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July 7, 2015

A Few Thoughts on the 'Alphas' Season Finale

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 27th 2011 12:05PM

How about that last scene of the 'Alphas' finale? If you're anything like my spouse, your immediate reaction was, "When does season 2 begin?"

The bad news is that the next season of the show won't arrive until some time in 2012. Despite the wait, I think the network has a potential hit on its hands. If the network is smart, it will keep 'Alphas' laser-focused on intelligent writing and character development, because those elements will make or break 'Alphas' future.

If the drama's writers, cast and directors are able to capitalize on what season 1 did right, it could break out as a hit for the network.

If those core elements of the show or its mythology become lazy, bland or simply unmemorable, it could be a disaster for 'Alphas.' I mean, it's clear that the show doesn't have much of a budget, but that didn't end up mattering a ton in season 1 because the 'Alphas' creative team worked around that problem in intelligent, adventurous and thoughtful ways.

As Ian Grey wrote in a perceptive essay about the show, "What matters is there really is an Alpha Group now. The show has conjured up the romance and illusion of the fantastic family with its unbearable fragility and coming loss." As Grey noted, the show's low budget didn't really matter, because "empathic character writing is free and 'Alphas' has scads of it."

The worst thing Syfy could do would be to take those aspects of the show for granted. Remember how long it took people to drop 'Heroes' when it began to go in circles, with no real idea of where to take the story or its characters? I'll take folks a lot less time to drop 'Alphas' if it doesn't fulfill the promise of season 1 when it returns.

I guess I'm nervous about the future of 'Alphas' because I really came to look forward to watching it each week, and let's face it, nothing in Syfy's recent past leaves me encouraged about the network's handling of straight-up dramas. But in its commitment to providing popcorn entertainment paired with solid and compelling character development, 'Alphas' was special. The particular mixture of drama, action and well-executed genre stories that 'Alphas' largely pulled off it its first season just can't be found anywhere else on TV at the moment, and I don't know about you, but I feel protective of the show and don't want it to falter just when it's built up a head of steam.

I've written about the show recently here and here, so I won't be going into the finale in a great deal of depth here: I'll just say that I agreed with the finale assessments of Eric Goldman of IGN and Todd VanDerWerff of the AV Club. Eric had good things to say about the finale, but he made the valid point that the finale seemed a little overstuffed and busy, and I'd agree with that -- if it had been 90 minutes long and allowed to breathe a little, it might have felt a bit less rushed in places.

Todd, who otherwise very much liked the finale, took issue with the big fight at Highland Mills, which I agree was kind of cool here and there but generally was a bit too chaotic. But my problems with the shootout went a bit further than Todd's, I think. First of all, the fact that the government was all too willing to go in and essentially murder so many members of Red Flag just turns the Alphas' handlers into cartoonish characters. I understand that Sullivan and the government thought of Red Flag as a terrorist organization, but would they really use any pretext to basically slaughter so many members of the group? It seemed a little extreme, and the show didn't really dwell on the extremity it of those actions much.

It seemed as though the Highland Mills bloodbath was basically set up to make Rosen do what he did next, but I think it would have been plausible for him to reveal the Alphas' existence without such blatantly eeeeeevil actions on the part of the government. What if they had just rounded up all the Red Flaggers and taken them to that scary prison facility in Binghamton (the existence of which is reason enough to rebel against the government, in my opinion)?

In any event, given what the team had been through, I actually thought their responses to the Highland Mills trauma (once they were back at the office) were a little muted. Either the bloodbath at Highland Mills needed to not be quite so bloody, or the Alphas as a group needed to have a bigger response to those events, individually or as a group (that's where more time might have helped the finale).

But that's more or less a quibble. Of course, when it comes to the raid, what we saw of Cameron's Alpha-on-Alpha fight was tantalizing, and Gary's reaction to Anna's death was one of the high points of the hour, and made it even more clear just how impressive Ryan Cartwright's range is. Cartwright provided not only razor-sharp comic relief ("There's only one review. It says, 'Don't stay here.'") but also the emotional grounding for the conflict that took place. I will really miss that guy.

Same goes for Rosen. What I may have appreciated most about the pilot was that it was as committed to character development as any episode in the entire first season. It wasn't about just supplying the big shoot-'em-up and the shocking reveal at the end. We learned a lot about how Rosen's need to analyze and theorize about Alphas almost destroyed his relationship with his daughter, and David Strathairn's work in the scene in which he felt her pain was extraordinary.

Rosen's game-changer was actually a game changer (and as Todd pointed out, so few dramas actually pull that off successfully), and I very much appreciate that 'Alphas' doesn't want to tread water in its next season. And I look forward to hearing more from Stanton Parish; John Pyper Ferguson struck just the right note of icy disdain with the arrogant Red Flag leader. It was not a huge surprise to learn that Rosen's daughter was working with him, but that was still nicely handled.

All in all, I look at the first season of 'Alphas' and I see a show that could have easily just pulled a bunch of the expected superpower-drama moves and given us some fighty-fighty and called it a day -- but this show did not do that. The show may have echoed other superhero properties, especially 'X-Men,' but it never settled for merely copying them.

'Alphas' earned our trust and attention by putting its own particular stamp on these adventures and turning these characters, who could have been types, into individuals worth following. If I have any overall critique of the season, it's that we didn't spend enough time on Nina, Cameron and Rachel. But we have season 2 for that.

When does that air again?

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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