It's a shame that the TV media world can't shut up about Charlie Sheen and the beginning of Premiere Week today, because last night's episode of Alphas deserves way more chatter—it was easily the best thing on television last night. Viewers who ignored Sheen in favor of the summer's best new show were rewarded with the best-of-the-season-so-far "The Unusual Suspects," and boy oh boy is that a sweet feeling to have.
Last week I talked about how "Blind Spot" gave us proof that Alphas doesn't have to be the procedural it was originally billed as; "The Unusual Suspects" broke the mold nicely with an in-episode mystery to solve, a look at the greater series mystery, and stylish packaging that accentuated a mystery spot we've been curious about.
How fantastic were the opening minutes? "The Unusual Suspects" didn't waste any time grabbing my shoulders and screaming in my face, "Hold on Tim! You's about to go on a wild ride!" as our team was sleep-bulleted, rounded up, and imprisoned in Binghamton as if they were superpowered hamsters. Best fifteen minutes of the series so far, and the episode never slowed down—just one of the many things "The Unusual Suspects" did right.
We've seen the "we have a mole!" storyline plenty of times before, but Alphas was able to keep the guessing game going for most of the episode thanks to seeds it planted earlier in the season. Seeds like Bill lingering for just a moment after Griffin told him he could make a lot of money working freelance, Cam joining the team late and falling victim to mind control at one point, Nina being shady in general, and even Gary's friendship with known Red Flag-affiliate Anna. I was clueless about the identity of the mole until pretty late in the episode; if you correctly figured out that the perp was an undercover Red Flag shape-shifter masquerading as Rosen, more power to ya. I didn't, which made the episode even more enjoyable.
Also: Am I the only one who hoped one of the team members actually was the mole? That would have been BALLSY. Once the team retreated to the warehouse, I figured Rosen was the mole, but I had no idea that he was not actually Rosen. Some may call the shape-shifter a cop-out; I see him as a believable part of the Alphas universe, though I'll concede that shape-shifting is right at the outer limits of the grounded superpowers the show has given us so far.
Helping the episode's pace were some fine action scenes that weren't there just for the heck of it. These were necessary adrenaline-pumpers, and all the more exciting to watch with Alpha abilities sprinkled into the mix. I can watch Cam throw things and ricochet bullets all day, and the fight between Bill and Cam was, in my professional book-making opinion, an even fight. Well, maybe I'd favor Cam at -120.
Props go to the director of cinematography as well, because "The Unusual Suspects" looked fantastic, particularly early on in the scenes that took place inside Binghamton. (Except for the Gary crotch shots during Bill and Cam's fight, but whatevs.) We really got a sense that the compound is not a place we'd care to spend much time in, with its white walls, fluorescent lighting, omnipresent cameras, and stale environment. It's part hospital, part looney bin. We'd seen bits of Binghamton before, but nothing as in-depth as this. And you know what? I won't be vacationing there anytime soon.
There's still a huge mystery behind Red Flag, but what we do know is that they wanted some files about MKULTRA (which is a real thing, btw) erased. I wish they had expounded on this a bit further, as revealing what they were after would have packed more of a punch.
Some may nitpick "The Unusual Suspects" for some tiny holes, but it was a well put together episode that delivered excellent pacing, a great look, and writing that kept us guessing. Easily the best episode of the season for Alphas. One more to go.
... A few good Gary lines, my favorite being: "When you interrogate people it's very important to pay attention to what they say."
... I'm still a huge fan of the show's throwaway/character-building conversations. I totally cried during Up, too, Cameron!
... I approve of Rachel and Mr. Microexpression Reader getting together. She needs to get laid, badly.
... More great work from David Strahairn who, despite being way too overqualified an actor for this show, gives an earnest performance week in and week out. It was also great to see Ryan Cartwright act "normal," if only for a bit.
... As a fan of Bill (and I think I'm in the minority), I'm concerned about his cliffhanging heart attack. But as a man who has seen many TV shows near-kill many of their characters, I'm not worried.
... I've said this before, but Alphas is a better show when Agent Clay (Mahershalalhasbaz Ali) is in it. Say it with me: Ma-her-sha-lal-has-baz Ali! Interesting note: His character's last name is Clay, and his real last name is Ali. Do you think they call him Muhammad or Cassius around the set?