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In its first two seasons, the UK series Misfits was a cleverly written, unevenly characterized, and brilliantly acted drama, subversive in how it drew upon and deconstructed common superhero tropes. In its latest season, Misfits remains a remarkable series, but for a wholly different reason: there is no other series I can recall that started so brilliantly, and devolved, in just one season, to such baffling mediocrity.

Created by Howard Overman, Misfits stars five young offenders who develop superpowers after a freak storm. In the first season, they battled probation officers and other superpowered antagonists while coming to terms with their lives and unwanted powers. In the second season, SuperHoodie, a proper masked superhero, appeared. Yet he was revealed to be none other than creepy outcast Simon's (Iwan Rheon) future self, who had traveled in time to save Alisha (Antonia Thomas), the woman he loved. The series then closed with a Christmas special in which the ASBO 5, as the show has dubbed them, seeking to return to their normal lives, sold their superpowers to powerbroker Seth (Matthew McNulty). When Curtis's (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) girlfriend died soon after, and Curtis wasn't able to rewind time and save her, they suffered seller's remorse. Yet their old superpowers had already been traded, and they were forced to choose new ones.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of season three is the reveal of the new superpowers, especially Curtis, who evades getting caught by the cops by turning into a woman, and Kelly (Lauren Socha), shown sitting across a conference table with a suited man. "These are the designs for an intercontinental ballistic missile," the man says. "Yeah mate," Kelly replies. "Check out the propulsion system. It's liquid nitrogen. It's wicked." But the man doesn't believe that Kelly created the design, and calls security to drag her out. "Take your hands off me, you prick," Kelly says, angered and affronted. "I'm a fucking rocket scientist!"

As in previous seasons, the ASBO 5 are forced into community service, and most storylines deal with them either adapting to their new powers, or facing other similarly superpowered people. Yet the faults of the previous seasons—inconsistent and uneven characterization; logic and complexity sacrificed in favor of ratcheting the drama and delivering one-liners; reliance on some racial and gendered stereotypes, especially in depictions of female sexuality—are magnified to an extent that's increasingly difficult to overlook.

The replacement of obnoxious, immature, loud-mouthed Nathan (Robert Sheehan) with obnoxious, immature, loud-mouthed Rudy (Joseph Gilgun) perhaps best exemplifies the problem with this season's character work. "Has anyone heard from Nathan?" Kelly asks near the beginning of episode one. The others inform her that Nathan's in Vegas trying to cheat money out of the casino, which is bound to end badly. And that is it. The new ASBO 5 never mention Nathan again. There's a web-only short called "Vegas, Baby!" that depicts just how badly Nathan's Vegas escapade ends, but as far as season three is concerned, he might as well have never existed, so completely is Rudy slipped into his role. This is also what makes his absence so felt. However compelling Rudy might seem as a character (and I suspect this is at least partly determined by how amusing one finds sex and excrement jokes), he isn't Nathan. And yet the show expects us to forget this fact as completely as its remaining cast of characters has.

Compared to the reaction that other dead or departed characters receive—Nikki (Ruth Negga), Curtis's murdered girlfriend, fails to merit even one line of script—the ASBO 5's thirty second remembrance of Nathan seems gushingly sentimental and sorrowful. It's not just characters from previous seasons who are retconned, but also Curtis's entire character arc over the last two seasons, during which he gradually let go of his bitterness and regret over the sudden, jarring end of his running career following a conviction for drug possession. In season three, he's back to where he began the series, carrying bitterness and anger "like a dark cloud," not over his dead girlfriend or anything else that happened the last two seasons, but over his lost chance at the Olympics. This is especially disappointing because Curtis is given some of the most compelling and entertaining storylines of the season (having to deal as a woman with sexual harrassment, learning to let go of the past by experiencing the joys of lesbian sex), yet it is difficult to care what happens when none of it will matter after the episode has ended.

Simon's storyline suffers the opposite fate, with his beginning as an outcast stalker and pervert completely done away with. In the first season, his actions, which included the murder of one of the gang's probation workers, evoked a mixture of sympathy and horrified fascination, but in the third season this is absent, and Simon becomes much more conventional. Simon had always taken his superpower seriously, displaying none of the casual, bordering on resentful attitude with which the others treated theirs. He was desperate to find a place and reason for his existence, which Misfits portrayed as simultaneously heroic and pathetic. Yet now the show seems to take his superpower just as seriously as Simon does. His storyline—resisting, but ultimately accepting, his tragic destiny—increasingly resembles the standard superhero story. Considering just how much screentime is devoted to this story arc, it makes the entire series seem increasingly formulaic.

