The rightly-titled "When Push Comes to Shove" put Nina Theroux on center stage. The alpha with the hyper-induction ability "pushed" her way to the brink of auto-destruction in an episode that explored her past and her struggle with her mistakes. The story also flaunted the refreshing newcomer Kat who offered a lighter, and arguably more effective, mirror to some of Nina's issues.
During the first season, Alphas featured episodes centered on each and every member of the team except Nina. I am among those who wanted the series to give us a Nina-centric story because she seemed to be the one with the most troubled past, but also because her power lends itself more easily to alpha power abuse. "When Push Comes to Shove" was always going to be a difficult episode to watch—which it was—but I was hoping it would navigate her redemption a bit better than it did.
After her absence for an entire episode, Nina reappeared as the case of the week whom Rosen hid from his government "handlers" to protect her from what would have surely been a more radical "rescue" operation. The episode did an excellent job on the origin story, showing us how as a child she discovered her power when she pushed her father who wanted to leave a loveless marriage. Every single time the story went back to her childhood through the flashbacks, it hit the right notes and took us deeper into the drama surrounding her first push.
Unfortunately, the present-day storyline wasn't as effective. It worked very well while showing Nina's getting closer to the edge, and some of the little surprises along the way were particularly well crafted. Things like the fact that she pushed Rosen or details like where she grew up and went to school were great additions ("The Bronx. Nina tends to embellish her past"). However, while the childhood flashbacks very effectively eased us into the tragedy of her father's death, the present-day storyline had some issues navigating the turning point: the moment where the character realizes she's gone too far and takes some actions that will help her snap out of it.
The difficulty in watching an episode like "When Push Comes to Shove" lies in the fact that the audience has to see a favorite take the wrong path over and over again. The reward comes when the character emerges from whatever hold she was under and sets herself onto the path for redemption. Nina broke free here when her "dreams" of happiness with her childhood friend were shattered. The issue I have with it is that when on the roof she lets Rosen through, she hasn't shown enough signs of a struggle with herself yet. We've just been watching her pushing everyone she could without a second thought. Now all of a sudden, because a dream she had based on a fleeting childhood friendship goes south, she is shaken enough to see that she's gone too far. If only her childhood friendship had been longer or her inner struggle were more obvious, it might have worked. It is a pity that the show couldn't harness Laura Mennell's tragically beautiful presence more effectively.
I liked how the most appealing part of Nina's story was mirrored in Kat's own issues, especially when Bill tried to make her see why remembering who she was would be good for her ("One good memory is worth all the bad ones"). The newcomer easily found her way into scenes with others, which wasn't the case this time around for Rachel's love interest, John. As long as they were indirectly flirting last week, things were fine, but Rachel's frontal assault and his own "sensitivity" issues didn't shine.
"When Push Comes to Shove" could have been one of those heartbreaking episodes that do well in repeated viewing; but as it was, it lacked the dramatic appeal that compels an audience to endure painful experiences for an emotional reward.