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Mr. Harvey: ALPHAS is Suspect



Season 1, episode 10: “The Unusual Suspects”

When evidence points to one of them being a traitor, Rosen and the Alphas find themselves in the custody of the DOD… at Binghamton.


Well, ask and ye shall receive. Last week I said I wanted more about Binghamton, and here we find the majority of our tale set there, and it’s… not as dramatic a facility as one might expect, but oddly, that’s what I liked about it. Sterile, utilitarian, and very much the government facility, Binghamton is what such a place likely would be. Of course we haven’t seen the heart of the place, where the worst of the Alphas are kept, the mysterious Building 7… layers. I like the way there are layers in this show.

Ok, let’s get this out of the way. The two Red Flag Alphas here display abilities we haven’t seen before, and while one seems to a touch that causes necrosis (more on that in a moment), it’s the other one, the shapeshifter, that makes me a touch unhappy. Why? Because up until this point, all the Alpha abilities have been, well, within the realm of possibility, and more or less conceivable in terms of human mind/body possibilities. But really folks, metamorphic abilities such as the Fake Rosen displayed are too much I think. Facial and vocal shifting aside, and that’s putting a LOT aside, bone structure, body mass, movement and probably even smell, these are things that would require someone to have almost complete control over their cells, and in the world ALPHAS has established? Highly unlikely.

This isn’t the X-MEN here, with Mystique and the like. This is a world where the Alpha abilities have come out of something akin to birth defects, and fall into a fairly, in context, limited range. I did like how he was in pain all the time which would make sense, although one would think that it would be much, much worse, but at the end when he shifted from Fake Rosen to Fake Gary in moments, I called foul. And that Rachel, who knows Rosen, and whose sensory abilities should be the first thing that saw through Fake Rosen, didn’t? The Shapeshifter has the same heartbeat as Rosen? He smells the same? He really sounds identical? Hmmph.  One hopes this isn’t a trend… the ALPHAS world is more interesting with more, relatively yes, believable powers.

And I do have to ask… if our other Red Flag Alpha can what, cause the tissue of others to die? It’s been pretty much established here it’s that no Alpha knows instinctively how to use or control their abilities when they first surface, and in some cases that wouldn’t be an issue, but if you can kill with a touch? Those early days would have produced a lot of bodies methinks.

But all that aside, what do we have here? Well, in a nicely edited opening, we look back at the moments that cast doubts on all of our Alphas potential for betrayal, and while some of them are pretty slim (Rachel having doubts about the wisdom of having security cells in the office? Huh?), it’s pretty telling that all of them appear to have that potential. And aside from the killing of one of the MK Ultra veterans, we jump right into the DOD taking out Rosen and the Alphas one by one. A really interesting and telling moment comes when the Tactical team fills Bill with almost a dozen tranq darts, and one of the agents, standing over Bill’s body, shoots him in the back and says “Alphas.”, with something pretty close to disdain. It’s another reminder that our heroes aren’t really trusted by the DOD, and are considered useful tools more than anything.

Our look inside Binghamton reveals cells that are sound proof and signal-proof, and according to Agent Nathan Clay, all around Alpha proof. The questioning Clay puts the team through ranges from the professional interactions with Rosen and Bill, the distrustful ones of Rachel, Nina and Hicks, to the confusing and funny of Gary’s, but Clay is clear: one of them betrayed them. And behind the cameras watching them is another Alpha, Eric, who reads faces for signs of deception, his ability making him a very effective lie detector. What also becomes clear over and over is that the Alphas have feared this, feared their DOD masters turning on them, and good reasons or not, this just confirms those fears. And the questioning reveals more: Gary is still in touch with Anna, the leader of Red Flag. To him it’s simple, Anna is his friend, despite what she does with Red Flag, and he really doesn’t see the problem. That this is going to be something of an issue now that it’s been revealed is obvious… one can’t see the DOD letting Gary keep chatting with the head of a superpowered terrorist organization.

When our Alphas manage to escape it seems a bit too easy, although the sequence is pretty cool, and with Clay keeping the DOD sharpshooters from taking the shots that would bring them down, it’s obvious that he’s letting them run. The warehouse and the arguments the team finds themselves in break open the mystery of the traitor, or so it seems. Tensions and accusations fly, and the revelations of a secret bank account that Hicks has makes him look suitably guilty, and when pressed he lashes out, striking Rosen and engaging in a pretty impressive fight with Bill. If you’ve been wondering what a fight between super-strength and super-reflexes looks like, then here you go. It’s pretty brutal sequence and they are pretty evenly matched, although any final answer on who would win is interrupted by the arrival of the DOD. And when Rosen takes Gary away as the DOD surrounds Hicks, Rachel finds that the blood on the floor isn’t Rosen’s, and they realize they’ve all been fooled.

