After a decent season premiere and a lovely character piece last week, episode 3 is another character driven story. And this time around, the focus is on Simon and his strange destiny, which formed the background arc of series 2.
Warning: There will be spoilers in the following, not just for this episode, but also for seasons 1 and 2!
Simon, as anyone who has seen the previous seasons will remember, is destined to become the superheroic “man in the mask” and travel back in time to sacrifice his life saving Alisha from certain death. That’s not really a destiny anybody should have to live with, and if Simon had any sense at all, he would run away fast. Away from Thamesmead, away from Alisha, away from superpowers and superhero costumes. Alas, sense is not something that the Misfits kids have a whole lot of (though Simon is probably the smartest of the bunch) and so Simon not just doesn’t run away from his destiny, he embraces it. Of course, the fact that his destiny also happens to involve a beautiful girl who loves him considerably sweetens the pot.
At the beginning of this episode, we see Simon in full costume, practicing the impressive parcour skills of his superhero persona. He’s getting better at it, too, since this is the first time we have seen him practicing that he actually makes all the jumps and doesn’t stumble or fall. Simon is just about to finish his training session, when he hears voices. A young man is being mugged by one of the many lowlives that prowl the concrete jungle that is Thamesmead without ever getting caught by the police, probably because the police are too busy chasing mostly harmless teens.
Realizing that this is his chance to actually do something heroic, Simon jumps into the fray and promptly gets his arse kicked by the mugger. As a bonus, the mugger also stomps on his hand. But while Simon may be down, he is far from finished. He fights back and finally succeeds in chasing off the mugger. The young man Simon saves is not just grateful, he is also awed at having met a real superhero and asks if he can take a photo. But while he searches for his mobile phone, Simon jumps from the railing of the walkway where the mugging occurred and is gone.
I’ve always liked the fact that Simon’s superhero skills are the result of hard work and near psychotic persistence – his power (which isn’t even seen in this episode) is actually non-physical. I also like that he isn’t invulnerable. He can be and often is hurt (e.g. he is wounded by flying shrapnel while saving Nathan from the exploding car in season 2). Simon doesn’t win because he’s invulnerable or the best fighter around – he wins because he doesn’t give up. And his persistence is already evident long before he turns himself into a superhero. Just look at his fight with Sally, the villainous probation worker who seduced and then betrayed him, back in season 1. Sally hits him, repeatedly, kicks him and wounds him, but Simon never stops, he always fights back.
Simon is thrilled that all his superhero training is finally paying off and that he actually managed to save someone. Alisha, on the other hand, is far less thrilled that her boyfriend has come home bruised and bleeding (again) and actually seems happy about that, too. Nor does she want Simon to fully turn into his future superhero self, because that means he will leave her to travel back in time and die.
It was clear from the moment the storyline was introduced that the fact that at some unspecified time in the future, Simon will have to travel back in time and sacrifice his own life to save Alisha’s would be hanging like the sword of Damocles over the heads of the young couple. Interestingly though it is Simon who embraces his destiny, even though it will cost him his life, while Alisha whose life was saved wants nothing to do with it.
If you’ve followed the series from the beginning, however, it is obvious why they feel like they do. The Simon we meet in series 1 of Misfits is a deeply troubled and unhappy young man. He’s an outcast and former bullying victim who has no job, no prospects, no friends, a cold and uncaring family, no girlfriend and zero sexual experience. He repeatedly states that doing community service and picking up litter is the happiest time of his life (which is in itself heartbreaking, because this is a smart kid who should have a better life than he has). By the start of series 3, he has a purpose in life, a flat of his own, friends who respect him and a girlfriend who loves him. It is really no surprise that he views an early death as an acceptable trade-off for finally getting to be happy.
On the other hand, Alisha is the sort of person who is used to getting what she wants. And what she wants is boys, sex, parties and drinking. It’s no surprise that Alisha ended up community service for repeated drunk driving – she simply thinks that the rules do not apply to her. Her sexual irresistability power was a big blow to her, because it left her unable to get what she wanted most and also caused her to rethink her life. But now Alisha has everything she ever wanted, a boyfriend who loves her as the person she is and who would do anything for her and who is – as she quite bluntly puts it – “the best shag she ever had” – and good friends and a flat of her own. She’s not going to give that up without a fight.
Of course, there are ways around Simon’s destiny of traveling into the past and giving his life for Alisha’s. Any perceptive viewer will have noticed a possible way out or two – and that’s if we accept that future Simon was really telling the whole truth to Alisha. For all we know he might have been lying.
