‘Misfits’ And The Problem Of Assigning Powers

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'Misfits' has failings, including Alisha's powers, but it's a step towards more interesting storytelling.

We’ve talked before about the problem of giving people superpowers that actually bring out interesting things about their personalities, rather than magnifying already obvious things about them. In that vein, I’m curious what people think of Misfits, the British show about young offenders assigned to do community service who end up with superpowers during a lightening strike.

There’s something inherently interesting about empowering people who not only don’t have very much power in society, but who aren’t necessarily very nice people. And there’s something sort of tragic and uncomfortable about some of the ways powers get designated. A decent probation worker gets turned into a murderous zombie. Kelly, who can be unthinkingly aggressive, ends up having to hear everyone’s thoughts. Curtis’ powers are only activated when he feels intense regret, a more direct than usual actualization of the idea that powers are a blessing and a curse. On the other hand, there’s something punitive and uncomfortable about giving Alisha, who behaves somewhat provocatively, a power that essentially involves her getting sexually harassed all of the time.

Still, I think there’s something useful in the show’s assumption that you might not be able to use your powers to do good if you need them simply to get by, or to manage the things that you don’t like about yourself or that make it more difficult for you to assimilate in society. Regressing into a Jack Russell terrier genuinely doesn’t help you do anything in the outside world, but it might be a way of coping with the fact that you’re homeless. There is something sort of contrived about the fact that our five main main characters end up with what Nathan calls “something good, something from the A List,” rather than “those bullshit powers.” It would be funnier and more interesting to have five people bound together by a terrible secret with a range of skills of dubious usability. But I do think whatever its failures, the way Misfits doles out powers is a step in more interesting direction (if not necessarily a more progressive one). The American optimism that superpowers would both be useful and mostly used for good is really genuinely unrealistic. Or as Nathan puts it: “”You lot? Superheroes? But in what kind of fucked up world would that be allowed to happen?…That kind of thing only happens in America. This will fade away.”