Calling Powers a genre mash-up is an easy if not overly simplistic way to describe the PlayStation exclusive television series adapted from the pages of the creator-owned comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. A dark mix of superhero and police procedural storytelling, with a heavy hint of noir thrown in for good measure, the PlayStation series premiered in 2015, boasting a surprising cast that included Sharlto Copley (Hardcore Henry), Michelle Forbes (The Killing), Eddie Izzard (Hannibal), and Noah Taylor (Game of Thrones). It also featured up-and-coming actor Susan Heyward (Vinyl) as rookie cop Deena Pilgrim.
Perpetually in the works for years, the series about cops investigating superhero-related crimes nearly became a series on FX, with a pilot starring Jason Patric (Wayward Pines) and Lucy Punch (Into the Woods) having been filmed, before being completely reworked with a new cast and showrunner for, of all things, the PlayStation Network's slate of original scripted programming. The 10-episode season aired weekly on PSN, with the first two episodes written by crime novelist and comic book scribe Charlie Huston and directed by David Slade. Though it didn't exactly make the PlayStation Network the newest destination for must-see TV, the series performed well enough in these gotta-build-a-catalog days of over-the-top television programming to be granted a second season.
With the primary cast of Copley and Heyward returning, and Remi Aubuchon (Falling Skies) stepping in as showrunner, Powers is taking its storyline from season 1 and extending it into the first major arc tackled in the comic series by posing the question: Who killed Retro Girl? The season-long arc aims to blend the various genre elements of the series to greater success, while also opening up the world of Powers in new and ambitious ways. The murder mystery at the center of the plot not only fuels the season's ongoing narrative, but it also aims to provide a greater understanding of what superheroes – i.e., powers – mean to this world and how losing a major one like Retro Girl has immediate, sometimes dire ramifications for everyone – good and bad, powered and non-powered alike.
While speaking at Emerald City Comic Con 2016, Bendis, Aubuchon, and Oeming were joined by cast members Heyward, Olesya Rulin (Calista Secor), and Logan Browning (Zora) to discuss the story of season 2, as well as the additions to the cast that include Michael Madsen (The Hateful Eight) as Super Shock, Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactia) as Agent Lange, and Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars) as Senator Bailey Brown.
Aubuchon was eager to discuss the ways in which Powers season 2 would build off season 1, and how it was not only looking to expand itself in terms of the depth and ambition of its storytelling, but also in the way it presented itself on a purely visual level.
"I think we did a lot of really good things last season. We certainly were able to figure out how to translate the books into a television series. But there were some things that, you know, we stumbled on and didn't quite get right and we had an opportunity in the second season to really kind of make that work. I think one of the things that we got a chance to do is start to integrate the actual DNA of the actual book into the TV series and also got a chance to allow ourselves to be inspired by Mike Oeming's amazing vision and graphic style, which, you know, is not an easy task to translate to a television show, but I think we were actually fairly successful. It took a lot of people behind the scenes to make that happen.
One of the things I loved and I hope [the audience] did too about reading the book is that it's a page-turner. Every single time you're like 'I gotta find out what's gonna happen next.' And we really wanted to imbue the whole television [series] with that same blend of energy, we really wanted to make it fee like 'I gotta figure out what's gonna happen next.' I hope we did that; I think we did pretty good."
Bendis seconded Aubuchon's assertions, saying that, in addition to the actors joining the cast, talent was brought in to help out on the other side of the camera as well.
"When Remi became the showrunner... The connection was very strong and… he sat down and he goes, 'here's what we're gonna do,' and behind the scenes we hired some amazing people, like really amazing people with amazing credits at the top of their game. Our costume designer Shauna who is Joss Whedon's costume designer did Firefly and Buffy and all these amazing movies with him. And our stunt coordinator Mike who works on Star Wars and Indiana Jones and is Harrison Ford's stunt guy in all these movies. And our cinematographer -- I'm a big cinematography nerd -- the look of the show finding it's own version of a unique look, just like Jessica Jones has. Every aspect of it just got better, everything got better."
The additions the series made both in front of and behind the camera called for a season 2 storyline big enough and compelling enough to put the offseason acquisitions to proper use. The writers and producers' choice was ultimately an easy one, as the first story explored in the comics made for an absorbing tale that would service the season 1 story, while also acting as the perfect jumping on point for new viewers. Bendis said:
"The original storyline of the first graphic novel was Who Killed Retro Girl? In that story every single beat of the investigation opens up the world of Powers, introducing them to you. So just like in the show, this storyline will open up the world of Powers. We see new characters; we find new corners. Everywhere we go there's something new to look at, something new to see that you're not going to see on other shows."
