This week on Syfy’s Alphas, change was the name of the game. In a previous review I commented on how the writers had not yet started creating episodes that focus entirely on one character or another.
Welcome to the Alphas curve ball brought to you by Michael Karnow and Zak Penn in the form of an outstanding episode called “Rosetta” including the introduction of new character, a woman named Anna (Liane Balaban).
Now, for all intents and purposes the episode did not focus exclusively on one character, but this week one of the Alphas was brought very firmly into the spotlight for some strong development, painful attacks, and a general sense of foreboding during the ‘fade to black.’ This week, we got an hour-long look at Gary Bell, (Ryan Cartwright).
As this episode focuses so much on Gary this week, we also would like to include some information here about the diagnosis of his character in the series. In Alphas Gary has been diagnosed with “High-Functioning Autism” known as HFA. To learn more about High-Functioning Autism, we invite you to visit Disabled World to be better informed about what HFA actually is. Thank you.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:
With that simple statement, we see the Alphas set to take down the man who sent the Ghost after them in the pilot, the potential leader of the almost-mythical Red Flag. However, our savvy leader has an Alpha sidekick, and manages to escape capture, leaving behind a woman with severe apraxia. The Alphas themselves are already terribly on edge with their new ‘status’, and Nina Theroux, (Laura Mennell), is none too happy to be left as the babysitter for Gary and Anna. Soon after, Gary deduces a way to communicate with Anna, and she offers to aid him and the others in finding the ‘leader’ of Red Flag.
A couple twists and turns later, Gary discovers that Anna herself is the leader; she has manipulated them brilliantly, and thanks to the confusion the original goal of the episode is still met: the destruction of a building creating a biotoxin meant to stop the birthing of Alphas. Anna incapacitates Gary and escapes. In the final chilling sequence of the episode we sense that not only will she return, but that she has already had a marked effect on Gary’s standpoint of the position of the Alphas versus Red Flag. We may have met our season one villain.
This week, the writer made a couple of very bold choices. First of all, for the second week in a row they chose to throw in a twist to the episode, leading us down one path and then slamming on the brakes and spinning us around. It is a brave move for a new show, and it remains to be seen if this becomes the norm or if they revert back to a more straightforward exposition.
Cases can be made for the potential success of either form doing this this early in the series. In this week’s twist, we find out that Red Flag’s leader is an Alpha with a simple ability and a brilliant, driven mind. Anna’s motivation remains unclear but her effect and her influence is powerfully felt throughout the episode, even as the web of deception around her begins to unravel.
Red Flag has been under wraps for the last couple episodes leading up to now, mentioned only in passing references. The Ghost who made Cameron Hicks, (Warren Christie), a proxy in the pilot episode remains the strongest point of contact for the Alphas, and through him we were introduced to the somewhat-easy-to-find Milos Kosar, (Dean Armstrong). Indeed, finding the potential kingpin of Red Flag so early on in the episode was our first clue that something was off.
This episode’s core was to draw back the curtain and expose the main villain in an introductory way. We see some of Red Flag’s propaganda, and follow two of its agents on their mission when we are not with the Alphas. And slowly, subtly, preying on his weaknesses, Anna begins to get into Gary’s mind with the core of Red Flag’s mission: “We are better.”
Red Flag, as we know so far, is mainly consisted of Alphas that are in direct competition with humans, who seek to prove the necessity of their existence by subduing those around them. Whether or not they mean to ‘take over’ is still not established, but their goals seem focused more on recognition and control, which is in opposition to Doctor Lee Rosen’s, (David Strathairn), Alphas, who battle for integration and acceptance.
Anna, for her part, establishes herself throughout the episode as a powerfully core villain. Though ultimately human, (a point Rosen has made over and over throughout the series in general), she possesses a deceitful and manipulative mind, cleverly twisting the facts and wording her sentences in such a way as to elicit certain emotions. Without even trying, she convinces Gary to explode at Nina, forsaking his somewhat calm demeanor in a fit of defensiveness about his ability to ‘care for himself’ (a plot arc that seems somewhat wrapped in this episode but hopefully is not, as there still seems like there is a lot left to explore).
When she turns on Gary finally, she almost seems remorseful for what she does to him, but is she really connecting to him, or is she really just manipulating him through a fake friendship? The questions about Anna continue. What is her motivation? Is she the true leader of Red Flag? How did she become the leader? Will she return? What will she do when she returns? And scariest of all for the Alphas: was she successful in turning one of them against the others?
The ‘one of them’ I mean is of course our transducer, Gary Bell. This episode put a strong core focus on him, opening with glimpses of his home life, throwing out possible points of conflict, and giving him a direct connection to the center of this week’s story. Rosen goes so far as to insinuate that Gary has ‘met someone’ to Gary’s own mother, Sandra Bell, (Jane Moffat), pointing out such details as the woman being of his age and of similar “cognitive disabilities,’ as well as mentioning that Gary ‘has taken’ to her quite well.
