Welcome back Alphas fans!
In this second stunning episode of Syfy’s exciting Alphas, Syfy continues to teach its viewers the importance of the simple things in life. First, we were told not to use a cell phone at work. Then it was suggested we never ask for help in a grocery store. “Cause and Effect” brought us lesson #3: “Pay Attention in Science Class.”
The “Cause and Effect” episode of Alphas also brought wonderful music provided by gifted composer Edward Rogers whom we also know from his fine work in Warehouse 13. Thank you Mr. Rogers for your haunting and enchanting score that makes Alphas such a great series!
This week, Doctor Lee Rosen (David Strathairn) gets taken back to school for some basic science 101: “Cause and Effect”. We know the basic definition: “Cause and Effect” is a general term meant to describe the response of one force when another acts upon it. For example: spilling water on a computer will break your computer.
Raise your hand if you know that one. Yeah, I empathize. In a less-destructive example, if you kick a ball, the ball will roll away or go flying if you really put your weight behind it. What really makes all of this interesting, however, is that the cause does not always predict the effect. Unless you’re Marcus Ayers.
“Who is Marcus Ayers?” you say.
Well, here we go into the meat of it all, so if you haven’t had time to watch the second episode of Alphas, “Cause and Effect” – well first off I suggest you go watch, and second you may stop reading if you do not want any MAJOR SPOILERS.
Our brief recap follows: A new Alpha has broken out of prison – more specifically, a prison transport – through a series of ‘perfect’, (and for his captors, unfortunate), events. While the rest of his Alphas try to overcome their prejudices of their new office, Dr. Lee Rosen goes to the scene and deduces that his first-ever Alpha patient, Marcus Ayers, has rejoined the public.
The brilliant strategic but dangerously paranoid Ayers leads Rosen down memory lane and a DoD liaison, Nathan Clay (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) on a cat-and-mouse chase through New York City. He eludes capture to the end, and mysteriously vanishes after imparting a warning: that there is a war brewing between humans and Alphas that will affect the entire team.
Marcus Ayers has no official ‘Alpha’ title, but he has the ability to make events play out to a predetermined outcome. In essence, he controls cause and effect like a natural Rube Goldberg. Since this is a natural occurrence to him, (and supernatural to those around him), he often does not understand why others can’t see the outcomes like he can, which has bred a deep paranoia. This paranoia, combined with his almost instinctive genius, (it’s hinted that his ability to see cause and effect also suggests a brilliant mathematical and scientific understanding), has also turned him into a master strategist. The man is a walking chess game.
Whether by choice or by chance, Marcus Ayers (Will McCormack) is oddly similar to Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie) , and that similarity forms a strange bond between them even though they are almost never onscreen together. Though Cameron does not like the insinuation that his brain is wired like a psychopath’s, there is no denying that his intuitions about Marcus, and his subsequent deductions about what drives his character comes from an innate understanding of the situations he is in.
76With Cameron’s peppered history and Marcus’s calculating mind, the two would make a powerfully frightening duo onscreen if they were to ever join forces – though at the same time, their impulsive behavior and brimming paranoia would make them violently unstable. Quite frankly, that is a very interesting dynamic.
The real underlying character relationship throughout this episode, however, is that of mentor and student: Doctor Lee Rosen and Marcus Ayers. They are established from the get-go in the opposing roles, and as the show progresses we are able to see the attempts to form understandings from both sides. Marcus follows the path of ‘troubled man’ more than ‘curious denial.’ Whereas Cameron was surprised at his powers, Marcus is solidly focused on his, even eager to show them off. Dr. Rosen does his best to harness Marcus’s fiery personality, but by the time he starts to get through to him, it’s simply too late.
Marcus does not want, nor does he believe he needs help, but beneath his roiling exterior there still lies a deep respect and even possible fondness for Rosen. The interactions between them do not suggest a student come to take revenge on his mentor, though Rosen believes this may be the case. Instead, Marcus is clearly asking for help, having seen a darkness forming on the horizon and believing he will be its first victim. His escape at the end of the episode leaves him wide open for return.
Also through this relationship, we begin to understand a lot more of Lee Rosen. Rosen sees Marcus as a failure but continues to hold out hope that he can someday understand that the world is a different place than Marcus believes. Dr. Rosen also seems to have an inability to let go of things, somewhat ironic for a psychiatrist. Finally, though he is the leader of the Alphas, like many others in his position he clearly sees his people as more than just patients in need of help, more than people with great potential.
Dr. Rosen fears for them like a protective lion, though it remains to be seen if he is truly fearing for them more as people he cares for or people who are ultimately a step forward in the human race. It could go either way; his arguments with Marcus and his discussions with Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell) are two clear examples of how personally involved he is with those that were formerly his patients, but he still maintains a respectful distance from some of the others such as Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada), Bill Harkin (Malik Yoba) and Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright), and makes a point about how he did not make this ‘team’ in order to fish out Alphas and do ‘field work’, (which begs the question of why he formed them).
