I’ve spent the past week or so praising Alphas to anyone who will listen, and now, of course, the show has gone and offered up the worst episode of its first season so far. Hopefully, this will remain the nadir for the show. It certainly feels like the sort of thing that comes up in the writers room and sounds like a good idea at the time, then gets out of hand. And it’s so disconnected from the main arc of the show that I can’t possibly imagine this having much (if any) bearing on what’s to come. I mean, yes, Rosen has now fired a gun and used it to kill everybody’s favorite psychopath Garret Dillahunt, but I’d be more than happy if nobody on the show ever brings it up again. There’s some good stuff in this episode, and I suppose that I liked Dillahunt, but it feels so weirdly underpopulated for an episode about a religious cult.
See, that’s the thing: This is an episode about Jonas, a man who uses his Alpha power to make people fall in thrall to him. That’s a useful power for a cult leader to have, and there are hints the episode might do something interesting with it (though for a time, I was worried the episode would end with Gary teaming up with yet another member of the team to improbably save the day at the last minute, this time getting involved in a team-up with Rachel). In particular, I was intrigued by how smoothly and swiftly both Hicks and Nina fell under Jonas’ control, and I liked the broader hints that some seriously messed up stuff was going on here. Buildings being set on fire? People falling ill while others have sex? Garret Dillahunt being present, period? All of these things pointed the way toward an episode that might examine how, say, someone with a power similar to Nina’s might seriously abuse it.
Instead, the cult stuff mostly sort of sat there and made way for a “Rosen doesn’t like to use guns, but he will if he has to, as he learns” storyline. When Rosen was making a big deal out of how he’s never fired a gun, it immediately became clear that he would by the end of the episode. At this point, it was only interesting to guess if he was going to shoot to kill or just to scare. If the episode had a high point, it was the moment where, yes, Rosen had to shoot to kill, and he shot Jonas in the head in the middle of his luminosity (though it felt a little abrupt that everybody just shrugged and wandered off once he was dead, seemingly with no ill effects from being under his sway so long). There was the start of a cool little arc for Rosen here—as this episode seemed designed to return him to the center of the storytelling more than the last few have—but the show didn’t really know what to do with it.
It feels like a lot of this episode was that way. The scenes where Rosen is essentially trapped at the compound, realizing just how thoroughly screwed he is were good, but every single one felt like it could have been better, creepier, and more claustrophobic. All of this brings me back to the idea that the compound scenes felt vastly underpopulated, as though only one or two people were at the compound at any given time. After that superbly creepy cold open with the kid hauling in the bucket and Jonas dousing the church in flammable liquid before setting it ablaze, I was hoping we might get something at once grander and much more insane. Instead, we just got a bunch of stuff that felt like a leftover from any number of other shows. (Seriously, how many shows have done the “the group hides out with a cult to solve a case” episode at this point?)
It’s a shame, too, because Dillahunt’s performance is a lot of fun. I liked the way the show pointed out just how his power amplified certain tendencies within himself, making him seem less like someone who was evil and more like someone who was out and out crazy. (Well, he was both, but you know what I mean.) Dillahunt plays this kind of character well, and he was a good choice to bring in, even if his day job over on Raising Hope meant that he ended the episode in a body bag. There were also some nice character moments in the episode that might have gotten some room to expand here and there. I’m thinking, in particular, of Hicks going back to his AA meetings and the slowly growing relationship between Hicks and Nina (here kicked into a kind of high gear by all of the super-glowy sex stuff). There’s nothing terribly new here—and I groaned when I saw that Hicks was going to meet the alpha of the week at his meeting—but there was the potential for some interesting dynamics to develop.
The one part of the episode that does allow for these interesting dynamics is the storyline where Rachel, realizing that her father has serious cancer, attempts to persuade him to go to the doctor and stop being such a standoffish dick about the whole thing. There’s not a lot to this storyline—it pretty much goes exactly where you think it will—but it’s just nice to get another visit to Rachel’s family life, which was one of the more intriguing elements of the show’s pilot. Watching her try to negotiate her more rigid and oppressive upbringing and blend it with the more empowered life she’s leading now is one of those things that the show has done well from the beginning, and it’s no exception here. The relationship between Rachel and her father is handled sweetly and tenderly, and I liked the way that Gary also got involved in this storyline. The temptation is probably to let Gary take over any given storyline, but he’s just as good in support, as he was here.
Anyway, this was a pretty disappointing episode of Alphas all around, but it didn’t ruin my faith in the show overall. As mentioned, it’s so disconnected from everything else going on (though the Hicks and Nina relationship angst will probably continue, and I can’t imagine that either Rosen’s use of firearms and Rachel’s fears for her father won’t come up again at some point) that it sort of doesn’t matter what happens here. This is just a storyline that gets a little out of hand and doesn’t work completely, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Usually, it means a show is trying some new things that don’t wholly work. Here, it seems like this started out as a way to back Rosen into a corner where he had to use that gun, before the story ran away from everybody involved. I’m still interested to see where all of this is going; we’ll just consider this an unsuccessful detour.
- Speaking of detours, I enjoyed Gary and Rachel’s trip to the wedding celebration for Rachel’s sister. I’m hoping the Rachel family keeps expanding exponentially.
- The glowy sex effects weren’t just kind of dumb looking; they also had the problem of obscuring what was going on.
- Man, Bill was wasted in this episode, huh? I’m just realizing I’m only mentioning him here because I’m weirdly addicted to having stray observations that occur in odd numbered sets.