In the UK: Season available to buy on YouTube. New episode free every Wednesday
Science-fiction is very rarely a ‘hard watch’. Sure, there can be science-fiction that taxes the brain or grosses you out, but it’s not often that it’s hard to watch because of its emotional resonances or difficult subject matter.
The fact that Impulse was also not only a YouTube TV series but also based on the same books as the terrible movie Jumper – and was simultaneously genuinely very, very good – therefore meant it was up there with unicorn tears.
Don’t curb this Impulse
The first season followed annoying teenager Henriette (Maddie Hasson) who’s moved to a small town with her blue-collar mum (Missi Pyle), who’s gone from boyfriend to boyfriend, job to job, ever since Henry’s dad left her. Soon, mum’s got a new boyfriend (Matt Gordon) and Henry’s got a new quasi-sister (Sarah Desjardins) as a result.
One night at a party, Henry is sexually assaulted by the local jock (Tanner Stine). Unbeknownst to her, however, the fits she’s been having are the onset of something incredible – and the assault causes her nascent power of teleportation to emerge violently. In an instant, she’s back in her bedroom and Stine is crushed and paralysed by his truck.
The rest of the season then plays out across two strands. On the one hand, it’s a season of Friday Night Lights, with the effects on the victim, the rapist, their families and the communities of the crime explored in terrible detail. On the other, it’s a superhero origin’s story, as Henry begins to explore her powers with her sister and Aspie sidekick (Daniel Maslany) – and learns that superheroes tend to get supervillains to match (Callum Keith Rennie).
Given that thanks to a change in YouTube’s pricing policy, you can now stream the entire first season for free, you should do so right now if you haven’t already, since it was easily one of TMINE’s Top 14 shows of 2018. It’s right here, after the trailer:
Act on Impulse
And now we have season 2, which can already pay to watch in its entirety, but a new episode of which will be available to watch for free every Wednesday.
Is it a hard watch? Yes. Is it still good? Yes. It a big change?
Possibly. Because as Maslany says at one point in the season, “I thought I was a superhero’s sidekick, but I think I might have been a supervillain’s henchman instead.”
The hard question this time round: at what point does the victim of a sexual assault lose our sympathy?
Is she or isn’t she?
Season two of Impulse isn’t quite the slam dunk of season one and there are times where it’s not so much a hard watch as a hard watch – in the sense that you really have to want to watch it to keep going. However, the end of the season ties together many of the niggling problems that beset it mid-season, making it a satisfying and complete story as a whole.
The show continues more or less where season one left off and explores similar themes as before: how people deal with sexual assault. Intriguingly, here it takes the first season’s supervillain and turns him into Henry’s Yoda – a mentor who can help her come to terms with her trauma so she can master her new ability.
The show is clear, however, that this isn’t an easy thing and Callum Keith Rennie’s ‘Nikolai’ is clearly still beholden to the trauma he suffered as a child in Romania, just as Henry is suffering from her more recent horrors.
Indeed, while Impulse initially has Henry trying to move on, trying to lead a normal life, trying even to have a boyfriend, it’s clear she can’t have any of that – at least not yet. And by the end of the season, she’s meting out abuse herself in different ways, all while convinced she’s doing the right things for the right reasons.
The bodies, both literal and metaphorical, soon start to build up, with friends and former friends all sacrificed on the altar of safety. Yet at the same time, the show is at pains to show Henry’s growing embrace of responsibility, with the final episode showing what that must mean for her in particular. She has to make incredibly difficult decisions for other people’s benefits, something she never had to do before the assault either.
The season is a beautiful portrayal of two other things: a close mother-daughter relationship and blue collar-life in a small town. Pyle and Hansson’s mix of tenderness and fighting is accurately depicted and is sometimes tear-jerking, as is their constant exchange of the mother and daughter roles.
Similarly, Pyle is doing her best for her daughter and struggles to find work – any work – just to put food on the table. And that’s easier said than done in a small town in which you’re connected in some way to the guy everyone both loved and hated – and your daughter’s rapist is on TV accusing her of terrible things.
Acting on Impulse
Season two does, however, frequently misstep. An entire episode dedicated to Nikolai’s childhood stalls the action, even though the backstory established does ultimately provide much-needed context. There’s the return of the Mennonites from the first season, which frequently diverts from and almost never intersects with the main storyline.
The mystery of Henry’s dad is resolved, but although typically it’s shown to be a lot more nuanced than other shows would have been, the ‘surprise’ isn’t a real surprise at all.
There’s also the fact that we never really get much further exploring Henry’s powers and the wider ‘teleporting’ universe than we did at the end of the first season. We get elusive hints to Nikolai’s sister and father, but no real indication of how it all fits with what we saw in season one and where it’s all going.
The final episode does explore that a little, thanks to the arrival of a new character played by Shohreh Aghdashloo. But by the end of the season, you’ll be really no wiser – and perhaps even less wise – than you were at the start.
Impulse and work
In slowly ostracising Henry from her friends, Impulse also slowly ostracises them from the plot. Maslany’s usually off doing his own thing, either investigating conspiracy theories on the Internet (and once poignantly in real-life) or trying to establish an IRL relationship with his online girlfriend. Desjardins has her own storyline, too, but the eventual twist to that comes a little out of nowhere.
Meanwhile, cop Enuka Okuma degenerates from interesting support character in the first season to “I’ll catch you, you damned teleporter!” over the course of the second season, to minimal effect. It’s a bit of a waste, too.
But provided there is a third season, I can forgive the show. While they don’t cure all ills, the final two episodes bring everything together and set up everything well for a potentially very different season that builds on what the show’s set up.
They also leave the second season a vivid portrait not of a teleporter but of a working class teenage girl struggling to overcome all the challenges life has thrown in her way, usually badly, but learning as she does so. It examines cycles and systems of abuse in really surprisingly sophisticated ways, and generally exposes most other science-fiction shows and even dramas as the generally shallow affairs we’ve always long-suspected othem of being.
Impulse is certainly not easy viewing and you may well end up love-hating Henry even more than you did in the first season. Indeed, there are times when she downright is the villainess of the piece.
Yet at the same time, there are often beautiful moments hidden amongst the terrible vicissitudes of her existence: a trip to a bucolic camping site, a flyer for an art college that allows her to dream for a second of a different life and a future, finding an old collection of her father’s music. It’s also sometimes very funny, particularly Maslany’s nerdy discussions with his girlfriend about the rules of Settlers of Catan.
And it also doesn’t quite forget it’s science-fiction. It has some really impressive moments, as it explores the scientific and emotional rules it’s created for itself. Its teleporting fights and experiments are every inch the match of Jumper‘s and others.
If you do start season two, watch it all the way through to the end, since it’s very much worth it. Then hope for a bright future.