Alisha, meanwhile, has a very unique perspective on the sword of Damocles hanging over her relationship. She obviously didn’t die in the past and is safe from harm in the present, so there is no need for Simon to travel back in time to save her, no matter what Terminator says. Yes, they actually reference Terminator – for the second time, in fact – and it’s clear that Simon still hasn’t persuaded Alisha to watch the film with him. And it will be very interesting to see if the grandfather paradox really doesn’t apply in Misfits.
Another complication to the already very complicated relationship between Simon and Alisha is that Simon – mistakenly, as it turns out – assumes that Alisha loved his future self a lot more than she’ll ever love him. Indeed, he even says as much in the Christmas episode. So it’s rather obvious that he tries to do everything to become his superheroic future self and therefore become worthy of Alisha’s love. It was also clear that Simon would have to learn sooner or later that he doesn’t need to be a superhero to be loved.
And of course, it wasn’t the superheroics at all that made Alisha fall for Simon, which becomes very clear in this episode. Because looking back at season 2, Alisha doesn’t show much interest in the man with the mask – though he is obviously showing off his somersaults in front of her – until she finds out that he can touch her without being affected by her powers. That’s the moment she takes notice and tries to find out more about him. And given that Alisha’s original power left her unable to touch any male – which must have been particularly hard for her, considering that sex is obviously very important to her – it’s no surprise that she would be intrigued by someone who is able to touch her without repercussions. But what really makes Alisha fall for Simon is that he or rather his future self turns out to be a very skilled and considerate lover. Yes, it wasn’t the superheroics at all that won Alisha over – though I do suspect that she rather likes the hunky muscles of future Simon (They did a really good job of keeping the fact that Iwan Rheon has muscles hidden for one and a half seasons BTW) – it was the sex or rather the fact that Simon actually considered her pleasure as well as his own, which is more than can be said for the sort of guy Alisha slept with previously.
Indeed, Alisha even says at one point that Simon is “the best shag she ever had”, much to the consternation of Curtis, who still hasn’t gotten over last week’s revelation that his skills as a lover are far less than he thought, and Rudy, who feels compelled to inform Alisha that he is more experienced by now and actually has control over his ejaculate (“Yeah, they all say that and then you’ve got cum all over your face and in your hair”, Kelly remarks). So that’s why Alisha pretty much ignored Rudy the next morning and never gave him a second look. And can I just say how awesome I find it that a TV show aimed at young viewers actually tells teenaged boys how important it is when having sex to make sure that their partners enjoy the experience, too.
But even though Simon and Alisha are obviously very much in love, their relationship is sorely tested in this episode. Because the next day in the community centre, Shaun, the sleazy probation worker, has arranged what he calls “some preventive intervention bullshit”. Basically, our heroes are supposed to talk to some other teenagers who have committed offenses that are not quite at the community service level yet and, in the words of Shaun, “They’ll tell you how they fucked up and then you’ll tell them not to fuck up again, so they won’t become as big fuck-ups as you.” Yeah, Shaun is once again his charming self.
One of the preventive intervention teens turns out to be none other than Peter, the boy Simon saved from the mugging the day before. Peter, it turns out, is also harbouring under the misperception that girls want heroes, so he stole a girl’s handbag and planned to give it back to her and pretend he caught the thief, so she would like him. Kelly tells him, “Don’t go round stealing other people’s handbags.”, while Simon says nothing, at least not in public.
However, when Simon runs into Peter again in the men’s toilet at the community centre, he does give Peter a little pep talk that it won’t always be like this, that things will get better and that Peter will find a girl who likes him and that he doesn’t have to steal handbags. It’s actually a very sweet moment, except that Simon said something while rescuing Peter (the man in the mask usually doesn’t speak) and that Peter recognizes his rather distinctive voice. He also notices Simon’s bandaged hand and puts two and two together. Peter is quite enthusiastic about finally having met a real life superhero and invites Simon to a beer. Simon, however, declines and tells Peter it’s best to forget he ever saw him.
And while Simon and Peter are still staring in shock at each other, Rudy happens to come in and draws the completely wrong conclusions. There are two boys in the loo and they are staring at each other or rather at each other’s penises (though Peter is really staring at Simon’s bandaged hand), hence this means they must be gay. And Rudy being Rudy, he can’t help but tease Simon with that (of course, Rudy is jealous, cause Simon got the girl Rudy wanted). Simon emphatically denies that he is gay, but Rudy still can’t resist telling Alisha at the next opportunity (who reacts by hitting him).
