Alphas Review, Season 2, Episode 4, “When Push Comes to Shove”
Written by Adam Levy
Directed by Omar Madha
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on SyFy
During its first 15 episodes, Alphas has consistently depicted the fine line that exists between using the super powers for good or evil. Even the gentle Dr. Rosen has revealed that his intentions haven’t always been so positive in the past. The pilot episode depicted Cameron using his marksmanship to commit murder. He was under the influence of another Alpha, but that doesn’t make the actions less dangerous. In “Rosetta”, the apparently friendly Anna (Liane Balaban) was revealed as the leader of the Red Flag terrorist organization. Her group committed vile acts, but the government’s response to them showed plenty of reasons for their tactics. Even the villainous Stanton Parrish isn’t a one-note character who wants to destroy everyone for no reason. He’s responding to the way Alphas have been treated by the authorities and realizes they’ll never be accepted for what they are.
A much-different threat comes from Nina, a former member of Rosen’s team who’s using her talents in the worst possible manner. Her ability to “push” others is nearly impossible to stop and can turn even the most logical thinkers into servile automatons. It’s a helpful tool if used for good, but it’s also an addictive crutch that’s so easy to use. “When Push Comes to Shove” provides essential back story to reveal why Nina struggles to function. Her problems go way back to childhood, when her attempts to keep the family together led to a tragedy. That quick moment is shocking and enhances the understanding of Nina’s despair. Her powers might seem like a plus but can generate disastrous results. Controlling another person’s thoughts and emotions can change the entire personality. A devoted family man can become a careless nightclub fiend with just a little bit of encouragement. There’s no excuse for her behavior, but learning the history makes it a lot more understandable.
Last week’s episode introduced Erin Way as Kat, who’s working with Rosen on controlling her ability. She strolls around the office with a camera and brings some much-needed levity to the episode. Her presence seems to indicate that Nina may be heading off the series. Thankfully, this is more than just a glorious departure for a regular character. Despite her attempts to end her life, Nina survives and remains part of the team because of Rosen’s last big favor. It seems like a stretch for Agent Clay to make this agreement, but it’s a necessity to keep Nina involved. It’s clear that she won’t be the same for a while, so throwing her right back into the mix next time would be frustrating. Laura Mennell does such excellent work in conveying Nina’s pain that it should remain at the forefront. The revelation that she’s actually pushing herself to stay upbeat is another heartbreaking shock. Going this far into the dark places of being an Alpha is a brilliant move and makes her an intriguing character.
This story does a great job in showing the negative ramifications when a power runs amok. Nina sends a waiter on a yacht into hypothermia by asking him to perform a simple task. He leaps into the water and cares nothing for his survival because she’s in control. Taking charge of Cameron at the end shows the threat because of his shooting abilities. The danger feels real when he’s firing away at Bill and the others to help her plans. There is one cheap use of Nina’s skill that seems designed to go into SyFy’s promos. She gets Rachel to kiss her for a reason, yet it still feels like a cheap ploy. It’s an effective scene on the surface but feels below the show’s standards. On the positive side, Rachel is starting up a romance with Bennett that works better than expected. Those moments are sweet and show two reserved characters making a connection. The actors play their hesitance well and avoid falling into the expected conventions.
During the first season, Nina risked becoming one of the least interesting characters. Her romance with Cameron seemed forced and didn’t generate much excitement. It’s such a relief to see where they’ve taken the character. This is a perfect example of how this show values the emotional content as much as the cool super powers. The high-flying climax is spectacular but wouldn’t have the same impact without a connection to Nina. The daring save from Cameron won’t alleviate her pain but shows that she’s not alone. Watching the team support Nina despite the problems is a perfect mission statement for why Alphas works. These are engaging characters who affect us while performing remarkable feats. The show runners of Heroes could have learned from watching this great series. “When Push Comes to Shove” is easily the best episode of the season and reveals how high a genre show can rise under the right circumstances. It shows the great potential in the entire cast if they’re given the right material.