Alphas: The Cult Episode

Ever since episode 4–the great "Rosetta"–I've started subsequent Alphas write-ups with some version or other of "maybe we'll get to the Red Flag storyline next week." It's starting to remind me of Christmas mornings when I opened a gift only to get a sweater and not a Nintendo 64. We'll get back there, but until then, I'm going back to treating Alphas as a series of standalone episodes. That's not a bad thing; "Bill and Gary's Excellent Adventure" was great fun and "Catch and Release" brought up some mildly interesting points.

But "A Short Time in Paradise" wasn't just a standalone episode, it was a filthy old hermit living in the backwoods when compared to the rest of the series. Here's the gist of the plot: An Alpha named Jonas with the power to project a feeling of happiness and tranquility on others starts a cult and ropes Hicks into joining him and moving to his estate. Hicks recruits Nina, and when cult members begin to lose their buzz and get sick, they call Dr. Rosen to help out. Rosen knows something going on, blah blah blah, and eventually everyone is saved except for Jonas, who is shot in the face by Rosen. Oh, and Rachel tries to convince her dad to go see a doctor 'cuz he's sick. The end.

One thing I like about how Alphas operates is the feeling that Alphas are rare, there's often a rap sheet or some info on them, and when one is spotted being bad, our team of heroes gets the call. In "A Short Time in Paradise," that idea evaporates when Hicks stumbles upon one at an AA meeting. As a staunch detractor of crime procedurals, I never thought I'd miss Alphas removing the procedural portion of the show, but I did.

Because there wasn't any investigation going on, the whole episode didn't feel like it was part of the overall series. I've become a fan of Alphas because I find it pleasantly unique; despite the fact that it's borrowing from several other properties, it's packaged those influences together in an individual way. Unfortunately, the events in "A Short Time in Paradise" could have happened to any television characters. I wouldn't be surprised if this episode was originally written for another program and names were crossed out and rewritten to make it fit here. And if you replace Jonas' power with a charismatic man's sparkly-white smile, Alpha powers aren't even necessary.

There's also the problem with the "cult episode." We've seen it done before in television, Dollhouse sticks out as one recent instance and procedurals go to it now and then. They're always so predictable. Character joins cult, other character tries to pull them out, leader threatens to burn the whole thing down, and everyone is saved.

There was one thing about how Alphas handled the cult episode that I did like, though. Jonas (played by Garret Dillahunt, always good to see him pop up) firmly believed what he was doing was right. A crazy man who knows he's evil isn't as frightening as a crazy man who thinks he's doing good.

The standout in the episode was Dr. Rosen. It's another fantastic performance from David Strathairn, who is way too good of an actor to be on Syfy, but I'm not going to complain. Rosen, a borderline New Age pacifist, is comfortable with his role of helping people in need. But he's having issues with the other aspects of the job. Last week we saw him defy direct orders and set an Alpha free, this week he realized that part of being a government operative means you have to shoot someone in the face. His arc from nerdy academic to government operative is the most compelling character story. Gary may be the most entertaining character on the show, but Rosen is–by leaps and bounds–the most interesting.

Alphas is playing around with things to see what works. "A Short Time in Paradise" didn't, but that doesn't mean the series won't learn from it. Maybe it just needed more Gary.

Notes:
–That sparkly sex scene obscured all the good parts!

–So it sounds like Gary and his mom are okay with his job now? She gave him a ride to work and her only complaint was that it made her late to her job?

–Bill drew the short straw in this episode, didn't he?


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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I thought this one was the best episode yet. I particularly liked the struggle throughout with pacificist Dr. Rosen steadily building to the realisation that he was going to have to kill the cult leader to bring the situation to and end and save everyone's lives. My only complaint is that his angst over that decision was pretty much wrapped up in two seconds of tagline at the end of the episode. No doubt never to be mentioned or bother his conscience again.
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I'm usually on the "serial series" bandwagon, but I found that I actually enjoyed this standalone episode. Sure, the cult plot is pretty obvious, but I think Alphas portrayed it fairly well. The mini-plot with Rachel, Gary, and her father was quite nice, especially Gary's pep-talk to Rachel in their little break room. The only thing I really disliked about the episode was the sex scene. I have no problem with sex scenes -- in fact, I promote all shows to have sex scenes, hehe -- but if you're going to do it, it should be for the purpose of either sexiness or plot development. The sex scene in this episode was not only pointless, but gave me a headache with all the flashing lights.
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I thought the sex scene was interesting as a counterpoint against the AA sponsor's heart attack, and the way that it was filmed made it clear that Nina and Hicks weren't in their right minds, so I felt it played some purpose (and it's not as if the possibility of a relationship between Nina and Hicks hadn't been foreshadowed since the pilot.
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Fringe started out in a very similar way in season 1, with a main overall story arc (here it's red flag-the enemy organization of alphas) and many "standalone" episodes. What you get in each episode is small character subplots (Nina and Hicks having sex, then having to deal with their evolving work/personal relationship, and rachel dealing with her dad), as well as finding out more about these characters other personal relationships...which is what makes you eventually give a crap about a character your watching on a show. Which as I recall in the early episode reviews was what Tim Surette was asking for.

I thought the episode also gave a new dimension to Dr. Rosen who early on stated clearly that he'd never shot a gun and that was something he'd like to have never had to do. Now he has to deal with the fact that he not only killed a man, but an alpha.

