“Life After Death” was a necessary episode of Alphas, but I can’t say it was an episode I very much enjoyed. Maybe that’s an unfair critique to level against an episode about a bunch of people mourning a friend and/or daughter, but it’s how I felt. The first two-thirds are fairly slow-moving and non-descript, before everything picks up in the final third to bring us to the cliffhanger, which features Rosen and Hicks deciding that arrest is too good for Stanton Parish. No, Stanton Parish will need to die. Left unstated is how a man who’s apparently ageless can be killed, but I’ll just assume he’s going to be chopped up into little pieces and tossed into the sea in several separate boxes. After all, as the saying goes, only Wolverine can regenerate from a single drop of blood.
The episode proceeds on three different tracks. In one, Gary becomes mysteriously obsessed with a baby named Adam, who was dropped off at Alphas HQ for protection by his nanny, Magda. In another, Rosen goes over the death of his daughter and wanders about her apartment, looking over her art and feeling sad, even as Hicks thinks he’s an idiot for turning the investigation of her death over to Clay, because he’s not feeling so great right now, man. In the final storyline, Rachel and Jon try to have sex, and the experience is underwhelming for them until they talk it out. Then, it gets a lot better. It’s not that any of these stories are bad, necessarily. Alphas succeeds because it takes time to do its character beats correctly and doesn’t give itself over to action all of the time. But the necessary second half of any episode is that action, and “Life After Death” is mostly missing it. Any one or two of these storylines would have felt nifty in an episode with a strong case or mission, but here, the case/mission is about Gary hanging out with a baby. It leaves something to be desired.
Muddying the waters here is the fact that the resolution to that baby storyline is pretty cool, all things considered. It turns out that Adam was grown in a lab somewhere, presumably so he would have Alpha abilities controlled by the scientists. (That said, his Alpha ability, which prompts increased production of the hormone that makes men want to protect their children, is fairly lame. Try using that to fight crime someday, Adam!) Gary’s hunch that the two people who show up to claim their child aren’t actually his parents is the correct one, and after they’ve been dispatched by Bill and Rachel, Bill and his wife decide to take the boy home. It’s a nice way to bring back a storyline—Bill’s desires to have a family—that had mostly gone to the back-burner, and as a way to end this storyline it isn’t bad. I also liked the notion of the lab that grows Alpha babies, though it sounds like it was shut down from some of the expository dialogue. (What? We couldn’t see that happening?)
It’s the other two storylines that don’t work nearly as well. For the most part, the Rosen storyline is a depiction of his grief in the most obvious form possible: He walks around Dani’s apartment and looks at some of her drawings and cries. Where he’s all clinical in the debriefing with Clay, he’s completely devastated when he’s alone with her things. He pushes Hicks away until the episode’s end, and he seems like he’s going to take a long leave of absence for a little while, blaming himself for Dani’s death until he realizes, hey, he didn’t set up a truck full of voltaic grenades to blow up a power plant. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not exactly compelling television. David Strathairn is a great crier, as you’d imagine, but the story isn’t a story. It’s just a bunch of things that happen. Generally, this show works best when it intertwines the emotions with action, when we see how the characters are feeling in the process of what they’re doing. This storyline fails that test, and that makes it a bit of a botch, outside of Strathairn’s mighty tears and that final moment between Rosen and Hicks, which seems to at least be heading somewhere interesting.
Meanwhile, there’s the ongoing courtship of Rachel and Jon, which reaches the point where the two are ready to have sex. It was necessary that the show get to this point eventually, if only because it’s a needed step in Rachel’s evolution as a character. But the courtship between the two has been the weakest storyline of the season, and I can’t say the chemistry between the actors lights the screen on fire. Some of this isn’t bad, like that conversation the two have about his scars and her sexual history after the first time didn’t go so well, and the moment when her father breaks in on them, then gives Rachel and Jon two hours to do whatever it is they need to do, is fun. But most of it feels like the same scene over and over, with the characters getting close, then Rachel feeling uncomfortable, then some concerned looks on the part of both of them. Again, it isn’t awful, but it is repetitive. Maybe if I were more invested in this relationship, I would have liked it better. (Gee. Y’think?)
All in all, “Life After Death” is necessary because it builds a bridge between everything before Dani’s death and everything after. And it’s not hard to see how the final moments of the episode give the show momentum heading into the final three episodes of the season, where I presume Rosen and the team will take the fight to Stanton, instead of waiting for him to move. Taking the characters off defense and putting them on offense is a smart move, and there needed to be a little gap between Dani’s death and that moment for the emotions to make sense. But “Life After Death” is such a rote, lifeless version of a post-major-character-death episode that it almost completely crumbles under its own weight, right down to the fact that Bill and his wife are becoming parents just as Rosen ceases to be one. (That said, the moment where Rosen explains the reason little Adam made Gary so protective and the subtext stayed subtext is lovely.) There have been worse episodes of this show, even this season, but “Life After Death” mostly doesn’t work because it’s so boring. Here’s hoping episodes to come pick up the pace a bit.
- This is a very good Gary episode, and good Gary episodes always get a few extra points from me. I particularly liked when he explained to Rosen that he wasn’t Adam’s father. “I just met him this morning!”
- After the first half of the season built up Nina to have some sort of tragic arc, I’m intrigued by how the series has shifted her into the background. The scene where she interrogates the baby’s “mother” is a strong part of why that particular series of scenes works and snaps the otherwise bland storyline to life.
- Home-video footage? Seriously?