PopMatters round-up for the end of 2014

Here are my recent publications on PopMatters since my last update:

In Worlds in Panels:

  • From October, a critical examination of Warren Ellis’ and Jason Howard’s Trees (Image).
  • From November, a reflection on GeekGirlCon 2014.
  • And from this month, a look at how digital comics has affected my relationship to print.

In October, I also had a feature on narrative themes in Buffy, Angel and Grimm.

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December column: looking at the comic book roots of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

At the beginning of the week, my latest “Worlds in Panels” posted. I take a critical look at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:

While the series may stem directly from The Avengers film franchise, like those movies, the show also has comics in its DNA, which may, ultimately, be more important in the long-run, assuming there is a long-run, than the cinematic attachments.

Read the column

Notes towards season two of THE BRIDGE

I’ve enjoyed the first season of The Bridge on FX, but as others have also argued, notably Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress, the show’s creators, Elwood Reed, Björn Stein, and Meredith Steihm, and their collaborators, have split their narrative between a conventional serial killer story and a sprawling, multi-layered exploration of a place, or, maybe, places, depending on how you want to look at the border and at El Paso-Juarez. I think the series has been at its best when pursuing the latter, and at its least interesting when following the former. During the middle part of the season, from about episode three, “Rio”, through episode eight or nine, “Vendetta” and “The Beetle”, I looked forward to watching The Bridge as much as I have any show this year. Since revealing the identity of the killer, however, the series has moved strongly in the more generic direction, with this week’s installment, “Old Friends”, being especially undistinguished in terms of plot and story, albeit still strongly acted.

(Spoilers to follow)

Rosenberg articulates the tension between the show’s narrative forks well in this passage from her review and recap of “Vendetta”, referring to the revelation of the real suspect as a fairly stock white guy ex-cop:

 I think The Bridge might have been able to earn this revelation if it had spent a season or two on a more prosaic but infinitely more interesting project, sketching in the details of the societies and economies of both Juarez and El Paso. When the show gives us hints of that, as was the case in tonight’s glimpses of Graciela singing and drinking with a group of musicians on a streetcorner, or its quick sketch of Santi Jr. and his role in Juarez, it’s always the most interesting part of an episode of The Bridge. A show that was more willing to be slow, like The Wire, might have set an entire episode at the party Daniel sent Adriana to attend, an interesting freebie of a story that she’ll now turn into a blockbuster, and would have handled the characters such that it made sense that their presence their and all of their interactions during the evening felt like one of those magic paintings when it finally becomes clear. But The Bridge is so unfortunately tied to its central murder mystery that it can’t afford to linger too much.

As the series has made clear, this region has no shortage of crime, from smuggling people to gun running, drugs, and murder of the non-serial variety (though, as shown in “Maria of the Desert” what constitutes a serial killer is a matter of perspective), which could make for interesting opportunities to show border crossing, cooperation and friction, but without relying on the kind of sensationalism or master-minding (to crib from Alyssa Rosenberg again) that has driven this season’s primary investigation.

At this point it is tempting to compare The Bridge to The Killing, another series that began promising much in terms of story and place before taking different, less interesting turns instead, but I don’t think the comparison is apt (and, significantly, has become less common as the newer series has progressed).

While the backlash against The Killing is often pegged to the lack of closure in that show’s first season, for me the series had degraded long before that finale. It took only an episode or two beyond the premiere before it became evident that there was little consequence to setting the story in Seattle. I can’t think of a single notable character introduced in season one, or two, for that matter, whose reason for being wasn’t directly related to the murder investigation, and virtually all of those were presented as either suspects or accomplices at some point. Ultimately, The Killing showed little in the way of world building, no matter how many grey skies and how much rain and water appeared in the backgrounds and establishing shots. By the time season one was ready to conclude, an answer to the question, “Who killed Rosie Larsen?”, was about all the series had left (well, that plus Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman).

