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Alphas: “Gods And Monsters”

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“Gods And Monsters” takes its fair time getting to where it’s going, but once it does, it builds up a nice head of steam. In some aspects, it reminded me of last season’s brilliant “Blind Spot,” and while it’s nowhere near as good as that episode, it at least keeps the story moving forward full throttle. It also makes some interesting choices about what to do about the season’s major villain and the episode’s villain. If it takes a little while to get to the point where Stanton is loose in the team’s headquarters and Jason’s teenage hive-mind is beating down the doors to the outside, well, once it gets there, everything moves. And in an episode like this—one that marks the season’s halfway point—that’s essentially all the series needs.

Many of the episode’s problems stem from its “villain,” Jason Miller, the boy who was in a coma in the creepy hospital episode from a few weeks ago. The photic stimulator has amped up his abilities to the point where merely touching someone is enough for him to override their own mind and will. He uses this to bring lots of the kids—and teachers and assorted other adults—at his school into his hive-mind, and he soon commands a mindless army of drones. On its surface, there’s nothing wrong with this, and the bits where Rosen’s team is on the run from the teenagers recall some of the better parts of last decade’s spate of “fast zombie” films. I also appreciate the episode’s attempts to make Jason a reluctant villain. The bit where he agrees to go with Rosen so the doctor can help him release those trapped in his neural nets is an interesting choice for the “bad guy.” The episode makes clear he’s just a lonely teenager who used his gift, then let it get out of control.

The problems stem, more or less, from the fact that the reason he uses his gifts is fairly cliché. See, Jason’s a nerd, and the other kids make fun of him. His crush, Lisa, won’t give him the time of day, and her boyfriend very nearly punches Jason out for even talking to the girl. As a motivation, it makes sense. It’s just that it makes so much sense that tales of superpowered teenagers have been doing riffs on this basic idea for years now. I’m not the world’s biggest consumer of comics, but even I knew where this was going once Jason turned his first fellow student. Jason’s protests about how he would feel so “lonely” without all of the others’ thoughts crowding into his head also felt hollow, the sort of thing the episode asked viewers to accept on faith but never spent any real time actually depicting. I did enjoy the moments where Jason realized just how hollow it was to have Lisa begin stripping for him simply because he told her to, but it was, again, the sort of thing that was easily predicted from essentially frame one of the story.

What’s worse is that these story bits got in the way of making the final acts more coherent. I suspect the episode was trying to build to a giant twist of Stanton being part of Jason’s hive-mind (and successfully turning said hive-mind against its original owner), but the moment passed by so quickly, due to time constraints, that it didn’t land with its full dramatic weight. The battle between Stanton, Jason, and Rosen within the hive-mind was a great idea, but it might have done better with another scene or two to properly build. The image of all of the kids Jason had made into his false friends abandoning him to come to Stanton’s aid was a beautiful way of externalizing Jason’s fears, but the whole story point went by so quickly that it missed a few opportunities. Jason reveals that Stanton is in the hive-mind and is taking control of it. Rosen asks to be brought in. The kids desert Jason. Rosen convinces Jason to break the link, so the kids can’t help Stanton. It happens so quickly that it loses some of the power it so hopes to have.

Of course, the real reason to bring these two adversaries into Jason’s network is so that Rosen can touch Stanton at a critical moment and discover essentially everything the man has been up to, including the fact that Dani is a part of his crew. It’s a great moment, and it also delays the Dani revelation until episode’s end, so the audience briefly feels as if the show is yanking its chain before turning right around and revealing that, no, it’s time for everybody to learn just who the mole is. And make no mistake: Just having Stanton inside of the team’s headquarters makes for a lot of fun. From the bit where Rosen leads him to the prison cell to the monologue he delivers about his experiences in World War II to the moment where he turns a plastic cup into a shiv, that he might stab himself and effect his escape, Stanton enlivens the proceedings around him. The character remains a bit nebulous at this point, but John Pyper-Ferguson is doing such a good job of playing him that Stanton is shaping up into the kind of Big Bad the series always needed.

And, let’s face it. This is still a show that has the seemingly effortless ability to build tension and come up with scenarios that are at once exciting and in keeping with that week’s storyline. The show probably can’t pull the “battle comes to team headquarters” storyline too often, but the couple of times it’s done so have made for some of the most riveting TV the series has come up with yet. “Gods And Monsters” has plenty of problems, but in the moments when headquarters are being invaded by teenagers on one side and Stanton Parish on the other, there’s enough tension and excitement to drive plenty of episodes of other shows. Even when not everything in an episode is working, Alphas finds a way to make the stuff that counts settle in.


Stray observations:

  • Dr. Lee Rosen, worst father in the world: He doesn’t even recognize the silhouette of his daughter in the vision he has of the inside of Stanton’s head? I mean, sure, you could argue that the whole thing flies by so quickly that he couldn’t possibly, but c’mon. He’s never winning the Father of the Year award. (To be fair, we already knew this.)
  • David Strathairn’s Fun With ADR: This week, Strathairn drops in some helpful thoughts about how people’s brain patterns are all different, just like our fingerprints, thanks to the hard work of the post-production crew. One thing I’ve noticed about the ADR on this show—which is always, always hilariously obvious—is that it’s usually used to explain something that doesn’t need explaining. Network notes?
  • I like how the show is trying to break Nina down, that it might build her up again, but I’ll confess that I found the storyline with Lauren Holly fairly boring. I’m sure this is all going somewhere, and I’ll look back on this and laugh at my thoughts, but watching the characters puzzle this out wasn’t particularly the highpoint of the episode.
  • So the photic stimulator permanently increases Alpha powers? That seems like a dangerous road to start down, and I’m not sure I like that Rachel’s power is now so amped up that she can hear some sort of ultrasonic field that Jason is emitting to his followers. Making the team members too powerful will eventually eliminate the fun, puzzle-solving aspect of the show, and I’d rather that not go away.
  • Another highpoint: So much Kat! I particularly liked her greeting for Stanton before realizing nobody else was excited to see him.
  • The show got some good mileage out of the people in Jason's network moving and speaking at exactly the same times. Those moments were always creepy.
  • This week’s discussion point: Yes, Stanton gets to be somewhat of an omniscient super-villain, but where does the show draw the line? His secret plan seemed to count on him knowing exactly how any number of variables were going to play out, and I’m not sure I bought that. A minor quibble in a storyline I otherwise enjoyed.