This show features violence, gore, swearing, sex, drug use and other content for mature audiences.
Powers is based on a series originally created for Image Comics and now owned by Marvel through their Icon imprint. Set in a world where super-powered people are part and parcel of most aspects of modern life, the story focuses on Detective Christian Walker (Sharlto Copey), a former superhero known as Diamond that lost his abilities after trying to capture his former mentor turned mass-murderer Wolf (Eddie Izzard). Walker now works in the Powers Division of the LAPD, a poorly funded division that is made up of volunteer police officers that take on superpowered villains. When Walker’s partner is killed whilst trying to put a recently captured criminal in a cell, Walker is assigned rookie partner Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward). After the death of a member of his former superhero team, Olympia, Walker comes into contact with wannabe hero Calista Secor (Olesya Rulin) and quickly learns that his former best friend Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor) that affected the prison break of Wolf is still alive. Events are set in motion that will lead to many dead bodies before the action-packed finale.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!!
To begin with, I never read any of the comics. Although I enjoyed the TV adaptation as a whole, Walker strikes me as one the most annoying protagonists. He is a hypocrite, highly judgmental and spends much of his complaining about being helpless when something bad happens, even willing to do risky things in the hope of getting his powers back. Sharlo Copey does a great job of evoking this shallow character whose own misunderstandings of what is going on creates a reasonable share of the conflict in the show.
In comparison, Johnny Royalle, an expert teleporter, is a lot more sympathetic and less shallow. Royalle is just prone to making poor choices that would have been quite different had he had access to certain information. And when he does recognize that he’s made a mistake, it usually results in him trying to rectify the problem. Of course, he is prone to teleporting heads off of people, but they are usually not great people to begin with. I was taken aback when I learned that Noah Taylor was playing the role, but it was a great change from previous clean cut heroes and supporting characters in the past. His role comes a close second to that of Michelle Forbes.
Deena Pilgrim is an odd character. The daughter of the police commander, she is trying to stand on her own rather than follow in the footsteps of her occasionally corrupt father. She specifically requested Walker as her partner because she believes that he can give her insight into how a person with powers thinks. The banter between the two is actually quite funny. She is quite likable as a character. As my introduction to the acting of Susan Heyward, I am quite impressed with the ease at which she makes this character her own.
As for Calista, well she is a pain in the ass. She has some daddy issues because of her upbringing. She is constantly lying and is obsessed with unlocking her latent powers. Her dance between the various sides makes her a difficult character to like, but I am okay with not liking her. Olesya Rulin does a great job of playing an annoying teenager prone to not considering how her behaviour will affect others.
Wolf was a jaw-dropping, genuinely scary character. His tone was dark throughout, moving between willful destruction and homicidal rage. The flashbacks do a great job of showing the progression from respected philosopher and teacher to mass-murderer that eats his victims. We don’t get to see much of him, but what we do see has significant impact on the cast of characters and the world as a whole. Wolf is violent and raw and bloody, a dark intelligence mixed with the capacity to boost his abilities by feeding on his victims. Eddie Izzard has played villains before, but there is something in this particular role that freaked the crap out of me.
Of all of the characters though, I feel the most empathy for Walker’s old flame and superhero Retro Girl (Michelle Forbes). Retro Girl comes off as a little abrupt and controlling initially, but you quickly learn that she is takes the role of hero seriously and feels deep loss whenever she is unable to save people. We also get to see how vulnerable she is in the moments when she is with Walker, a man that she is deeply concerned for now that he no longer has the means to protect himself. Retro Girl is one of a handful of genuine heroes in the series. Though familiar with some of Michelle Forbes’ previous roles, she steps things up a notch with this one. To be honest, I am skeptical as to how many people could play Retro Girl as well as she does. The character just seems made for her.
The horror aspects later on in the first season took me back a bit and showed just what was at risk if Wolf got loose. That threat brings people together and gives them a chance to be heroes. Some of the characters really get their chance to shine, such as Zora. There is also a cost that is paid in the process, but beating the villain feels that much more significant for those losses. It also offers some personal growth for Walker, though his attitude towards his former best friend remains a point of contention even after Johnny’s intervention to stop Wolf in the finale.
Though the series has numerous flaws, it is a show that I enjoyed a lot and I look forward to each new episode. Throughout, we see how complicated things are and the realization that we often don’t see the full picture. The world is a complicated place to live, and Powers does a great job of giving us a glimpse at the length and breadth of human nature.