“If Memory Serves” is as crammed full of incident as last week’s episode was light on things happening. It introduces what appears to be a fairly major guest character, advances several season-long arcs by a few degrees, and gives us another story of Gary facing down something terrible. The closest thing it has to a standalone story is the race to find Mitchell, that he might help our Alpha team destroy Stanton, but even that story is heavily tied into the season’s arc. The episode is so breathless that it barely has time to take note of some major character beats, though it eventually does (but only just). Plus, it yanks the rug out from under the audience with the reveal of Kat’s “mother,” which was one of the better dark twists I’ve seen in a while. This isn’t a perfect episode, primarily because it’s so busy, but it’s a necessary episode. The season can move forward through its final two hours now.
The big introduction here is Mitchell, played by Sean Astin (in a turn that is best described as “gently befuddled”). Mitchell is someone Stanton’s been keeping locked away in an old farmhouse—it turns out to be the house Stanton built for his first family—and the team is curious to learn what he knows. As it turns out, it’s not a whole lot. He doesn’t have valuable intelligence. What he does have is information on what Stanton values most, information that Rosen is intent on using to destroy his enemy. While I enjoyed the portrayal of Mitchell as sort of the opposite of Kat, someone who’s so filled with memories (mostly from other people) that he can’t ever remember what’s true about himself, the character ended up being more of a Macguffin than anything else. The fact that he just sort of goes along with Hicks and Kat is understandable but also rather disappointing. He’s too passive, all things considered, and I hope that’s changed as he continues on the show.
On the other hand, the person looking over him, the Caretaker, is one of the scarier enemies the show has come up with. Now, any time there’s someone who can heal from seemingly anything, that’s going to make for some effective scares, but this episode put the Caretaker into some truly awful positions, like when Hicks ran him off the road with his car, resulting in his neck snapping and his bones jutting at unnatural angles. The sight of the Caretaker putting himself back together is the sort of image that is borrowed from other works but still contains a visceral thrill. Even better is the moment when Hicks snaps his fingers, and he seemingly wills them back together.
The Caretaker, of course, is taken out by Kat, on her first official mission, which is mostly meant to have her watch out for Hicks, who might do something stupid in his grief. Instead, she saves the day by figuring out that the Caretaker must need massive amounts of calcium to accomplish what he does, and that the process of mending himself must increase his bone density so much that he’ll sink if pushed into a body of water. She promptly does just that by slamming him and his car into a pond with a Mack truck (no, really), then realizes that, shit, Hicks—who had been taken prisoner—is probably in the car’s trunk. Naturally, she doesn’t know how to swim but flings herself in after her fellow team member anyway, holding onto a rock to drag herself down to where she might be able to pick the lock on the trunk.
All in all, “If Memory Serves” is a great episode for Kat, who’s shaping up to be one of the best things about season two. Adding new characters into a nicely balanced ensemble is always a tricky proposition, but Alphas has succeeded by focusing tightly on what makes her different from the other team members, particularly her chipper nature, which is occasionally masked by the dark clouds that are her past. It was clumsy to have her suddenly think about her mother again because she saw a woman in a blue dress, but having her “memories” of her “mother” turn out to be half-memories of a TV commercial is a terrific twist that I didn’t see coming. Kat will inevitably find her family, because this is that kind of a show, but it won’t be as easy as dusting off a memory fragment. Combining her sense of loss over this realization with her sense of guilt over killing a man also made for an effective emotional climax, skillfully tying in the recurring idea of never wanting to forget what something feels like. Kat seems devastated by these events, and it’s likely the aftereffects will hang with her.
If Hicks and Kat are off having fun rescuing Mitchell, the other characters are stuck in plots that aren’t quite as successful. (Maybe they all needed Kat.) I liked the way that Rosen’s storyline built to him being in an apocalyptic fury, placing Mitchell in Building Seven and burning down Stanton’s farmhouse, but the Congresswoman Burton storyline has been kind of a dud all season. Having Nina help her realize that she had been pushed by Nina felt like it could have been a more momentous twist than it actually is. I’m sure it will come back in some form in the final two episodes, but the whole thing mostly just made me wonder when Lauren Holly became such a flat actress. (It’s possible she always has been, and my 13-year-old, Picket Fences-obsessed brain refused to accept this fact.) The material with the photic stimulator similarly seemed to be building toward something grander in the weeks to come, though at least the contours of that are easier to see. (Stanton’s planning to trigger increased abilities in lots and lots of Alphas, which will likely end poorly for our heroes.) But Congresswoman Burton mostly seems to be here to continue the season’s motif of telling Rosen he’s very similar to Stanton, though much less subtly than usual. (“You’re as bad as the Alphas you hunt!” she howls.)
Finally, there’s Gary in the hospital with his mom, which isn’t bad or anything but also doesn’t feel like it has much of anything to do with anything. The season seems intent on visiting all sorts of tragic situations on Gary, to the point where just last week, there were people trying to steal a baby to whom he’d grown attached. While that’s made for some great episodes for Ryan Cartwright, I’m also itching to have him back with the team, rather than stuck off in his own C-plot every week. Don’t get me wrong: The moment when Gary’s mom has her second mini-stroke, and he doesn’t know what to do is just terrific. But in an episode that already had so much stuff going on, it might have been one thing too many. Gary’s a great character, and the show is wise to use him as much as it does, but it also needs to understand that it can’t just use him for its emotional flavoring. That’s why it has Kat.
- I kept feeling like Mitchell saying “Where are my keys?” was going to pay off in something truly unexpected. While that will probably happen in the next episode or the finale, I suppose, it was a little weird to have it keep coming up with no real clue as to what he might be talking about, even if that clue was a red herring. Maybe he really does just want his keys.
- The idea of someone who can take others’ memories and keep them inside of his head (then also share them with others) strikes me as a really good idea for a spin-off character. Maybe Astin is free to take Mitchell off to other arenas.
- Dr. Lee Rosen, worst lesson learner in the world: After hearing from Burton that he’s just as bad as those he chases, he promptly burns down a farmhouse and places a man in ultra-secure custody. Great work, Rosen.
- After complaining about the ratings and Syfy’s treatment of the show all season long, the viewership numbers have posted very modest gains since the series moved to an earlier timeslot. This seems bizarre to me, but, hey, I’ll take what I can get. I’m still on the fence as to whether this season is a marked improvement over season one or a fascinating near-miss, but shows with this much ambition—particularly when they have lower budgets—should always get a chance to thrive.
- Then again, the show’s relentless use of ultra-generic pop-punk is getting incredibly grating. In general, the show is overscored.