("I've Seen All Good People" by Yes, the episode's last song, in case you need a reading soundtrack.)
I know that in a few of my past Alphas articles I've talked about a model formula for the show, which goes something like this: good Alphas track down a bad Alpha and throw him or her into Binghamton. While that is a general rule for the show and a good bet with regard to what you'll get when you tune in, Alphas has shown that it wants to be a whole lot more, with bigger season-long storylines, a slowly unfolding mythology, and "special" episodes like last season's exceptional "The Unusual Suspects."
Last night's "When Push Comes to Shove" was another episode that broke the mold of our expectations with a perfectly timed character exploration. And I say perfectly timed because Nina (Laura Mennell) has been getting on all of our nerves lately, the only member of the original team who was reluctant to re-team with the DCIS when Season 2 got everyone back together. Her orbit has always been the furthest away from the rest of the gang, distant from Rosen as the center and just a tiny push away from shooting off on her own trajectory. And when she said, "No thanks" to coming back to the DCIS, it was a slap in the face to us. "Good riddance!" we said, "Who needs ya?"
But it was all set up for a very effective, Nina-centric episode that gave us what we so badly needed: answers to why she's such a cold hard-ass. Surprise! Nina comes from a crappy childhood. And her power—the ability to "push" others into doing her will—is unique on the team because it requires manipulating others (well, mostly). As such, much of her life has been a mountain of lies and damaged relationships, and as she tried to repair what she broke through turning those close to her into puppets, she relied on her power to the point where she was more alone than she was before. If you got a little teary-eyed during the episode, do not worry! It means you have feelings.
Through a series of flashbacks, we saw young Nina learn to use her power and understand that it can be just as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Her father was ready to leave the family and his damaged marriage, but Nina wouldn't let him, effectively holding him prisoner against the will he forgot he had. But the toll proved to be too much, and when Nina released him, he killed himself.
Nina held that experience close to her but didn't learn from it, continuing to use her power in her adult life on her childhood friend Tommy. She pried him away from his own family to join her in stealing Ferraris, robbing banks, and hittin' da clubz while she continued to fall closer and closer to rock bottom. It's the Alphas equivalent of a woman with unresolved daddy issues hanging by her ankles from the top of a stripper pole.
And if the stripper (sorry, dancer) metaphor works in that case, what happened later in the episode is the equivalent of injecting heroin into one's eyeballs for one last high. Nina, completely lost and on the run from Dr. Rosen, actually pushed herself (WHOA) into believing that what she was doing was what she needed by staring at her reflection and saying, "You're happy, this is everything you've always wanted." It was an incredibly personal low point to witness for a character who has been so closed off, and, in my mind, completely validated her erratic behavior. Coupled with her suicide attempt, it became Nina's signature moment in the series. It reminded me of the shocking scene in Memento, when Leonard Shelby consciously lies to himself—knowing that he won't remember—to perpetuate the made-up mission that he's crafted to give his life a sense of meaning. Brutal stuff!
Nina was the one character who was getting away from the writers, but "When Push Comes to Shove" not only brought her back into the fold, it gave us the deepest understanding we have of any of the characters on the show (right up there with Rosen, I'd say). This was a turnaround of epic proportions for a character I thought was on her way out.
One reason I thought she was on her way out was last week's seamless inclusion of new character Kat, the polar opposite of Nina (Kat can only live in the moment and her power works by processing things internally; Nina is a product of her past and projects her power externally). Kat's being eased into things by Rosen, who has decided the most important thing is for Kat to dig up some memories. There's a lot of fertile ground to work with here as her backstory can be anything. It's another example of Alphas being extra crafty with its use of superpowers, something similar shows like Heroes could never grasp.
"When Push Comes to Shove" was a necessary episode of Alphas and was executed incredibly well through flashbacks, strong performances, and sharp editing. The series does a great job of juggling small personal stories within a single episode (as it did last week), but this episode showed that it can concentrate its focus on one character with fantastic results. As much as I like watching the team work together to take down a bad guy, I hope we have more episodes like this in the future.
– If we were to rank the members of the DCIS in terms of who would be most dangerous if he or she went rogue, I'd put Nina right near the top, alongside Hicks. Who do you think would cause the most problems if they decided to go evil?
– How sweet was Dr. Rosen with Nina at the end of the episode? He can't do anything without gaining trust, and asking Nina for eye contact was the ultimate sign of trust. The guy just wants to help. I also loved the idea to give Kat an iPhone so she can record movies that will help her remember, and Kat's exuberance with the experiment. Not to mention Bill's wise words to her about one great memory being worth all the bad ones.
– Speaking of Rosen, he's THE BEST. But I wonder if he was referring to anything specific when he said he didn't want to overlook something and that his passions have taken over his practice.
– Rachel and John's "thing" might be moving pretty fast, but it's cute and is there anyone out there who doesn't want it to happen?
– You think I'd let this article end without a little CANDLEBOX!?!?!