Though in the end the whole “I knew it. You’re gay” moment tells us more about Rudy than it tells us about Simon or Peter or Alisha. Because Rudy’s obsession with the supposed sexual confusion and gayness of other people, his inept and aggressive attempts to seduce any female with a pulse, his anal sex fixation all suggest that someone really is gay in Misfits and it’s not Simon. Finally, let’s not forget that in the very first scene that we meet him, Rudy 2 accuses Rudy 1 of having had gay feelings for a classmate. Yup, they actually spell it out for us. Rudy is gay and so deep in the closet that he cannot even admit the truth to himself. Which actually made a character I didn’t care about at all a whole lot more interesting all of a sudden.
That said, I actually did like the scene where Rudy 2 examining himself for cancer signs in the locker room (apparently, Rudy 2 is also the embodiment of that little voice that tells you that you have a serious disease and are probably going to die), when Shaun comes in and catches Rudy split in two. Rudy 1 pretends that he and Rudy 2 are identical twins who sometimes switch who does community service. “This isn’t a job share”, Shaun says, “Whoever does the crime, does the time”, whereupon Rudy 1 launches into one of his nonsensical rambles about conjoined twins. Shaun being Shaun, he really can’t be arsed to do anything about Rudy and his alleged twin switching who does community service. “Just make sure one of you turns up”, he says.
While I’m still having a hard time warming up to Rudy, I really find myself liking Seth to my own surprise. Which stuns me, because Seth wasn’t a likable character when he was introduced in the Christmas episode. Besides, he is a drug dealer – well, former drug dealer – and I despise drug dealers. But then one of the things Misfits does very well is take stereotypes – the smooth and ice-cold drug dealer in this case – and turn them into human beings. And so I actually felt sorry for Seth when he was sitting in the bar, crying into his gin tonic, until Kelly attempted to cheer him up and got him to buy her “some of that expensive French lager”, which she downs in a single draft when she has to leave prematurely. The story of Seth’s dead girlfriend who died because she overdosed on drugs he had given her was very touching as well and also explains the photo we saw him staring at in the first episode and the cemetery visit last week. And of course, we also get more great chemistry between Seth and Kelly.
But the focus of the episode is still Simon’s strange relationship with Peter, the boy he rescued. Because Peter – who is suffering from an intense case of hero worship – is initially quite dejected that Simon didn’t want anything more to do with him. We see Peter in his room, drawing. Turns out that he is not just a big comic fan – he also draws them. And the characters in Peter’s comics look very familiar.
The next day, Peter is hanging around the community centre again and this time Simon does accept his offer of a beer. They end up talking comics on the roof of the community centre. And at the end of that conversation, Simon asks Peter, “Do you want to be my best friend?” It’s an odd moment. Not that Simon – who’s the resident geek, after all – wouldn’t be happy to finally find someone who knows what he’s talking about. But the “Do you want my best friend?” line sounds like something an elementary school kid would say, not an approx. 19-year-old, not even one as socially awkward as Simon, whose first attempt at asking out Alisha involved the question “Do you like food?”.
The mystery behind the stilted dialogue in a series that is actually known for its zinging dialogue is solved, when we get a closer look at Peter’s drawings and see that he has actually drawn the entire encounter with Simon, including the awkward dialogue.
Yes, this episode is actually Misfits‘ take on the hoary old plot of the comic book that can foretell the future. It’s a fairly common trope and was used by The Avengers in the mid 1960s, Remington Steel in the 1980s and most recently Heroes. Though unlike the Heroes example, Peter doesn’t draw future events, he uses his drawings to manipulate real.
At first, Peter is quite content hanging out with Simon and talking comics. Alisha, however, is not quite so happy that Simon would prefer hanging out with his new friend to being with her, especially since – as she strongly implies, even though she takes it back at once – Simon doesn’t have any other friends than the Misfits gang. Things come to a head, when Simon takes a very impressed Peter back to his lair (which Alisha prefers to call their flat) and tells him about his future destiny. Peter predictably finds the fact that Simon has a future self and a destiny incredibly cool, while Alisha is angry that Simon has told Peter the whole story of the man with the mask, when they had agreed to keep that private. Yes, it turns out that Kelly and Curtis (and presumably Nathan) still don’t know the true identity of the man with the mask, which even causes some problems down the line. It seems a strange choice – after all, they are very good friends by now. But then Simon is a rather private person who usually handles his problems on his own. After all, he didn’t tell anybody that he killed evil probation worker Sally from season 1 either – they only found out when they stumbled on Simon trying to dispose of the body. And while Alisha doesn’t strike me as the sort of person to keep a secret for long, she never tells anybody of her involvement with the man with the mask either.
