Alphas 1.02 & 1.03 Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Paul Brian McCoy
1.02 "Cause and Effect" – Rosen tries to cope with his Department of Defense liaison and a former Alpha patient who wants him dead... or does he?

1.03 "Anger Management" - The team deals with a runaway teenage Alpha setting off riots up and down the East Coast. Meanwhile, Rosen discovers that the government isn't so willing to cooperate with him as he believed.

Alphas airs Monday nights at 10:00PM EST on Syfy.

I am happy to say that fan reaction to Alphas has taken a turn for the better! The general consensus seems to be that after a slow, predictable start to the season, by the end of Episode 3, "Anger Management", Alphas has found its stride.

I whole-heartedly agree.

It's nice to see a show gather its momentum so quickly and even nicer to see the audience appreciating it. Sure, the ratings are slipping ever so slightly, but going from an 0.9 for the premiere to an 0.8 for "Cause and Effect", then 0.7 for "Anger Management" is pretty damned impressive for a 10:00 Monday night show in its opening season.

That's still right in the mix, ratings-wise with Warehouse 13 and Eureka, so Syfy seems to have another very supportable hit on its hands.

But what about these last two episodes, you ask?

Well, let's take a look.

Episode Two was written by Alphas producer, Julie Siege, who was also a writer/story editor on Supernatural Season Four, and co-producer/writer on Season Five. She's responsible for one of my absolute favorite Supernatural episodes, "The Monster at the End of This Book" (Episode 4.18), so that gives her a lot of leverage when it comes to evaluating this episode.

Luckily, no leverage is necessary.

This is a pretty solid adventure from the get-go, with a very exciting and well-choreographed opening action sequence, as Marcus Ayers (Will McCormack), Dr. Rosen's (David Strathairn) very first Alpha patient, escapes from a devastating ambulance crash while being transported from Binghamton Special Research Facilities for mysterious reasons.

You see, Marcus has the ability to manipulate causality in a way very similar to the way Hicks (Warren Christie) is able to utilize his "hyperkinesis". Hicks is all about motor skills, whereas Marcus is more about probabilities. It's a subtle distinction and one that is brought up during the course of the show.

That's really one of the things that is beginning to set this show apart; that attention to detail with characterization and motivation. The threat of being sent to Binghamton hangs over the heads of each of these people, and in both this and the next episode, we see our "star" Alphas discovering how similar they are to Alphas that didn't make the grade. And that makes them a little uneasy.

There have been some changes since the shooting of the pilot. Some aren't that important, like Rosen shaving his beard, or the team moving to a new headquarters in Queens. Although, did anyone else find it odd that Dr. Rosen is banging his real-estate agent?

I guess he wasn't getting as much strange with the fatherly beard.

A more important change in this episode is the absence of Callum Keith Rennie, as Rosen's foil and government handler, Don Wilson (not "The Dragon" in case you were wondering). Replacing him, while he's "on assignment", is Agent Kathy Sullivan, played by the always engaging Valerie Cruz.

She's another of those actresses that just shows up places and is a pleasure to discover. I first saw her in another Syfy/Sci-fi show, The Dresden Files, but enjoyed her work in both Dexter and True Blood as well. She's a nice addition to the show and has a nice, if not as combative, chemistry with Strathairn's Rosen.

Word on the street is that she's been hired for a recurring role, so we should be seeing more of her.

She plays good cop to Mahershalalhashbaz Ali's bad cop, Agent Nathan Cley. His hostility to the Alphas is disconcerting and provides a very interesting perspective. He really has no respect for these people with powers. I'd even wonder if he sees them as human at all.

His attitude is central to what appears to be the guiding conflict of the season; whether what goes on at Binghamton is ethical or not. And given some of the things hinted at here, ethical concerns may be just the tip of the iceberg. Moral and legal issues are going to be just as important as the season moves on.

