Alphas: The Cult Episode

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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