No Ordinary Family's forgotten episode is shockingly good

Thanks to Dancing with the Stars, the penultimate episode of No Ordinary Family was exiled to Saturday night, all but ensuring that nobody will see it. Which is a real shame, because this might actually be the show's best episode.

"No Ordinary Future" is the first episode I've seen in ages that makes me think this show might actually deserve a second season. Let's just quickly run through the story - Stephanie's new powers allow her to run into the future, where she witnesses her family being hunted by the military, their powers exposed. Back in the present, George and Jim investigate the shooting death of their friend, Detective Cordero, and they soon realize dirty cops are involved. Meanwhile, Daphne deals with her boyfriend Chris's demands to use her powers to improve his life, while Lucy Lawless's Mrs. X revives Rebecca Mader's shapeshifter Victoria to figure out just what's going on with Katie's pregnancy.

I was massively dubious that the show could pull off Stephanie's time travel, but I've got to admit...it more or less works. The mini-apocalypse she sees is suitably chilling - I particularly liked George's self-sacrifice after J.J.'s unbelievable (but predictable) stupidity manages to give away their position - and the resolution in which Stephanie works out how Jim reveals their powers to the world, and then Jim uses that knowledge to avoid their fate, is well-executed. There was nothing revelatory about this, but it was very competently executed, with some nice style to boot.

This episode was also a nice showcase for Kay Panabaker as Daphne, who has quietly turned in some amazing work on this show. The show still skirts around really considering the morality of her telepathic abilities - indeed, the Powells' ultimate decision to mind-wipe Chris seems decidedly immoral, particularly in the wake of their reaction to Joshua doing the exact same thing to Daphne, and the episode seems to just assume it's OK because our designated heroes decided to do it. But leaving that aside, the earlier mini-conflict she has with Chris about her powers does raise a few mildly interesting questions, and Panabaker and Luke Kleintank both do a nice job with the material.

In particular, the final scene where Daphne accidentally wipes Chris of all his memories is very effective, partially because Kleintank does a good job undoing all the character changes we've seen in his stint on the show, but mostly because Panabaker has such a painful look of heartbreak on her face. And I say all this as someone who is usually bored stiff by all the kid-centric plots. Still, the two main plots for this episode were nicely thought through and executed with a certain panache. That's a winning formula as far as I'm concerned.

Don't get me wrong - there's still a lot of things that bug me about this show. George and Jim talk about the murdered Detective Cordero as though he was a great friend of theirs, but we haven't seen him since December. It feels dramatically cheap to bring back this minor character just to kill him off, particularly because our heroes act like he was a crucial part of their lives. And his wife comes across a lot more like a plot contrivance than someone whose husband was just brutally gunned down.

Stephanie remains painfully slow on the uptake, and her decision to keep her future visions to herself because Jim doesn't need the extra stress really doesn't make much sense. I also can't think of a good reason why Dr. King isn't the prime suspect for the person who would tip off the government about the Powells, and yet he's only mentioned once in the entire episode. Speaking of missing the obvious, Daphne really shouldn't be that surprised that Chris completely forgets his time with her - after all, that's what happened to her when Joshua wiped her mind.

And to be sure, there's nothing terribly original about this episode's plot - hell, we've seen more or less the same sort of thing on Heroes, and that is never a comparison superhero shows want to court. The dirty cop story teeters dangerously on the brink of incoherency, and there has to be a better way to kill off George than assassinate him in front of a crowd of dozens of cops.

So yes, if you want to pull this episode apart, you certainly can. Like every other No Ordinary Family episode, it's a mess of logical holes and clumsy plotting. But here's the crucial difference - I don't particularly want to pull it apart, because the hour of television I just watched was more than good enough on its own terms.

I know that some of you have criticized how seriously I take the show, arguing that it's churlish to point out the show's logical problems when really it should be judged more on whether it's enjoyable or not. Part of the reason I can't buy into that argument is that, most of the time, I find that No Ordinary Family's plot contrivances and clumsy characterization far outstrips whatever light entertainment value the show has to offer. But for this week, the show was easily entertaining enough to paper over its faults.

That may sound like a very weak defense of the show, and I suppose it is. But that's the thing - this show has hovered so relentlessly around mediocrity that it's difficult to differentiate between the good and bad episodes. This is not a classic hour of television, and it doesn't even belong in the same conversation as actual examples of superior science fiction television that's on at the moment like Fringe or Doctor Who. That should be a given.

And yet...if I could believe this show was capable of putting together a whole season of episodes as good as "No Ordinary Future", then I'd be legitimately sorry to see it go. By now, that seems a moot point - as I noted last time, the show is as good as cancelled, and there doesn't seem much point in imagining a decent episode aired on TV's worst night is going to do anything to change that.

Still, it's nice to see the show go out with a touch of dignity, with a reminder of what it was capable of when everything (or, at least, enough things) fell together just right. Here's hoping the finale can do as good a job as this episode, and I might actually be able to look back on No Ordinary Family with a touch of fondness.