There’s a good moment where we see Rosen awakening in the warehouse he’s been being held in, and we see the walls are covered with information about the team, and graphed photos of his own face. It’s some indication that the Shapshifter had to work to impersonate him, but again, it doesn’t explain how he can copy Gary later. Here we see the true goal of these Red Flag agents: destroy the MK ULTRA files and frame Rosen for the deaths of the old staff, but the arrival of the real Rosen stops the Fake Rosen from achieving their goals. Yes, we get the “I’m the real Rosen/No I am!” bit, but in a nice change from the usual cliché, the real Rosen has had hair cut, for some reason that isn’t exactly clear, and the Shapeshifter’s pain has reached the point where he can’t maintain Rosen’s appearance anymore. Here also we have the improbable Gary copy, but we also have Ryan Cartwright getting to use his natural British accent as the Shapeshifter, so I suppose it’s a tradeoff.

And then, when all is more or less right with the world, Bill’s heart gives out…

What this episode gives us is a good look at the relationship and lack of real trust that the DOD has for Alphas in general, and even their own “tame” ones. We see that they’ve thought long and hard about how to disable the teams abilities, and they efficiency with which they took them all out speaks to well planned operations. We knew this to some degree, with previous interactions with Clay making it clear he didn’t trust what they were telling him about Skylar, so it’s not that surprising that Clay would have though this through. What is somewhat surprising is Clay himself here, and in a positive way I really didn’t see coming. Yes, Clay doesn’t always think Rosen does things the right way, and yes, he doesn’t think that the Alphas should be running around as loosely supervised as they are, but he does respect Rosen. He is trying to do his job the best way he can, and when he takes the team down, he’s doing it to stop the mole the fastest and most efficient way he can. When he points out that if he hadn’t acted that way, Rosen would be dead and framed for murder, Rosen asks him if he thinks he should thank Clay for that, and he responds that he might, and he might think about what Red Flag will throw at him next. It was looking like Clay would be shaping up to be Rosen’s adversary in the DOD, and this episode plays on this quite a bit, but in the end, he’s just a man trying to do his job, keep his rather unruly charges safe, and serve his country against a new threat.

He also warms to the rather unlikely character of Eric Latrou, whose ability to read people has made him depressed and paranoid and something of a mess really. Using Eric to read the team, Clay actually opens up to him, revealing that he took this job to help his family, and when all is said and done. Clay rewards Eric by letting him out of Binghamton and arranging for him to work with Rosen, and while Clay would never be described as friendly exactly, he does seem to like Eric to some degree. That Eric is socially awkward is based partially on his ability… he can more or less tell when people are lying, and a lifetime of being unable to avoid all the little lies and deceptions of daily life has made his own interactions with people a little off. He also has something of a crush on Rachel, which is kind of cute, in an awkward way.

The big revelation here is the true nature of the illegal CIA program called  MKULTRA, known most for its psychological experiments in the 50’s and 60’s and it’s use of LSD on its subjects. With most of the records of the program destroyed in the 70’s, it’s been a favorite subject of conspiracy theories and fiction, and here it factors into the growing back story of the ALPHAS universe. With Red Flag killing the final members of the MKULTRA team that worked on Alphas and trying to destroy the records that Rosen has about those experiments, it draws a lot of attention to what Rosen and the DOD don’t know about the program. But it’s what we see at the very beginning of the episode that sparks the most interest, with the aged victim of the necrotic Alpha implying that Alphas as a whole are a result of the MKULTRA program. Interesting…

With only one episode left in the season, and Monday’s episode promising a full on assault by Red Flag, looking back I have to say this first season has been pretty impressive. It’s managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of TV superhero shows, and give us a decent range of characters who have some actual depth to them. It’s given us villains whose justifications aren’t completely unreasonable, and whose members we’ve met are often more sympathetic than we would expect. It’s created a world where the government isn’t treated like Big Brother or an incompetent bureaucracy, but full of people trying to deal with a situation that no one has any training for, because super powered people don’t exist… until they do. That those who have these unique abilities, these Alphas, may be the result of government experiments, well, it’s another layer of grey in a show that seems happy to spend time in shades of grey. I’m quite pleased with this show so far, and while it has had it’s missteps, it’s one of the better genre shows on tv, and I’m looking forward to the season finale and the next season.


[Official Show Site at Syfy]

Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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