Broken-Hearted Misfits

Been rather sick since Wednesday of last week, and a visit to a local Celtic fair on a rainy, cold Saturday KO’d me for a few days after. (But so worth it.)

(Also, spoilers, I guess. Mild cheddar spoilers.)

As I lay on my couch wondering when I’d be able to breathe through my nose again and tipping back ginger tea and cough medicine all weekend, I knew I wasn’t up to much reading. Instead I dug into Season One of the BBC’s Misfits, and promptly fell in love. After acquiring the remaining two seasons, I binge-viewed the series to-date in its entirety over the course of three days.

My emotions as I experienced them, in order, as the weekend progressed:

  • S1: Oh, oh my god, oh my god! This is so good! Why didn’t anyone tell me?
  • S2: OH MY GOD. This is the best! More! More!
  • Christmas Special: Uh. Okay …
  • S3: But. You were so good. And things were so great. And then you did this. Why?

I have grown accustomed to the condensed seasons of British television, 6 to 13 episodes that leave precious little room for fluff, and Misfits did not disappoint. Seasons One and Two were pitch perfect. I loved every episode and completely connected with these characters. What really did it for me, though, was when I realized a few episodes in that all the main characters got their powers based on what they wanted most in their life at the time of the storm, before any thought of super powers came into their head.

  • Curtis, the disgraced runner, wanted nothing more than to go back and undo the one mistake he made that brought him to this place, a kid exiled from running and stuck doing community service with a bunch of disgruntled teen fuck-ups. His power, though he can’t control it well, is the ability to travel back in time.
  • Kelly, the one with the mouth and the fiery temper masking a girl who had no self-esteem and suspected people of lying to her all the time, gets the ability to read minds. Much to her fury, she’s right most of the time, but those few times when she’s wrong start to affect her.
  • Simon, so emotionally paralyzed by traumatic experiences with his peers that he just wants to be swallowed up and hide from the world gets the power to become invisible. A full-time nerd, he’s also one of the first to figure out what’s going on.
  • Alisha thinks that if people want her, she has power over them and has flaunted her sexuality to get what she wants, not always successfully. When her power to compel people by touch to desire her manifests, she exalts in it, uses it to rape, but then realizes that it was not the power that she wanted after all.
  • And then there’s Nathan, the kid with the gob that never quits, talking so hard and so fast that he figures he can talk his way out of anything before you can see how vulnerable he is. His power isn’t revealed until the finale of season one, and though it stretches the motif a little bit, his immortality is his desire to be invulnerable come true.

This theory bore out in the other ‘mutants of the week’ that we saw, both in S1 and S2. So besides the fact that we have these very broken and scarred individuals trying to suss out how to use these powers of theirs in ways that would be realistic, we also had this really nifty conceit about wishing for power, and what comes of it when you get it — if it’s even what you though you really wanted. It makes me remember a lecture at Viable Paradise where we talked about what the character wants (i.e., thinks they need) verses what the character actually needs, and how the plot dramatizes this. And the first few seasons really played with this idea, as well as the concept of what it means to be a hero.

And then the Christmas special happened at the end of Season 2, and suddenly they could switch out powers for the right amount of cash. Season 3 followed and while it had some of the same recognizable parts that I loved in the first two seasons, none of them fit the same way anymore. The show had become clumsy, more gag-oriented. And the central conceit was no longer central. The second that super powers became a commodity, the show lost it’s narrative hook for me.

It may have had something to do with losing a cast member. The actor that played Nathan left for other projects, and his replacement, Rudy, seemed very much like a replacement, tonally, and not a new character in his own right. He was loud and obnoxious and rude in the same ways as Nathan, but without any of the charm that Nathan’s character possessed.  My spirits were raised when we got the Kill Hitler episode, based on what at the time felt like a throwaway gag from the S2 Christmas special, but even that plot line fell flat. I knew I had lost my love of the show when I started cooking dinner during one of the Season Three episodes. If I can wander off and just keep my ear on it, bah, it’s done for me.

There is going to be a Season Four, but most of the original cast will be gone at that point and I have to wonder why keep the show going? The original conceit has been ignored, much of the cast and characters we fell in love with are gone, we have had no rhyme or reason for why the storm happened in the first place and no one, either nefarious or governmental (or both), has clued into all this rampant super-powering that’s been going on to really make life difficult for our so-called heroes. What other stories are there left to tell in the Misfit universe if you ignore all the story promises that were made when it began?

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