As with most Powers episodes, Level 13 is one that I can’t decide if I liked or hated. On the one hand, the writing seems to have improved, probably owing to the fact that this episode was written by Powers‘ creator himself, Brian Michael Bendis. On the other, there’s a massive flaw in the writing that is owed mostly to how the rest of the episodes have set this one up, but let’s step back to where we left off last week’s ending.
We’ve really got two major stories building up. Last week’s culmination was all about the sociopolitical side of the Powers universe and the struggle between ordinary humans and the powers that inhabit the world. It’s a relatable narrative that presents us with a “what if” scenario on broad scale and shows us how powers affect the landscape of the world as we know it. The second story is the one between Walker, Royalle, and Wolfe, and trends towards being less approachable and more aloof of the overall state of the world, which is disappointing when the grand premise is so intriguing.
Forget the Big Story, Let’s Get Personal
So after last week, we saw the results of Krispin’s little civil unrest cause the death of his own mother. Of course he continues to blame Walker and any powers that he lays eyes on, and his compatriot Khaotic Chick is nowhere to be seen even though we’ve heard that she’s in town. The funeral scene is just about the only acknowledgement of this major event that we get (aside from a small conversation between Retro Girl and Walker). Instead, Level 13 barrels over these events in favor of telling the story of Walker and Royalle’s tentative alliance while they seek to kill Wolfe.
And with that, we’re back in the Shaft. Is this the only set they have for Powers? We’ve spent far too much time here, with Wolfe escaping, and then being captured again, and then Walker and Royalle talking to him in his cell. Powers has locked itself in its own prison, and we’ve spent about half of the season in these lifeless concrete halls. The show is in desperate need of moving to a new set, but insists on running circles around the boring, yet familiar.
If it wasn’t following the misguided storytelling of the previous episodes, and if it wasn’t the ninth out of a ten episode season, I would have loved the narrative structure of Level 13. The various flashes to different points in time leading up to Royalle and Walker standing at Wolfe’s cell leave a certain ambiguity to Walker’s true intentions, and the viewer isn’t sure if he is siding with Royalle, helping out the powers division, or simply doing things on his own terms. The twists keep up right until the end, leading to the ultimate conclusion that we all saw coming a mile away, being that there is still the season finale to air.
Trust is Hard to Earn
The problem is that the show hasn’t built a level of trust or sympathy in any of its characters. Walker has been consistently unstable, Royalle is just a sad sack with a cool ability, and the powers division is an inept group of people that can hardly handle the job that they are supposed to be doing. If I cared a little bit more about Walker from the beginning, this episode’s incertitude of questioning his loyalties may have had a bigger impact on me, as it would have the effect of being an intense guessing game for a character you thought you knew. Instead, it furthered the disconnect from the characters that the show has created from the start, and highlighted the avaricious nature of each player.
And Triphammer is still trying to stay relevant by pushing his pointless Black Swan theory that sticks out like an awkward sore thumb. Yup, if Wolfe gets out, shit’s gonna get bad. Nope, we don’t have to think that the idea came from your silly Black Swan projection. Wolfe’s just a bad dude, and people suck. I’m still not entirely sure why this element even has a place other than to provide a forced narrative. Please Triphammer, go home, you’re drunk.
Powers has created a state of mistrust between its main protagonist and the viewer right before the finale. If the previous episodes had given viewers a stronger bond with Walker, this sudden shift would be a jarring and excellent bit of narrative flourish that would further engage the viewer and be the final hook into the finale. As it stands, the show has trampled on its own strong and engaging narratives of the broad effect powers have on the world, while subsequently making me not care about the played out self-engaged natures of the characters involved in their own subservient little story.