I have a theory that strong thematic content is what makes for “quality” television. When you look at the shows that are generally considered the greatest, they've got a straightforward theme that's announced early, and manifests itself in a variety of different fashions over the show's run. The Wire had its entrenched institutional bureaucracy suppressing individuality and change. The Sopranos had its yearning for a perfect past that never existed. Of critic-beloved shows, perhaps the closest analog to Misfits is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with its central “High school is hell” metaphor.
Misfits doesn't have such an overt theme, and that's one reason I suspect it's not likely to move into big discussions of “quality TV”, although I'd be pretty happy if it did. But it does have some themes under the surface in addition to (or perhaps even contrary to) Nathan's speech in the first series finale. You could, pretty easily, make the argument that it falls under the Buffy/Spider-Man rubric of “With great power comes great responsibility”/Growing Up. But I think there's a deeper, connected issue: Misfits is about learning moderation.
Each character's power is built in a way that is intended to mitigate their worst impulses. Kelly is very concerned about what people think about her, so in knowing, her confusion and misinterpretations are lessened (theoretically). Curtis would exist as nothing but regrets if he didn't know that yeah, even if he could change things, it wouldn't necessarily be better. Simon's shyness would cripple him with anger, if his invisibility wasn't useful. And Alisha's oversexuality might be the most complicated, but I do think it's fair to say that if oversexuality was ever potentially destructive, she was along that path.
Nathan's power doesn't obviously fall into that category, especially as it existed in the first season finale. In this week's episode, however, it takes on a new form, with Nathan able to talk to the reccently deceased. In this case, it's his suddenly-discovered half-brother, who encourages Nathan to reconcile with his father…after he dies. Nathan's behavior with his father isn't necessarily self-destructive, I think, but his defensiveness does get in the way of a reconciliation that he wants but never expects to have happen. Will Nathan be a better person if he gets over his reflexive smartassery? Yeah, probably. Though maybe a little less fun of one.
I do have to wonder why this version of Nathan's power hasn't manifested before. He's had multiple opportunities, with the two probation workers, the former community service partner they had, and most notably, his monologue apology to Ruth in the second episode.
There's also another lesson in morality from the drug use at the dramatic peak of the episode. Nathan's brother Jamie gives everyone an undisclosed drug (probably intended to be ecstasy), which has the effect of reversing their powers. Alisha makes people angry instead of horny. Simon is noticed by everyone instead of ignored. Nathan is potentially mortal. Kelly…well, I have no idea what happened with Kelly, because her accent and the club music made her scene with Nathan almost totally unintelligible. Nathan's new friend, a sexy bartender with the power of ice, completely loses control of her power reversal and explodes, killing herself and Jamie. The drugs here act as secondary push towards moderation – everything our misfits know about their powers is untrustworthy, so they need to use them in moderation, and also not do crazy drugs.
In plot terms, Curtis' power reversal is the most interesting. He flashes to the future where he's wearing a superhero costume, and making out with a girl who's not Alisha. And at the end of the episode, the girl is revealed to be associated with the mysterious masked man who's been stalking the misfits. And Nathan is taking a shit on her bed, too, which always helps matters.
- “I haven't got a brother. I'm a classic example of an only child.”
- “He has lumps. On his testicles.” Simon's been hanging around Nathan too much.
- “Your hair. It's quite big.” “Well I like to give the ladies something to hold onto.” “That's very thoughtful of you.”
- “Why was he in the boot of your car?” “CAUSE HE'S A TWAT!”
- “She's twelve.” “Probably best to leave that a few years, then.”
- “Okay, yes, it'll be a bit awkward at first. But we've all been there.”
- “But you know what they say? Don't fuck a wounded bear!”
- “You want this. Just don't be a dick! I will haunt you for the rest of your life.”
- This episode, and the show overall, are so Nathan-centric that I really can't imagine Misfits without the annoying bastard. It'll be a very different show.