Apparently, Simon and Alisha had some make-up sex, because Alisha is happily making breakfast for them, when Simon tells her in very stilted lines that he must terminate their relationship and face his destiny alone and that one day she will understand that he did it all for her. We don’t even need to see the drawings (though we do), the awful dialogue
alone tells us that this is once more Peter’s work. Alan Moore he certainly is not. Though his art style seems familiar. I’m almost certain that whoever has done Peter’s drawings, it’s a comic artist whose work I’ve read before. I can’t place who it might be, though.
Simon stalks off, presumably to hang out with Peter, while a distraught Alisha cries her heart out on Kelly’s shoulder. She also hits Rudy, when he decides to share his “He’s gay” observation, which shows how troubled she is, because unlike Kelly, Alisha does not normally get physically violent. Though Rudy can be damn infuriating.
However, Alisha is not so distraught that she doesn’t guess who’s behind Simon’s sudden decision to break up with her. And so she confronts Peter in the community centre and gets a smug “Superheroes and girlfriends don’t mix. Live with it.” comment from him, which makes me wonder what comics Peter has read. Because quite a few superheroes have girl- or boyfriends, some even are married and have children. Of course, recent reboots of the Marvel and DC universes may well have reset a few of those committed superhero relationships, e.g. I know that Marvel erased Spider-Man’s and Mary Jane’s marriage after almost twenty years and a daughter. Still, unless Peter reads only Green Lantern and Daredevil, both of whom have horrid luck with relationships, the whole “superheroes can’t have girlfriends” comment really doesn’t hold true. But then I strongly suspect that Peter is the sort of comic fan who will complain that a comic book with a few panels of romantic interaction is turning into a soap opera and/or Harlequin romance. If he watches Doctor Who (Come on. You just know that he does), he’s likely one of those fans who complain about all the soapy relationship stuff in the new series.
During her confrontation with Peter, Alisha manages to grab hold of his sketchbook. A few drawings fall out and Alisha sees that Peter has drawn Simon. “Are you obsessed with him or something?” she demands. She does have a point there, for Simon certainly seems to be a magnet for attracting disturbed and obsessive people. There’s Sally, the evil probation worker from season 1, who befriends and seduces Simon to get him to turn on his friends. There’s the shapeshifter girl from season 2 who almost gets Simon arrested for killing probation worker Sally, so he can be with her in the psychiatric clinic where she lives. And while Jessica, the girl to whom Simon lost his virginity, turns out to be normal, her father is an obsessed stalker who murders any boy who looks at his daughter the wrong way. And now there’s Peter, the obsessive comic fanboy. For someone who’s so quiet and shy, Simon certain has a knack for attracting the wrong people.
It’s also interesting how many Misfits stories are about manipulation in some way. There’s the girl who uses her mind manipulation powers to get the youth of Thamesmead to join her US-style chastity and virtue movement in the season 1 finale, there’s the superpowered tattoo artist whose tattoos control whoever wears them, there’s the fake “Jesus” who uses superpowers to get people to worship him (and women to have sex with him). Even Sally, the evil female probation worker, is manipulative as hell and she doesn’t even need superpowers. A bit of insight into human psychology is sufficient for her (unlike the current probation worker Shaun, Sally actually is fairly competent in her job).
After the confrontation with Alisha, Peter picks up his drawings and runs off. The scene cuts to Peter at home, drawing furiously. Meanwhile, Alisha is convinced that Peter has somehow manipulated Simon into breaking up with her, though she isn’t quite sure how. She also gets the rest of the Misfits gang to confront Peter and “persuade” him to leave Simon alone, interrupting Kelly’s heart to heart with Seth over a pint of expensive French lager in the process.
Seeing the kids work together also demonstrates how far they have come since the beginning of the show, when Nathan couldn’t persuade anybody to provide backup and help him tell his mother’s latest boyfriend to get lost. Indeed, we don’t really see them working together until the very last episode of the first series and even in season 2, they’re still likely to wander off or go up against a villain alone (which gets all of them nearly killed during the confrontation with the milk guy). This time, however, they all go to confront Peter together and even Rudy comes along, though he hasn’t known them all for very long. I also like how they tend to use Curtis as intimidation and muscle in these confrontations – playing into the stereotype of the dangerous young black man – when Curtis is actually quite harmless, while Kelly and Simon are a lot more dangerous.
