David Strathairn as Dr. Lee Rosen on Alphas. wallpaper copryight Syfy Channel

The summer has been so busy that I basically stopped watching television for the month of August. This turned out to be a viewing mistake as I missed the start of the second season of Alphas on the Syfy Channel.

Happily, way back when, I set the DVR to record all new episodes. (And this would not have been fatal. Full episodes are available online.)

I spent part of the Labor Day weekend catching up on the first six episodes of season 2. I was worried about a slip in quality from last season, especially with the game-changer cliffhanger from last year, in which the Alphas equivalent of Professor X, Dr. Lee Rosen, (played by Academy Award nominee David Strathairn) publicly outed the existence of alphas.

But the episodes were tense and involving, even better than expected.

I wrote last year why I think Alphas is better than Heroes but the current show has moved past comparisons with other shows and into its own mythology. It’s obviously inspired by Marvel’s X-Men but while the premise is similar — people born with enhanced abilities — the well-drawn characters are what make the show work.

I tend to give credit for Strathairn for pulling everyone up to his level of acting. He’s been perfect so far this season, equal parts anger, sadness, kindness and obsession.

Rosen, for all his faults and his obsession with his evil counterpart, Stanton Parish, is finally firmly on the side of freedom from the government now instead of trying to work with them. His eight months in a mental institution helped change his mind but, more, he’s tired of others making decisions for people he cares about. While he sometimes lets the ends justify the means, his saving grace is that he won’t give up on people.

One of my favorite elements of last season was that Rosen’s team behaved like many co-workers: they worked together but only trusted each other to a point. That characterization has only deepened this season, as Rosen’s outing of alphas has led to an even tighter government crackdown and a difference in opinion on how to handle that among the team members. The team is fractured and it’s not until the fifth episode that the original team is reunited and yet fissures remain. They all want to do the right thing but they can have very different ideas of what that is.

Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie) is the former soldier and recovering alcoholic who has little interest in being a rebel. What he wants is connection and he thinks he’s found it with Rosen’s daughter, Danielle. Unfortunately for him, Danielle has secrets of her own, as she’s working with the mysterious Parish.

Former FBI Agent Bill Harkin (Malik Yoba) is finally getting a hold of his adrenaline-based strength and invulnerability, a nice forward development from the same old, same old, and his relationship with a newly introduced alpha, Kat (Erin Way), a slight looking woman who can kick his ass, is very sweet and protective.

Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada), who can increase any one of her five senses to an extraordinary degree, is taking steps to independence from her over-protective family but I wish she had gained more control over her power this year than last year. So far, she seems the one character who hasn’t progressed in the use of her powers. She is, at least, gaining self-confidence in her private life.

Gary Bell, who’s autistic but can read all kinds of transmissions, has gone through the most trauma, losing one of his first friends and even being imprisoned and mind-controlled by the government. It’s clearer than ever that he can feel deeply but what form those feelings will take is a mystery.

Which takes me to the most compelling (to me) alpha this season: Nina Theroux (Laura Menell).

Nina can “push” people telepathically into doing whatever she wants. She was always the grayest of the original team and the one who bought into Rosen’s ideals the least. She vanished after Rosen’s announcement and a break-up with Hicks. (She had inadvertently ‘pushed’ him.)

Rosen viewed her need to push as an addiction that was getting worse every day and worked to save her, even as the other team members doubted if she was even worth it. His compassion is clearest in “When Push Comes to Shove,” as Nina finally understands. She’s ready to give up on herself. Rosen isn’t ready to give up on her. Menell is wonderful in this episode.

In real life, I would probably hate Nina, especially given how badly she betrayed her friend, Rachel. But Nina’s unpredictability and her new-found need for redemption, along with her distrust of her own power, makes for fascinating viewing.

The show took a break for Labor Day and the next new episode, “Gods and Monsters,” will air at Alphas regular time, 8 p.m. EST on Monday, September 10th.

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