Powerless: Would My Life Suck Without U?
Apologies for the late recap, but I was re-watching the best NBC workplace comedies from the past five years—The Office, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Superstore—and I think I’ve finally pinpointed Powerless’ kryptonite, so to speak: it doesn’t know how to develop its friendships.
Sure, Emily’s made leeway with Jackie and Teddy and the team has come a long way from their hostile beginnings but every episode feels like one step forward and then two steps back. In almost every episode, she works hard to earn her co-workers’ respect and then in the next, they’re back to mocking her like nothing happened. And it doesn’t feel like friendly ribbing, the way Jack Donaghy sighs at Liz Lemon’s life choices or the way Superstore employees tease Jonah for his pretentious interests. The team is outright mean to Emily, but the writers seem to think that stuffing a small heart-to-heart at the end of every episode is enough to cancel out the insults towards her.
Emily, girl: co-workers don’t have to be your friends. Just punch out at 5:30 and find people who actually want to spend time with you.
But because Emily is a fictional character and possibly a masochist under that sunny exterior, she keeps trying to make people like her.
It seems like Emily might finally succeed in getting all of Wayne Securities to like her, not just her team. She planned an amazing corporate retreat at a resort that will include para-sailing, rum tasting, and relaxing by the pool. The only activity that the whole office is not enthusiastic about is Emily’s attempts to wrangle them for karaoke.
Everyone heads for the buses except for our core cast because they have to wait for Dorothy, some random office drone who is only important in this episode due to plot reasons. Ron hates her because she spoiled the ending of “Making a Villain” (this universe’s take on Making a Murderer) for him and the rest don’t want an old lady dragging them down when they could be having fun.
As they wait for Dorothy, Jackie notices that Van is unusually quick with zingers and one-liners today. Van explains that he wants to impress the bigwigs on the corporate retreats and has hired two comedy writers to feed him jokes all day. Jackie goes back into the office and checks on an exhausted Emily. “Why do you so much for these people?” she asks. Emily claims that it’s up to her to keep the train going, even though by making everyone wait for one extremely late person, she’s the one holding up everyone’s fun.
Then, the office alarms go off and the newscast reports that Dr. Psycho, featured in the Making a Villain episode that Dorothy spoiled for Ron, has released a toxic gas into Charm City and they are all trapped in the office for the next twelve hours. To make matters worse, according to social media, Dorothy went to the resort with another group so the team could have left before the gas attack.
To my surprise, the team doesn’t dump on Emily for this as much as I was expecting. Teddy outright blames Emily for their being trapped but the rest just complain how they’re missing all the fun on the retreat. To make up for it, Emily whips up a Pinterest-ready Hawaiian luau-theme party in twenty minutes and the team agrees that it’s not too bad. “I think we owe someone a big thank-you: to alcohol!” says Ron, much to Emily’s annoyance. But she trudges on and suggests a game of Desert Island Companion: everyone has to go around and say whom in the circle they would pick to hang out with on a desert island. Predictably, Jackie chooses no one, Teddy chooses Ron, and Wendy pervs on Van and then announces her very detailed plan to eat him alive for sustenance.
Shockingly, Ron chooses Jackie, much to Teddy’s indignation. Ron tries to claim it’s a matter of practicality but when pressed, he admits that Teddy’s negative attitude would not make him a fun desert island companion. Wendy and Van point out that Teddy is also too weak to help out on the island or even eat. To prove them wrong, Teddy stands up to throw a tiki torch into a trash can but he misses and hits the window, cracking it enough to let the gas in.
The team rushes into the lab because it’s the only place with secure doors to keep the gas out but it has no useful supplies, despite Wendy’s insistence that all they need is a particle accelerator, a quantum field synthesizer, and a bucket for everyone to do their business in. The gas masks are all in the main office area and Dorothy took the Hazmat suits to compete at the resort’s costume contest so someone in the group needs to go out in to the gas and get supplies. While everyone makes excuses as to why it shouldn’t be them, Emily makes a makeshift Hazmat suit a la Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane and goes out into the gas.
She gets the gas masks but then one of the comedy writers who didn’t make it in the lab, rips off her helmet and she is exposed to the gas. According to the newscast, it’s a truth gas that can cause permanent nerve damage if exposed for too long but the team can’t coax Emily back inside to safety. The truth gas has finally brought Emily’s resentments up to the surface and she tells the team exactly what she thinks of them: that they are all ungrateful, unappreciative whiny brats and Van is especially the worst because he can’t do anything for himself, not even write his own terrible jokes.
Jackie announces that Emily sacrificed herself to try to do something good for the team and now one of them needs to make a sacrifice to get Emily back. Again, everyone makes excuses not to go and somehow Ron gets volunteered to go out in another makeshift Hazmat suit into the gas. Emily attacks him—verbally, I mean—and he runs into the safety of the lab and Teddy’s arms. So I guess their little spat has been resolved?
The team is feeling dejected until Van makes a rousing speech–fed to him by the remaining writer–that reminds the team how Emily has done so much for them and now it’s time for them to do something big for her: karaoke. Emily can’t resist the lure of Kelly Clarkson’s greatest hits and re-joins the team.
The next day (or whenever), Emily claims she doesn’t remember anything she said under the influence but the team makes sure to tell her how much they appreciate her and suggest going to karaoke after work.
Emily’s got pipes and it’d be a shame to waste them, even if it’s on Kelly Clarkson songs.
Powerless or Powerful?
After a streak of fairly well-written and paced episodes, this one fell rather flat. I’m glad Emily exploded at the team, even if it was because of some toxic gas, because that speech was long overdue. Emily tries to hard to get the team to like her and do nice things for them and it’s unfair that they treat her badly. However, Emily’s complaints were only centered around how they didn’t appreciate her makeshift luau enough and we all know that if we weren’t limited by the 21-minute time constraints, she could have given everyone a verbal lashing. Also, the Teddy/Ron fight was pretty non-consequential even though it brought up some pretty good points about Teddy’s failings. He is very arrogant and his snarky pessimism must be draining on a sunny optimist like Ron, but there was no real resolution to their fight. Not even a “You bug me a lot but you’re still the friend I go to when our mean boss yells at me” type of heart-to-heart. However, I did appreciate that Jackie was looking out for Emily a lot in this episode, albeit in her usual lazy way: she checked in on Emily when she was dozing at a desk at the beginning of the episode and she was the one who rallied the team to send someone to get her in the gas and sing karaoke to bring Emily back in. That’s how friendships on this show be developing. I don’t know if the team will remember to be nicer to Emily next week, but I liked that they finally acknowledged that they’ve been too hard on her.
Also: did they just leave the other comedy writer to die? No one seemed concerned about rescuing him too.
Most Powerful Line:
“If you’re on a desert island, you must remain positive. That’s why Tom Hanks put a smiley face on that volleyball.”
—Ron, on how to survive on a desert island.
And I Think to Myself, What a Comic Book World…
In the Powerless universe, offices have various sirens that signal zombie virus, alien invasions, and giant spider robots from another dimensions where the Nazis won. Oddly specific.