I thought the episode was great, along with all the others thus far. Much better than the overall direction Heroes decided to go.
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There was no cell service, yet gary and rachel had to call reinforcements (which they did) should bill not return??
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rewatch the ep again and pay attention this time. maybe you would of noticed they explained that gary's heavily modified cell was able to work there.
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I agree 100% with the comments on Strathairn, and I think this episode was simply an episode with the purpose of furthering character development, particularly of said actor's character. There was of course the obvious development between Nina and Cameron, as well, but that was too obvious. Gary's character of course continues to be awesome. The whole cult thing was just a vehicle to push said development.
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David Strathairn is just rocks!

other character i like is Gary of course. The chemistry between hicks and nina is just awful. zero. nada. please don't go there! although rosen and rachel has incredible chemistry, unexpectedly.
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the sex scene was dumb. gratuity in general is dumb. the rest of the episode i found to be really solid.



i love the fact that gary recognizes his own mental problems.
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I agree with you about David Strathaim, he did great. I did a lot of fast-forwarding with this episode. Didn't care for it much. David was the only one who really stood out for me. It was funny that Rachel had to take Gary to her sister's wedding. Not a great episode though. Skipped the sex scene all together.
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Such a pity that I don't need an I-pad :/
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I still want to know more about what nina did to her boyfriend. But i thought the ep was good, but not as good as the other ones.
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Really, "another fantastic performance from David Strathairn"?
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I'm taking a pass on this episode.
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ok ep, good that the doc finally sees a darkside aswell
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While this wasn't my favorite episode, I didn't hate it, either. It was just okay. For me, the best parts of the episode were Dr. Rosen (especially his believable reaction to shooting someone), Gary telling Rachel that he was looking out for her while trying to get her to stand up for herself (so she can help her dad), and the last scene with Rachel and her father. I could have done without the Nina/Hicks sex scene, mainly because Nina is my least favorite character and I could care less about their relationship.
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Maybe it is just me, but the character of Rosen really really gets on my nerves for some reason. I would like to strangle him thankyou.
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I actually liked this episode. While the cult thing has been done before, Alphas has an intelligent way of handling it, making Jonas a firm believer in "no outsiders no matter the cost" and using his alpha power like he's the ultimate healer. I especially liked Dr. Rosen in this episode, having to not only use a gun for the first time, but kill a human being for the first time, too. He looked completely hurt and shocked. I definitely felt for him, but it had to be done. I also commend Bill for trying to give him some pointers on reading that manual. I also loved the Rachel and Gary B storyline. Gary was a remote choice for a fake boyfriend, but the results and his talking Rachel into confronting her father head on made for a good storyline and ending. I love the balance that Alphas is showing right now between standalone and serialized episodes. The main storyline is good, but I want to know about the characters it involves, too.
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For once i agree with M.Tim Surette's appreciation of the episode.

I think Alphas writers are on the edge between procedurial and serialized serie; Alphas would loose is originality by sticking to procedurial and on the opposite, it would quickly loose viewers if it was too serialised (The Event, Flashforward).

I have no doubt the writers have a clear idea of the pace of the first season and i'm sure the last episodes will be more serialised with an arc-story related to the mithology of the show. Also you can expect more character development from Rosen and we wil learn that he has his own agenda.
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Yeah, I had to confess that i'm a bit confused by those stand-alone eps. Okay we learn a little bit more each time on various characters but I just miss the main plot. Maybe that main plot will be even more exciting once we get attached the characters but hurry up dudes : give me something to think and debate about. Looks like the preview from the next ep (in two weeks) promiss a lot about this so I'm glad.

Still, I'm glad that the show did not turn into a demonstration of everybody abilities and offers us more depth.

I totally agree with your statement about Rosen and how the ambiguity of the man makes him so much more interesting as a non-alpha team leader. But please no more Gary : i think he takes a lot of space in every ep. He's funny and sometimes touching, I know, but please do not turn him into a clown by sticking that "i say what I think when I think it" note up his forehead : it's starting to become a bit annoying !

The way you describe the always-the-same schematic of the ep and explain how we find it everywhere made me think about the "amnesia episode" who was also a classic during 80's and 90's. Gosh, those were just horrible.

Last thing : who the hell are those commentators about the ipad deal ? Are they friends of that bogart dude who's obsessed with Tim (author of this article) ? They sure have the same tendency to spam -___-... I'm right, aint'I ?
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Tell me more Maddox!
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Yeah, I am sad that that was the first post. Also, I figured the Alpha power of this weeks episode was to annoy me with the shiny blocking. I would have preferred them not showing them completely nude!
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i think that if it was always an alpha caught because of an investigation, the show would be really boring. im glad they changed it up a bit
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Hey, Tim, why not try critiquing the actual show rather than complain about its not following the format you think all shows should follow? Variety is the spice of life after all. This wasn't the best episode, but, like the Summer Glau episode, I was impressed with how many storylines/themes the cult episode tried to touch on in the hour. Last week's wasn't focused solely on Nina, and this one introduced Hicks' alcoholism and gave us insight into th introvert's relationship with her father, although admittedly it felt a little more tacked on than subplots in other episodes. I'm also impressed by the pedigree of the directors Alphas has had so far. If the show were to settle on one main director, the director of this one would be my first choice, because he did a spectacular job.
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Spammers already! Man they're good.
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