On his own, the rather scrawny Peter probably wouldn’t have stood a chance against four very determined Misfits. However, Peter has a plan – and he isn’t alone either. Because once the kids have chased him into one of dead-end underpasses that seem to be depressingly common in the architectural nightmare that is Thamesmead, who suddenly shows up but Simon in full superhero regalia. Curtis and Kelly are quite pleased to see the man in the mask again – after all, he’s always helped them – while Rudy gets a quick explanation about what’s going on. Interestingly, this is also the point where it turns out that Curtis and Kelly don’t know that Simon is (or rather was) the man in the mask. I had assumed that they knew (and Nathan, too), since we see them hanging out in Simon’s lair. But apparently, Simon and Alisha decided to keep this particular secret to themselves. Which turns out to be a problem (but then, not trusting your friends usually makes things worse in Misfits), because Simon is not on their side anymore. And so when Kelly walks up to the man in the mask and tells him that since he’s back, would he mind kicking the shit out of Peter, the man in the mask suddenly turns on the kids instead and slams Curtis into the nearest wall. The fight that follows is shown mainly through Peter’s drawings. It’s a very effective technique, first of all because it cuts down on the need for expensive stuntwork (Misfits has a very low budget – the whole series probably costs as much as a single episode of Downton Abbey). And if anything, the sparse pencil drawings make the whole scene even more uncomfortable, because what we see here are flashes of Simon brainwashed to the point of attacking people he cares for (and in the case of Alisha loves) so much that he has killed (Sally, the evil probation worker) and sacrificed his life (as the man in the mask and again in the confrontation with the milk guy) to protect them. Coincidentally, this scene also shows how dangerous Simon can be when he is determined – after all, he takes out four people on his own. Finally, it also makes clear that Peter does know what his drawings do – something that wasn’t entirely clear up to this point.
The Misfits retreat, beaten and bloodied but not down yet. When Simon doesn’t show up for community service the next morning (it seems that absolutely no one checks attendance), Alisha uses her new remote viewing/empathy power to find out what he’s doing and sees him swapping comics with Peter in his lair (or “our flat” as Alisha calls it). Simon, it turns out, reads Judge Dredd, even though a character who is not a traditional superhero is an odd choice for an episode that’s all about superheroes. And for that matter, where do they get the comics anyway? When I was at university there, I knew every comic shop in London and none of them is even remotely near Thamesmead. So do Simon and Peter always make the Thursday pilgrimage to Forbidden Planet in central London or what?
With Peter (and Simon) safely out of the way, the kids decide to take the opportunity to break into Peter’s flat and snoop around. Kelly’s rocket scientist powers once again turn out to be surprisingly useful, when she uses them to disable Peter’s alarm system, after Rudy’s attempts to switch off the alarm have made things worse, even though Rudy claims he did computer science at school (“I didn’t say I passed”, he says once he succeeds in making the alarm even louder). Inside the flat, they see that the walls are covered in drawings, Alisha makes the connection that Peter is using his drawings to control events and suggests ripping them up. Maybe that will put everything back to normal.
Alisha’s theory turns out to be right, because we see Simon alone in his lair, flinching as drawing after drawing is ripped up, until he finally collapses on the floor. When Alisha returns to their flat, she finds a very confused and deeply troubled Simon who is on the verge of tears, has no idea why he broke up with her – after all, he loves her – and begs her to take him back (some great acting from Iwan Rheon in this scene). Alisha explains everything and they embrace.
A bit later, Simon confronts Peter (who of course knows what’s up once he finds the torn up drawings). Peter comes up with some lame justification how he only did it all to help Simon become an effective superhero and fulfill his destiny. Simon won’t have any of that, however. He tells Peter in no uncertain terms that superheroes are a fantasy and that it’s not his fantasy, that he loves Alisha and will never ever leave her. Another nice scene that also shows how much Simon has grown since season 1.
At this point, I chanced to look at my watch and thought, “Hmm, still ten minutes to go and the story is already over? What’s up with that?” But of course, this is Misfits and things never work out quite so easily and neatly. And so the story is far from over. For when we see the kids doing community service and picking up litter a bit later, while Simon and Alisha can’t keep their hands off each other (I love it, by the way, that these two are always seen hugging or holding hands in the background, because this is how teenagers in love react. Plus, the fact that they couldn’t touch for several months due to Alisha’s powers would probably increase the constant need to touch each other), much to the amusement of their friends, the camera pulls back to reveal a sinister masked figure all in black standing on a roof. Since we know it can neither be Simon nor his future self – besides the costume is subtly different – that leaves only one person: Peter, gone all superhero or rather supervillain.