By contrast, The Bridge already includes critical elements that are, at most, only tangentially related to the serial killer and that suggest future plans that are more about context and less about plotting. This season will clearly only scratch the surfaces of characters like Charlotte, Steven Linder and Fausto Galvan. Local press, on the El Paso side, have already been successfully incorporated into the story world, and through Adriana the series also has at least one well-realized character who effectively lives on both sides of the border.

While there is room for growth – we’ve been shown little about the command structure of law enforcement or how the agencies networked along the border might be entangled around more mundane issues and cases; similarly, government figures, live ones at least, have been, essentially, absent, and I think that the series would be enriched by having counterparts in Juarez for Daniel and Adriana – there is also a structure in place to accommodate such growth. So, contra The Killing, as The Bridge winds down its first season, the main mystery is its least interesting aspect, and the promise of a wider, richer narrative remains authentic, if still less than fully realized.

Of course, having a serial killer driving the narrative machinery is not, in itself, a problem, but thus far the producers and writers have been unable to ground David Tate’s actions with the same sense of place that infuses other story lines and characters. There are nods in that direction, notably in the way that the tragedy sparking Tate involves figures from both Juarez and El Paso and also the fluidity of the border, but, at the moment, these seem incidental rather than integral to the plot.

At the Television Critics Association, Meredith Steihm and Elwood Reid indicated that their plan for a second season does not entail another serial killer story. While that only goes to what the season won’t be about, the most obvious alternatives, threads that are already embedded into the narrative, point to criminal enterprises that should present greater possibilities for place-based storytelling than has season one’s serial killer.

My problems with season two of THE NEWSROOM

Before getting to the meat of my argument, I want to stipulate that I am setting aside singular problems, such as taking the daily experiences and traumas of black Africans in places like rural Uganda and making them into stories about white Americans and their hair (“Unintended Consequences”), and endemic flaws, such as the show’s fraught gender dynamics, to focus on the season two meta-story: the ACN team’s pursuit of “Genoa”, a fictional Marine rescue mission that allegedly entailed the use of sarin gas by U.S. forces.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Last night’s episode, “Red Team III”, brought the Genoa arc to a climax, revealing the purpose behind the season-long framing device of the deposition led by Marcia Gay Harden’s Rebecca Halliday, and showing both the broadcast and the immediate aftermath. In the midst of the fallout, I was struck by two things.

First, Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), despite how pivotal he is to this season’s narrative, is a poorly written cipher of a character.

When introduced, he is clearly meant to come across as sketchy, or, at least, as not being cut from the same cloth as our News Night heroes, but he primarily reads as opportunistic and ambitious, not venal. And up until “One Step Too Many”, personal aggrandizement and professional advancement seemed to be the best explanations for his insistent pursuit and advocacy of running with Genoa. In that episode, however, when faced with resistance and skepticism, he rails against his opposition for liking Obama too much, which makes him sound less like a careerist and more like a Tea Partier caught in the belly of the liberal media beast.

In “Red Team III” he turns to raging against how Americans have conducted themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the larger War on Terror, listing complaints going back to Bush. He uses this same litany to rationalize his doctoring of the interview footage to Mackenzie. Now, he sounds not like a self-promoting careerist, or angry Tea Partier, but like a character who should have been on the barricades with Occupy (and what happened to that story thread? I guess once Will got a chance to put Shelly in her place there was nothing else to say).

Jerry, ultimately, is written to be little more than a plot device, a character introduced to make the narrative machinery go.

But that leads to my second problem: go where? I am, if anything, more confused now than I was before “Read Team III.” What is Aaron Sorkin trying to say with Genoa?

The debate is framed as “institutional failure” versus individual malfeasance. And, truthfully, given the intersecting lies that functioned to make the story seem credible, the deck seems stacked against the former, no matter how much Will, Charlie, and Mackenzie try to throw themselves on their swords (which, apparently, they are going to keep doing next week).

Is this an interesting debate? Maybe, but not when the main purpose seems to be to affirm the inherent goodness of our protagonists.

