One of the hallmarks of good superhero-based plotting is interesting twists. Sure, you do the occasional, straightforward good-versus-evil bit, but after a few of those, there's not much point unless the characters do something different. The bad guy has an ace up his sleeve. Something makes the hero sympathize with the villain's personal history. The big fight is just a misunderstanding, and there's an even bigger evil outside. That kind of thing.
By and large, No Ordinary Family's plots have been straight down the middle. Jim tries to be a vigilante but encounters something the briefly causes doubt. Stephanie does some research. JJ tries to manage being super-smart. Daphne has trouble living a normal life with telepathy (most shows have A-plots, B-plots, and maybe C-plots - No Ordinary Family has J-plots, JJ-plots, S-plots, and D-plots.) Yes, tonight's episode shows all of those things again, but by adding the overarching Big Bad plot in a way that it intersects with the other storylines, it manages to make two of those plots far much more interesting than they've been for the rest of the season.
Jim's storyline actually starts off with George, who, alongside his partner-in-prosecution Amy Acker, watches a mob lieutenant named Luca get off scot-free (it's kinda like the opening episode of The Wire!). George tosses some threats at Luca, who looks pointedly at Acker as he acknowledges those threatening threats. Ten minutes later, she's given George a kiss and gotten shot and knocked into critical condition. Fans of Acker ought to know that bad shit goes down after she gets some kisses, so the twists I mentioned above certainly aren't found on this side of the episode. Jim puts on a ski mask to hunt down Luca, which he does successfully, but only after Luca manages to see him being all superheroic and pulls off his ski mask. This leads to Jim and George arguing over what to do as Luca threatens to reveal Jim as Supercop.
Meanwhile, Stephanie's boss, CEO Palpatine, has noticed that she's on the same track as Dr. Volson and gives her a cautionary warning about how he got fired, fled the country, and committed suicide. So she leaves the country to track down his widow, who is both expecting her and tells her that Volson gave himself and herself superpower injections ... that wore off. This is interesting enough, but at the end of the episode, we find out that Palpatine told her to tell Stephanie that story. Stunningly, I was intrigued by the first twist and then legitimately surprised by the second.
JJ's story also ended up intersecting with the Big Bad storyline, but unlike Stephanie's, it wasn't consistently interesting. He's having trouble talking with other people about his supermath, so Stephanie hooks him up with Katie for tutoring sessions. This quickly turns into Katie complaining about online dating, so JJ, in his infinite wisdom, decides to make her feel better by creating a fake profile. The comedy musical cues are particularly unfortunate, and it's clear to viewers and all other characters that this isn't a plan with legs. He panics and accepts a date (from his mom, looking over Katie's shoulder—is this incest week on TV?), which leads to Daphne chewing him out for being a superintelligent moron. It would be yet another example of the show trying to create some silly family/interpersonal drama based on superpowers, except that Watcher, the Vader of the piece, has been ordered to keep an eye on Stephanie, and he shows up as Katie's extremely creepy date. It's a partial redemption for an otherwise pretty painful JJ-plot.
The D-plot is totally divorced from the main storyline, as once again Daphne tries to deal with some minor high school drama. There's a boy she likes, and blah blah blah powers, etc. etc, disappointment and reset button. Of minor interest, the plot is initially instigated by the boy and not Daphne's telepathy. Of major interest, she decides to impress him by learning everything there is to know about modern art, which she does by having JJ do it, then reading his mind. I like it when this show does the superhero team-ups, and this concept can potentially make Daphne's powers much more interesting.
Even without the overarching Big Bad plot connecting three of the stories, they're connected implicitly by this week's theme of extortion. George and Jim's gangster is an extortion artist, and he tries to extort George with his superhero knowledge. JJ complains that Daphne is extorting him to get the art knowledge. CEO Palpatine uses his power to try to bully Stephanie into not following Volson's research.
“No Ordinary Mobster” isn't a terrific episode of television, nor would I go so far as to call it a turning point for the show. But if there is ever a turning point for No Ordinary Family, and people make a list of the necessary first-season episodes to watch that don't suck, this'll be on that list. And to think, all it took was adding the serialized superhero plotline that we all tuned in to watch in the first damn place!
- Stephanie gets ridiculously nerdy and scientific about human behavior. “Okay, I've been hanging out with Katie a bit too much!”
- “OK, work might not be the only reason I'm single.”
- “Unless you think there might be some sort of birthday exemption?” Amy Acker's easy charm is always a welcome sight, and she had good chemistry with Romany Malco. Please join the main cast soon, Amy.
- What's the difference between a ski mask and a costume?
- George questions how easy or not it will be for Luca to identify Jim. Yeah, the guy who looks just like Michael Chiklis—that's a pretty common look.
- “It's like A Beautiful Mind meets Memento.”
- “Don't tell me they come with great responsibilities.”
- Daphne should get angry and tell the truth to her family members more often. That's her more interesting superpower.
- “I was about to whoop this 10-year old ...”
- The Powell's house has seemed kind of quirky visually, but apparently JJ and Daphne have a wall in-between their rooms that functions as a swinging bookshelf? WTF??
- Volson's lying widow tells Stephanie that she and her husband both got superpowers, but this was scripted by Palpatine. So this is apparently an open secret? I could have done with more on this subject.
- Speaking of the overarching serialized plot, we're probably going to need a term for it. Was this a mythology episode? A Big Bad episode? An arc-important episode?