Perhaps the only two of the ASBO 5 that don't suffer from inconsistent characterization are Rudy and Alisha. In Alisha's case, it's because she was never given a storyline outside of "fallen woman is redeemed through the love of a good man." In Rudy's case, this will probably be rectified in season four.

The show's setting and worldbuilding also suffer from Swiss cheese syndrome. To describe the Hitler episode this season—in which the only real differences between the Britain of today and one in which Hitler takes over is more surveillance and a tendency for police and military officials to perform Nazi salutes—as being inaccurate is misleading, because it implies a level of baseline realism and internal consistency that don't exist, and becomes less likely with each season.

As in previous seasons, aside from a handful of exceptions, the characters rarely exist outside their community service and occasional reluctant world-saving activities. Most have no visible means of monetary support, no outside network of friends or family. Furthermore, while Misfits has always had a high body count—the gang have killed off their probation workers so many times it's become a running gag (and, like most gags on this show, increasingly unfunny)—the sheer number of casualties this season, and the accompanying lack of investigation from the authorities, requires a staggering suspension of disbelief.

This violence, and the ensuing lack of consequences, coupled with the underlying misogyny of several storylines (most especially those addressing women's sexuality), is another way in which the show has come to resemble conventional superhero stories. Three characters are introduced in the first episode: Rudy and two women. One is characterized by her love of anal sex; the other is a vengeful harpy. Only Rudy survives past the first episode.

Then there's Alisha, the least developed and most problematic character in the show. Her main story arc in the first season, as portrayed in episode three, was a point by point reiteration of the Jezebel stereotype. And although the show never developed her as being much more than an object of desire after that episode, it at least retreated from a narrative resembling a Victorian era morality play on fallen women. Yet with season three, this type of moralizing narrative returns. Apparently, nothing that our protagonists have done up to this point (fights, stabbings, the sheer creepiness of Simon wanting to feel up an unconscious Kelly, etc.) is as horrible as Alisha having had consensual, mutually pleasurable sexual encounters. So she should apologize to Rudy for sleeping with him once and then moving on (though at no point did she ever make him promises), and also to Simon, for having such a horribly slutty past. But never fear, Simon excels at being gracious and forgiving, as a proper modern superhero should, and his love is strong and pure enough to keep Alisha from even thinking of straying again.

The show does provide one exception to this. In its treatment of girl Curtis, and its portrayal of her relationship with another woman, women's sexuality is neither policed nor fetishized. Yet the way that story arc ends, and Curtis's eventual choice of how to deal with his superpower, seem ambivalent at best.

Misfits, which began its run as a clever, subversive parody of the superhero genre, has now, in its third season, turned into an unintentional parody of itself. The writing shows flashes of cleverness, with some hilarious setups. But the jokes are becoming predictable, the subversiveness turning to conventionality, and the most consistent aspect of the worldbuilding and characterization an increasing triteness and lack of consistency. The first two seasons I would recommend, with caveats, to just about anyone. The majority of the last season, I wish I could retcon from my mind as easily as the show retcons itself.

Guria King lives in the US (and occasionally in other places). Sometimes she writes; most often she procrastinates. For more, follow her on Twitter, @guriak.



Guria King lives in the US (and occasionally in other places). Sometimes she writes; most often she procrastinates. For more, follow her on Twitter, @guriak.
5 comments on “Misfits, Season 3”

Your points about lack of plot and character continuity are indisputable, but after three seasons they also strike me as the price of doing business with this show - after the hour-long retcon that was last year's Christmas special, one can surely have no reasonable expectation of continuity from Misfits.
While I agree with you that the series never had much external consistency (though, I do think it had more in the first two seasons than in season 3), I'd argue that in its first two seasons, at least in its treatment of Nathan and Simon, not only was the characterization largely consistent, but also organic in a way rarely seen on scifi action/adventure shows. And in the Christmas Special, there were overall inconsistencies, and Nathan's relationship with Marnie was a stretch (I think largely because it was so rushed), but the characterization of the rest of the cast I still found largely consistent. (Though, it's been some time since I've watched the Christmas Special, so I wonder if I'm misremembering things.)
Without character development - which is really the direction the show should have taken from day one instead of miring itself in superhero mythology - Misfits's premise is played out.
hm. I'm not sure if my disagreement with your conclusion is just in how we're defining terms, or something more substantial. I think Misfits did both character development and superhero mythology very well in the beginning. Part of its initial brilliance was the way it was able to draw upon and work off of superhero mythology without letting its characters become superhero cliches, or most other cliches for that matter. (The way their powers were tied to their personalities, for example, I thought was a good way to further characterization while at the same time subverting the superhero trope of powers being largely random.) And it failed in this season, in my opinion, because it largely stopped being able to do this. So, I don't think the flaw is that it mired itself in superhero mythology, but rather, that it mired itself in superhero mythology and lost its ability to be reflective about it, hence resorting to cliches in most of its main storylines and character development arcs.

