Alphas 2.05 "Gaslight"

A tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

An Alpha goes insane and his delusions lead him to abduct Rachel. However, when the rest of the team search for her, they find themselves entangled in a series of bizarre situations.

Alphas airs Monday nights at 8PM on Syfy.

Director: Leslie Libman

Writers: Terri Hughes & Ron Milbauer

This week's episode is a good example of both the possibilities and the limitations of what an imaginative creative team can do with the Alphas concept. Essentially it's a Haunted House episode, but so far there's no evidence of the supernatural in the Alphas world. Strange events are going to have scientific (or pseudo-scientific) causes; so while Alphas utilizes a Story Engine that is open to just about any type of story you could want to write, it will always tie things back to Alpha abilities in the end.

Veteran writing team Terri Hughes and Ron Milbauer have a history of working with supernatural scenarios and do a very good job of incorporating horror elements to this week's episode, but they also throw a nice bit of actual science into the mix.

The Alpha of the Week this week is a bit of a bait-and-switch. In coming to the aid of Adam (Noah Reid), who has had a hallucinatory freak-out while identifying the corpse of his dead sister, our Alphas team comes face to face with what at first appear to be evidence of a hospital haunting. However, in the end, it's another Alpha altogether who is responsible for the haunting. Meanwhile, Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn) skirts ethical boundaries in manipulating Nina (Laura Mennell) into helping him investigate a connection between Parish (John Pyper-Ferguson) and NY Senator Charlotte Burton (Lauren Holly).

But first, real science!

Since there's not really any sort of supernatural in the world of Alphas, how to explain the hallucinations that our heroes all succumb to while investigating the hospital? Infrasound. I don't know how many people are aware of what infrasound is and how it can affect people. I had no idea until sometime last year while watching a ghost hunting show (Dr. Girlfriend is addicted to them) and the hosts revealed that the sense of unease that people felt in this particular "haunted" place (a prison, I think), was probably due to the presence of low-frequency vibrations running through the place when certain machinery was operating.

As it turns out, studies have suggested that infrasound, which is too low for most human beings to actually hear, still affects how we perceive the world around us. And since we don't consciously hear it, it has been reported to cause feelings of awe or fear and can make you feel that something supernatural is occurring around you.

Crazy, huh?

And that's what's going on here. Since the first couple of people we see being affected by the infrasound see dead people, we get to jump right into the haunted hospital idea, but as Rachel (Azita Ghanizada), Bill (Malik Yoba), and Hicks (Warren Christie) start hallucinating we see that their visions are of a different sort. And because they're all being confronted with their own fears, we're back into the realm of science and pseudo-science that makes Alphas work so well.

While most of the gang's fears are pretty self-explanatory (i.e. Hicks fears losing his son, Bill's fear is about confronting himself, and Rachel's fear has to do with losing her friends), Gary (Ryan Cartwright) is visited by a vision of Anna (Liane Balaban). And while he doesn't really seem to believe that she's a ghost, he doesn't really care what she is. He's just happy to have Anna back.

I love the fact that while anxieties and fears are crippling and distracting everyone else, Gary's hallucination is rational and gives him guidance. His anxieties don't process like other people's anxieties and the simple routine of having Anna back in his life doesn't amplify his fears but assuages them.

So, of course, when it comes time to save everyone, Gary is shoved into the position where he has to give up his security and comfort in order to return security and comfort to the others. It's a nice twist and for just a moment there, even though I knew he'd do the right thing, there was a bit of hesitation that sold the moment.

Cartwright is doing extremely high-quality work on this show and I'm afraid nobody's going to really notice and give him the credit he deserves. This is award-winning talent on display. Somebody give the man an award! You know he's English, right? Not only is he playing believably autistic in a way that shows both realistic hardships and realistic humor, he's doing it all with an American accent!

Anyway, we ultimately discover that the infrasound hallucinations are being caused by a comatose Alpha (whether he's the source or is causing the infrasound some other way isn't very clear), and we are given another piece of the Stanton Parish puzzle. It turns out that a device called a Photic Stimulator, which is used on comatose patients in an attempt to stimulate brain activity is manufactured by August Medical.

And it turns out that company, August Medical, is the link to Parish.

We know this because over in the other storyline, under the increasingly selfish and manipulative "guidance" of Dr. Rosen, Nina has developed another way of utilizing her powers. Instead of "pushing" someone, he suggests that she may be able to "pull" information from someone. And sure enough, it works. Not completely, but enough to give them the information that a man approached Senator Burton requesting favors in return for campaign contributions.

Her memory of just what favors she promised has been removed, but the word August is all she can recall.  And after some digging by Gary, we learn that August Medical has 2,700 of those Photic Stimulators in use in hospitals all across the country.

Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, Rosen can't tell. So next week we get a return guest-star who may be able to shed some light on how the strange device works – Skylar (Summer Glau)!!!

And in a nice little bit of character work, Kat (Erin Way) was given a brief glimpse into her own past, as Nina drew out a hazy memory of her 16th birthday party and a woman walking into the room. We are then given a very effective display of how her abilities work as she watches a video art lesson and goes to work drawing a lifelike image of someone who may be her mother. What really makes the scene work is that she doesn't just suddenly draw a realistic portrait. Instead we watch her skills develop as she goes from sketching stick figures to adding depth and weight, until finally she has a drawing that hopefully will provide some insight into her past.

It was very nicely done.

As was the final moment as Gary finds another way to make Anna live on. He secretly begins tweeting as @Anna_Lives, saying that the revolution is coming.


Next week we launch into the back half of the eleven episode season and it looks things are only going to get better as we keep moving toward possible revolution.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. 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.


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