Alphas Ep. 2.2, “The Quick and the Dead”: Strong character beats overcome a ho-hum premise
Alphas Review, Season 2, Episode 2, “The Quick and the Dead”
Written by Michael Karnow
Directed by Michael Nankin
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on SyFy
Following the plot-heavy opener, it’s refreshing to see Alphas roll back into a character-driven show this week. Stanton Parish and his band of super villains are still driving the serial arc, but the team dynamics take center stage. Even the “Alpha of the week” receives limited attention compared to the group relationships. It’s intriguing to see how Dr. Rosen’s approach varies dramatically based on who he’s addressing among the team. The approach isn’t always correct and may exacerbate the situation, but his heart is in the right place. David Strathairn masterfully plays the conflicts between protecting his team and pursuing the dangerous foes that are causing havoc. With the government breathing down his neck at every turn, there’s no easy way to keep everyone happy.
This week’s threat is Eli (C. Thomas Howell), an Alpha who can move with lightning speed. He’s like the Flash, but with more personal issues. The opening scene shows his point of view at a fancy restaurant while he searches for his victim. It’s an impressive device that’s easier to follow that seeing a fast-moving blur. His ability is remarkable but also causes rapid aging that’s makes him pretty old for 22. While this varies from the typical speedster, it’s a pretty routine power. Howell gives his best shot at bringing depth to Eli, and it’s a solid role. The experimentation plotline just feels too familiar to provide a gripping episode. Shows like Fringe have mined similar territory and generated better drama.
The episode’s highlight is Ryan Cartwright as Gary, who’s not a fan of having the government agents working in his space. He provides some light-hearted entertainment, but it’s never at the expense of the character. This week’s big reveal is that Cameron is sleeping with Rosen’s daughter Danni (Kathleen Munroe). Gary’s innocent discovery of the situation is good fun and works because Cartwright sells it. His misunderstanding of what “breakfast” entails could easily go wrong in lesser hands. This secret is mostly played for comedy, with one major exception. It’s no laughing matter to Nina, and this revelation pushes her over the edge and right off the team.
The major subplot is Nina’s progression from a valued team member towards a possible foe. Her ability to “push” anyone towards her will could be a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. Last week’s image of the villain with similar powers resonates strongly over Nina’s actions. Kimi Milard forced a guy to take a gun and shoot himself, and Nina’s behavior may be heading towards that point. Using her ability on Rosen in the final scene is a stunning move that shows how far she’s fallen. It raises the question of whether she’s preparing to be a double agent in Stanton Parrish’s crew. Is all the angst an act to convince them she’s a legitimate ally? That could be an interesting approach but might also pull back from treading into darker territory. Changing a core team member is refreshing and keeps the ongoing story from becoming too static. While reverting from that progression might offer good short-term drama, it could ultimately be disappointing for the show on the whole.
Another interesting scene is the argument between Bill and Rosen that gives the big guy a chance to stake his ground. Although his complaints about the doctor being out of commission aren’t really fair, his perspective makes sense. Having Rosen acknowledge Bill’s points wisely keeps the lead from becoming a superhero in a different way. They’re all trudging into this new world with little understanding of how to deal with each new threat. Bill’s done his best to keep them afloat, but he needs Gary, Rachel, and the entire gang to truly succeed. What makes this scene work is the fact that Bill expresses his anger and then heads out to do the job. He’s not stepping away like Nina and quitting the fight. They might disagree on Rosen’s move to go public, yet the team keeps working together.
One common thread of Alphas that’s less interesting is the conflict between Rosen’s team and the military officials who reluctantly work with them. His revelation about the Alphas’ existence raised hopes that it might not carry over into the new season. Sadly, the conversations between Rosen and Nathan Clay (Mahershala Ali) remain and aren’t improved. Ali does his best with the limited material, but it grinds the episodes to a halt. Shipping the agents to another floor is the right move and should give them room to breathe. It also provides a chance for underutilized participants like Rachel to play a greater role. The characters drive this show and deserve more attention than the political intrigue. Eli’s story ends with a phantom gunshot, yet that mystery is less interesting than the relationships behind the main plot.