Series: Alphas Rewatch
Spoilers: Alphas season 1, episode 1
Image Description: Poster divided into six pictures, each a close up of one character’s face. All seem active and engaged in something, and only Nina is looking directly at the camera. Top left is Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie), a white man in his thirties. Top center: Nina Theroux (Laura Menell), a (white?) woman of a similar age. Top right is Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn), an older white man. Bottom left shows Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada),a young woman of Middle Eastern descent, bottom center Bill Harken (Malik Yoba), a middle aged black man. In the bottom right is Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright), a young white man. Below the pictures is the name of the show, “Alphas”, and the tagline “Super, but human.”
(picture from IMDB.com)
Last night I started rewatching Alphas. (I’ve actually never seen the series all the way through, but the first several episodes I have seen before.) I’m going to be watching one episode a week and livetweeting with #DisAlphas (started by @erabrand). In addition, I’m planning to summarize my thoughts on each episode here.
So. The pilot.
I actually really liked the pilot. I liked it a lot more than I remembered liking it in high school, although as I was watching I remembered things that really stuck with me when I first saw it. I remember liking the way that Gary, an autistic character, moved his hands, and picking it up as a stim, for instance. I remember wanting his ability really badly, also: the idea of using a movement that feels good, that stimulates me, to access things which stimulate my brain (like television). There’s a sort of body-mind integration which that allows for, which is a huge part of why I stim. What I didn’t realize then, that I realize now, is that a smartphone can kind of do that, although to a lesser extent. With my smartphone I can listen to things, use twitter, watch tv, play puzzle and arcade games, all with one device, while using my fingers to control all this through integrated movements.
Except the thing about a smartphone? I can turn it off. Gary has some control over his ability, but it still seems like it could become very overwhelming at times. At one point Dr. Rosen, the psychiatrist (neurologist? psychologist? I’m unsure) who heads up the Alphas Unit says that the Alphas’ abilities all come with some kind of downside or negative. I’m interested to see this idea explored more. I imagine in Gary’s case that the downside is the huge potential for overload.
So, Gary’s one of my favorite characters, and since he’s also a canonically autistic, I’ll be talking a lot about him in terms of autism representation. I’m only one episode in, but so far I think he’s pretty good representation–he’s likeable, and his autism is neither something that’s pasted on over the top of his character, nor the only element of his character. His autism is an intrinsic part of him, and that’s good.
The other character I’m likely to focus on is Rachel. Rachel’s ability/diagnosis is synesthesia, although I’m not sure that’s really the right word. The focus to me seems to be on her hypersensitivy, rather than synesthesia per say (although it does seem like she might be able to see smells in a synesthetic way). Rachel also seems to have trouble with confrontation, and with knowing how to react in certain situations. There’s a conversation she has with Dr. Rosen about how Bill, one of the other Alphas, doesn’t seem to have a good sense of boundaries. Rosen encourages her to confront him, which is really difficult for her. They talk about the case, and Dr. Rosen makes a joke. She sort of stares at him like she isn’t totally sure how to respond–something I can definitely relate to, and I’m excited to see a character experiencing that problem.
The other characters are interesting, and I think there will be a lot more in the way of disability parallels, but I don’t have much to say about those yet. One character is hyperkinetic, which, again, doesn’t seem like quite the right term for what he can do. His brain and body are perfectly aligned, which means he has perfect aim. Personally I think it would be really cool if the result of this ability “crashing”, as Dr. Rosen says, were similar to dyspraxia, although I don’t really think that’s where there going. One of the other characters seems like he might have some issues with trauma, both stemming from events in the first episode and possibly from pre-show events. I’ll be interested to see where that goes.
Now, in terms of how the characters interact: there’s something I like about the interactions, both positive and negative, and I think it could be very interesting to watch those relationships and interactions develop. I don’t necessarily need or want all the interactions with him to be positive and/or ableism free, but what I do want is for the show to treat negative interactions as what they are, without making light of them–and so far it’s done that. One of the characters, Bill, gives Gary a hard time, and not in a friendly way. But this isn’t the show making fun of Gary or making him the butt of a joke. It’s a negative interaction between him and another character, and it’s treated that way. Another character, Nina, interacts with Gary in a way that could become patronizing. I was concerned, at first–but it seems like that that sort of leadership is part of how she interacts with other members of the team, too, including Bill. It has to do with her place in the team structure, not with Gary’s autism.
All in all, I really enjoyed the pilot. I think there’s some great representation of and parallels to neurodivergence, and there’s potential for a lot more of that. The show seems basically to be using superhumans to talk about neurodiversity, which I like, and I can’t wait to see how it develops over the rest of the series.