This week's No Ordinary Family was the funniest and the darkest episode the show has produced so far, with sidekick angst and teenage awkwardness contrasted with telekinetic suicide and forced mind-wiping.
"No Ordinary Sidekick" had me fooled. It had seemingly committed to being the light comedy episode - the one-liners were flying fast and furious, and a few of the characters had reverted back to the more one-dimensional caricatures of earlier episodes, the better to serve the jokes. The central conflicts about the sidekicks feeling unappreciated by their bosses felt rather low-key, and you could easily be lulled into thinking this episode was just about the relationships of the characters. And while it does explore that, the final scenes of the episode took things in a much darker direction, ending with the most daring choice the series has made thus far.
But let's start with the story. Jim foils a robbery at a dry cleaners, but George gets caught by the police while cleaning up. Instead of getting in trouble, George is assumed to be the hero responsible for saving the day, leaving Jim feeling a little jealous. Daphne is still suspicious of Katie's new boyfriend - who is secretly Dr. King's telekinetic henchman - but when Stephanie tells Katie about their concerns, Katie assumes the Powells just can't deal with her having her own life.
Meanwhile, J.J. goes in search of people he can relate to, which leads him to the rather aptly named Smart People's Club. (Seriously, that much combined IQ and they couldn't come up with a better name than that? I would have gone with the Prydonian Academy myself.) There he meets a pretty young chess grandmaster, and J.J. discovers his powers don't work when he's distracted by an attractive girl. And, while all this is going on, Stephanie's fired coworker Francis is on the brink of a major discovery about what Dr. King is really up to, but will he live to reveal the secrets? (No. No he will not.)
This episode featured a ton of parallel storytelling. It's a clever way to pack more story into an episode, as both Jim and George's and Stephanie and Katie's "breakup" scenes were able to comment on each other, as was Francis talking over Cordero's realization that Jim had saved him. Considering this is the same show that gave us that nonsensical montage in the football episode, I'm impressed how much smarter No Ordinary Family has gotten with its intercutting, using the technique both to drive home story beats and find additional moments of humor.
This episode had some nice thoughts on what it means to be a sidekick, and it acknowledged the inherently unequal relationships the superpowered Jim and Stephanie are going to have with George and Katie. The opening scene in the bowling alley was a nice touch - sure, J.J. might have just been living up to his potential by using his powers to bowl better, but Stephanie using super-speed to knock over the pins was just brazen cheating. Sure, having powers is liberating, but it can also be just sorta obnoxious to the normal people around you.
George in particular got a lot of great moments here, and I particularly enjoyed his line about the Superman comic where the Man of Steel goes around nabbing jaywalkers. It was nice to see George and Katie stand up for themselves and walk away, and yet equally gratifying to see them reunite with Jim and Stephanie as equals. George really is a born sidekick, particularly as his directions don't require Jim to know how long a meter is.
One of the funniest parts of this episode was considering puberty through the eyes of superpowers. Jim and J.J.'s discussion about thinking about baseball to distract oneself from the pretty girl was a sweet little scene, and Michael Chiklis's had some priceless reactions to the conversation's more graphic details. It was also nice to just see a believable moment between a father and a son, neither festering with angst or drenched with sentimentality. But Kay Panabaker once again had the best line delivery of the night, with her very quick observation that it probably isn't J.J.'s brain that's distracted. It was a refreshingly natural moment for a show that by design doesn't really do much with that type of tone.
But really, all this is a prelude to the Watcher's big reveal(s). The show managed a couple of genuinely surprising moments here, as Dr. Francis had seemingly worked out Stephanie has super speed, only to discover it's a murderous henchman on the other side of the door. As brutal as murdering a cop in the second episode was, the sheer cruelty of how the Watcher killed Francis in this episode was even worse, forcing pills down his throat and then using his own hands to write a fake suicide note.
And even that doesn't compare to what he did to Daphne. I've previously complained the show never puts the Powells in real danger, but having the show's main heavy pin Daphne against a wall and rip out her memories of everything that's happened since the show began will do very nicely. I'm giving it up to No Ordinary Family here - I was stunned by the episode's final twist, and I applaud them for having the guts to do something so drastic to one of the main characters.
Now admittedly, it seems like a pretty dangerous corner they've written themselves into here, and I'm not totally convinced they're going to find a satisfactory way out this decision, but even so...that was a great, genuinely dark ending, made even more so by the fact that so much of what came before in this episode was so light. When this show premiered, I never in a million years would have thought they could pull off a twist like that. I am very happy to be proven wrong.