It’s no real surprise that Peter would eventually go off the deep end and turn himself into a costumed villain, just as it is no real surprise, once you think about it, that Simon would turn himself into a masked superhero, because he is the person who has read way too many comics and is loyal, determined and just about crazy enough to pull off something like this. The economics are a bit of an issue, because both Simon’s and Peter’s costumes are cobbled together from sporting equipment – much of it is actually motorbike safety gear, which makes visiting motorbike equipment shops with my Dad very weird. And that sort of gear doesn’t come cheap – indeed, the price tag is well beyond the means of the disadvantaged youth of Thamesmead. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Simon’s future self had somehow found a way to procure and squirrel away a lot of money for superhero costumes, outfitting and renting secret lairs and general living expenses, since neither Simon nor Alisha seem to have a job. Indeed, Simon probably took up Rudy’s suggestion to use his foreknowledge (either via his new power or via traveling into the past) to win the lottery. Though this still doesn’t explain how Peter could afford all of his supervillain equipment, but then Peter is crazy.
Coincidentally, we also get Rudy speculating at one point, whether the man in the mask might be Shaun, the lazy probation worker. I had a similar theory last year, while my Mom favoured the black cop who occasionally shows up in seasons 1 and 2. And considering that lazy playboy used to be a favoured real world identity for superheroes, lazy probation worker would certainly fit. Though Rudy quickly disregards the theory by pointing out that the probation worker “wouldn’t piss on us, if we were on fire and he was really desperate for a piss”. Though I think that my theory that Shaun was the man in the mask and my Mom’s theory that it was the black cop were expressions of the hope that somewhere there was an adult who would look out for those kids. Indeed, the first thing my Mom said when it became clear that future Simon was the man in the mask was, “Oh look, it’s Simon as a grown up.” Because she really wasn’t willing to let go of the hope that an adult would be taking care of those kids. However, Misfits doesn’t make it that easy for us and all adults are useless at best and downright evil at worst in this world. And it’s also very clear that in this world, the only person who will look out for the kids is one of their own.
Now he’s got himself a costume, Peter quickly goes all supervillain. We see Alisha walking alone on the estate, sensing herself watched, and finally running only to find herself cornered and knocked out by Peter. It’s certainly no coincidence that this scene mirrors the scenes in season 2 where Alisha finds herself stalked by the far more benevolent presence of the man in the mask.
When Simon returns to the flat – and I love how the first thing he does is head for the fridge and grab a beer, because it’s such a guy thing to do – he finds Alisha gone. Instead, Peter has left the photo of future Simon and Alisha in Las Vegas on the mirror, together with the message to come to a certain warehouse at a certain time.
Simon immediately sets off in full superhero gear to rescue Alisha – once again without calling anybody for backup. But then, he probably would have had some explaining to do, if the rest of the gang had seen him in his superhero outfit.
The deserted warehouse turns out to be the very same place where future Simon met his fate back in series two – but then Peter would have known the significance. Alisha is waiting, bound and gagged. So is Peter… and he’s got a weapon, a sword or machete or something like this. We see the two nigh identical masked and hooded figures fighting through the eyes of a terrified Alisha, then one of them collapses, run through by Peter’s blade.
Of course – or maybe not, since this is Misfits and they haven’t shied away from killing off important characters before – Peter is the one who was stabbed, while Simon is left standing over a dead or rather dying body once again, because Peter still manages to whisper, “You did it. You saved her. A superhero must be prepared to die for what he believes in”, with his dying breaths.
Some time later, Simon and Alisha are sitting huddled together on the floor of the warehouse, very visibly shaken. It’s good to see that in spite of all the horror and violence they have experienced since the beginning of the show, Simon and Alisha still haven’t gotten used to death and corpses, particularly since the disposal of Charlie’s and Tanya’s bodies in the first episode of this season was almost a little too blasé, compared to the mixture of horror and disgust with which the gang buried the two probation workers and Gary back in seasons 1 and 2. There is a lot of death in Misfits and the kids have got the unfortunate tendency to be involved in people dying, but I don’t want them to get used to it. Killing someone, even if it’s an abusive probation worker or outright villain, should never become normal.
It is also clear that even though he has single-handedly killed two people by this point (Sally, the evil probation worker back in series 1 and now Peter), more than any other member of the gang (Kelly killed Tony, even though the whole gang takes responsibility for that one, Rudy killed Tanya, Nathan killed the Virtue girl, though that’s a pretty unambiguous accident, the fake “Jesus” managed to kill himself by miscalculating his powers, Gary, Charlie, Ollie and Nicki were all killed by third parties), Simon is not a killer. Quite the contrary, he is utterly horrified by what he has done (and once again it becomes obvious that Iwan Rheon is probably the best actor in a show that is full of excellent young actors).
