The beginning of the end for No Ordinary Family

Last night's No Ordinary Family finally put its characters in mortal danger, featuring unlikely team-ups, minor moral quandaries, cheesy supervillains, and an utterly random Sara Bareilles cameo. Too bad it's already too late.

This episode found Eric Balfour's animal-like supervillain killing off people with powers, which soon enough brings the Powells in his clawed crosshairs. He tries to attack Katie, but he is mysteriously repelled by a sudden burst of telekinetic energy, which makes her wonder whether she has powers. His attack on Stephanie is more successful, and she finds herself at the brink of death until a desperate Jim brings her to Dr. King for help. Meanwhile, J.J. wonders what Mr. Litchfield really wants from his participation in the academic decathlon, and Daphne ditches school with her boyfriend Chris to go to a Sara Bareilles performance.

"No Ordinary Animal" was not a bad hour of television. It also wasn't all that good either, and anyone looking to build an argument for this show's survival would do well to look elsewhere. Indeed, it's hard to watch this episode without feeling the ax of cancellation hanging over it, which at this point seems to be considered pretty much a certainty by cast members and industry experts alike. There's about a 99.9% chance that this was the third-to-last episode of No Ordinary Family we'll ever see, and the show seems content to shuffle good-naturedly to its end.

When the scholars look back on No Ordinary Family in future years - well, it could happen - I propose they divide the show's short life into roughly three eras. The first third was a bunch of awfully written, borderline incoherent episodes that revealed a show without any sense of its own identity. The second era wasn't any more intelligently written, but it was entertaining, and occasionally pretty funny.

And now this final phase is desperate to throw around larger mythology, serialized storytelling, and some minor moral ambiguities, except it's still not nearly well-written enough to pull stuff like that off. It's certainly a better show than what it was, but it's only moved from bad to a shade above mediocre. I'll give it points for improvement, sure, but I'm not going to be weeping when the ax falls on this show.

All of which is to say that I appreciated some of the ideas on display in "No Ordinary Animal", but the execution was just...eh. Chris and Daphne's misuse of her mind-altering abilities raised some interesting ethical questions, but only in theory - the episode itself seemed determined to play it for laughs, with a lazily cursory acknowledgement that this might be wrong. The reluctant team-up between Jim and Dr. King was nicely played, but surely actors of Michael Chiklis and Stephen Collins's caliber could have been given more to do than just standing around looking worried.

Like I said, I appreciate that the show was willing to explore new ideas...but I didn't actually like all of them. Katie's super-pregnancy is, I suppose, an interesting progression for the show's mythology (forgetting for a moment that the show is about to hit a dead end), but the idea of a super-fetus instinctively coming to its mother's rescue is really too stupid for words. (To be fair, there are a couple other possible interpretations that are much less silly, but it's kinda hard to get away from a possibility that colossally dumb, and it's not like the episode rules it out.) I liked Stephanie's final, mysterious disappearance at the end of the episode a bit better, but by this stage I've got a pretty good sense for when the show has bitten off more than it can chew.

As for the performances, there really aren't words to describe the silliness of Eric Balfour's performance. Already handicapped by some awful "animal" special effects and some awful one-liners, Balfour added a gloriously crap southern accent and some of the least convincing attempts to look intimidating I've ever seen, with his super sniffs a particularly ridiculous touch. Honestly, if he wasn't physically so much bigger than the regular cast, he would have been downright comical.

I'll admit to being entertained by his performance, but I kinda doubt my reaction was what Balfour or the creative team was going for. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the big fight scene between Chiklis and Balfour had a plot-hole-filled lead-up, a bunch of bizarrely terrible one-liners, and some highly underwhelming sound effects. None of that is Balfour's fault, of course, but wow...I've rarely seen a show undercut its supposedly terrifying villain quite so thoroughly.

Better served was Lucy Lawless, but then I'm pretty sure she could make the phone book sound sexily menacing at this point. Did her plans or motivations make all that much sense in this episode, particularly if you actually remember what her plot was in last week's episode? Eh, not really, but I'll give the show the benefit of the doubt - always a dicey proposition - and assume she'll have some vaguely coherent master plan take shape in the next couple of episodes. Until then, I'm willing to just mildly enjoy her villainy.

"Mild enjoyment." Yeah, that's pretty much what No Ordinary Family has to offer at this point. And honestly, that's not exactly a bad thing - if this show had gotten to that point faster and hadn't put out some truly terrible episodes while getting there, it might have found enough of an audience to escape cancellation. As it is, though, we find ourselves limping to what is almost certainly the end of the line, and No Ordinary Family really only has itself to blame.

Programming Note: The next episode airs this Saturday, due to Dancing with the Stars. I'll post a recap on Sunday, because I might as well just see this damn thing through to the end, right?