October 23, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Like its central hero, Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn), ALPHAS spent most of its Season 2 finale staggering about in a daze, apparently bleeding to death.  And–SPOILER ALERT— also like Rosen, as well as everyone else who had the misfortune to be in Grand Central Station at the close of the episode aside from autistic Gary (Ryan Cartwright), in the end, the show simply slumped to the ground and seemingly died, as an OK second season came to a dismal, anti-climactic ending.

Following a more episodically-oriented Season 1, Alphas tried in Season 2 to ring more of the bells that come with the serialized fantasy-adventure genre.  (Full Disclosure:  I worked on the business side of an earlier version of this show.)  The show continued to revolve around our plucky band of “gifted” outcasts, each flawed but out to do good.  These include Hicks (Warren Christie), who has perfect aim if anything needs to be shot or thrown; super-strong (one might almost call him Hulk-ish) Harken (Malik Yoba);  super-sensitive Rachel (Azita Ghanizada); Nina (Laura Mennell), who has the power to “push” others into doing her bidding; and Gary, who can pull electronic signals out of the air–all under the command of non-Alpha Rosen.  This season added two more to the crew:  non-Alpha tactical team chief Bennett (Steve Byers), and Kat (Erin Way), who can learn anything instantly, a la Neo, but forgets it all after a month.  A few intra-squad romances were mixed in, including Hicks with Rosen’s Alpha daughter Dani (Kathleen Munroe).

Dani, as it turned out, had been brought over to the dark side, because naturally there has to be a dark side.  Here it was the Red Flag organization, headed by Stanton Parish (John Pyper-Ferguson), whose Alpha ability was that he was 150 years old and couldn’t be killed.  After a lot of dithering about, we finally discovered that Parish’s master plan was to strengthen all the world’s Alphas and murder most of the non-Alphas by means of some blinking lights, which have the advantage, as super-weapons go, of not requiring much of a budget.  Along the way, Dani switched back to working with the good guys, prompting Parish to cause her death and putting Rosen into “This time it’s personal” mode.

The season finale, written by Executive Producer Bruce Miller and directed by Matthew Hastings, found Parish’s plan about to go into motion (on the anniversary of the day 150 years earlier when Parish discovered he had eternal life, because Alphas are sentimental that way).  Rosen had been shot at the end of the prior episode, so as noted, he spent most of this one with blood dripping from his side, having semi-coherent conversations with an apparition of dead Dani, while the team–with special help from fanboy idol Summer Glau–worked to disable Parish’s magic blinking lights.  In what was doubtless a coincidental overlap with NBC’s new Revolution, it turned out that the solution was to instigate a nation-wide blackout, because, well, with no power, the lights couldn’t blink.  Except it further turned out that the only place in the entire country where the lights couldn’t be extinguished was Grand Central Station (or a Canadian equivalent thereof).  Rosen figured out how to kill Parish, which was so simple (all it took was a shot of blood thinner) that one wondered how it had taken 150 years for someone to figure it out, but in the end he didn’t do it, because–you guessed it–if we do that, how are we different from them?  (This may have won a prize as the official one-millionth time that sentiment was heard at the end of a thriller.)  So the lights blinked, and as Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy In New York” played on the soundtrack, Ryan wandered among the “dead” extras, any number of whom will turn out to be alive if the show returns for a third season, since it’s unlikely that Alphas is about to become The Ryan Show.

All of this, as infuriating as it was, might have been endurable if the writing or acting had elevated the show, but that was rarely the case.  Strathairn has been Alpha‘s ace in the hole, a very fine actor who brings gravitas even to the silliest scenes, but even he couldn’t pull off 45 minutes of muttering to a hallucination while dripping fake blood.  The rest of the cast isn’t anywhere close to his level, and Parish in particular has been one of the least thrilling villains to come along in quite a while.

Alphas hasn’t been doing particularly well in the ratings, with 18-49 numbers hovering in the 0.4-0.5 area.  It’s a toss-up which of it, Warehouse 13 and Haven, all of which are doing similarly, will come back.  (One could make the argument that Haven‘s similar numbers are more impressive because they come on little-watched Fridays, but a 0.4 is a 0.4 however you cut it.)  From a network point of view, the Alphas finale has the virtue of allowing for a thorough reboot in a Season 3, as any of the series characters could miraculously return from the dead or stay expired.  Thus far, though, very little in Alphas suggests it’s worth making that effort.  A new show could hardly do much worse, and would have some potential upside, which after two full seasons, Alphas doesn’t.  In the end, not all superheroes are all that super.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."