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Powers S1.04 "Devil In A Garbage Bag" review

Alas poor J Mace, we hardly knew ye beyond a pair of silhouetted legs and doomed shriek.

The hapless convict is the final course of the Wolfe’s portable smorgasbord. Picking up right where we left off last week, the crazy super-cannibal is out-and-about in Powers-jail The Shaft.

So this week it’s PowersAlien episode as Walker, Pilgrim, Captain Cross, Harley "Trip Hammer" and some faceless Wolfe-fodder enter the dimly lit corridors of Level 9 with the vain hope of bundling the supervillain back into his cell and letting Trip Hammers’ Drainer do its work.

The atmospherics among the flickering gloom are some of the show’s most satisfying action sequences to date, also shedding a little more light on its characters and where the story is going… but elsewhere reminds us why Powers hasn’t yet gelled into something more compelling, more powerful.

And tonight’s players are dealing with what it is to be without powers. The Wolfe has his own high-protein take on regaining his strength, and there’s a giddy Jackson-esque joy to be had when he leaves his victims as a lawnmower splatter up the walls.

Following the entrails is Pilgrim and Walker, the latter of which, in a near-suicidal attempt to regain his abilities and tackle the monster that stole his skills, necks some power-boosting drug Sway. Instead this turns Walker into a fountain of vomit and exposition: he’s riddled with guilt over not killing his former mentor when he had the chance – opting for fame instead of justice.

But could there still be a little sumthin' sumthin' left in Christian Walker somewhere? Those red eyes suggest maybe the Wolfe didn’t absorb everything. His anticlimactic reunion with his old teacher – a confrontation addled by Sway and the brain-fried Wolfe’s mind-melding - suggests there’s a lot more history to come.

There’s Trip Hammer and Captain Cross, in the slow lane to becoming this season’s Big Bads we’d reckon, who are planning to even humanity’s playing field with their Drainer superweapon. When faced with living under capricious superstar gods, they’ve decided to surreptitiously clip their wings: in this secret civil war, the humans will strike first.

Expert Talking Head

Dr Jeffrey Vise, the Wolfe expert dishing out advice on the news. “He’d be strong enough to rip through those gates like they were tin foil.” In summary, we’re all going to die. Have a nice day.

And then there’s Johnny Royalle, who this week wins a pair of GOB Bluth Awards For Error Assessment. He’s been using the Wolfe’s ability to harness powers as the basis for his designer drug, his own attempt to democratise powers: rather than pull everyone down to earth, he’s going to let them all take flight. However, mining the Wolfe’s grey matter for the drug has inadvertently built up the lunatic’s healing skills, effectively giving him a "get out of Shaft free" card.

But just like his old pal Walker, the chain-smoking Johnny’s refused to put the Wolfe out of his bloody misery before when he had the chance. When Johnny finally decides to step up – or is that transport in? – and go back to kill the monster he’s unleashed (again), he accidentally finds himself trapped in the Drainer with nothing to do but wait to be found – but who by?

It’s safe to say that the episode’s at its best when it’s in stuck in the Shaft’s winding passageways with the Wolfe at its heels – it’s fun, fast and ferociously bloody, mining that Alien and Doom tension for all it’s worth.

Outside however, things are floundering. Zora is going nowhere; the Krispin plot – the grieving son determined to somehow leave his vengeful mark on the Powers – is not boiling; Retro Girl is neutered after last week’s PR balls up – there are too many players on the pitch at the moment, and not enough of them are doing anything interesting with the ball: this entertainment Drainer often leaves Powers looking decidedly powerless.

The worst offender, though, is the Johnny/Calista sub-plot. It’s interesting on paper – the villain genuinely caring for the waify wannabe, bonded by a shared history of abusive dads – but not popping on screen dramatically. Their scenes are stilted and the usually awesome Noah Taylor and his distracting accent is woefully miscast: after four episodes, I’m hoping the character is about to become a Royale With Cheese, and Johnny’s heartfelt U-turn on doing the right thing should hopefully seal his fate.

Having gotten off to a limping start, Powers is still not hitting its stride. And under pressure from a force even more brutally carnivorous than the Wolfe – viewer numbers - this could mean that this potential-packed show could be danger of getting entrailed a bit too soon.

A bit like poor J Mace.

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Top Celeb Endorsement

Christian "Diamond" Walker’s last endorsement was for Trojan. Because ordinary isn’t sexy.

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"Accent" Of The Week

We’ll stick with hat-trick hero Noah Taylor, only as we can’t work out what the hell Eddie Izzard’s doing with his voice. It could be excellent for all we know.

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Line Of The Week

“So we’re portion control.” The SWAT team is made to understand why they can’t operate in numbers around an energy-hungry Wolfe.

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Least Reassuring Comment

The Wolfe shorts the floor level’s power supply. How will that affect the claustrophobic corridors, Mr Trip Hammer? “Generally darker” Thanks.

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Red Shirt-Spotting

The "getting-back-on-the-dating-horse" single guy? Dead. Though at no point in police school do they suggest turning your back at the exact moment you’re opening a door while looking for a serial-killing supervillain. Fail.

Powers is available on Sony's PlayStation Network.

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WriterCharlie Huston
DirectorDavid Petrarca
The one whereThe Wolfe is let loose in jail

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Available platformsTV