her deal with the Mountain Men. Both love and betrayal exist simultaneously, which feels a heck of a lot more realistic that a straight-up heel turn by the leader of The Grounders. That betrayal is as complex as the kiss: The latter is rife with respect and longing that bypasses sexuality in favor of pure recognition of a kinder spirit, and the former takes the acknowledgement of that kiss and suggests that it’s not enough in a world in which survival is far from guaranteed.
I don’t know where the finale for this show is going, but I highly recommend everyone lamenting the lack of complex relationships in television show see what The 100 is doing with this pair. It’s quietly revolutionary in ways it shouldn’t be in 2015. And yet, since so few shows depicts any characters that aren’t middle-aged Caucasian male anti-heroes with this type of nuance, it’s indeed worth celebrating.
In the past, I’ve taken an approach towards pilots that I will occasionally deploy here in the ‘MMC’: The 5 Questions And 500 Words approach. The title pretty much serves as a descriptor: Instead of overloading both you the reader and I the critic with an avalanche of words about all major pilots about to premiere, I’ll cut to the chase as quickly as possible in order to save you time and me some sanity. It’s hopefully a win-win situation. With that in mind, here is another such review.
Powers premieres on March 10 on the Playstation Network with three episodes, and one episode each week thereafter
What’s the elevator pitch on Powers?
Imagine a police procedural in a world in which superheroes and supervillains are part of everyday society. The cops that take on cases involving powered individuals themselves do not have powers, and must rely on instinct and savvy to deal with their overmatched status.
What the heck is the Playstation Network and what channel is it on my dial?
It’s only available through Sony’s website or devices such as the Playstation. Think Hulu/Netflix as the model here, not traditional cable. If you already have a Playstation Plus account (which is available on monthly, three-month, or yearly payment plans), you’ll get access to these episodes for free. If not, they will be available for purchase through the network.
Assuming I don’t have Playstation Plus account, should I get one for this show?
That’s a really tough question, since Sony only made three episodes available for review. The first two episodes are almost stunningly lackluster, even with a cast that includes Sharlto Copley, Michelle Forbes, Eddie Izzard, and Noah Taylor and a concept that’s completely and utterly in my wheelhouse. But the third episode turns a corner in a way that suggests either a one-off happy accident or the show finally delving into its meatier narrative aspects. It’s impossible to tell at this point, which makes my recommendation to plunk down extra cash to see this difficult, especially with no other programs on this network to watch in addition to Powers.
What are those narrative aspects that excited you in three episodes?
This is a show in which everyday people have to deal with superheroes in their midst. This isn’t Heroes, in which the existence of those with powers is covered up. This is a world in which reality shows and trading cards depict epic battles known throughout the world on par with Washington crossing the Delaware River. The freedom and curse that comes with those with special abilities is mirrored by the awe and jealousy inspired in their non-powered counterparts. This is all potent material, yet buried in those first few episodes in a police case so dull I couldn’t be bothered to follow its clues.
Is it wise for yet another party to enter the distribution fray?
Time will tell if Sony’s strategy pays off. But it makes a lot of sense to cater programming to a fanbase ostensibly into genre programming. After all, Microsoft has been trying to make a full-fledged Halo series for a while now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Call Of Duty-inspired show spring up on either Playstation or XBOX One. As an addition to an existing gaming subscription, shows like this become the new type of exclusive content. But just how exclusive these become will be the true marker: If you already have some combination of Netflix/Hulu/Amazon, how many more monthly subscriptions are you willing to pay for? Powers isn’t a subscription seller, but it’s an interesting start in the next phase of episodic distribution.