Even in comedy, Tatiana Maslany has never given less than 110 percent. It’s one of her strongest assets as a performer; even in audio, you never get the sense that she is not living as the character — that the character is never less than emotionally real, even if Maslany herself may not have had those exact experiences — and Jane as played by Maslany feels real, especially to someone like myself who has been in those situations, as a disabled person, without the magical powers Jane has. But Maslany also has a true artist’s eye to go for the strongest, and the truest, stories she can — yes, even in comedy. But to say this is merely comedy is to do a disservice to Power Trip‘s writing, and to Maslany’s sense of the story, because so far it ranks with her strongest work these past few years — not only plotwise, and emotionally, but also thematically.
Each episode having a command as a title, Power Trip‘s fourth, “Play with Me”, manages to thematically cover a number of its episode’s events — there’s the sense of play at the start, in interaction between Jane and the boy she’s nannying, Reau; there’s Jane’s need at the tail end of the episode for a more adult form of play when she drunkenly shows up at Bruce’s doorstep; and, for most of this episode, there’s the enjoyment of play in a warm fairground atmosphere — in this instance, Coney Island.
Mary Hamilton and Cara Horner’s writing continue to deliver a canvas strong enough for display Maslany’s (and the whole cast’s) talent for comedy, drama, and the interplay of small human moments between characters — as an artist, I know Maslany really treasures that in her work, and her executive-producing on this has probably only helped in making these moments in Power Trip truly shine. Jane deciding which of her manuscripts to send her employer Sloane (“to consider for publication”, as she commanded, in that voice with the wonderful reverse-echo SFX) by asking Sloane’s own kid which one he might prefer is really clever, and precise, writing; it shows, without needing to tell, just how long Jane’s been with this family that she knows how the mother’s tastes run from what her kids might be partial to, and Jane’s easy rapport with Reau shows that, even as she needs the job and needs the money that comes with it, it’s more than just a job, for her — this feels “lived-in” in the best way, without needing to go into detailed exposition about it. With just a few warmly delivered lines of dialogue, an entire backstory is fully and clearly conveyed.
Realm‘s Power Trip is must-listen streaming.
But that opening is merely the afternoon, and when we get to night at Coney Island, where Jane has decided to finally meet up again with the “Power Hour” group, the plot turns, after an interval, on three distinct scenes: Jane and Leah’s private conversation on the beach, Jane listening in to Deirdre and Leah’s conversation about her, and Jane’s drunken commanding of a couple to spill their guts to each other in front of everyone. The first scene has an incredible tenderness; Jane seems to be opening up to somebody else, in her own slightly awkward way, and there are clearly some difficult feelings between Jane and Leah. The deadwood Leah makes sprout (in a really lovely audio effect) into life is more than just that; it’s a representation of what might be between Leah and Jane. Sure, Jane still has difficulty trying to find the right subjects to talk about with people, wedging in her unfamiliarity with non-buttless dresses into a conversation (she’s referring to Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart from Chicago, specifically), but if you’d lived in a hospital almost constantly and loved musicals, like she had, why wouldn’t you try to fit that in? I remember my own childhood hospital stays being accompanied by VHS tapes of Space Jam, Grease, and The Mask — I’ve been in that boat, and would probably feel at about the same level of awkwardness. Jane is trying very hard, even as an outsider within this group of outsiders, to open to to these people — she’s still unsure about them, but she wants to be more sure, in a more positive way.
But the next scene involving Leah immediately makes Jane pull back from whatever opening-up she might have been doing. when she hears Erica discussing her with Leah near the ladies’ room; Erica is trying to convince Leah, having seen the two of them looking happy down at the beach, to give a potential relationship with Jane a chance, but Leah, whom you can clearly tell from her tone has been forced into this corner, admits she thinks Jane is “clearly a mess”, “too much”, and does not “want to be involved in whatever drama she manufactures next”. A massive pre-made judgment call, and for somebody already slightly tipsy and who’s just opened themselves up like Jane, the worst possible thing to overhear someone she just opened up to say. Jane’s not perfect — who is? — and she reacts like any human being would when hurt.