To his mother, this is a sign of growth for Gary, and she appears pleasantly surprised even as she firmly reiterates that Rosen ‘can’t keep throwing [Gary] off schedule.’ Rosen assures her it will not happen again. We, of course, know otherwise.
Gary himself was established early on as one of the ‘kids’ of the Alphas, being one to be protected instead of one doing the protecting. His ability to see sounds, (somewhat synesthetic in nature), makes him a core group member, as indeed he is heavily relied on for tracking and tracing, especially when everyone is on the move.
As we see him in his home, it is obvious that his ‘kid’ role extends to even there, with his mother preparing his meals, buying his clothes, and checking the temperature of his water for him. It’s the water that gets the focus in this episode, and is one of the stronger points of evidence that Gary has undergone a significant change by the time the hour has wrapped.
At the beginning, Gary makes it a point to say that he knows he can get his water himself, but the dismissive tone suggests that he just does not want to do it. Later on, Anna calls him smart and tells him he does not need anyone to take care of himself, but Gary boldly replies to her that he does not want to take care of himself, even though he knows he can. In most of his conversations with Anna we are exposed to more of his trademark refreshing bluntness and frank introspection.
Gary is still a child in some ways, seeming to want things but not necessarily being willing to work for them, not to mention being easily distracted particularly when the topic of conversation focuses on him, (but it is possible we can blame Anna’s manipulative abilities or the fact that she’s a pretty girl for that one).
By the end of the episode, however, he is not quite so hesitant. Anna has gotten to him. Whether or not Gary’s own opinion of the Alphas versus Red Flag has been seen, he seems to take on a more definitive notion of it through Anna’s influence. He bluntly, almost coldly, informs Doctor Rosen that Rosen is not an Alpha, and near then end of the show he hears Anna calling to him. His response is a silent smile, and we are left wondering if he will tell Rosen that he can find her, or if he will keep her his secret. He has not turned on anyone yet, but this could be the beginning of a dangerous story arc with exciting consequences.
A less menacing but equally important effect appears at the end of the episode when Gary is again brushing his teeth and his mother brings him his water. When she asks him if he wants to test it, he refuses, saying he can take care of himself. In only a few days’ time, Gary has somehow found the motivation to take one more step towards being independent. It is an outside step and we are left wondering how much more control he is going to take.
A final conflict for Gary that so far has only been touched on in interactions is that of his belief that no one takes him seriously. We have seen two large instances of this: first in his refusal to go home with Nina in “Rosetta”, and in his consistent complaints about the ‘humming’ in “Cause and Effect” and “Anger Management.” Gary often seems to be trying to communicate things over and over, as frankly and forward as possible, and many times he has been brushed off or simply told: “that’s okay,” without the problem being addressed. Through hints like these and with the character development given to him so far, Gary could be being set up to play a wild card by the end of season 1. Let the theorizing begin!
This week was a particularly tough week for the Alphas. Despite the apparent time jump between last week’s “Anger Management” and this week’s “Rosetta”, the Alphas are still reeling from the loss of control inflicted upon them by Matthew. Nina has been horrified to experience a taste of her own medicine, Rachel Pirzad, (Azita Ghanizada), has faded even more into the background, and Bill Harken, (Malik Yoba), and Cameron have taken to passive-aggressive behavior and outright defiance, respectively.
On top of it all, Doctor Rosen is deeply shaken from losing the man who tried to kill him and his Alphas. This is the first week we have seen him truly frightened: not concerned, not calm but nervous, but truly frightened. It is a strong move, (in my opinion), for the writers to show him in a weaker light this early on, but it also emphasizes the point he makes: that everyone is ultimately human.
The interesting side of Rosen’s fear is that it blinds him. Throughout the series he has been a steady heartbeat, a confident player because of his psychoanalytical abilities. He is a psychiatrist and until this week he has been strong. However, the growing tension and the fear of the very real threat that Red Flag is becoming is finally getting to him, and he misses the signs that Anna is a far greater danger than she is portraying. The tension that springs up between Rosen and Cameron is a second illustration of this weakness, and it was well-written.
A final theme evident in this episode is that of adaptation and change, not just growing up as Gary so effectively portrayed. With last week’s admission that the Alphas are going to become a ‘team’, we seem to have jumped again right into the thick of things with their first visual exposure being their attempted takedown of Milos Kosar. Each one of the Alphas is facing their own challenge working now with others instead of just themselves.
Suddenly, Doctor Rosen is making decisions that affect more than just his group, and his group is right there on the front lines. He has said that this was not what he intended his group to become, but that is what they have been forced to do by DCIS. How long the Alphas can keep up taking orders and jumping in front of loaded guns is yet to be seen, and if next week’s episode is any indication, we are about to experience what happens when the gun from the “Red Flag” movement goes off!
The next Alphas episode is named “Never Let me Go” when the team will face one of its greatest threats while Gary delivers some of the the best lines with a bit of sincere humor that offsets the serious nature of his character’s diagnosis. See you then.
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