So, maybe I’m not so confused after all, but I guess I don’t want to believe that the point of this season’s driving story would be so banal. Then again, couldn’t that be said about The Newsroom as a whole? I think I keep watching because it feels like there should be more to the series than liberal posturing and the celebration of Great and Honorable Men, but whatever that “more” might be remains elusive. With two episodes to go in season two, the Genoa arc encapsulates this empty promise.

On Helena Bertinelli’s introduction on ARROW

One of the reasons, maybe the main reason, I started watching Arrow was the announcement that Helena Bertinelli (Huntress) would be added as a character. I am not particularly a fan of, or even knowledgable about, Oliver Queen and Green Arrow, but Huntress is one of my favorite pre-New 52 DC characters. Her inclusion in the cast of characters for Arrow was what finally enticed me to give the series a try even after some already pretty good press.

I am particularly a fan of Helena/Huntress as written by Gail Simone on her first Birds of Prey run, but also identify the character with Greg Rucka’s Cry for Blood and Ivory Madison’s Year One. To me, what makes Helena Bertinelli interesting is her mafia family roots and her struggle to grow beyond them. Those roots mean that she often has different, more severe, ideas about justice and the uses of violence than some of the other ‘heroes’ around her, but her struggle to be more than just part of the mafia world leaves her open to other ways of seeing and to alternate moral codes, even as she may not be fully willing or able to entirely change what she does.

In terms of appearance, my preference is for the Year One character design by Cliff Richards on pencils, with a trio of inkers, Art Thibert, Norm Rapmund, and Rebecca Buchman, and Jason Wright doing colors. This design gives the character a sleek and athletic look, as if she is actually prepared for a fight. On the other end is the Ed Benes drawn version (Alex Lei and Rob Lea on inks) which dominates Simone’s Birds of Prey and makes the character look more like she’s dressed for a fetish club and less like she’s ready for taking down thugs. Richards’ look follows Rick Burchett’s design for Blood, but improves upon it with streamlining, making the costume, especially the belt and cape, look less weighty, and more fluid.

Year One

Year One

Birds of Prey (Simone & Benes)

Birds of Prey (Simone & Benes)

Cry for Blood

Cry for Blood

So, how did the character’s entry on Arrow come across? Here’s my assessment of the good and the not so good.

The good.

Given the timing of her introduction on the show, it would have been easy to reduce Helena to having been inspired by “The Hood”, or even a copycat, but writers Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns, and Marc Guggenheim (“Muse of Fire”) and Beth Schwartz and Kreisberg (“Vendetta”) make clear that Helena has her own reasons for having a “list” and enacting “justice”. Furthermore, she not only deflects Oliver’s attempts to tell her that she’s wrong even while he insists on his own rightness, she challenges him on the hairs he wants to split. Later, when she agrees to follow his lead, she do so on her own terms (thus, the crossbow). Their eventual falling out seems consistent with the idea that Helena is from the mafia, but not of it, in the sense that she wants to tear down her family’s operations as much as she wants simple vengeance. Helena’s backstory here tracks, in the broad outline at least, with Cry of Blood and Year One.

The romantic hookup between Helena and Oliver was perhaps predictable, but the spark between the characters comes from a weird place of anger, violence, and self-hate because of their families, and not from Helena swooning in the face of tall, handsome, and broody. She is likely right when she tells Ollie not to make too much of the one night. His insistence on trying to form a partnership is an interesting gender twist on the trope of good hearted women trying to fix darker hearted men in these kinds of hero stories. Typically, it would be the female character who plays the domesticating role, but in “Vendetta” it is Ollie trying to “tame” Helena.

The look adopted for the character on the show seems more inspired by Year One than either Cry for Blood or Birds of Prey, at least in terms of the color palette and sleekness. I like the touch of turning the cape into a coat. This choice works well as an adaptation for live action, as well as feeling something that would work last minute better than a cape. So, nice work to Colleen Atwood, who is credited as the series’ costume designer.

Arrow

Arrow

The not so good.

There wasn’t any aspect of Helena Bertinelli’s debut on Arrow that I would describe as bad or objectionable, but there are a few points that did not come across as well as those noted above.

