“You’re not afraid. You’re afraid of scaring your mom.”
As Buddha once said, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. It’s taken half the season and a reminder of the Elemental stalking those with powers, but Dion has finally been given his mentor in Charlotte Tuck. He’ll need everything she can teach him while Pat and Nicole jump through their own hurdles in an episode that further suggests the big, bad BIONA is running a close second for biggest threat to the protagonists and, by extension, the world.
When Dion tells Nicole he saw the Elemental the night before, the harried mother knows that she and Pat aren’t going to be enough to keep Dion safe. She reaches out to Charlotte, hoping that the woman can help Dion use his powers in a way that could help him survive the thing stalking those with abilities.
Gruff though she may be, Charlotte agrees and puts the young would-be hero through the paces. Like Yoda was to Luke, Charlotte doesn’t give her student a sugarcoated message. It’s basically ‘there are dangerous things out there and, if you’re not ready, it won’t end well for you’.
But it’s more than just tough love; she acknowledges his fears but stresses the importance to him of overcoming them. While their training isn’t as captivating as Luke’s time on Dagobah, watching the relationship between the two develop is a welcome addition to an episode that, as far as relationships go, some are just plain awkward.
If I’m being honest, as much as I like Jason Ritter’s enthusiasm, his character is an inconsistent mess. It’s not Pat’s actions I have trouble with, rather that, to this date, the show has refused to show any sort of professional competence. He’s an engineer at a massive company and yet he never seems able to complete anything without mucking something up. Funny as it may be, it’s a disservice to him and prevents him from being a capable and fully-formed 3-dimensional character. Going a bit deeper than that (though not as criminal) is Pat’s inability to stand up to Nicole. Any time she confronts him on something—whether she’s in the right or wrong—he backs down, mumbling an awkward apology. Sometimes the response to someone, even if they are in the right but speak to you in the way Nicole does to Pat, is demand they show you the same respect they believe they deserve. It’s not to say that Pat is an unrealistic character (except again with the lack of showcasing his engineering skills) but his 2-D persona doesn’t leave that much to be interested in watching develop.
On the other hand, Nicole is as well-formed as they come. Even when she’s right, she can come off as prickly and condescending, a trait that many people show when they are harried and anxious. “Super Friends” expands upon her character, touching on her desires to get back in touch with her first love—dance. Though the simmering attraction between her and Rashad is there, it’s tertiary in what’s important to her narrative arc. Having Nicole able to think about herself and not just worry over Dion is what helped Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers excel in Season 2 of Stranger Things. She’s not just defined by her son (no matter how transcendent and powerful that love is); she’s an individual who had a past with the love, desires, and disappointments that is unique to each person. Better than any episode, “Super Friends” reminds us of this and, even if her and Pat end things in the most awkward of kisses (though the hints were there since the first episode), we’re better for seeing her work through life, at least for a few moments, without Dion by her side.
Though Nicole’s journey and Dion’s lessons with Charlotte were a strong one-two punch, “Super Friends” gave too many instances of ridiculous events (not one person noticed a Roomba-like drone hovering in front of the apartment?!) and arcs that, at this moment, provide nothing of import (Nicole’s landlord is a waste of the series’ time and the mini-arc with Jonathan seemed to be shoehorned in). It does tease the major plot developments—Suzanne discovering Dion’s abilities and Nicole finding Mark’s research—but while those two nuggets may pay dividends in future episodes, it’s not quite enough to pull “Super Friends” from the bowels of mediocrity.