There’s some stupid stuff in the first season finale of Alphas—much of it stemming from the fact that the show has a tenth of the budget of big, network science fiction shows and, thus, has to make do with some pretty chaotic filmmaking when it wants to do a big action sequence—but almost all of it pales in comparison to the two majestic reveals the show pulls off over the course of its running time. This is a show that’s been confidently building to this point all along, and it’s a show that is now more than happy to pull back the curtain and reveal what it’s been up to. I’ve seen a lot of genre shows try to do the big cliffhanger at the end of season one, the one that expands the show’s universe and what it’s capable of. I’ve seen just as many fail at that very thing, simply because expanding a universe is tough work, and you can rarely just decide to do it. But Alphas goes for broke in the last 10 minutes of this episode, but in a very Alphas kind of way. It doesn’t go over the top. Instead, it aims straight for the gut and hopes it will be enough.
The first revelation comes about midway through the episode. Gary and Bill—who’s mysteriously recovering after he ended last episode seeming to be on his way out (see, commenters? It really was unimportant!)—have been doing research into Stanton Parish, the favorite long-dead author of Red Flag, sort of their Ayn Rand, if you will. Except, as it turns out, Stanton’s not so dead after all. In fact, he terrifies Gary’s good friend Anna, who meets up with him in this episode mostly to provide exposition and die. And she’s right to be terrified. Stanton, as it turns out, has been alive since at least the Civil War and maybe even longer than that. He’s seemingly ageless, and when he meets Rosen toward episode’s end, Rosen realizes that he’s essentially shut off whatever part of him is human. He’s a monster of pure logic, an Alpha who doesn’t bother considering any of the collateral damage and longs for the coming war between the Alphas and the human race.
Stanton’s so good that he manages to manipulate things just so, all the better to wipe out dissident elements within Red Flag that are plotting to take the story of Alphas to the public. Stanton wants his war, but he wants a certain element of surprise when it comes to taking on humanity. And if humanity knows there are Alphas out there, well, that complicates things. So he sends an invitation to a Red Flag shindig via Rosen’s own daughter, Danielle, an Alpha who can make people feel whatever she wants them to feel. The gang runs into her while she’s on the run from Isaac—he of the black-veiny-death—and she’s very quickly making up for lost time with her dad, who was evidently the worst dad ever, because that’s just the way these shows work.
But the invitation she carries points toward Highland Mills, where the Red Flag members who wish to make public the existence of Alphas will be getting together to… discuss the plan in a large group, I guess. (They couldn’t use an online message board?) Rosen, of course, brings the government along, and what ensues is a sequence that alternates between apocalyptic, terrifying, and too chaotic by half. A lot of this has to do with the show’s budget, which can’t afford the kind of giant, superhero fight that the season has seemingly been building to since day one. Instead, it has to settle for a smoke-filled room and a bunch of one-on-one battles, which both makes it hard to tell what’s happening where (and who’s in relation to what) and gives the sequence a kind of eerie power, where what you don’t see is almost as important as what you do. There are some terrific moments here—like Gary losing it after Anna dies—but the whole thing feels truncated by budget limitations.
The fight, which feels like it should be the climax of the whole episode, ends with something like 15 minutes to spare, however, so it becomes clear we’re in for something else altogether. The scenes back at DCIS HQ with the team coming down from the terrible battle are very good, and I quite liked the moment where Rosen asks Danielle to show him what it feels like to be her, a moment that seems to overwhelm him. (This show understands that it doesn’t always need to put words in the characters’ mouths when they’re played by a cast this good.) And then Stanton shows up at Rosen’s house and interrupts his swimming routine, and we’re off to the races for the final sequence.
I can honestly say I didn’t see the “game-changing cliffhanger” (which is legitimately a game-changer) coming. I knew Rosen was going to speak to Congress. I knew that his team planted some weird pen thing in his pocket. But I didn’t once consider that he might do the work the Red Flag dissidents had been planning to do, making public the existence of Alphas, the existence of Red Flag, and the government’s shameful treatment of Alphas. It’s a last-ditch move, a hail Mary pass, but it’s the one thing that might possibly prevent the war Stanton is so sure is coming. The world gets its first understanding of Alphas from Rosen’s face breaking into their regularly scheduled programming (thanks to Gary overriding the signal), and the sequence—which closes with the reveal that, yeah, Danielle and Stanton are apparently an item and with Rosen being removed from the Congressional chamber by security—is rather bravura, building nicely from what feels like a normal “summing up” sequence into something that could legitimately change the show.
So with that, we close out what ended up being a pretty terrific season of television. I’ve been skeptical of Alphas here and there, but it very quickly transcended its roots as a show originally designed to capitalize on the success of Heroes or an attempt to bring X-Men to TV without paying for the rights to those characters to become something much more interesting and moving and even political. Not everything the show did worked perfectly, but the show settled into itself in these last few episodes, and it brought all of the strands of its story together in a way that was immensely satisfying, indeed, in a way that made even more obvious that the Alpha-of-the-Week structure wasn’t only necessary but also sort of the whole point. It was a very, very good time, and I’m more than excited for whatever season two brings come next summer. Here’s hoping a larger audience catches on to just how great this show can be in the interim.
- Ian Grey’s piece on how the show is better at this point than either Buffy or Alias were at a similar point, as well as the series’ politics, is well worth a read. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he certainly makes some good points about how the show is, essentially, trying to tell a rather post-partisan tale, an assault on extremism.
- I have to say I was a little disappointed the finale didn’t involve many of the characters from earlier this season coming back, but I suppose that was too much to ask, given the show’s budget. (My wish list for season two? SyFy gives this show a budget commensurate with its ambition that, nonetheless, is still small enough to force it to stay inventive.)
- Are there any lingering questions you still have? I have to say that this season answered just about everything it laid out there. I guess we never got to see inside of Building Seven.
- "There's only one review. It says, 'Don't stay here.'"
- "She said that that's regrettable."
- "One time he pushed me over, which was better than taking a bullet. I said don't cry."
- "I always get people to do what I want them to because I wear them down."