That is more like it. I'm not going to go and declare that this is an episode that stands with the very best episodes of Misfits, but I wouldn't wince at it being put next to them.
The critical element that this fourth episode has that the first few episodes did not is that it hits the show's main themes hard—that the characters are becoming functional human beings. It would be trite to frame it all as “lessons,” but there is an element of that: Nathan learns a bit of empathy, Simon stands up for himself and becomes a hero, Alisha learns vulnerability, Rudy learns that sex isn't everything, Jess learns the limits of her mistrust, and, uh, Kelly shags a monkey (well, technically, it was a gorilla). Misfits isn't just some after-school special with cursing, so I don't want to go overboard with saying that learning lessons is the only component of the show that matters for it to be good. It may be necessary, but it's not sufficient.
It's important to have that strong thematic element, because otherwise it's just a bunch of stuff that happens. Without a reason to give a damn, this is just a funny supernatural soap. And I can thoroughly enjoy some supernatural soap operas, don't get me wrong. But Misfits is generally smarter and more meaningful than your average supernatural soap. That's in large part because these characters are strong enough that watching them struggle to become decent people is powerful on its own, and made ridiculously entertaining by the jokes and absurdity. But in order to remain strong characters, they have to change, or at least legitimately threaten to change.
“Episode Four” is Rudy's big growing up episode. We've seen him start considering people other than himself as one of his major changes, but he still has the remarkably poor impulse control that he wants to define as “who he is,” as with groping Abbey last week. When Rudy Two shows up as a senile old man, Rudy's first impulse is to be as half-assed about taking care of him as possible. But after Rudy Two gets locked in a storeroom, Jess manages to shame Rudy into being a responsible person.
This could easily backfire—being responsible isn't really great television, especially when it's a chaotic character like Rudy being asked to make a change. But it works here because, well, Karla Crome. Whatever she's selling, I'm interested—she's just that good. And it works for Rudy as well, which makes the first time since their potential pairing was introduced that I felt invested.
Another reason the storyline works at a character level is because it makes sense that over time Rudy would be emotionally beaten into seeing things from Rudy Two's perspective. His initial reaction to meeting people who only know of him through Rudy Two's complaints is violent rejection, but after it happens a few times—and after people say that Rudy Two is a good friend—he moves to “Rudy One's just misunderstood,” and then when it matters, he just accepts the role of “good person” that everyone expects to give Rudy Two.
There are a few things that prevent “Episode Four” from being really fantastic, though, and they're directly related to what makes it strong. It may go too far in the whole “teaching a lesson” thing. Rudy pretty much immediately turns conveniently responsible, and that's demonstrated in a quick montage, amusing primarily for how unexpectedly cliché it is. And it's another Rudy-learns-a-lesson episode, which we've been seeing for two-and-a-half seasons now. True, Rudy has a lot of lessons to learn, and true, Joe Gilgun is great in the role. But he doesn't really have to be the star of the show.
Finally, the story of what happened to Rudy Two itself felt a little too trifling and repetitive. The show's second-ever episode, with Nathan and Ruth, was likewise about the storm giving an old person the chance to become young again, and what they did about that. But Ruth was both likable and tragic—which made Nathan's rejection of her all the more painful, and his partial acceptance at the end more meaningful. The old man in this episode, who'd switched ages with Rudy Two, is merely given enough motivation for the story to work, but we don't really get any meaning out of him. Still, this is definitely the best episode of the season so far. Four more like this and I'll be quite happy with the final season.
- Fashion alerts! Abbey's braid in the bar at the opening was pretty great. Finn's pink shoes at the Power Support Group… maybe not quite so great.
- “It's just… scum. Sick, inhuman scum.” “We kill people. Frequently.” The supporting players had good stuff to work with. Alex as the amoral conscience of the group remains great.
- “I'll let him… fill you in… on the details.” And if Finn's going to be a little jerk, him being a funny mostly harmless little jerk is a great role for the actor.
- “What's the matter? Cat got your tongue? Ahhh! Ahhh! Schew.”
- “Use your power, Alex. Help people. Be a superhero. Fuck the tortoise, Alex.” Abbey falling for the tortoise hero just because is lovely.
- “Well she's had to miss Finn out, hasn't she, no one can knit that fucking small can they?”
- “I'm an electrician.” Talk about an obvious power!
- The sepia tones used whenever the episode's villain was around, and in the retirement home, were an interesting stylistic touch. Made it unclear if there was some form of time travel or the like going on.
- “I don't like the snooker.” “You ungrateful fucker!” “Nah, I'm only kidding, you did great.”