July 9, 2020

Other Space “Powerless” Review | Off the Beaten Path

Alright, so after the incredible high note of Trouble’s Brewing, where does Other Space go in Powerless? The ship is now fully functional; they are fully fueled up, the shields are fully active, and their supplies are plentiful. What then can go wrong? The answer is, naturally, a lot. If the title didn’t tip you off, it will have to do with a power situation. I mean, it wouldn’t be a show without some kind of conflict, no matter if the story is comedic or dramatic. Speaking of conflict, Powerless has me conflicted. Even though this is easily one of the best episodes of Other Space, there’s just stuff here that grinds my gears, and I’ll tell you why.

The Episode Summary

Powerless starts when the Cruiser, finally problem-free and ready to explore, drifts into an interstellar lightning storm and is struck by lightning. This causes the ship to lose all power, with only the emergency generators operating, leaving the Cruiser defenseless and rudderless as it drifts further into the storm. What’s more, if they use any amount of power beyond the emergency power level, the ship risks getting struck by lightning again.

When the lightning strikes, Stewart, Zalian, and Natasha are on the bridge. Finding Natasha to be useless, the power-outage has reduced Natasha to the intelligence of a newborn, Stewart and Zalian try to figure out how to escape the storm without using power. Stewart is at a loss, but Zalian has an old fashioned solution aka Stewart needs to drive the ship manually. Working together, they navigate the storm, with Zalian telling Stewart stories of the old days. Near the edge of the storm, Stewart is forced into a dilemma as a captain; should he escape the storm to help the crew, or should he go further to investigate what looks like an abandoned craft.

Below deck, Karen deals with Michael, Tina, and A.R.T., who collectively ignore her orders. In this case, she orders them to not use power, even though it is incredibly inconvenient for them; Michael’s new robotic leg is useless, Tina’s universal translator is offline so she can only speak and understand Russian, and A.R.T. can’t be obnoxious. Getting fed up with their lack of respect, Karen tells them that the turbulence they’re experiencing is another lightning strike when in reality it is Stewart running tests with the manual controls. Fearing for their lives, Tina and Michael go on a mission to deactivate all electronic devices, and even crew members, to survive.

Lastly, Kent awakens from a nap and finds the ship dark and silent. He quickly realizes what’s happening, and resolves to help bring Natasha back to normal cognitive function, which he does by educating her., bringing her from an infantile mental state to a teenage level of cognitive growth. He then must fend off Tina and Michael, who have taken their crusade against electronics to an almost dogmatic degree, from shutting down Natasha, during which he makes an emotional confession.

My Thoughts

Man, as I said in my intro, Powerless has me conflicted. It’s reminding me of Getting to Know You, but on a higher level. Like, Powerless has enough stuff going for it that would have put this on the level of Trouble’s Brewing if it weren’t for a few small details that just annoys me. It’s kinda disappointing to me, cause if it weren’t for those details Powerless would easily be up there with Trouble’s Brewing, if not even better.

First and foremost of the things I liked about Powerless, the whole premise is fantastic. As I talked about in more detail in my review of Trouble’s Brewing, I prefer an episodic plot structure that has an inciting incident that creates a situation that everyone, even if they are separated, has to deal with. With this in mind, is it honestly a surprise that I immediately gravitated towards the premise of Powerless? As Zalian says about the crew, “power is their favorite”, so everyone dealing without power on the ship creates an interesting backdrop.

Also, this premise is the most inherently dramatic one Other Space has attempted so far. Like, this is something I could easily see being played on a show played for drama (honestly, I bet some Star Trek show has done this plot before). More so than an alien invader or a lack of fuel, being unable to access any kind of power, completely defenseless and unable to do anything, at the risk of death in an environment that necessitates power is unsettling, to say the least. So yeah, I really like the premise and inciting event.

A really good premise though doesn’t mean much if the characters populating the story aren’t utilized effectively, and almost everyone here is on point (I’ll get to the character stuff I wasn’t crazy about in a bit). Consider Stewart and Zalian for example. 

With Zalian, I think this is the first time he’s actively participated in the A-plot (barring The Death of A.R.T., and even then he was more of a side player), and he truly gets to shine here. Up till now, he’s just been the lazy, stoner-adjacent character who was brought on as a legacy hire, but here we see Zalian step up and prove his usefulness, all while still being extremely funny. 

At the same time, Stewart faces not only the toughest situation he’s faced yet but is also challenged on a deeper level. He’s given the opportunity to follow his great passion – namely, to explore the reaches of space – or disregard those dreams for the safety of his crew. While he initially tries to explore, he realizes it’s a bad decision reverse course, which shows he’s not only growing as an individual but as a captain, which I also appreciate.

Below decks, the pairing of Michael and Tina once again proves to be rich with humor. With the duo plus A.R.T. (side note, I’m digging how Michael isn’t getting kicked around perpetually anymore), their emotional journey from generally uncaring to murderous Luddites is as wild as it’s hilarious. I mean, how can you now laugh when Tina turns into a straight-up Russian femme fatale when she murders A.R.T. to bring the power level down? While some might wonder why we’ve gotten Tina and Michael paired up twice in a row, I’m all for it if we get more stuff like this.

So, what then, do I not like about Powerless? I did say it left me conflicted, and for good reason. Namely, there are a couple of smaller things that didn’t sit well with me, from just annoying to straight up infuriating. One of the smaller moments happens during the Stewart-Zalian plot. When they encounter what looks like alien wreckage, Stewart says they should explore it, since it’s evidence of intelligent alien life. My reaction to this was just “Bitch, did you just forgot you met not one, but two motherfucking intelligent aliens only a few days ago?”, and I think it’s warranted. I have, mixed feelings to say the least, with how Other Space has introduced aliens so far. So this, along with the alien that’s been hinted at in the episode stingers since Ted Talks, just feels like Other Space is going to dive back into that same pool, which annoys me to no end.

The plots though that left me annoyed though were the Kent-Natasha plot. Don’t get me wrong, Natasha being rebooted to the intelligence of an infant isn’t in itself a bad idea. What rubbed me the wrong way was how infantilized Natasha was the whole time. Seeing a grown, attractive woman acting like a child made me viscerally uncomfortable in a way I haven’t experienced since seeing Cats. Just thinking about it for this review makes me shudder. Maybe that’s what Feig and Shelby Fero (the credited writer of Powerless) were aiming for this, but I doubt it. Granted, this is a hang up specifically for me, so I won’t hold it against Powerless, especially when Natasha isn’t around all that often.

More so than Natasha’s role in this episode, the thing that rubbed me wrong about this was Kent’s love confession. On paper, this isn’t a bad idea; a questionable human who acts more like a robot and an A.I. that is surprisingly human pairing up romantically makes perfect sense. What I don’t like is just how out of the fucking blue this was. It’s the same thing that plagued the whole romantic tension between Michael and Karen in Ted Talk; we’re told there’s romantic tension, but we never see it until these characters act on it. While I see how the two could have gotten closer while making the wormhole detection system, this whole plotline desperately needed a scene that built this up, cause right now it just feels like a lazy development.

In Conclusion

So after ranting about the positives and the negatives of Powerless, I think you can understand just why this episode has me conflicted. On the bright side, it has stuff going for it, like the premise and the on-point character work, that should have made Powerless straight up the best episode of Other Space. On the other hand, Powerless has issues, both momentary and systematic to Other Space, that keep it from reaching the heights it should otherwise have reached. Here’s hoping the last two episodes (I know, this whole trip has gone by so fast) are at least a bit more consistent.

My Recommendation: Recommend 

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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