Give this much to No Ordinary Family: the threat of cancellation has helped it realize the kind of show that it wants to be. And that kind of show is a balls-out, borderline-nonsensical, generic superhero show. Which, I will grant, is by-and-large much better than the first half of the season's generic family drama, although I miss the charismatic sidekicks, as Katie has become a plot device and George has been sidelined to a certain extent. It definitely has more momentum, and is much less of a chore to watch even when it isn't quite firing on all cylinders, but the core issues still remain.
I believe that I've figured out what No Ordinary Family's core narrative issue is – its lack of world-building. Its dependence on GlobalCorp and the magical Amazonian flower for all superpowers mean that it has no established history and no way that it can bring new characters or concepts into the show without either dramatically expanding its mythology or tying everything back together to the main plot and villains. That may sound like a strength, but I think it's a weakness on this show because it means that episodic villains are either cartoonish normal humans, like tonight's “dirty cops,” or directly-connected supervillains. There are no monsters-of-the-week who can actually challenge the superpowered Powells in any kind of casual, fun sense. That sense of play, which the show had in its premiere, is almost totally gone, thanks to the demands of narrative (in)convenience.
That said, tonight's episode managed to bypass this issue by using a clever narrative device. Stephanie, miraculously healed by a double-dose of superserum last week, can suddenly use her speed to travel into the future. Doing this, she can see that government agents are chasing down her family at some point in the future, which she slowly pieces together will take place in two days, based on a public superpower display by Jim in his hunt for dirty cops. It serves as an in-universe sort of “48 Hours Earlier...” in media res opening, and it's one of the more effective uses of this cliché that I've seen.
“No Ordinary Future” may be clever in a formal sense, but its content doesn't quite match up to its structure. Part of the issue is that it feels like it's just throwing a bunch of crap at the wall to see what sticks, which, given that this is apparently the penultimate episode of the season, seems more than a little bit silly. Dirty cops! Time travel! Villain resurrection! A chosen one! Government repression! Some of these work (the dirty cops story works within the episode), some don't (the mustachioed G-man), and some are too early to tell and could go either way (the shapeshifter Victoria's resurrection).
The hyperserialized form the show has taken also doesn't work with the kids, whose presence on the show is still treated like it's a generic teen drama. The family finds out that Daphne has the ability to force her thoughts onto others, and also that she's told Chris about their powers. They browbeat her into erasing his memories in an extremely problematic scene, and the ensuing memory wipe – which includes his memories of their relationship – is given the full singer/songwriter treatment. The various demographic aims of the show – every demographic can like it! - seem somewhat vestigal at this point. It's decided that it's not Dawson's Creek, but occasionally a scene like that says “yes I am! Teen girls love this shit!”
I also find it sadly ironic that after all the angst about whether to use superpowers or not in the first part of the season – and how betrayed the family felt when they discovered that Joshua had torn out Daphne's memories – that they easily started to bully Daphne into using her powers for personal gain. The show's ethical core, such as it is, has always been “family is awesome!” The darker side of this ethos was made apparent with this plot development, as is the concept that the Powells are different and better than everyone else. Even if the show was renewed, I doubt that this would ever come up again. It felt like a moment designed to create pathos, not one with greater meaning.
And that's a bigger issue with No Ordinary Family than the structural one I mentioned earlier: it doesn't mean anything. There are no morals, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens. Sometimes that stuff is cool, like parts of this episode. Sometimes it's not, like other parts of this episode. After a year, the show still begs the question: “What's the point?” Its lack of an answer is a pretty good reason why it's going to be canceled.
- The episode opens with Detective Cordero's goodbye party. Because you remember him, right?
- We did better with the characters not acting like complete morons, but Stephanie's initial refusal to discuss her flash-forward counts as an artificial tension-building mechanism, yes.
- “Was Robin Hood stealing?” “Uh...yeah?”
- Another Angel alum shows up - this time, Linwood. What, no Holland Manners?
- “Marty McFly thought he was fine, too.” Katie seems to have been reduced into a series of nerd references for comedy's sake, instead of the comedic nerd she was earlier. Anyone else feel that way?
- Nobody notices a cop walking through a crowd of other cops, attaching a silencer? Well, Daphne gets a free gun out of it.
- “Just FYI, she hasn't done dishes in like two weeks.”
- Katie's baby will hereafter be known as SuperJesus. Or possible SuperLuke, given his parentage. Kind of the same thing?
- “Congratulations. You're going to be a wonderful mother.” Lucy Lawless' delivery of that line was superb.