Sometimes, life throws surprising shifts at you after moments when you’re at your lowest — positive surprises. You could be nibbling gently on toast, trying to not annoy the service worker who needs you to pay something for the food you’re eating as you deal with the effects of a hangover and a spectacularly bad ending to your night, wondering how to pick back up and where you went wrong.
And then things take an uptick, or change interestingly, in ways — positive ways – you maybe never could have expected. Is it luck? Is it coincidence? Subconscious manifestation? In this case, Jane finds herself riding a wave up that seems directly to result from the power she’s been utilizing.
This is how Power Trips’s fifth episode, “Don’t Blame Me”, opens, and it’s a surprising follow-up, on the face of it, to Jane seemingly having misused her power in the previous episode. In a way, however, the power isn’t really “power” — it’s agency; the first real agency Jane has been able to have in her life. As someone with a disability myself, agency is not something you get a consistent shot at — you’re frequently sort of expected to adhere to what other people are doing to and for you, often defined by reasons of health but which sometimes are a bit more capricious. The power to command has given Jane both agency and autonomy — the best thing I can compare it to is being able to “jump the queue” in front of able-bodied people, or of people with more autonomy than her, something a disabled person would never be able to do. But the worry becomes: At what point does “jumping the queue” becoming “riding roughshod over”? For the moment, Jane seems to be handling that balance… fairly well.
The hangover-cure breakfast ends on a more positive note than it began, with Jane being invited to the next “Power Hour” meeting and catching Bruce right as he wants to talk (although she’s clearly mortified and would prefer to text). She seems to have lost some of her wariness from having “dulled” Bruce the previous evening, and further events make her sweep her fears under the rug altogether. Having these in front of her to look forward to puts her in a happier mood going into her job as nanny (although as we soon realize, there is an inadvertent conflict between the two that Jane doesn’t catch until it’s too late).
Realm‘s Power Trip is must-listen streaming.
This is the second time we’ve seen Jane nannying for Sloane’s kids, and the first time we see both Charlotte (called “Charlie”) and Reau. There’s a really warm rapport between the three; Jane is so clearly in her element with these kids that she inadvertently commands Charlotte to eat some chocolate Sloane has forbidden her because of how that sort of dietary restriction reminds Jane of her own mother. But she also helps the two resolve one of those conflicts children so often get into that adults tend to have to fix for them — and Jane notes how Charlotte apologizes to Reau without really apologizing before their mother comes back in. It almost seems as though Jane wishes she could “apologize without apologizing” herself — quite literally, “Don’t Blame Me” — which, in a way, is what winds up happening twice over as the episode progresses.
The “Power Hour” meeting seems like it might go disastrously, considering the way the Coney Island night ended, but even with Jane blundering and ordering a bacon pizza when certain members are vegetarian, the group seems to be… all right with Jane’s general presence, whatever issues she may have. Jane is still wary — anyone both isolated as she had been and held back by both a disability and an overbearing mother would be (I only had the one, and I can tell you I’d feel similarly) — but she’s coming out (perhaps in both meanings of the word) of her shell. There’s a remarkably gentle scene between Jane and Leah at the meeting that seems to ease some of the worries Jane had about her — Leah formally apologizes to Jane, the two bond over a unique Jade Ivy tattoo Leah has, and, despite their divergent backgrounds (as Leah details to Jane), maybe they’re finally becoming more comfortable with each other after everything that happened at Coney Island. It’s Jane apologizing without apologizing, and coming away happier from it.
Once again, Bruce seems like the absolute loveliest guy for Jane to have fallen for; there’s a sweetness and an “aw-shucks”-ness to Brendan Hines’s tenor vocal in this role that makes you incapable of not loving this character. Even as Jane continually missteps with him, and continually has to resort to her powers in order to smooth over mistakes she’s made, Bruce is such a gentle character (although I don’t mean “gentleman” exactly in the dated sense) that you just want things to work out well for the guy and with Jane… even as Jane’s attentions seem a little subconsciously focused elsewhere.
But this is the thing about a human being: You’re not perfect. Even your good intentions may cause things to go badly, and your focus on one aspect of your life might inadvertently — or, perhaps, purposefully — cause you to neglect another. Thus, Jane completely forgets her assignation with Bruce in the afterglow of success with the “Power Hour” group… and, in the course of trying to make sure she gets her date in with Bruce and it goes successfully, commands him multiple times over the course of the evening and the next morning, seemingly without any qualms. What looked to be a shift at the end the previous episode now shows that Jane just really wants to use that agency, that power, the way any human being would: To try and make things better for herself. If that means keeping Bruce as her boyfriend, she seems quite committed to it… although maybe not quite.