Heyward added to Bendis' comments by explaining how the death of Retro Girl alters the series' landscape for season 2 and how the off-screen death of a major character not only sets the story in motion, but also raises the stakes for everyone involved, especially her character, Deena Pilgrim.
"With the absence of Retro Girl, the world is thrown into chaos. What do you do when this person who you thought was going to protect you, was always going to be there for you is now gone? What is your personal responsibility for how the world is going to be reordered? And to take that responsibility and that power… what do you do with it? Deena has some really great moments where she has the opportunity to do something and has to question who she thinks she is. And making the world larger she's got more foils to challenge her idea of herself."
Bendis was quick to add to Heyward's statements about Retro Girl character and Deena's season 2 arc, saying:
"[Retro Girl's] presence in the city and in the world kept things at bay; it kept certain other powers and other threats to the world -- just her existence stopped them from happening. And with her gone, almost immediately those threats find the power to do whatever nasty stuff they were up to. There's chaos in the streets... immediately because they feel no one is watching them anymore or 'if they can get her, they can get any of us, so what the hell.'
Deena in the book is morally challenged person, wrestling with it every single second and first we have to introduce the character and then you dig deeper."
Aubuchon added that the death of Retro Girl would have an effect on everyone in the show, regardless of what side of the law they're on. He said, "It's not even that there are suddenly more bad guys around. But... even the good guys are having issues with how to deal with the loss of something that everybody took for granted in essence."
But what's a murder mystery without a cop to help solve it and bring the killer (or killers) to justice? Although he wasn't available for the ECCC panel, Bendis was eager to discuss what direction Copley's Christian Walker would take in season 2 and what the addition of new characters like Agent Lane and Super Shock mean to the character dynamics of the show. Bendis said:
"Christian will have let go of his quest for power that was strangling him (metaphorically) and trying with the death of Retro Girl and things we'll discover about her in the very first episode that we didn't know before. He will look at this case as a quest for humanity. He's never had to be a human being before or never tried to be a human being before, so he has to now. He has to solve this case and help this woman who never needed his help before, [but] in her passing desperately needs his help and with that comes hopefully a big key to future of his soul.
We have tons of new characters; we have... characters from the book, like the Lance and Nucleus. And also [in season 2] comes Tricia Helfer's character Agent Lane who's a very big part of the book. And in she comes with all kinds of secrets and all kinds of histories with the characters that we haven't shown before. So it's not just like super villains and bad guys; it's people looking for a little piece of power. And lo-and-behold on top of that here comes Super Shock, one of the greatest superheroes of all time who literally hasn't been seen in decades and all of the sudden, with Retro Girl gone, he shows up. And he becomes a big mystery box."
Aubuchon added that bringing Michael Madsen aboard the superhero drama certainly added to the quality of the production, even if he didn't necessarily know exactly what the actor was up to initially.
"First of all, [Madsen] is a force to be reckoned with. And he comes in with very strong ideas, which is amazing and cool. Sometimes on camera we were not quite sure what he's doing but it's interesting because we're not quite sure and then we get into the editing room and we see it and we go, 'This is amazing.' ...The first week of shooting he wore his costume for the first time, he came up to me and he said, 'Is there anyway I can take this home?' I really want to show it to people."
Bendis was also impressed with Madsen; not only for what the seasoned actor brought to his character, but also for what he brought in terms of a lengthy career working alongside directors like Quentin Tarantino.
"How great are [Madsen] and Sharlto together? They're both alpha males and the two of them together -- wait until you see this -- it's in the first episode. They're great together. I spent most of my time on set pummeling him with Tarantino questions. He caught me showing the cinematographer some shots of him from Hateful Eight that were really interesting; they were really interesting angles that I just thought he'd like to see them. And [Madsen] came up and gave us a whole half-hour of behind-the-scenes on the Hateful Eight and I was like 'This is awesome.'
The powers that be behind Powers are adamant that season 2 is an all around improvement over season 1. And while the veracity of such assurances remain to be seen, there is definitely a curiosity factor boosted non only by the series attempt to directly adapt the first Powers storyline, but also for the interesting additions to the cast that were brought in to help make the adaptation a reality. For those who are eager to see whether or not that is true, or are especially interested in seeing Madsen don the Super Shock costume and play a role in the mystery of who killed Retro Girl, you don't have long to wait.
Powers season 2 premieres Tuesday, May 31, 2016 exclusively on the PlayStation Network.