I realize it’s a bit glib to say this about an episode where the guest Alpha had super speed, but a lot of tonight’s episode feels like the show running in place. Last week’s premiere started the process of walking back Dr. Rosen’s season-ending decision to reveal Alphas to the world, as we learned the government more of less managed to discredit his potentially world-changing revelation, and a lot of tonight’s episode feels like more of the slow march back to last season’s status quo. I watched the episode fairly certain that it was only a matter of time before Nathan Clay’s tactical agents left the team’s headquarters, before Dr. Rosen won back the trust of his team, before we more or less got back to where we were at the end of last season, with the specific threat of Stanton Parish replacing the more amorphous specter of Red Flag. I’m not even really criticizing any of this—the show hit on an effective formula last year, and I can’t blame them for wanting to get back to it—although the decision to kill off Eli Aquino does feel like a copout, the show’s way of avoiding having to move too fast on the Stanton Parish mystery. Even the main consequence of his death, in which Rosen tells the team they can only trust each other, mostly feels like a way of getting back to the way things were last season. And yet, the show isn’t entirely stalling. After all, Nina is still determined to leave the team, and Hicks, as Nina so eloquently put it, is still nailing Rosen’s daughter.
“The Quick And The Dead” presents possibly my favorite Alphas spin yet on a classic superpower, as we see just how horrible it would be to have super speed in the real world (using that term rather loosely, of course). Eli Aquino (Southland’s C. Thomas Howell) can move at ten times the speed of a normal human thanks to his overclocked suprachiasmatic nucleus, which means his body is slowly devouring itself from the inside in its constant need for calories. Worse, his supercharged metabolism means he looks middle-aged at 22, and without treatment he likely won’t reach 30. If the show misses a trick with Eli, it’s that I never really got the sense that this was actually a 22-year-old in an older man’s body, but that’s mostly a quibble. In any event, he tries kidnapping a couple of the doctors whose experiments exacerbated his inherent Alpha speed and left him in this state, but they can’t connect the 40-something man before them with the teenager they treated only a few years ago. His speed doesn’t leave him with the patience necessary to explain all that’s happened, and it’s only with the team’s intervention that they manage to save the second doctor from Eli’s revenge. He finally goes to Dr. Rosen himself to get answers, and we once again find ourselves in a situation where Rosen is desperately trying to stop everyone from killing each other. It also gives David Strathairn the chance to convey the mix of carefully orchestrated sympathy and barely suppressed fright of a mere mortal trying to talk down a mentally unstable Alpha, which is one of my favorite aspects of his generally brilliant performance.
As I said, some of this episode feels like the show going through the motions. Bill’s confrontation with Rosen, for instance, raises some intriguing points about whether Rosen did the right thing in revealing Alphas to the world—particularly since he didn’t tell the team what he was going to do, which was left a bit ambiguous in last season’s finale—but it doesn’t really go anywhere, mostly just serving to underscore that, yes, Rosen has won back Bill’s trust by the episode’s end. We do learn that Stanton Parish was running the highly dubious medical experiments that left Eli in his supercharged state, but Eli’s death likely means we won’t be dealing with that specific point for awhile. Parish’s own subplot, in which he and Danielle Rosen visit his final living granddaughter on her deathbed, is a nice enough way to show the character’s immortality, and the final scene in which he puts his elderly descendant out of her misery illustrates the theoretically benign side of his ruthlessness. Even so, it all feels a bit apart from the main action, and I’m not sure we really learned anything about Parish that wasn’t already there. The most interesting moment is probably where he, with something approaching genuine human feeling, gives Danielle permission to keep seeing Hicks, on the grounds that they both deserve to be happy. He doesn’t specify that they deserve to be happy because they’re both Alphas, but I’d wager that’s the subtext.
I’m probably coming across as harsher towards this episode than I really mean to. I think that’s because I share Todd’s high hopes for where Alphas can go this season, and I suppose I was hoping for something a little bolder from this week’s episode. Setting that aside, “The Quick And The Dead” still has plenty to recommend it, in particular with the character dynamics. Gary’s violent outbursts over his pudding and reserved fridge shelf a good reminder of how much the team depends on each other—and really to the exclusion of anyone else—to function, which contrasts neatly with Nina’s unchecked self-destruction as she tries to break ties with the team. We learn that Nina and Hicks broke up because she pushed him while they were dating, which manages to make her enraged push to find out who he’s now dating even more of a violation than it was already. Speaking of which, the revelation that Hicks and Rosen’s daughter are an item might be a little on the soapy side for some, but I’d say it’s totally worth it for Gary’s unsurprising complete lack of tact in reading Hicks’ texts and subsequently breaking his sex code. Pretty much any scene in which the team was giving Hicks a hard time for his sexual escapades was great, especially since Hicks spends most of it staring down the scope of a sniper rifle. Rachel gets in a good point about how Hicks is drawn to Danielle because of her empathic manipulation while repelled from Nina because of her mental manipulation, and whether it’s hypocritical to want one but not the other, especially when the attraction Hicks thinks he feels might just be him longing for that ecstatic high. It’s a point I hope the show develops subsequently, particularly considering Hicks’ (and Danielle’s, for that matter) addictive personality.
That just leaves Nina, who spends most of the episode conspicuously absent until her final confrontation with Rosen. Her frustration with Rosen’s methods and the rising Alpha body count is understandable, if not entirely justified, and it underscores just how toxic the team has become for her personally, professionally, and ideologically. The question is whether there’s anything else out there for her, whether Rosen really is the only person left who can help her. These are questions I really hope the show resists the urge to solve by rushing to a pat solution. I can understand why Alphas still isn’t quite ready to throw off its episodic approach and go full-on serialized—why Eli had to die, in other words—but I’m hopeful the characters are all given room to keep developing, recognize how deeply screwed up pretty much all of them are, and maybe even grow over the course of the season. This is an ensemble worth sticking with, even in episodes that don’t necessarily boast the strongest story.
- Nina pushes Dr. Rosen for what I’m almost certain is the first time on the show. Last season, Rosen said he spent months learning how to resist Nina’s powers, so the fact that her push leaves him catatonic for hours means either he is still really out of it after his stint in the institution or Nina really wants him to leave her alone. I’d guess it’s a mix of both, but I’m hoping Rosen fares better the next time this happens. I like David Strathairn to be as badass as possible, basically.
- Just how old do we think Stanton Parish actually is? Between the Civil War stuff and the old woman being his last granddaughter, it seems like the show is settling in on him being born in the early 19th century, placing him between about 180 and 210 years old. I wouldn’t be opposed to them revealing he’s much, much older than that.
- Todd will be back next week to guide you through the rest of the season. Thanks for letting me grab the mike in his absence.