Cameron and Nina fall under the influence of a cult leader who can make his followers see visions of Heaven… and feel the suffering of Hell.
Alphas airs Monday nights at 10:00PM EST on Syfy.
This week’s episode of Alphas is credited to writer Michael Chamoy, who has been listed on IMDB as a staff writer on most of the episodes this season. Outside of this gig, he’s pretty much only been credited as an assistant to series co-creator Zak Penn, but as part of the writing crew on this show, he’s earning my respect.
This episode, “A Short Time in Paradise” is another good one. Not only because it gets our characters (and the actors playing them) out of their comfort zones, but it also has huge repercussions psychologically.
It doesn’t hurt that it co-stars Garret Dillahunt as Jonas Englin.
If you don’t know who Dillahunt is, then you really need to track down some of his work. He’s been working in television and film since the mid-nineties, but I first noticed him in HBO’s Deadwood, where he played Jack McCall, the man who shot Wild Bill in the first season, and was then recast in Season Two as Francis Wolcott, the chief scout for the mining operation setting up stakes. Oh yeah, and he had trouble keeping himself from killing whores.
The character, that is.
He followed that up by playing Jesus in the TV mini-series The Book of Daniel, then spent some time on The 4400 and ER before landing a central role in Deadwood creator, David Milch’s next HBO series, John from Cincinnati.
That show was criminally underrated and only lasted a season.
I blame all of you.
Anyway, he was also the terminally dull-witted Ed Miller in the phenomenal The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and then won my geek-heart over completely playing the terminator/artificial intelligence John Henry in the also criminally underrated Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
And if you like your family sit-coms a little bent, you should check him out as simple but loveable grandpa Burt Chance on Fox’s Raising Hope.
Jonas Englin’s Alpha ability is to stimulate people’s pineal gland, making them hallucinate and experience a feeling of intense peace. Before burning out their brains, anyway. Then they wrap you in a sheet and toss you in a furnace. Just like dad used to do.
Well, in this case, dad actually just burned up the congregation to “protect” them from the outside world. Young Jonas witnessed this and it basically effed his head up for good.
And Dillahunt plays it perfectly. He’s not a bad guy. He’s just a little nuts. Then he goes full-on nuts.
We also get good insights into the personalities of Hicks (Warren Christie), Rachel (Azita Ghanizada), and Gary (Ryan Cartwright), as they all make interesting strides in their everyday lives, before having to deal with the brainwashed cult of Jacob.
While Hicks’ alcoholism drops in out-of-the-blue, it’s an interesting development and actually works very well with his character. There are thematic echoes there with the way his abilities stop working when he loses his focus and control.
Rachel and Gary work well together this week, as, in a typically strained development for Rachel, she needs a date to her sister’s bridal party or the family will think she’s incapable of landing a man. And in typically strained fashion, she can’t handle the attention from her family.
Luckily, Gary is there to save the day. Gary is quickly becoming one of my favorite television characters. He gets volunteered to attend the party with Rachel and after some typically strained family interactions (this time involving a cancer flair-up with her father), Gary tells her she needs to get her act together and be more assertive.
He’s looking out for her.
And he loves Rachel’s mom’s hummus. He loves it so much it made me crave some, too.
But back to the main plot.
Jonas “seduces” Hicks and Nina into his cult not so much with his peace and love nonsense, but his constant hallucinations and open attitude toward pre-marital sex. However, his followers keep dying, so they call Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn) to help out.
And this is when what could have been a cliché-ridden “scary cult” story takes a bit of a deeper turn.
Strathairn and Dillahunt work really well together. Rosen’s over-intellectual father-figure persona balances with Jonas’ simple and deluded man-child, creating a dynamic that pushes Jonas into realizing for the first time just what he is and what he’s doing.
The thing is, after a lifetime of believing in his own visions, even though he’s forever excluded from the peace they bring, he won’t accept that living in the corrupted world is better than dying after a short time in paradise.
And when Bill (Malik Yoba) shows up, believing that Rachel and Gary are going to call in a full-scale ATF nightmare, Jonas realizes, for the first time, mind you, that his father’s mass suicide was a rational response to the situation.
Okay, rational is a bit of a stretch, but he sees why his father did it, and finally understands.
So he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and it is only a bullet fired by Dr. Rosen that saves everyone’s lives.
And the way this wraps up is why I love this show so much. Earlier in the episode, Rosen emphatically refuses to accept the need for weapons training and other police/law enforcement training. He declares that he’s never fired a gun and that it was a conscious choice.
So we should know that means he’s going to have to fire a gun before the episode is out.
But this series has the mad skillz to slip these things by me, for some reason. What should have been obvious didn’t become so until just moments before it happened. And Strathairn’s performance of a shell-shocked Rosen, dealing with the fact that he just took a man’s life brings it all home.
The sequence as they bring out the body is perfection. There are no words and the emotion of the scene is played entirely through Strathairn’s expressions and his body language.
It’s powerful stuff that elevates what could have been an average episode to a very good piece of television. It’s television, as far as I’m concerned. Alphas is, without question, one of the most consistently engaging and enjoyable shows on the air at the moment.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desir