But, then, not any human being has magical powers. Which brings up to the third scene on which the night turns, where Jane, having commanded several people to give her their beers, and between scenes has probably commanded several more to give several more, returns to the group and drunkenly displays her powers in front of the group — seemingly to hurt Leah for having said what she said when she thought Jane wasn’t around — to cause a couple strolling by to tell each other how they really feel about each other, thus making them break up. Jane’s drunken misery dearly wants company, and her command gets her what she wants — that control, causing someone else to feel something of the pain she has, because that is all she really wants in that moment.
Now, there are some very human motivations going on, here — I would not be surprised if Leah felt pressured into making that judgment about Jane, and that she really does feel more warmly towards her than Jane supposes. But if Leah feels she can’t say that, and doesn’t, and felt she had to declaim about Jane in front of Erica, and Jane doesn’t realize that, having been hurt… well, you don’t really need magical powers to know just how true to people all those hidden and up-front emotions are. Just because a series contains magic doesn’t mean it doesn’t also contain truth. Strong writing like this shows how strong is really is when it still makes sense as people being people when you put aside the magical component.
Kailynn West’s direction gives, along with the actors’ performances, such distinctness to each member of the “Power Hour” group that not only are you never unsure of which character is speaking, you’re also able to exactly follow their motivations and emotions — something I’m sure some actors might struggle with trying to depict in an audio-only format, but not this cast. When Christian, after prompting from Jane, finally realizes his feelings for Mateo offscreen, we can hear the difference in his voice between his appearances — he sounds happier, more fulfilled. In a similar way, the sudden realization that Jane’s paramour Bruce has been dulled by Jane’s most recent command — a realization set up in previous episodes entirely through Brendan Hines’s performance, evident to the listener but seemingly unnoticed by Jane — hits Jane, along with us, with a crash despite not, on the face of it, seeming dramatic because we have heard a difference in his voice, and his manner, and Jane realizing something might be wrong coinciding with her reflecting on the “mess” diagnosis feels like a turning-point for the series precisely because it is played so well by Hines, Maslany, and the rest of the cast. It’s a tough balance not to have the comedy tonally conflict with the drama, and vice versa, but Power Trip has not played wrongly on that yet, and it’s a sign of a strong series.
Once again, the sound design by Tom Maggs and Rory O’Shea, sound mix by Rory O’Shea, and additional sound editing by Corey Barton, continue to bowl me over — it’s some of the most convincingly immersive I think I’ve ever heard in an audio show. As I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the actual Coney Island myself, I can only imagine how it must compare to the sonic representation of it here — but if it’s anything close, it must be magical. The soundscape immerses one into the location; you can picture in your mind the rides clattering and Jane’s cane tapping along the boardwalk as you hear it, and every sound and line of dialogue is clear enough (even for someone like myself with hearing difficulties) that, even when a character is far in the distance from another one, you’re able to follow along with absolutely no difficulty. Certain sonic effects, as well, really help to make the big moments register without needing to be overbearing — the Coney Island soundscape suddenly drops out while Jane is overhearing Leah and Erica, and so the dialogue between them is, just by being abruptly apart from the previously ever-present fairground noise, able to impact us just as hard as it does Jane. The audio work and the writing, working in tandem, deliver the goods as I don’t think many others can.
And, once again, I really do have to thank Realm for going the extra mile by providing the scripts for each episode — not only does it provide a way for people to be able to more easily follow along, if they need to, but it’s also a way to get extra nuggets of fun out of the story, such as the reveal that Sloane’s son is “Thoreau”, being “Reau” for short; a publisher naming her kid after the author of Walden Pond is too good a bit to be missed out on by skipping the script. It’s not something you need to know to be able to follow the story, but it just adds enjoyment — and there’s even more stuff like that in the scripts if you give them a read, too.
If you’ve been listening along with me, I hope you’re getting as much out of this series as I have. If you haven’t managed to start Power Trip yet, I strongly urge you to do so — the entire series is now currently available to stream now with a Realm Unlimited subscription, but the next two episodes will also be made free to non-subscribers next week and the week after. (I’d recommend the subscription, if you’d prefer to binge.) Either way, I feel this show is really too good for any of my review readers to be missing out on.
Power Trip is available on Realm.fm, or wherever you listen to podcasts.