Fee

Hi, I too wish to exhibit early-Curtis style powers and stop this season from ever occuring. What has disappointed me most, aside from the flagrant shoehorning of Rudy into Nathan's role (I can't remember ever viewing a season premiere where a new face was given so much airtime over established characters), was the fact that, as you mentioned Guria, the universe of Misfits seems to have shrunk into this one community centre and this one estate, where law does not exist - people can be slaughtered, and no one investigates. The drama of S1 was rooted in the gang's murder being uncovered, and suddenly twenty zombie cheerleaders can be wiped out with no explanation.
Some of the most touching and funny scenes in S1 and 2 were of Nathan's family dynamic with his father (and the episode with his non-superhero brother). Just because Robert Sheehan left, there was no reason not to explore the outer world of the characters further. In Season 3, this was done with new contrivances, such as relationships, but the writers completlely disregarded building context and thus depth to their characters. In Season 2, Simon mentions he has a little sister. What of her, and his family, how does that tie in to his time hopping destiny?
That brings me onto Simon's story, and how it was shortchanged. The reason for the powers was something that kept you hooked, and something that mattered to him. To have this brushed aside as a lover's quest in the final 10mins of the season finale felt rushed and sloppy. Simon learns to scale buildings just to help the Misfits out and save Alisha for a few more months - there's no higher purpose to any of it? Time that could have been spent building to a similar, but logical climax, is instead wasted on storylines about rescuing someone's c#ck. To expect viewers to invest any emotion in that sort of story was too much of an ask, even for loyal fans, (a group in which I formerly classified myself). I hold Seasons 1 and 2 as standalone achievements. I am very much in doubt as to whether I'll be returning for Season 4.

Damien

Thank God!
I stumbled across this review during one of my interenet trawling sessions and have to say how refreshing it is to see someone else who thinks Misfits 3 was a disappointment. The internet is overflowing with gushing praise for the series' daring and 'seamless introduction' of Rudy - I was starting to think I'd been taking crazy pills.
A lot of the points you raise mirror my feelings about the third series exactly:
* The increasingly ridiculous lack-of-response from the police to the enormous body count, not to mention four 'missing' probabtion workers. The show doesn't even bother trying to explain how the gang get away with it anymore - we're just expected to swallow it and move on.
*No character development.
*Uselss powers - the show was never wholly about the powers, of course, but at least they were actually useful. Almost all situations where the powers were used in this series seemed forced.
*Rudy - don't mind the character that much, to be honest. The problem I had was that so many of the scripts were so clearly written for Nathan, and Rudy was just shoehorned in instead. Take the 'rescue the c*ck' episode. Nathan and Simon had been naturally building an awkward friendship over the first two seasons, and the 'buddy comedy' nature of this episode could have worked with those two. Instead we get Simon as an uncomfortable-looking straight man for an idiot he barely knows and somewhat mystifyingly decides to help.
I could go on, but I won't 🙂 Thanks for what feels like a sane view of this series.

Nicole

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Editor's Note: This comment has been disemvowelled. I'm not a big fan of Rudy either, but it's surely possible to express that dislike without resorting to homophobic slurs like "faggot."

Gergo Garay

Great review, I usually had the same thoughts. I actually liked season 3, and I'm glad that it was made, it was also nice that they had the guts to make these controversal episodes (nazi,zombie). However, when I started watching this series I thought that by season 4 it would have a high concept storyline, or just a broader scale maybe, but by now I have to realise iit will never have a "proper" ending, nor any consistency. it will only cast new characters, or new powers instead of trying to find a proper-logical resolution to the inconsistencies or limitations they made for themselves. I don't see much future for that -.-
Thanks again for the great review 😛

 

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