"Alphas" (10 p.m. ET Monday, Syfy) ended its solid first season by blowing everything up, so to speak.
In an exclusive four-minute clip, which recaps where Season 1 left off and contains the first scene of Season 2, you soon find out that the special team at the core of the superhero-flavored show remains scattered when "Alphas" returns.
In the video below, we see that Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn) is in prison for having revealed a huge secret at the end of Season 1. Rosen had been in charge of a secret team of Alphas, or people with extraordinary abilities, and to protest the treatment of these powerful men and women (not just the ones on his investigative team), he revealed the existence of Alphas to the world.
This did not go over well with his secrecy-minded government superiors, as you might imagine, and things don't look good for Rosen and his former charges when the season begins.
Having said that, it's not as though Syfy announced a major cast shakeup this year; the Season 2 premiere features the same roster of characters, as well as mentions of Stanton Parish (he's the Magneto to Rosen's Professor Xavier, to use an "X-Men" analogy). Parish (John Pyper-Ferguson) believes that Alphas are a superior race and that the government has no place using Alphas for its own ends, and though they don't necessarily believe they're better than everyone else, members of the "Alphas" team are often quite distrustful of the government's motives as well. The team is quite often tasked with finding and neutralizing rogue Alphas, but Rosen's squad and their superiors don't always agree on the definition of the word "rogue."
The "divided loyalties" theme continues to get a workout in Season 2 of "Alphas," as it does in so many quality superhero stories these days. A notable subplot of the hit "The Avengers," you may recall, had the team second-guessing the wily Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., and the genre as a whole could be regarded as one big investigation of the question "Who's in charge and why?"
The characters in "Alphas" continually wonder how much they should help the government versus how much they should assist or at least try to understand their own kind, the worst of which are sent to a grim Alphas prison facility called Binghamton. These matters are especially tricky for Rosen, who is not an Alpha but has a daughter with special powers, and Strathairn continues to offer a wonderfully low-key and compelling take on the caring Rosen in Season 2.
What developed over the first season of "Alphas" was the vibe that you often see in stories about groups with conflicted agendas: The team may have its own internal squabbles, but they band together to help each other and then decide whether to help (or hinder) outsiders on a case-by-case basis.
To make that kind of dynamic work, the relationships among the team members have to have real stakes and depth, and those elements began developing nicely in the show's first season (I wrote a fair amount about Season 1 and all those links are here). But there was a behind-the-scenes shakeup between seasons: Executive producer Ira Steven Behr ("The 4400," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") left and new showrunner Bruce Miller ("Eureka") is in charge this year. All in all, the "Alphas" season premiere is competent and enjoyable when it comes to action and pacing, but this show (especially given its modest budget) will rise and fall on the continuation of the character development begun in Season 1, and the jury's still out on that front.
Given how much work it has to do to reset the table, the season premiere doesn't have a lot of time to dwell on interpersonal relationships, so at this stage, I don't know if Season 1's standout, Ryan Cartwright (Gary), will continue to get the kind of material that capitalizes on his ability to do fine dramatic work as well as dry comedy. I don't know if Gary's odd-couple relationship with fellow Alpha Bill (Malik Yoba) will continue to amuse and entertain me, or what new team member Kat (who appears in subsequent episodes) brings to the drama. I don't know if Nina (Laura Mennell) and Cameron (Warren Christie) will do much more than throw glares and barbs at each other, or if Rachel (Azita Ghanizada) will come out of her shell and gain more confidence. (Just about all we do know is that genre favorite Summer Glau will return, Sean Astin will guest star and Stanton Parish is still very much in the mix.)
Let's just hope the Season 2 team responsible for "Alphas" has some special abilities of its own.
Follow Maureen Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moryan