This is one of the reasons that Marcus escapes and contacts Rosen. He was being taken for a lobotomy, since Dr. Singh (Raoul Bhaneja) found him to be "untreatable". Marcus confronts Rosen with news that things aren't what they seem to be at Binghamton, just before being shot in the chest by Cley.

Of course, no body is found, and given Marcus' abilities, we shouldn't count on the fact that he's dead and lost. He'll be back, reinforcing the nicely paranoid dying words of last episodes Ghost: "You're on the wrong side."

The question is will Rosen realize it in time.

Actually, that's not the question. The real question is, are there only two sides?

That's far more interesting.

Episode Three opens with another dramatic and highly intense action sequence as a riot breaks out on a subway car. The scene is violent and claustrophobic, giving us two weeks in a row where the manifestation of Alpha powers is almost nightmarishly vivid and dangerous.

This episode's Alpha threat is using a super-pheromone power to trigger psychotic riots up the East Coast, and our heroes trace the outbreaks to a runaway teen named Tracy Beaumont (Tatiana Maslany). In the process of tracking her down, they stumble upon Matthew Hurley (Devon Graye), who claims to be her brother and is also looking for her.

I don't know if it was just good writing or if I just wasn't paying attention, but the twist that we get here (that Hurley is actually the one with the power, and he's stalking his girlfriend, Tracy, up the coast) took me by surprise.

I know it shouldn't have, but it did. So there.

But that wasn't the real treat with this episode. That comes when they confront him in their Queens offices.

As you might guess, he blasts the room with his power and all hell breaks loose. Even nicely annoying Gary (Ryan Cartwright) goes apeshit, leaping on people and pounding them in a psychotic rage.

Luckily, by the time Hurley has escaped, there's only one casualty.

It looks like the producers were able to lure Callum Keith Rennie back to reprise his role of Agent Don Wilson, provided they killed him off in the process. And that they do.

And they don't just kill him off; he is beaten to death by a fellow agent, first with a chair and then with bloody fists. All of this occurs during a frenetic sequence complete with flashing lights, color gels, and pounding music. I'm not the only one to see similarities with how some of the violence here is similarly staged to that in 28 Days Later, but it's a good thing to mention.

Especially since it plays so well.

This week, after the office riot, we get Nina (Laura Mennell) going through the same existential anxiety that Hicks faced last time out. Hurley's powers are very similar to hers and experiencing the sort of "pushing" that she does on a casual basis freaks her the hell out. If this is what people feel when she uses her powers on them, she doesn't like it.

And once again, we get a visceral representation of how thin the line is between Alpha field team and Alpha Binghamton patient.

All in all, this show has found its feet much quicker than just about any Syfy show I can think of. Battlestar Galactica got off to a speedier start, but it had a mini-series lead-in. Not only is the pacing and plot development moving at a confident and measured pace, the performances are, for the most part, spot on.

It's like these actors have been playing these characters for a while now. As we watch them become closer, developing friendships and emotional bonds, it all feels very natural. Finding a good ensemble cast like this isn't an easy thing to do, but show creators Zak Penn (yes, that Zak Penn) and Michael Karnow have pulled off a coupe.

This group is even able to gather up for a counseling session at the end of the episode to deal with the violent murder that took place and it doesn't seem cheesy or forced. It feels real and it feels necessary.

These episodes both easily rank at for me. The creators were even able to play around with the story to make "Anger Management" actually seem like the third episode, even though it was filmed and originally intended to air second.

I don't know if it was the violence that caused them to flip these episodes, or if they felt the connection between Rosen and Marcus was a stronger way to build the show, but it doesn't matter.

It works.

Be sure to check out our review of Alphas Episodes 1.01!

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to What Looks Good and Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, tentatively titled Damaged Incorporated. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, sci-fi television, the original Deathlok, Nick Fury, and John Constantine. He can be summed up in three words: Postmodern Anarchist Misanthropy. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

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