Alisha is horrified as well. After all, she has been kidnapped and held hostage, someone was killed in front of her eyes (again) and the whole situation gave her flashbacks of holding the dying future Simon in her arms. So she tells Simon in no uncertain terms that she never ever wants to see the superhero suit on him again.
Simon agrees to burn the suit along with Peter’s body, for while the rest of the gang prefer to bury inconvenient corpses, Simon’s preferred problem solving method is still fire. But then, he only ended up in this mess in the first place because of an arson attempt. Seems there’s still a touch of pyromaniac about him. It’s also telling that Alisha still doesn’t do corpse disposal – if you look closely at the other burial scenes, Alisha always stands around looking sick while the others dig.
In the end, however, Simon cannot burn his superhero suit after all. Instead, he sneaks it back into the flat and hides it in a secret compartment behind a closet, before embracing and kissing Alisha.
The episode ends with a shot of Peter’s now deserted room. There are new drawings on the wall, and when the camera zooms in we see that Peter has drawn the events we just saw, up to and including his own death. Yes, Peter basically committed suicide by superhero. And at the very end, there is an ominous “To be continues…” which hints that the saga of superhero Simon is far from over.
For something that is billed as a superhero show, Misfits is actually very little about superheroics. Instead, it’s a show about young people who happen to have superpowers, which makes it so compelling. This episode – and indeed the entire Simon as superhero arc – is something of the exception, since it addresses a lot of the aspects that are messed up or downright squicky about traditional superhero narratives.
The first of those is a point that is repeated throughout Misfits, namely that heroism doesn’t work in this universe and usually makes things a lot worse and gets people killed. It’s already there in the very first episode, because when Simon suggests that since they now have powers, maybe they are meant to become superheroes and help people, Nathan shoots him down with, “Oh come on! In what sort of fucked up world would that be allowed to happen?”
This doesn’t mean that the kids aren’t heroic, because they often are. Curtis rewinding time again and again to save his ex-girlfriend and himself from being arrested for possession of drugs, only to realize that his never doing community service means that all of his new friends get killed and deciding to sacrifice his sports career to save them (while still saving his ex-girlfriend from prison) certainly is heroic. Nathan going up against the Virtue girl, with only a water pistol and no superpowers that he knows off, to force her to reverse her mind manipulations is certainly heroic – and promptly gets Nathan killed (he gets better, though, since he’s immortal). Future Simon traveling back through time to protect his friends and eventually throwing himself into the path of a bullet to save Alisha is certainly heroic – and gets him killed. The kids going up separately against the cheese guy is certainly heroic – and gets them killed. Simon throwing himself into the path of a knife to save Curtis who can undo all that with his power is certainly heroic – and gets him killed. Rudy kicking Tanya and thus giving up his foothold, while he has a noose round his neck, is certainly heroic – and almost gets him killed. The message is very clear here. Superheroics don’t work in the Misfits world and usually get people killed.
But beyond all that, the whole story of the man in the mask is also very much a commentary on some of the more fucked up aspects of traditional superhero narratives. Interestingly, Misfits creator/writer Howard Overman is on record (and if I could find the link now, I would post it) as saying that he never really read all that many superhero comics and certainly didn’t read any after starting to write Misfits to prevent accidental influence, he was mostly influenced by superhero films. There is some evidence that this is true, since Misfits doesn’t do its own take on classic comic storylines such as Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past or – it’s a British show after all – the Jasper’s Warp, i.e. all of those storylines that film and TV-makers can never resist. Though going by the trailer, next week’s episode might be a Jasper’s Warp/Days of Future Past riff, though it might just as well take one of the oldest and most overused plotlines around. But the influence of recent superhero films is clearly visible in Misfits, which also explains some of the misconceptions, e.g. the whole “superheroes can’t have girlfriends” thing is more of a film than a comic trope.
Indeed, I originally viewed the man in the mask subplot in series 2 as a commentary on The Dark Knight, a film I fucking hate. The Batman parallels are pretty obvious and it’s not just because they both wear black. After all, Simon’s powers aren’t physical. He turned himself into a superhero and formidable fighter merely via hard work and some nifty gadgets (not all that nifty in Simon’s case, he basically assembled his costume from stuff sold in sports gear stores). And of course, both the current Batman and Simon are played by Welsh actors.
