Alphas "Need to Know" Review: Follow the Leader?

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Alphas S02E12: "Need to Know"

Let's face it, Alphas isn't doing anything too out of the ordinary in its second season when you look at it from a certain altitude. We have a team of good guys chasing a bad guy, and a lot of their time is spent trying to figure out exactly what the bad guy's plan is. Since the Stanton Parish storyline exploded, things have been cat-and-mouse, cloak-and-dagger, and intelligence-and-counter-intelligence between Dr. Rosen and his team and Parish, with Parish just slamming a door every time Rosen's team opens a new one. Add a few dudes who can shoot fire out of their hands and a girl who can whisper suicidal thoughts into people's ears, and you have a fairly generic setup with a dash of super-abilities thrown in for spice.

But where Alphas has been able to differentiate itself from other series that've traveled the same general path is in its singular direction toward, for lack of a better term, some really heavy shit. In Season 1 we respected Rosen's word because he wouldn't roll over for authorities, and in Season 2 he's added a splash of personal vendetta to his anti-establishment agenda. I've talked on and on about the darkness that resides in Rosen's soul, and the best thing Alphas has done with it is be relentless with it. Rosen isn't getting any happier or complacent in his search for Parish; he's an obsessed psychopath who won't stop until he's drinking Parish's blood from Parish's skull.

And what's made the recent episodes, particularly last night's "Need to Know," so enjoyable and grown-up is how Alphas has played the spectrum of revenge and justice across all its main characters like a rainbow of blood and violence. Some of the team members are willing to follow Rosen to the edge of humanity and some of them aren't. Hicks, after the death of Dani, couldn't wait to rip out Parish's spine and use it as a xylophone. Bill, more in line with procedure, was left out of the plan because he might interfere with Rosen's mission of swinging the executioner's axe instead of the judge's gavel. And Rachel was right in the middle; totally okay with abducting one of Parish's cronies but not cool when some rad torture came into play.

The best thing about this whole scenario is that all the characters want to achieve the same goal: Stop Parish from killing gazillions of people. But there are different limits as to how far each one will go. And leading the charge on the extreme side of things is Rosen, the man who is supposed to be the most level-headed of the bunch. When Rachel told Rosen that Minorex (spell check?) was a stimulant and it wouldn't lower hostage Scipio's resistance in order to get vital information out of him and Rosen said, "I know," it was a punch to the face. The Minorex was for Nina, who was so exhausted from trying to push Scipio's blocked mind that Rosen was totally okay with drugging her up and risking her well-being to achieve his goal. This is heavy, intense stuff that only the most daring television shows are willing to try.

And it just continued on and on! Hicks had Nina mind-gamed Scipio into thinking his girlfriend was getting the snot beat out of her! Then Rosen pumped Scipio up with adrenaline knowing full well it would activate his Bunsen burner hands so he'd burn himself, and for good measure threw in some psychological kindling when he asked how Scipio thought his family felt when he burned them alive at a young age. This torture scene was not pleasant to watch (in a great way), and solidified this season as the season where Rosen is not to be F'd with. As Kat said, "The glasses, the messy hair, the cardigans, he seemed like such a nice old dude." Well he's not, Kat! He's a super-smart man who won't stop until Parish is skinned alive and turned into a rug for his fireplace. I like this Rosen. This Rosen would kick Professor X's ass.

"Need to Know" also featured more Skylar Adams (guest-star and sci-fi demigod Summer Glau), who has been added to the story not just to exploit her inexplicable popularity (seriously why?) among genre fans but also in a legitimately reasonable fashion. Skylar is the elf to Parish's Santa, and she's been tricked into working on super death machines that are integral to Parish's plot. (That works for me, and if it attracts more viewers to the show and earns it more seasons, I say put her in more episodes.) Parish's plan, if I have this right, is to hook into the power grids of the world and unleash some photic stimulation that amplifies Alpha abilities and fries those who don't have Alpha abilities, which is pretty dire stuff. If Alphas really wants to earn some street cred, it will allow Parish's plan to be successful, but I just don't see that happening.

What is up for debate is the fate of Rosen. At the end of the episode, Rosen took a bullet in the abdomen from Mr. Strong on his way to pursue Parish. I know he's the main character, but there are some serious things to consider here. One, David Strathairn is WAY too good of an established actor to be on a Syfy show (I'm not knocking on the rest of the cast, they're great and on their own upward trajectory), so losing him would free him up to do other things and relax the budget. It would also be very poetic if Rosen lost his life in search of his White Whale, and that would give the rest of the team incentive to finish what he started. But I'm trying hard to imagine Alphas without Strathairn, and it's a scenario I'm not sure I'd be happy about.

I'm really loving how Alphas is pushing things hard with no regard for what its expectations are. The show is paired with the much lighter (at least until recently) Warehouse 13, it's been moved up to 8pm, and it's still going to deep, dark places. I wouldn't say Season 2 has been flawless, and that also applies to "Need to Know," but this is some fearless television here, and that has earned my respect.



NOTES

– Even with its current descent into darkness, Alphas still retains its humor, mostly through Gary and Kat. The ability to bounce back and forth between the two all comes from the character foundations the series has built.

– Did Mitchell really serve a purpose in this episode? Enough for the show to shell out an episode salary to Sean Astin?

– Zoe to Skylar: "Are you a Terminator?" HARHARHAR 'cuz she was in Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Actually, that was a good one.

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