Alphas Ep. 2.3, “Alpha Dogs”: Bill takes charge and enters the arena

Alphas Review, Season 2, Episode 3, “Alpha Dogs”
Written by Nick Copus
Directed by Eric Tuchman
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on SyFy

One of the consistent surprises about Alphas is the way it wades into conventional plots but sidesteps a predictable outcome. This week, SyFy’s promos had teased a Fight Club-like underground fighting ring that looked very similar to other shows. The first-season Sanctuary episode “Warriors” also showed individuals with extraordinary abilities battling in front of roaring crowds. The surprise with “Alpha Dogs” is that it doesn’t spend that much time in the arena. Bill gets his chance to battle some tough foes, but it plays out much differently than the anticipated formula. The fights are just one part of an episode that delves into Stanton Parrish’s background, brings a new living situation for Gary, and adds a possible love interest for Rachel. It’s an engaging story that moves the characters forward in an interesting way. Their progress helps to avoid the dangerous trap of venturing into hokey territory with the fight club.

This episode also introduces Kat (Erin Way), a young loner who Bill meets at the club. The energetic blond-haired girl is petite but knows the right way to fix his issues. Focus is the key, and taking charge of his powers makes Bill nearly unstoppable. During a memorable training scene, he blinks and realizes he’s just decimated the entire room. It’s refreshing to see Malik Yoba getting the chance to do more than grunt and pick up heavy objects. The relationship with Kat also works by revealing the cracks in each character’s façade. She’s able to digest a huge volume of information and seems ready to take on anything in the world. The downside is the complete loss of memories beyond the most recent month. This adds a tragic element to Kat that makes her a lot more than just another spunky youngster. She brings a much-different feeling to the group than Nina, who’s missing this week. Reports are that Erin Way is joining the full-time cast, so it will be interesting to see how she meshes with Rosen and the other team members.

The other major serial element is the history of Stanton Parrish that dates back to the Civil War. Continuing his investigations from last week, Rosen uncovers surprising details about a time when the villain worked with a doctor to come to grips with his power. Parrish seems immortal and recovers from a gunshot to the head during a battle. The flashbacks take their time and show a growing friendship between the doctor and his patient. Sadly, it’s clear from the start that it’s not going to end well. John Pyper-Ferguson (Caprica) is treading pretty close to mustache-twirling territory with Parrish, but he manages to keep him in line. His final scene with Rosen crackles with tension and works because both actors sell the material. It can’t be understated how important having an actor like David Straitharn is to Alphas. It’s clear that Rosen fears Parrish, but their conversations feel more like equals airing their ideological differences. In lesser hands, they could resemble the low points of the Bond series and its talking killer syndrome. Instead, the actors get tremendous mileage from the growing suspense between the brilliant guys.

A second addition is John Bennett (Steve Byers), the new tactical leader working with Rosen’s team. It’s clear from the start that he’s been written to connect with Rachel, who’d retreated to her room at the season’s beginning. Their conversations about his “smell” seem ready to become painfully awkward, but they’re actually pretty cute. John seems like a one-note character, so there’s room for improvement to make him an appealing character. In other news, Gary has added some eerie screaming to his morning routine. This sends his mom to Rosen, who tries to help but inadvertently encourages Gary to move out. He decides to live at the office, which might actually benefit the team. Gary’s reasoning behind the move (Rosen doesn’t always use his turn signals) is classic. It’s time for the weekly rave about Ryan Cartwright, who shines once again. When Rosen confronts him about the screaming, his matter-of-fact explanation about dealing with his friend’s death is pitch-perfect.

Although it differs from the formula, “Alpha Dogs” still includes its share of fight scenes. The highlight has Kat giving Bill a beating with her high-flying moves. The victory puts her in serious danger from some nasty doctors, but he recovers enough to save the day. It’s interesting to watch such different characters build a friendship, particularly a stern guy like Bill. Another impressive battle cleverly reveals his new focus by stopping time before his giant punch takes out an enemy. These moments stand out because they’re placed among the quieter scenes. The balance of the action and character development is just right this week. Creators Zak Penn and Michael Karnow are sliding the pieces in place for the ongoing arcs while providing solid entertainment in the individual episodes. Parrish’s master plan is just one part of the story and doesn’t overwhelm the individual journeys each week.

Dan Heaton

By Dan Heaton

Dan Heaton started writing about movies after taking a high-school film class and realizing it was a lot easier than analyzing high-brow literature. He lives in St. Louis and puts his English and Journalism degrees to good use on his blog, Public Transportation Snob (ptsnob.com), and as a contributor to PopMatters (popmatters.com). His favorite TV shows are Homicide: Life on the Street, Sports Night, Stargate: SG-1, and Firefly, and his favorite movies are City Lights, Casablanca, Goodfellas, and L.A. Story.

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