ALPHAS – 01.02 “Cause And Effect”

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

ALPHAS – 01.02

Cause And Effect

Late again! Apologies all, too much to do this week, but I shall make amends. Swiftly following this review will be reviews for both TORCHWOOD Ep. 3 and the much discussed and criticized WONDER WOMAN pilot. Now, where were we?

Some Spoiler-age ahead…

Ah, the plot thickens. As we see our second episode of ALPHAS begin, we notice a few things right off the bat. First, there is a visual recap of our team’s abilities, narrated by Dr. Rosen. In it he talks about the presence of ALPHAS in the world, and that some of them are to be feared, leading into a rather nifty sequence where a handcuffed man in an ambulance uses a coin to trigger a series of events that leaves the ambulance wrecked and everyone but the prisoner either unconscious or dead. Freed by the crash, the prisoner walks away, but not before calling the police to report the accident.

The second thing we see is a new title sequence, again giving a visual description of the team’s abilities, followed by a scene of our team moving into new offices. The first episode was a pilot, shot to sell the series, and obviously in the time between making it and the second episode, some changes were made to the look and feel of the show. This is really common in the tv business, and often the changes aren’t mentioned at all, but here they use the move to recap a bit of the pilot episode and help reestablish our characters. We see Malik Yoba’s Bill Harken display his strength, Ryan Cartwright’s Gary Bell complaining that his ability to see electrical signals is picking up a distracting hum, while Rachel Pirzad, played by Azita Ghanizanda, uses her ability to focus her senses to superhuman levels to try, and fail, to hear it. Nina Theroux, played by Laura Mennell, has less easily illustrated talents in this situation, as she can manipulate those around her with her voice, but here she simply references how easy it was to get her new office set up before everyone else.

Again we have a mixture of friendly banter and mutual irritation between the team, from Nina sympathizing with Rachel’s family problems, to Gary’s pestering of Bill, which gives them a chance to both complain about the new office, and that a mind controlled Bill’s attempt to kill Dr. Rosen from the pilot episode was the trigger for the move. Arriving last, the fourth Alpha on the team is Cameron Hicks, played by Warren Christie. Hicks’ reflexes and aim are heightened to the point where he can hit any target and move with almost superhuman reaction time. Also a victim of the mind controlling assassin from the pilot, but successful in killing his target, here he is reminded that only Dr. Rosen is keeping him from being turned over to the authorities, and perhaps more ominously, being sent to the Binghamton Special Research Facility, or as Nina calls it, the Compound. You see, not all Alphas are as “well” adjusted as our main characters, and are certainly not safe to be out in the world with ordinary people, so the Department of Defense has a facility to keep them contained.

When Dr. Lee Rosen, played by David Strathairn, makes his entrance, another change is revealed. Gone is the beard from the pilot, and we learn something new about the character as well: Ladies dig the Doc. But before he can flirt more with the real estate agent who is returning the tie he left at her place, Rosen gets a call about the accident from the beginning of the episode.

At the crash scene we are introduced to two of the three new characters in the series, Dr. Singh, who works at Binghamton and was treating the escaped man there, and Nathan Cley (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), the DOD agent out to track him down. The patient is Marcus Ayers, played by Will McCormack. and he has the ability to predict series of events, then see the triggers that will lead to the outcome he desires. Intensely paranoid and sociopathic, he cannot believe that others can’t see the obvious outcomes to events in the way he can, and while for a time he was treated by Dr. Rosen, eventually Rosen realized that he wouldn’t be able to help him, and he was shipped off to Binghamton. While there, his mental state on worsened, and now his escape and past relationship with Rosen will draw the Alphas into his pursuit.

Also along the way we find that Agent Wilson is on assignment, and so we are joined by Agent Kathy Sullivan, played by Valerie Cruz, who knows pretty much everything about the Alphas, and who gets off a little bit on the wrong foot with Rosen, prompting him to make it clear that he’s not happy with the team being used as agents of the DOD. Nina also reveals to Rosen her own fears about being sent to Binghamton, and we see again just how much power our good doctor has over the team.

The hunt for Marcus will expose more about what’s happening to the Alphas at Binghamton than Rosen will be happy with, and raise real questions about what the DOD actually has in mind for those with special abilities. Marcus’ paranoia may not be quite without reason, and how much of a villain he is will be called into question. The wider arc of the Alphas’ story may be being revealed here…

What’s good here is the performance of Strathairn as Rosen, who is very much the focus of the episode. Clearly a good hearted man with the hope that the Alphas can be a real part of society, he is an intensely pragmatic man as well. But the revelations, however small at this point, about the direction of treatment at Binghamton rock his security in his relationship with the DOD. The obvious parallels with Charles Xavier were there from the beginning, but Rosen’s more active field role and somewhat less idealistic worldview makes him, at this point anyway, a more dynamic character. Strathairn is an excellent actor, and can move from anger to self-recrimination easily and believably and in this cast of very fine performers, he’s the best reason to watch this show.

Also good is McCormack’s Marcus, who while truly a danger to those around him makes some VERY good points about Rosen’s faith in his DOD overseers, and in a scene that recalls the better debates between Magneto and Xavier from THE X-MEN about the future of mutants in the world. He is a paranoid, he is a sociopath, but he also is seeing the wider patterns, and there may very well be a good reason for his actions. And even more interestingly, he really does believe that Rosen’s positive viewpoint may be one thing that can make a difference.

What’s bad is the rest of the team being mostly set dressing this episode, but that happens in shows with more than a few main characters, especially in the early episodes. While each of them get a little to do, wether displaying their abilities or discussing their histories a little more, it would be nice to see them have more to do, even in such a Rosen-centric episode.

Stronger than the pilot, certainly better written, it’s obvious that ALPHAS is still working out what kind of show it’s going to be, but a few things give us an idea. One, we’re probably looking at an Alpha of the week structure, and two, we’re looking at building towards a major clash between the optimistic view Rosen has for the Alphas, the darker view Marcus shares, and the secrets the DOD has been keeping from Rosen about their plans. This episode makes a pretty good argument that this show has some legs, but it’s still early days, and anytime you have a show so easily compared to something like THE X-MEN, you tread a fine line between being inspired by the same ideas and imitation. It would be easy for this to become an X-MEN clone, or veer off into MUTANT X territory. We’ll have to wait and see.

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