Now I’ve always had issues with Batman, even long before The Dark Knight came along. I hated the fact that Batman always seemed so cold. Oh sure, he would talk a lot about fighting crime and fighting for justice and truth and honour, but did he really care about people at all? The Dark Knight was an excellent example of the inhumanity of Batman – something that oddly enough isn’t present in the Shadow and the Spider and the other masked pulp vigilantes that inspired Batman – since there is a lot of talk about sacrificing human lives for the greater good (and it’s certainly telling that the film was made at the height of the war against terror) and Batman basically sacrifices the Rachel character, whom he is supposed to love, to rescue Harvey Dent, the symbol of the rule of law that turns out to be deeply flawed.
Simon is the exact opposite of Batman as portrayed in The Dark Knight, because Simon doesn’t become a superhero to fight for some abstract ideal such as justice or the fight against crime. Simon becomes a superhero to protect his friends and save the one he loves; he is motivated solely by friendship and loves. And what makes future Simon’s sacrifice even more poignant is that we aren’t quite sure whether Alisha and the rest of the gang are really worth the sacrifices he makes, since they don’t treat him all that well at that point in time.
This episode now takes the parallels even further with Peter inserting himself into the young male sidekick role complete with the homoerotic subtext that is usually implied in the male superhero and young male sidekick model. Hmm, maybe Rudy was on to something after all, though he was still looking at the wrong person. And it’s certainly no accident that those superheroes with prominent young male sidekicks, e.g. Batman and Robin or Captain America and Bucky, are usually the ones who have issues with women. Even the whole “You must choose between your sidekick and this woman” dynamic shows up with depressing regularity from every second episode of the 1960s Batman TV-show all the way to one of the Joel Schumacher Batman films of the 1990s. It would probably show up in the Christian Bale Batman films, too, if there was a Robin in those films. Instead, The Dark Knight substitutes Harvey Dent.
Which brings us to the second dynamic explored in this episode, namely the dynamic between superheroes and supervillains. Now superheroes and supervillains are traditionally very similar to each other to the point of being two sides of the same character. They are matched both in ability and personality, e.g. Wolverine gets clawed villains with anger management issues, Spider-Man gets athletic, wisecracking villains who can move through the air, Aquaman and the Submariner get aquatic villains, Batman gets gadget-happy psychopaths mostly without special powers. And a geeky council estate kid with a non-physical power and a costume assembled from sports gear gets another geeky council estate kid with a non-physical power and a costume assembled from sports gear. The homoerotic subtext in hero/villain relationships is not quite as blatant as in hero/sidekick relationships, but it exists. Examples would be the Doctor and the Master, where the dynamic was actually acknowledged and the slashy as hell relationship between Clarke Kent and Lex Luthor in the early seasons of Smallville. And The Dark Knight makes a lot more sense if you view it through the lens that Batman is gay and infatuated with Harvey Dent.
Peter of course is both, sidekick turned villain. And the final confrontation between Peter and Simon is full of sexual symbolism, from the very phallic sword Peter uses to the flat-out disturbing way in which he gags Alisha, by first stuffing a stocking or something like that into her mouth and then taping it shut with duct tape.
And as it is so often implied in superhero stories, the hero creates his own villain (Peter might well never have become a problem, if Simon hadn’t rescued him) and the villain in turn creates the hero (Peter forces Simon back into the superhero role, even though Simon no longer wants to be a hero at that point).
The saddest thing about the whole episode is that it didn’t have to turn out that way. Peter was disturbed, true, but he was probably not a bad person, unlike e.g. the milk guy or the fake Jesus from season 2. And having someone to geek out with would have been good for Simon, since that’s something he can’t do with the other Misfits. And though the male bonding (well, sort of) between Curtis and Simon in last week’s episode was nice, Simon has been left somewhat adrift, since Nathan is gone. And hanging out with the Misfits gang would probably have done Peter a whole lot of good, even though the kids are usually wary of outsiders for obvious reasons.
Besides, Peter’s fate also reminds us that things could’ve gone a lot worse for Simon. Because throughout season 1 and into season 2, Simon is the sort of person you halfway suspect will grow up to become a serial killer. He’s a peeping tom (okay, so his power enables him, but the tendency is definitely there), he has a tendency towards the nastier sort of internet porn and I don’t want to imagine what he did with the frozen body of Sally, the probation worker. But then he finds friends and falls in love and grows up. Peter reminds us how very different things could have gone.
Finally, just in case we didn’t get it the first few times, this episode also once again rams home the point that superheroics don’t work in Misfits and usually cause harm and even get people killed. Because Simon accidentally sets the whole tragedy in motion because he’s trying to help Peter, first by saving him from the mugger and then by offering some encouraging words and accidentally exposing his identity. It’s interesting that we see the entire Misfits gang more oriented towards helping others this season, but so far it’s not doing them a whole lot of good.