Jessica De Gouw’s performance is uneven. For most of “Muse of Fire” I think that Matt Wilson’s description of her on Comics Alliance as, “a little dead-eyed and cold”, is fair. Certainly, in our house, A was ranting about how emotionally thin the character seemed. I think she turns that around by “Vendetta” and it seems as if the actor and her directors, David Grossman and Kenneth Fink, likely wanted to give her room to burn between the two episodes (Alasdair Wilkins at AV Club has a similar observation about the emotional transformation between the two episodes).

One minor point that I could not help thinking about was where and how a mafia princess learns how to fight like Helena does. Year One and Cry for Blood both develop this backstory, but on Arrow I guess we are just supposed to take for granted that she prepped herself for her vendetta. The series is about Oliver, not Helena, so I understand not going into this detail, but, still, if the show survives for multiple seasons with Helena as a recurring character, I wouldn’t mind seeing a deeper treatment of her background.

On iO9, Esther Inglis-Arkell, makes the case that, “There is one hurdle in this episode of Arrow. If you vault it, you will have a ton of fun with ‘Vendetta,’ where the show’s various couples enact Natural Born KillersSpy vs Spy, andThe Gift of the Magi respectively … That idea is that Helena is somehow immoral and unacceptable, compared to Ollie”.

This is what the discussion between Anne-Marie and I revolved around after “Vendetta”, with Anne-Marie making the same argument as Inglis-Arkell, that the episode wants us to think that Ollie is in the right and Helena in the wrong. I did, and still sort of, hold onto the thought that Helena’s challenges to Oliver are given merit, too, and that you can still see him as deluded. On other hand, seen in the context of his relationship with, Digg, which has been focused on nudging Oliver away from the single-minded, and narrowly defined, pursuit of making right what his father did wrong, I am almost persuaded that this episode was meant to be a final turning of the corner for “The Hood”, which would suggest that, yes, we are supposed to be worried for Helena and supportive of Oliver. As Wilkins puts it at the AV Club:

We were headed this way for a while, but I’m ready to call it: Arrow is officially a superhero now. A vigilante is allowed to let the ends justify the means, to leave a trail of the corpses on the path to what he calls justice. Even in the beginning, Oliver was never quite as grim as that, but his final actions tonight still feel a million miles from the Oliver who once killed a man in cold blood to protect his secret.

While it’s certainly a nice bonus that Oliver’s actions lead the police to Frank and his incriminating laptop, he heads to that mansion out for neither justice nor vengeance. He’s simply there to save Helena, at first her soul and then her life. He succeeds in the latter and seemingly fails in the former, but he still saves her from an irreversible mistake. In a way, being a true superhero isn’t simply about serving the greater good or helping the cops catch criminals. Sometimes, it’s about putting everything on the line just to save one person, whatever the odds.

So far the series has been slow to move into longer form storytelling beyond certain plot threads involving, particularly, Moira, and I am interested to see how “Muse of Fire” and “Vendetta” continue to resonate now that Helena has exited the frame. Like Oliver, I assume we’ll be seeing her again, but if we are to take seriously the idea that he is changing, and that part of why he is changing is because he saw some kind of dark side to what he does reflected in Helena, then whether she is part of the story or no, he should be, for example, more willing to use his power and resources to fight against crime and injustice outside the scope of “the list”. The other alternative is a reset back to Ollie only wanting to take down the names given to him by his father and Digg working to get him to think more broadly than that.

Whatever happens next, I think the show’s creators did right by Helena Bertinelli, featuring her not only in a well executed pair of episodes, but making the second part, “Vendetta”, the best installment of the series so far.

ALPHAS and GRIMM: tweaking tropes

Last night’s episodes of Alphas and Grimm, “Alphaville” and “Bad Moon Rising” respectively, both yielded interesting turns on genre conventions.