Mary Hamilton and Cara Horner’s writing is at its best yet in this episode; darkly humorous, but also completely natural, tender, and charming. The dinner scene calling back to the earlier Rodgers and Hammerstein conversation inf the previous episode shows creators clearly comfortable with the people they’ve created — the confidence in depicting their interplay shines through, and Jane’s smirking reference to amphetamines (as Charmian Carr required after putting her foot through the greenhouse glass during the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” sequence in The Sound of Music) is so obviously something she’d say when she knows she can get away with that sort of quip, as she can with Bruce. But Bruce, as gentle as he is, has so far mainly been with Jane because of Jane’s new agency; that is, she is getting herself agency by, essentially, “commanding” it away from other people. This has been the case from the start, but she has clearly gotten used to Bruce slowly developing less and less agency from her. It’s certainly a role-reversal from most relationships, where traditionally the man is expect to have more agency than the woman, and it’s a welcome subversion of the typical dichotomy — but is this means of implementing it on Jane’s part healthy? Jane has gotten more and more used to relying on this control with Bruce, more than with any other person in her life.
That’s not to say that the dinner is all smooth sailing for them both, as Jane commands Bruce to fully admit what he thinks of her — and it’s not the litany of sins she’d expected. He’s hiding nothing from her; he really is that nice of a guy. But the command lasts so long that Bruce is left aware and disconcerted about it — not aware of her power, but more of a growing awareness of being compelled to do something. It’s not a full awareness yet — he’s quite happy to subsequently spend the night with Jane in her apartment after the two kiss passionately at dinner — but it appears we may yet get there, though not for some time.
There’s a lovely post-night scene between Jane and Bruce, and I have to commend the writing again — when was the last time a disabled person with a happy, healthy sex life was depicted? I cannot think of one in the recent past, and I’m really glad to see this positive disability representation — because it’s not often we get it. Jane has her faults, and her disagreeable habits, but she is a person — a wonderful, snarky, self-conscious, complicated person, and Tatiana Maslany never comes across as anything other than real as Jane. Maslany may not herself be disabled, but this rep is doing a world of good, and I’m glad she’s using this platform of hers to put it out there.
The sound design by Tom Maggs and Rory O’Shea, sound editing by Rory O’Shea, and additional sound editing by Corey Barton continue to blow me away with just how intuitive and immerse the distinctive “flashback” noise enclosing what Leah said, like audible brackets, in Jane’s memory at the start of the episode doesn’t confuse at all — we “know” what flashbacks sound like from television shows, but managing to depict that entirely aurally and still being able to have the audience immediately get that it’s a flashback shows just how great a job Maggs, O’Shea, and Barton are doing on this series. The flashback noise jumps out the most, but the rest of the sound design and editing are so natural and unaffected, even keeping in mind that they are designed, that it works exactly as it should to immerse you into the world of this story. The clarity of every line of dialogue, on top that, is a godsend for the hearing-impaired like myself — every important line of dialogue that you need to hear in order to be able to follow the story is completely clear and audible, and I don’t think I’ve ever noticed any difference in sound quality between the voices of the cast, despite the majority of them probably each needing to record separately — you never get the feeling of lines being cut in on one another, and that’s a fine art.
Kailynn West’s direction of the cast remains another strong point; there is not a single piece of inconsistent characterization, from what I can tell. I really love the performers in the “Power Hour” group — Leah is played just tenderly yet noncommittally enough that you can see why Jane’s wariness is slowly melting away, and Jane’s developing friendship with Christian cant help but make you smile at how adorable and ebullient the two are together. Not a single line of dialogue is wasted or misplayed, from Brendan Hines’s Bruce immediately switching tone once Jane commands him to leave the next morning to the audible uncertainty Tatiana Maslany puts into her dialogue as Jane so the listener knows just how uncomfortable around others Jane still is, despite all that certainty in being able to get what she wants that’s coming through from her powers.
If you need text to be able to follow along completely, Realm has provided the script to go along with the episode, including stage directions, descriptions, and several lines of dialogue not entirely necessary for you to completely hear but which are still really nice to have — there’s a parenthetical spoken by Erica about Shakespeare’s pancreas during the “Power Hour” meeting that you only get completely in the script, and although it’s not necessary for you in following the story, it’s still a funny little bit that you might want to experience in full.
If you’re subscribed to Realm Unlimited, like I am, you also have access to a really lovely little bonus episode — it’s not a part of the story; it’s the creative and production team at Realm and on Power Trip describing what each of them would do either with Jane’s power or with a superpower of their own choosing. You get to hear from producers Rhoda Bellezza and Nicole, executives Marco Palmieri and Mary Assadullahi, director Kailynn West, sound designer and mixer Rory O’Shea, sound editor Corey Barton, additional marketing lead Heather Mason, and production coordinator Angela Yi, among others — and it’s really nice to actually hear the people behind the show; that ability, along with being able to binge every episode at once if you wish, I’d definitely recommend subscribing, if you want that option.
We are just past the halfway mark on this season, folks, and Realm has never wrongfooted on this yet. The representation, the magical realism, the acting, the sound design, and the characters — if you’re not already listening, you have been missing out on quite possibly the show of this summer.
Power Trip is available on Realm.fm, or wherever you listen to podcasts.