Review: The memories of Alphas

The second season of Alphas managed to significantly ramp up the drama without losing its cerebral, sci-fi nature.

The first season of Alphas was great for its format and its introduction to the team. This rag-tag bunch was learning to work together, and each week they had a new alpha to contend with out in the world. Disappointingly, that format was abandoned for the second season. The ‘monster a week’ stuff was replaced by an overarching conflict with a single, powerful enemy.

The show continued to introduce us to new alphas with sometimes interesting, sometimes trite abilities, and to develop the abilities of the existing alphas, but only a few of the 13 episodes this season dealt with taking down a single bad-guy in an unconnected plot.

Much of what was lost in this change was made up for in a major ramp up of the show’s overall drama. The stakes this season were much higher than they ever were, often with the lives of thousands of innocents in the balance. This ramping up also produced some melodrama, but it doesn’t overwhelm the show.

The real weakness of the season comes at the very beginning. The first episode takes place 8 months after the end of the previous season, and the actions of the season one finale are never quite followed up on, and the real repercussions never seem to manifest. Rosen’s announcement was supposed to change the world, but after a couple of episodes it was back to business as usual, and several sub-plots which were left unresolved at the end of the first season either got wrapped up mysteriously during the 8 month gap, or completely disappeared, like Bill’s heart condition.

As disappointed as I was that the major actions of the season one finale didn’t get their full exploration, the arc this season was still very well wrought. The characters are still great, especially Gary, whose eternal awkward brilliance improves any scene he’s in, and Kat, the new girl with a challenging, and rousing role to play.

Though ‘self-acceptance’ was still a major theme, a holdover from the first season, the big theme this season was ‘trust’, with nearly every sub-plot dealing with the team’s trust issues, and the effect that a lack of trust in and around the team has on their missions and personal lives.

The biggest strength of the show since the beginning, has been the way it treats the subject matter. It’s a super hero story, surely, but it’s very much science-fiction, where most super hero stories are more fantasy. HEROES, a previous show that was dealing in the same subject, and which clearly had a lot of influence on Alphas, approached the subject similarly, but it was mostly just magic. It was genetic, and there were scientists studying it, but no characters even tried to explain it.

Alphas comes from another angle, always making the attempt to explain a character s’ powers with science, often even using the good guys’ understanding of science and biology to counter the abilities of the enemies. This is not lost even into the significantly raised stakes of the new season. Even the big bad, the man who cannot die, is not magic, he simply has an over-reactive immune/repair response, which, with the right mix of chemicals, could be nullified.

He’s not immortal, his body just works differently. It may be malarkey science, but it’s an attempt at a stronger, more verisimilar world, and it is mostly successful. Some powers, especially the mind-effecting ones, like Dani’s ability to transfer emotions from one person to another with a blue spark from her hand, still go unexplained, but we’re always given the sense that there is an explanation. No one on the show defies the laws of space and time, for example.

Overall, the second season was just as compelling as the first, just in a completely different way. I think it could have been even better still if they’d retained more of the ‘monster a week’ stuff, but many shows of the paranormal investigations sub-genre end up losing sight of that pretty quickly.

If the detective work was your favorite part, you’ll be disappointed a bit by this season, but if you thought the first season was a bit low on action, it should be easy to appease you here.

The third season of Alphas will begin on Syfy next fall. If you need to catch up, you can see everything over on Amazon Instant.