The biggest problem with serialized storytelling isn’t that it’s too easy to make mistakes. Mistakes happen over years of building a story. No, the problems really get bad when a show lets a mistake take over.
My go-to example for this is Battlestar Galactica (I’ll avoid direct spoilers). Its mistake: In the pilot, there’s a half-thrown away line about how there are 12 Cylon models. At a certain point in the series, the series comes to a point where it has revealed seven different Cylons, and events lead to a point where there’s no reason that every model shouldn’t have been shown. At this point the producers had a choice: Explain that the “12 models” line wasn’t important, or add a new storyline to explain where those last five were. The show chose the latter, doubling down on it and turning the “Final Five” into the centerpiece of the show’s story from then on, much to its detriment.
Misfits’ original serialization sin, as it were, is introducing “Superhoodie” at the end of its first season and turning him into the central character/mystery of the second season’s main plot. On the one hand, it was hard to complain too much, as the episodes featuring Future Simon tended to also be many of the best of the show. On the other, it set up a plot that requires a specific kind of resolution, which has caused problems since. They’ve been somewhat minor problems up until now, but the apparent need for a resolution has hung over the show ominously, leading inexorably to an episode that’s disappointing out of necessity.
That disappointing episode was this episode.
A super-powered medium brings back ghosts with unresolved business, which is something of an issue at the community centre. The first two probation workers, Tony and Sally, each show up, as does Rachel, the hyper-Christian brainwasher from the first season’s finale. Sally believes she wants revenge and manipulates Simon once again into treating her nicely, which she records and uses to sabotage his relationship with Alisha. It turns out, though, that she’s not back for revenge; she’s back for love, as is Tony. Their reconciliation is downright sweet, if a bit contrived to give two pseudo-villains a chance at redemption.
Rachel, on the other hand, comes back looking for a party. After discovering that there is no God following her death, she wants to drink and smoke and fuck and cuss like a real girl. She does, but it doesn’t resolve her ghostliness. A chance remark from Rudy makes her believe that she’s back for revenge – she is! – and she attacks with a razor.
I have a certain amount of respect for this storyline, conceptually, for two reasons. First, the switch between Sally’s quest for revenge being dark but turning sweet, and Rachel’s quest to be a real girl starting funny and sweet but turning dark is the kind of thing Misfits excels at doing.
Second, both storylines deal with the recurring theme of consequences for the kids. As I’ve noted a few times, Misfits works best when viewed as a celebration of the excesses of young adulthood that also encourage kids become grown-ups. And in a sense, this episode dealt directly with that. The characters make jokes about stacking probation workers like cordwood, but it’s rare that they have to deal with the consequences after the end of the episode. Tony calls them out on it, and Alisha makes the entirely valid, if near-sighted, point that they’ve just been surviving whatever shit has been thrown at them.
Yet survival in this world does mean pissing people off or killing them. Rachel’s vengeance takes the form of Alisha getting her throat slashed, and dying in Simon’s arms. And this, this just doesn’t work.
Despite the apparent thematic strength of the episode, it’s crippled by the need to resolve the time travel narrative. Alisha’s death loses impact because it seems mechanical. We need Simon to become Superhoodie. So he does. Everything else is intended to lead to this moment, which seems necessary, because the show has pointed in that direction for two seasons now. But it’s not necessary. The time travel didn’t have to be that way. Alisha even presented alternatives earlier in the season. But the show had to deal with that mistake. Or so it thought.
I will grant that part of my feeling that this episode was mechanical and forced came from the knowledge that the actors playing both Simon and Alisha were leaving the show, so it was expected. But that’s certainly not all of it. I watched the climactic death of a major character at the end of the third season of The Wire before watching the entire show, and if anything, that knowledge added to my enjoyment of the show because it developed that character’s tragedy so well.
I’d also make the argument that, even aside from the content and the ending, this was a weaker episode than most. It built tension primarily from Sally’s manipulation of Simon, but we’ve seen this before. It’s just a slow burn of awkwardness. Usually the show manages to work around plots that don’t entirely work by keeping a steady stream of humor going, but even that’s low-key here. We just see Sally staring at Simon as creepy music plays, over and over, with a few gags involving Rachel’s hedonism.
The big question at the end of the episode, though, is “How does Misfits move forward after this?” To a certain extent, as with the likewise-weak second season finale, it needed to make all these changes to improve. The original powers had to go. The Superhoodie plot had to be resolved. With that done, there’s room to move on. At least two new character slots have opened up, and hopefully, they’ll be used for more than just the fairly straightforward swap of Nathan for Rudy. The community service storyline has largely worn itself out, as the show’s continued references to its probation worker issue indicates. If Misfits is going to improve and be ready for the long haul, it has the chance. It just took some pain to get there.
- Two minutes of Previouslies. That’s inauspicious.
- “First time it happened it was this kid who drowned in a lake. Spooky little fucker, scared the shit out of me.”
- The use of Simon’s camera is a callback to the almost entirely forgotten video-taping aspect of his personality, which was so important in the first season.
- Nice to see Nathan again. Would this episode have been better with him? Almost certainly yes, since it’s him that Rachel needed the most revenge upon, let alone his manic energy.