Alphas Ep. 2.5, “Gaslight” compensates for a conventional plot with strong character building
Alphas Review, Season 2, Episode 5, “Gaslight”
Written by Terri Hughes Burton and Ron Milbauer
Directed by Leslie Libman
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on SyFy
It’s clear that a show is working if even the lesser episodes are compelling. After last week’s stunning look at Nina’s tormented past, there was almost certainly going to be drop-off for Alphas this time. Thankfully, it’s just a small misstep and retains the emotional strength that drove that story. Nina is back on the team, but she’s an outsider who’s only working with Rosen. It’s amazing that he’s willing to put her right back in the field this quickly. Her fellow team members want nothing to do with Nina, and this resistance makes for more compelling drama. Unlike less sophisticated genre fare, there’s no reset button where all sins are forgiven. Rachel can’t even stand to be in the same room with her former pal, which brings resonance to a scene that felt cheap last week. Only Rosen welcomes her back, and it’s clear even he isn’t entirely sold that it’s the right move. The threat from Stanton Parish outweighs any concerns he might have about bringing her dangerous power into their circle once again.
The main plot concerns an Alpha with the ability to induce dangerous hallucinations that seem very real. The evidence points to Adam, a Spiderman-like guy who can climb up walls, but he’s suffering from the same false visions. Rachel dives into the water to save a drowning Nina who isn’t there. Bill has a fist fight with a doppelganger, Cameron has a disturbing vision of his son, and Gary sees his friend Anna. The danger seems believable, and these scenes are effective. However, this type of episode feels very familiar. All three Stargate series had similar episodes where an entity creates fake images. However, this plot has been recycled so much because it’s an effective way to depict the characters’ emotional turmoil. Each person is dealing with subconscious fears and regrets that manifest in physical forms in this destructive environment. Dealing with this type of enemy is no joke.
The most interesting story line has Nina and Rosen trying to gather information about Stanton Parrish from a New York senator. Seeing her blank expression while Nina pushes her for details is a chilling moment. It’s clear that Parrish has found a way to protect his associates from this tactic; he simply erases their memory. That’s a brilliant and cruel tactic that shows he’s one step ahead of Rosen. This obstacle leads to an intriguing move where Nina attempts to pull repressed memories right out of the senator’s brain. Along with providing an interesting way to expand her powers, it’s also stunning because of where she was last week. The show has hinted at Rosen not being very responsible with Alphas in the past, and this is a stark example where he’s entering a gray area. Pushing the potentially volatile Nina to enhance her skills feels like a bad idea. In a sense, Rosen is showing his trust in her by going this route, but the consequences might be disastrous for these actions.
Now that five episodes have passed, it’s worth taking a look at where the story is heading. Parrish has made a few brief appearances, but he’s largely working behind the scenes with his team of renegades. The conflict with that group is going to escalate in the near future, and it isn’t clear that Rosen’s team is ready. Bill is participating in fight clubs and struggling to keep his strength under control, Nina is just back from the brink, and Cameron is distracted by missing his son. The early episodes have built up the characters and added much-needed depth to some less-interesting ones. Raising those emotional conflicts is only going to pay off during the second half of the season. Parrish could be an interesting villain over the long haul if the writers avoid going for short-term thrills. The downside is that Alphas isn’t getting many viewers, so they might need to resolve the arc this season or leave it open-ended.
“Gaslight” provides a tense story, but the moments that resonate the most are the character beats. Gary and Rachel go to Anna’s funeral, and his inability to understand the upbeat eulogy is heart-breaking. When she appears as a vision later in the episode, it’s a reminder of how much Gary needs her friendship. Seeing Liane Balaban as a healthy Anna is a nice touch and shows their chemistry. It’s interesting that the others experience dangerous visions, which Gary’s is a helpful presence that comforts him. His last move on Twitter raises questions about his loyalties to their cause. Is he simply honoring Anna’s memory, or has Gary decided he might not be on the right side? The other memorable scene involves Kat, who’s become a surprisingly effective character in just a few episodes. Erin Way does excellent work in showing her sadness when Kat retrieves a painful memory. She helps Nina to uncover he powers, but the effect is not a pleasant experience. Kat is learning more about her forgotten past, though it might not be easy to uncover these sad events. It’s this complexity that makes Alphas work even when the main plot falls short of being groundbreaking material.