Alphas – A Short Time In Paradise
Though it’s not exactly new ground for the genre – Alphas is not a show that has ever shown a predilection for path-setting – I was surprised to see this episode of the SyFy original open on religion; in particular as dark and deep a depiction of religion as seen in this Waco-esque cold open. Alphas has been fairly light fare so far and even in these exaggerated Southern Gothic circumstances the dangers of religion is a heady, delicate topic to cover. Such a tonal leap can result in only one of two things: a major marker in the shows evolution or a jarring aberration from its previously solid record; what I have seen of it so far has given me faith in the show and so I was expecting the former, but as we all now know, Faith can be bad for your health.
This episode should have worked: it had as interesting a story as any of the episodes thus far, the Alpha of the Week was played by a great guest star and it had that added depth of theme that comes with the dangerous new territory; unfortunately though none of those things were a success.
For one the story was a mess of cliches and conventions; at its core it was everything we’ve already seen the show do before, simply re-skinned with the old ‘captured by a cult’ context. It was tired and even though they borrowed the majority of the material from other sources this version wasn’t even cohesive. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a documentary, or that the content was improvised, so loose and loose-ended was the plotting: Why introduce the seminar if you’re not going to show it? Why Bring Gary if he’s just going to sit in the car? What the hell was actually happening to the people? How was he overloading their ‘Faith’ gland? Why Should I care?
As for the good reverend, I have been a loving fan of Garrett Dillahunt ever since his double stint on Deadwood and although I can say that he took an interesting approach to this role I cannot say that he worked in it. I wasn’t sure whether we were supposed to think that he was the abject villain – if we were supposed to shudder at the sight of him and his inherent creepiness – or if he was conflicted, a man unknowingly persecuting the very flock that he is trying to protect; depending on which scene you were watching his role was different. In some circumstances this may be referred to as depth or ambiguity but those terms imply a certain amount of intention or credibility and to be honest I really struggle to see these character changes in such good faith.
As for the shows thesis statement, I mentioned before that it was ‘Faith can be bad for your health’ but to be honest it jumped about as much as the man spouting the words did; it could just as well have been ‘Faith is beautiful’, ‘it pales to science’ or ‘it gets you laid’. There were some nice little ripples here from last weeks episode though; that theme of Fatherhood continued to play out in a number of different storylines, mainly those unrelated to the main plot. This leads me to my next point, the character based sub-plots were more interesting this week than the big bad, yes dealing with Nina’s parents was the highlight of the week. While I did like these little scenes quite a bit their comparative quality was telling and what they told me is this: the writers had overextended themselves.
Where all this weeks flaws stem from is the script,every other element was as good as it has ever been. If the story had been well written then I wouldn’t have cared about it’s cliche nature, if the main character was well written then Dillahunt would have played him to perfection and if these two things had both occurred than the theme would have flowed out naturally as a product of their combination. Though Penn and his stable have proven themselves as more than capable of writing witty banter and stock spy fare their failure here shows that they perhaps aren’t ready for anything more, or it could have just been that this week’s credited writer was comparatively weak, I can’t know. When you consider it in the context of the week, having it play an episode about AA the next day after Breaking Bad does the same leaves it looking more than a little lacking in comparison.
Unfair yes, but nevertheless true. For the most part this is fine, because I have been enjoying the show for what it was – a nice, simple show to relax into – but there was always the hope that if it ever needed to evolve it could and my faith in that belief has now been tested. It was the writing that initially lifted it up and now it’s the writing that lets it back down; I now have to wonder, Is better than some good enough? Thought he worst news of all would be if this episode was indicative of the shows actual future, because to be quite honest this was everything that I had hoped the show would avoid being; a generic, poorly scripted SyFy program akin to all the others, when it should be transcending that.