‘Powers’ Had Exploding Heads And Superhero Hatred In Its Third Episode

Powers has been getting better with each episode, and the third surprisingly largely deals with the show’s main villain, Johnny Royale. It turns out Royale is far more complicated than just another super-powered gangster, and it makes for some fascinating viewing.

The ongoing theme this episode, oddly, is powerlessness, on both a literal and metaphorical level. The episode opens with Triphammer, the Iron Man of this universe, testing a superpower dampener that goes horribly, head-explodingly wrong. And that immediately leads into an accidental death; a minor character who can levitate takes Sway, tries to fly and winds up dead on the roof of a car. Walker actually shows some detective skills; turns out, even if you can fly under your own power, a pilot’s license is a handy thing to have. Crispin, the son of Walker’s former partner, talks bitterly about how powers rampage and kill people with impunity, and no one does anything, before attempting to “make a statement.” Which does not go how he planned, but he does meet Calista.

Largely, though, the episode is about Johnny Royale. At first, he comes off like he’s playing mind games with Calista. Which, to some degree, he is; Royale knows his former friends well enough, and Calista even better, and masterfully plays them off each other. But towards the end of the episode, we get some insight that in his own way, he’s trying to protect Calista from people he sees as dangerous and abusive. It’s some fine work from Noah Taylor, who’s quickly rivaling Sharlto Copley as the best actor on this show.

It all ends with the revelation of where, exactly, Sway comes from and some very, very bad news, which I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, it’s a hell of a cliffhanger.

It’s not a perfect episode; there are one too many plots going on at once, and Calista, as a character, is an annoyingly passive protagonist the show seems to be in love with. But it’s growing into itself quickly; the “superheroes as celebrity” angle has actually taken on more dimension as the show explores how and why people are also afraid of the powers. They’re not celebrities; they’re Greek gods, with all the douchebaggery and apathy towards humanity that implies. One confrontation in particular, where Pilgrim stands up to a power and said power essentially threatens to kill her if she doesn’t defer to him, manages to underline this theme beautifully.

There are a lot of superhero shows on the air right now, and three episodes in, I don’t know that I’d call Powers the best. But increasingly, it’s the most thoughtful approach, one that’s actually interested in what normal people think and feel about gods that fight among them with no consequences for their actions. How will that pay off going forward? The best thing we can say about this show is that we want to find out.