Tomorrow People had a shaky start, but has been steadily improving week by week. But last night's episode was probably the first time this show could legitimately claim to be great, rather than just watchable. Here are all the fist-pumping "fuck yeah" moments in last night's episode.
One thought that kept going through my mind as I watched "Things Fall Apart" was, this show finally isn't pulling quite so many punches. Thank god. And also, the greater emphasis on Stephen's family reminded me a bit of what I used to love about Kyle XY, the old "paranormal teen boy" soap opera from Tomorrow People producer Julie Plec. But also, this episode actually packed some surprises that I didn't see coming a mile away.
The show still has some problems, to be sure. How the mutants' telepathic abilities work keeps changing from week to week. The rules appear to be inconsistent in general, in terms of what you can get away with and how. Ultra is still an incompetent organization that seems as though you could probably steal their lunch while they were in the middle of eating it.
But the characters are so much sharper, and the show is starting to take more risks with them.
In "Things Fall Apart," Stephen quits Ultra after they tried to kill his friend Astrid — but then the Founder offers a deal: If Stephen gets back the Founder's daughter Cassie, a mega-powerful Breakout who's robbing banks, the Founder will let Astrid off the hook. Stephen captures Cassie, but then it turns out she wants to lose her powers, and she was the victim of some sadistic Ultra experiments — so Cara decides to hang on to her. At last, John hands Cassie over to save Stephen, but the Founder still decides to kill Astrid.
In the middle of all this, there are a number of really nice character turns. John is suddenly less of a saint, who supports Cara's newfound leadership no matter what — in fact, he's a bit of a dick in a totally believable way, questioning Cara's decisions and disobeying her. He wants her back as his girlfriend, but he also wants to be able to do his own thing. (And the show offers a few sops to us Jastrid shippers, too.)
Cara, meanwhile, is less and less the quivering oversensitive telepath she was portrayed as early on. She's actually a good leader, who thinks strategically, and she's actually right about there being more to the Cassie situation than meets the eye. When John finally says he won't just obey her orders and she might as well just throw him out of the underground lair now — and she does just that — I cheered. Finally, someone showing some backbone around here.
Stephen, meanwhile, is starting to loosen up, especially as he lets go of just a tad of the "chosen one" messianic baggage. The scenes where he tries to "seduce" Carrie so he can capture her are sort of hilariously inept — and it's a relief that she knows what's going on and isn't actually taken in by his smooth moves. But he's starting to feel more like a genuine person and less like a giant grumpy baby.
Meanwhile, one of the big fakeouts in the episode is that you think the Founder is cutting his daughter endless slack, much the way Jedikiah is doing for Stephen — but instead, the Founder is doing sadistic insane invasive experiments on her in a secret lab, and implanting false memories of being a student at Brown University to cover it up. (Insert your own joke about how going to Brown is actually like sadistic lab-rat torment.) This is good both because it reduces the sense that Ultra is a club where family members and cronies get carte blanche and the extreme vigilance is only for outsiders, and also because the more evil Ultra appears, the more the main characters' struggle seems relevant and not just like a big morally relativistic squabble.
Oh, and I liked the idea of inserting a port into Stephen's brain so that the Founder could interface directly and read his thoughts without any interference — it's a logical extension of the tech we've seen before. I was only disappointed the Founder didn't carry on with the procedure after his daughter miraculously turned up — I mean, why not?
And Jedikiah, for his part, takes a few baby steps from seeming like a pathetic middle manager caught between the Founder and his underlings — he seems slightly more as though he's in a power struggle with the Founder, or at least playing his own long game. Maybe some of that is just me paying too much attention to Mark Pellegrino's masterful sarcasm-acting.
But really the episode belongs to Stephen's mom Marla, and to a lesser extent his brother Luka. They've been the most neglected members of the show's supporting cast, and at times the show hasn't seemed to know what to do with them in the midst of all the mutant-on-mutant action. But this time around, they feel more integrated into the story — especially Marla, who is pissed about Astrid being missing and on Stephen's case about his endless lies and weirdness.
When Marla goes to Jedikiah's office and bitches him out and promises to put him in a world of hurt if anything happens to Stephen or Astrid, I honestly thought it would be the most fist-pumping awesome scene in the episode. And then later, Marla makes Stephen A) confess that he's in out of his depth (which he absolutely is), B) do a ridiculous/wonderful "iron triangle" mantra about the family sticking together. And I thought THAT was probably going to be the most awesome moment in the episode.
But at the episode's end, when the Founder (predictably) reneges on his deal to spare Astrid if Stephen hands over the Founder's daughter, the show does a really good job of tricking you into thinking that Stephen's mom has met the fate of all parental figures in standard "coming of age" dramas — dying in a hail of bullets. And then it turns out that Marla actually has had superpowers all along — which makes me slightly sad that she doesn't just get to be a tough-as-nails human who makes all the super-mutants pay attention, but still thrilled that this show is turning its "human mom was all at sea when her mutant husband left her with mutant kids to raise" storyline on its head. Lovely stuff.
Oh, and Stephen thinks that Luka's big secret is that he's manifesting superpowers too — but apparently his big secret is that he's got a bong. Yay. I kind of hope Luka stays the one human in the family, especially now that Marla has vacated that role.
The one complaint about this episode is that the whole "Astrid living among the mutants" set-up, which could have been milked for so much hilarious insanity, basically gets zilch. It slips through the cracks. All Astrid does is whine about why she wants to go home — which is understandable, but still disappointing.
Still, all in all, Tomorrow People is finally becoming a worthy companion for its fellow Wednesday-night show Arrow. Let's hope this is the start of something.