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We often speak and write about a show finding its creative voice, but I think it can also be lost. If you have read any of my recent reviews of Alphas, you know by now that I don’t particularly like the direction the show has taken in its sophomore year, a new direction that was perfectly embodied in the season finale. “God’s Eye” featured brilliant ideas, adrenaline-fueled action scenes, touching moments, but instead of keeping things that way, it also added jarring plot holes and sprinkled the whole with some frustrating character-centric storylines.
The season finale was all about the big showdown in a story that wanted to be about the end of the world, but never really mustered the required gravitas. Very reminiscent of the meeting at the beginning of the episode last week, there was a similar awkward moment between Nathan (the lead FBI agent), Bill and Skylar in the finale. Their conversation was designed to give us details on what was at stake in “God’s Eye”. We learned from it that the country’s power grids would have to be shut down, but that the shutdown would not be possible in New York city because of some 9/11 fail-safe system. In other words: we needed Skylar to stick around and design some nifty device.
About devices and machines in general, the episode and the end of the season made several mistakes that could be essentially boiled down to a short sentence: they gave too many details. Ironically, in “God’s Eye” there was a sequence showing exactly how to be vague and be effective with technology in a story: Parish’s men are shooting at Kat, Bil,l and Skylar who are in an elevator. As the lift doors close on them, Skylar asks Bill to break something while she retrieves the fire extinguisher. When the lift doors open again, the next thing we (and the bad guys) see is the red cylinder rolling to their feet with what looks like the lift button panel strapped on it, and then boom!
That scene simply makes an association between Skylar (tech wiz alpha god at making gadgets/devices out of virtually anything) with some electro-mechanical piece from the elevator and some pressurized container. There is no detail (remember the devil is in the details), but we are given circumstances in which we can understand an explosion could have been brought about. Like this, it is much easier to ignore the voice creeping up at the back of our mind about how, even if it makes sense for any pressurized container to be able to explode, the extinguisher probably contained foam and water or the sort of thing that cannot ignite.
Instead of having such convenient circumstantial associations of technologies, the series gave us the photic stimulators that have to be plugged everywhere, the electric grids that cannot reach everyone, the Grand Central Station generator from another century that certainly cannot power up the whole of New York city, and the nonsensical behavior of Parish who was ready to bow out and hand over the world (he failed to rid of non-Alphas) to Rosen?
Don’t get me wrong. I have always been impressed by Alpha-abilities because they mostly keep things close to the neurosensory system, which means they can always be “explained” without straying too far into fringe science. One of the drawbacks of such a “realistic” approach to superpowers is that the power range is rather small, so you are less likely to find an Alpha powerful enough to be a direct threat to more than a handful of people at any given time. Well aware of such limitations, the storytellers chose to rely on technology to engineer the end of the world, but they provided scenarios that (unlike Alpha-abilities) can’t stand even a biased lightweight scrutiny.
As bad as the above sounds, the real failure of the episode was Rosen moving about, half-dead and affecting every scene he appeared in (except for the Grand Central Station moment with Parish). If you forget how he managed to get to the Alpha who initially stopped the bleeding, there is the fact that he thought he could find Parish on his own. No wonder they had to resort to a ghost to boldly explain how he could extract so much useful information from his own memory. Somehow, even the staunchest quest for vengeance didn’t seem enough to justify such deliberate moves against basic common sense. What’s more, the stupidity of the whole thing trumped the twisted sense of sacrifice that gradually crept up in this storyline.
Although not always well executed, Kat’s anger was at least more fitting, and Gary at the hospital (with his mother) provided one of those unique moments where awkwardness meets the simple expression of feelings in a way that ends up being far from awkward. Skylar Adams’s very visual deconstruction of devices is always entertaining, and here, her wry humor and lack of team spirit played well against the backdrop of the recent internal conflict in the team. However, the finale really shined with everything that happened at Grand Central Station. The story didn’t get better, but the action (as often in the series) was such that how we got there didn’t really matter. The elevator scene already discussed was neat, and Kat’s “I need you to throw me,” as well as what followed was equally good. In fact, everything that happened at the station, including the Rosen-Parish confrontation seemed better.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, some approaches are just not appealing to us. Alphas has been as alien to me this season as a show can be. I haven’t rated it as bad as my reviews implied because structurally, there was often some value, and episodes (like this finale) often included pockets of refreshing moments.