After capturing an Alpha working as an obstetrician, the team takes on an Alpha with the ability to remain unseen and undetectable against any opponent.
Alphas airs Monday nights at 10:00PM EST on Syfy.
And the guest spots keep right on coming!
This week Alphas brings Brent Spiner (Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, as if I had to tell you) and Rebecca Mader (Charlotte, from Lost) into the mix, while writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (responsible for Episode 3, “Anger Management”) with uncredited staff writer Michael Chamoy (who wrote last week’s “A Short Time in Paradise”) throw a wild card into the Alphas/Red Flag dynamic.
I’m kind of glad we’ve moved past the initial mirroring of our heroes that we got with the first batch of episodes. It was a nice thematic element that helped to distinguish this show from its lower-quality competitors, but we don’t want it to get stale.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve gotten a hint or two at another narrative concept rearing its head; this idea that our Alphas are possibly heading for a third path between the Government and Red Flag. I love almost any possibility of busting up a dualistic approach to storytelling (in fiction and in life), so with Mader’s Griffen showing up with a mysterious name, Stanton Parish, and no affiliation to either ideological side, I was giddy.
We also got a little bit of a Scanners nod this week, as Spiner plays Dr. Kern, an Alpha obstetrician, who has been planning on using pregnancy vitamins containing active human DNA, which would cause birth defects and mutations. Kern wants to make more Alphas and considers this an appropriate response to the recent development of Renestrin, the drug designed to keep Alphas from developing in the womb.
It’s all kind of disturbing and ethically tricky when you get right down to it.
This becomes even more intriguing when we discover that Griffen was hired by somebody, possibly this Stanton Parish, to grab Kern’s research and if possible, capture and bring him in alive. It’s clearly not anyone affiliated with Red Flag, since they’re already in line to distribute Kern’s pills.
So that means there’s a third party involved as we head toward our First Season finale in three weeks.
You see that, Torchwood? That’s how you build up a season and utilize your guest-stars.
In a nice subversion of expectations, even though Dr. Kern’s sonar can track and find Griffen, who is essentially invisible to everyone by manipulating their blind spots, our Alphas don’t enlist his help. This could have easily slipped into the cliché “we all need to work together to get through this” scenario that you’d get on shows like Torchwood or Stargate.
Instead, no one trusts each other and with good reason.
The more I think about it, that’s kind of another thing that really makes this show stand out from other shows in its genre, except perhaps for the exceptional UK series, Misfits. Alphas doesn’t restrict itself to telling the same old morality tales that permeate the genre to such an extent that you’d think they defined it.
Instead, that hopeful idealism and “pulling together to fight a common enemy” sort of approach is represented by David Strathairn’s Dr. Lee Rosen, but he’s learning, slowly but surely, that those ideals don’t always hold up in “real-world” situations. By combining the roles of counselor with employer, Rosen is coming face to face with where those clichés fall apart.
It’s just a very pragmatic show.
For example, after last week’s touch of bliss, Bill (Malik Yoba) is unable to activate his adrenaline boost powers. Rosen wants to shoot him up with adrenaline in the hopes of jump-starting his powers, but Bill wants nothing to do with it. He’s happy being normal.
On another show, this would be the focus of an episode with lots of hand-wringing, guilt, and drama. Not to mention crying. If this were Torchwood somebody would have been crying before the episode was done (and I don’t mean just the viewers).
Here, however, Rosen doesn’t pressure him (not really), but urges him to sit down and talk it through. When events make that impossible and Bill’s powers are finally needed, he steps up and accepts what has to be done without a lot of fuss. And once the danger has passed, there are no lingering shots of him being sad for his lost normalcy. He just helps clean up and goes back to needling Gary (Ryan Cartwright).
It’s efficient and realistic, side-stepping the standard melodrama these sorts of shows wallow in.
Even the budding romance between Nina (Laura Mennell) and Hicks (Warren Christie) is played with a touch more realism than your standard dramatic outbursts. It started as a bit of a cliché, the pretty white people falling for each other, but thanks to the performances and the writing, it’s avoiding the distracting, cloying approach that other shows would take.
I am curious, though, as a writer, whether or not the addictive personality development with Hicks was planned from the start or something that developed as they worked with the characters.
Regardless, I’m engaged in the characters at this point, so the developments seem to be natural and we see how their personalities work together. They’re not just together because it would create dramatic tension and attract ratings (although the dramatic tension is there). Their character arcs have pushed them towards each other over time.
That’s how good writers do it.
To be clear, though, Alphas isn’t really groundbreaking television. It’s just solidly consistent, strong storytelling that refuses to insult or look down on its audience.
Unlike Heroes, the creators of this show don’t need to string us along with ridiculous plot twists or shifting characterizations.
Unlike Torchwood, the creators of this show understand that building a world and a threat involves developing the characters and the plot from episode to episode, not relying on empty surprises and nonsensical revelations.
Alphas isn’t the greatest show to ever air, but it’s a damn good one week in and week out. And that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.
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 Desire Machines.