“Cause and Effect” is the second episode of Syfy’s Alphas, another hour-long episode like the pilot before it. Instead of starting off the entire series with an introductory two-hour marathon, series writers Michael Karnow and Zak Penn have boldly thrown us into the action right in the middle, and episode two keeps that pace going.
The pacing and feel of a series is normally established by the second or third episode – by the time that third hour, (or fourth if you had a two hour opener) is over, the viewers have a taste for what the show itself is going to offer visually as well as a sense of the opening arc and the chemistry of the characters.
These crucial elements are only some of the factors to help us decide if we’re going to stay with the show – though it’s my opinion that they are the most important. In the case of Alphas, though still firmly expository at times, the writing of episode two is just as firm as the pilot before it, showing that these men have a story to tell, they are going to push forward with the action, and we are going to hang on for the ride.
The usage of flashbacks is always a little threatening in any story, as it jerks the watcher out of the previous moment and forces them to form a time-line in their head, deducing current action from past experience. In the case of “Cause and Effect”, however, the flashbacks don’t serve to really push the story forward, but rather to enhance character motivation and instigate theories. They get the audience guessing in an interactive manner that involves them in the story more than the present plot, which is core to surviving these initial introductions to a new series.
The writers also have selected certain themes with which to carry the story currently. Though it’s too early to tell to see if these themes will stay, they certainly serve their purpose to tell the stories from other angles and special perspectives. One of the more subtle themes right now is predetermination.
Predetermination is the belief that everything happens for a reason. There are no accidents. There are no coincidences. For someone like Marcus Ayers, who can literally control what does happen, this theme is the absolute core of his being, whereas for the more pliable and open-minded Doctor Rosen, this theme is unrealistic and unpredictable.
The viewers, of course, are left up to their own beliefs, but Alphas so far has made some interesting silent arguments for both sides. Predetermination is far more subtle in the pilot but from the mind of Marcus Ayers its effects are clearly seen. Under his idea of ‘forced moves’, Red Flag’s decision to hunt an Alpha that ultimately brings the Alphas further out of their secrecy was the ‘best move for them.’
If Red Flag is indeed an organization choosing to eliminate Alphas, (a theory that has yet to be proven one way or the other), then bringing them into the open would facilitate that destruction. In return, the Alphas are forced into their own move of bringing the target into their fold, enlarging their numbers but letting their secret out to yet one more person.
Now that is a more concrete example, but under the belief that the Alphas are a newly emerging ‘evolution’ of humans, it really was only a matter of time before the leaks overwhelm the dam. The full course of this theme may not become apparent until the season one closer, but the concept in and of itself when paired with other themes brings both merit and intrigue to season one of this show.
A stronger theme pulsing through these first two episodes so far is that of paranoia. From the get-go, it is evident that the Alphas are no longer as well-hidden as perhaps desired. They are targeted, infiltrated, and to some minds, openly betrayed. Cameron was a prime example of this in the pilot, suffering as he does from PTSD from his time in the Corps as a sniper, as well as the repercussions of his brainwashing. Marcus has become naturally paranoid and given the experiences he has been through in the past, has only gotten worse as his life degrades around him. Paranoia brings with it a plethora of stories and variables that make the show far more unpredictable.
So far, the poisonous emotion has not quite infiltrated the core group of the Alphas, but Doctor Rosen makes a statement at the end of the episode that, from one angle, suggests he might be willing to consider allowing it in. Powerful, one-way statements serve as more of a defense mechanism than anyone wants to admit, and Rosen stating: “It should be us and them. That’s the only option,” only serves to show that he is beginning to feel a pressure. With next week’s episode being what it is, we will see if paranoia plays a part in the quietly-looming conflict.
The Alphas writers have started small but fast. We are not going through the opening motions with the Alpha team, but instead are left feeling as though we are catching up with them as they go through their own everyday lives and jobs. This is not meant to be negative; in fact so far, catching up is proving to be far more exciting than starting with them at the beginning.
The characters’ familiarity and comfort levels with each other has created a chemistry of its own with none of the rocky, tripping conflict of first-timers, and the situations they are all coming up against have yet to really trip any wires when it comes to suspension of disbelief. We are left feeling as though we are watching not amateurs, not professionals, but novices moving definitely up through experience. And as for me, personally – I’m enjoying the ride.
Alphas airs each Monday evening at 10 PM E/P 8 PM Central time on Syfy for the next exciting episode!
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I and the WHR team look forward to and will be Seeing You on The Other Side“!