Being special can be a bummer. In fact, as the sci-fi series Alphas returns for its second season, it's the super-cerebral heroes who face more trouble and torment with their human relationships than they do with taking down their deadly foes.
That’s the true strength of this SyFy network offering – its willingness to show human weakness among these super-evolved beings whose minds give them powers beyond the rest of us, and to make it clear such powers exact a steep emotional toll. Expect the new season to mine their angst and frustration as it exploits society’s prejudices against these “freaks” as a dramatic tool for their inner healing and empowerment.
“For every strength that they have, for every ability, there’s a downside,” says the executive producer Bruce Miller. “I think that gives a weakness and humanness to the characters that we can really relate to. For example, Bill Harken (played by Malik Yoba) can summon his flight-or-fight response, but when he does – last year it gave him a heart attack. It’s very, very hard on his body and very hard on his psyche.
“Usually, if somebody had the ability of Nina Theroux (played by Laura Mennell), which is the ability to dominate people mentally to make them do what she wants them to do, that person would be living like a king and be very happy,” adds Miller. “But Nina is quite melancholy most of the time because, when you can get everything you want, nothing you have means anything. And she struggles with, basically, an empty existence.”
Other cast members include Warren Christie as Cameron Hicks, with the power of hyperkinesis that he finds hard to control; Ryan Cartwright as the autistic Gary Bell, who can “read” wireless transmissions (and intercept mobile phone signals, for example); and Azita Ghanizada as Rachel Pirzad, whose hyper-intensified senses come in handy fighting crime but then make romance all but impossible for her; a kiss would overload her senses.
These Alphas – people able to stretch the capabilities of the human brain into superhuman physical and mental abilities – operate within the Defence Criminal Investigation Service of the US Department of Defence. Led by the star neurologist and psychiatrist Dr Lee Rosen (David Strathairn), the team tackle cases that point to others with Alpha abilities.
Their nemesis is Red Flag, a terrorist movement of Alphas who reject the labels of regular people and who believe in “neurodiversity” at a time when the government is actively trying to stamp out neurological disorders and mutations.
The new season’s pilot episode picks up eight months after Dr Rosen’s startling announcement to the world about the existence of Alphas. He now finds himself locked up in a psychiatric facility; the government has had him committed. His team of Alphas, now disbanded and gone their own ways after much bloodshed with Red Flag, will be forced to decide whether to reunite to save their friend when Rosen is sprung to deal with an Alpha prison break.
“Rosen is much more challenged and much more alert. And, sometimes, more confused,” says Strathairn. “[The new season] gets pretty epic. It gets a lot deeper and more layered.”
Obviously, the Alphas will reunite – although not for long, as the show was ultimately cancelled by the US network – but it would appear they may do so with an Everest-sized collective chip on their shoulders.
"Having an extraordinary gift in a world of people who either don't appreciate it or recognise it creates a lot of problems," adds Strathairn. "If you've been constantly marginalised, ridiculed or even shunned because of your extraordinary ability, that's going to create a defensiveness, perhaps even an aggressiveness, against those who have visited that upon you."
Alphas is broadcast at 8pm on Mondays on OSN First HD