Alphas S02E05: "Gaslight"
There were lots of little things to like in last night's episode of Alphas, "Gaslight," mostly related to the show's big picture. But I was less enthused that "Gaslight" was a haunted-hospital episode that departed from the series' regular tone; it was basically an amateur horror movie, complete with plenty of blinking fluorescent bulbs. But in this "take the good with the bad" scenario, we can dismiss the bad (and really, it wasn't all THAT bad) as confined to the episode and not a sign that Alphas as a whole is in trouble. Just don't make it a habit, Alphas.
I'm a bad-news-first kind of guy, so let's start with the case of the week. "Gaslight" started off with an Alpha named Adam identifying his sister's body as she was stuffed into the wall cabinets of a hospital morgue. But as he was walking away, he heard sis call out and then twitched, freaked out a bit, and crawled along the walls trying to escape from some handsy hospital workers. It was immediately distressing as we were all like, "Excuse me, Alphas, but what exactly is going on here?" But what was clear to me was that someone was messing with Adam's mind. And as our team of Alphas investigated the hospital, things started messing with their minds, too.
I'm all for horror and Alphas giving it a shot, but I don't think the payoff (or lack thereof) was worth it. I'm sure that Adam was planted in the story to be a diversion and that we were supposed to believe he was somehow connected to all the mind tricks affecting Rachel, Gary, Bill, and Hicks, but I always saw Adam as another victim. In fact, there was so little forward progress with answers and so much attention on mind-f*ckery that these hallucinations lingered a bit too long. Alphas is normally great at moving things along, but the midsection of "Gaslight" ran in place and was more concerned with maintaining an already loose horror theme. I could have done with less being freaked out over Cameron's visions of his son and Gary locking Rosen out of the room where the real culprit was, and I would have loved more answers or more time spent on the explanation of the infrasound haunting. As far as I could tell, there was a comatose Alpha who was transmitting infrasound messages that scrambled the brains of Alphas, but not regular people. That's a pretty lousy Alpha ability, if you ask me.
However, what was revealed through these "hauntings" was pretty cool, especially with regard to Gary. Our favorite character saw visions of his old flame Anna, and coupled with Gary's visit to her way-too-late tombstone-unveiling, it had a much bigger emotional impact than the visions the others had (like keeping the memory of her alive through a bogus account that pays homage to her). And though it wasn't clearly explained whether these visions were of people the characters needed to confront, be afraid of, or help (Rosen's theory), it was interesting to see how Gary's manifestation of Anna compared to the others. Anna was almost a dream to Gary, while the others were nightmares. Hicks had visions of his son in trouble, Bill had to fight himself, and Rachel saw Nina at the bottom of a pool. That last one carries a lot of weight, given Rachel and Nina's current relationship status. Does Rachel, who shut out Nina, secretly long to save her? It's all open to interpretation, but it feels like that's what was going on because nothing was clearly explained.
What did work for me was the way the episode continued Alphas' commitment to deliver for its fans over the casual viewer. The continuation of Nina's story from last week's very strong episode showed a lot of respect for the character. Sometimes, especially with shows labeled "procedurals," there's a rush to bring things back to normal at the end of every episode, but Nina still has a lot of recovery to do and her relationship with the rest of the team is brittle at best. And it's not just about repairing her fractured friendships. Alphas is finding realistic ways to keep her in the loop, and Rosen has found good uses for her power (helping out Kat, helping him learn more about Stanton Parish) to keep her effectively separated from the more investigative portion of the team. Many shows have a problem with finding uses for all their characters and will sometimes force situations to validate characters, but Alphas doesn't.
The show even gave us a realistic heads-up for the next episode. Rosen discovered that the photic stimulators used in the hospital were made by August Medical, which he traced back to Stanton Parish. It's not clear what these photic stimulators do, but Rosen delighted Summer Glau fans everywhere when he asked Gary to call up Skyler (the machine whiz from last season) in hopes she can figure out why Parish has distributed these devices to 2,700 hospitals across the country.
"Gaslight" did touch on a lot of things Alphas does well and sufficiently took the next step in season-long plotting, but the self-contained case wasn't as sharp as others. Thankfully the cases aren't actually vital to the series, as its strengths are with its characters and the bigger story.
– Rachel's "I'm not a dog" probably got the biggest laugh from me, mostly because it was Rachel saying it, which made it that much funnier. But Hicks talking about black guys in horror movies was a close second.
– I do think the show did a nice job with the mood and atmosphere of horror, but it just went on a bit too long when it felt unnecessary.
– What kind of terrible memories is Kat going to unearth? I'm scared, guys!
– Oh, hi Lauren Holly (she played the senator)! You're looking... kinda old. Was Dumb & Dumber that long ago?