In the main, Alphas has been built on the fundamental structure of the X-Men universe, making being an Alpha into a choice between integration/peaceful co-existence with the rest of humanity and waging war. The one notable exception to this narrative was shown in last season’s “Catch and Release”, wherein Rosen decides to give Skylar Adams a pass on both joining the team and being shipped to Binghamton. In “Alphaville”, directed by Nick Copus and written by Michael Chamoy, we are shown a whole community of Alphas who just want to be left alone, and who have no desire to be be part of the conflict between Rosen and Stanton Parish. In fact, Rosen is pretty universally reviled for having outed Alphas to the world, an event that compelled many in the camp to seek shelter in the first place.

In X-Men, there is no prominent third way; the different alliances and political permutations in the overarching narrative have stayed within the bounds of peace vs. war. The closest analog I could think of to the community in “Alphaville” is the Morlocks, but there are important differences between the two groups.

First, the Morlocks came to be because of discrimination, or fears of discrimination, against mutants with visible mutations. While there is the suggestion that Rosen’s broadcast forced at least some to drop off of the grid, we have yet to meet an Alpha who couldn’t pass for ‘neurotypical’, to use a term increasingly in circulation on the series, or who, like Gary and Anna, could pass as having some kind of ‘disability’. Second, the Morlocks, while in hiding, are nonetheless living underground in Manhattan and in close proximity to mainstream society, including the different mutant factions on the surface. The members of Skylar’s community are trying to be as remote as possible from the world at large and while their motivations are not dissimilar from the mutants who make the Morlocks, achieving some kind of socio-political independence and making their own ‘normal’ seem more important than simply staying out of sight.

The main point here would be that very few mutants who did not feel that they had to would join with the Morlocks, while the community in “Alphaville” could be attractive to many different kinds of Alphas. In this particular episode, it rang true to me that Nina and Gary would contemplate dropping out.

Clearly, at the end of “Alphaville” the continued viability of a third way for Alphas is meant to be questioned. I can clearly see where at least some of the members of the community would decide to join Parish’s cause, but it is hard to imagine a character like Claude, at least based on the glimpse we got here, doing anything but continuing to seek some kind of independence. What the episode illustrates well is the difficulty of remaining unaligned when caught between agents in a conflict who tend to see the world in an either-you’re-with-us-or-you’re-against-us way. Rosen seeking out Skylar in the first place shows that he sees any kind of ‘non-alignment’ as purely temporary or as an indulgence, and not as a realistic choice for an Alpha. Clearly, Stanton Parish sees things the same way. Showing the similarities between those two men is, I think, an important narrative purpose of Skylar’s character and the independent community in “Alphaville”.

While Alphas addressed the dualism derived from X-Men, on Grimm last night, “Bad Moon Rising”, written by Richard Hatem and directed by David Solomon, finally provided some resolution to one of the critical sources of tension in supernatural TV drama: how the protagonist deals with their knowledge of the supernatural in relation to those who are ignorant, especially with family, friends, and colleagues.

Generally, the emphasis is on encouraging ignorance, or enabling denial, but there are always a few characters who have to be brought into the fold: Willow and Xander, later Joyce and Oz, on Buffy, for example, or Kensi (and, in some way, Bo) on Lost Girl, for another. On Grimm, Hank and Juliette are the characters around which this question has been most relevant. Juliette remains difficult and complicated for many reasons, and not just her mystical memory loss, but because she highlights many of the reasons why the protagonists on these shows want to keep all the magic and monsters, and their knowledge of same, hidden. There is always the risk that the people will think you’re crazy, or trying to hide something else with wild stories about demons and witches, or that sharing what you know will make the people you care about vulnerable in ways they wouldn’t be otherwise. Of course, that second point cuts both ways, which is one reason why, I think, Nick tried to being her in at the end of last season.

Thus far the series has been inconsistently written as to what gets treated as a serialized element, and what is played for effect in a single episode. As a result, until last night, I had not given much thought to how Hank had been dealing with what he’s seen since Nick became aware of what he is and what he can do. “Bad Moon Rising” is primarily devoted to Hank’s trauma and feelings of being unmoored and isolated by his anxieties.

Where you have a cast of characters divided between those who know about supernatural creatures and forces and those who don’t, the tension that creates is one that ultimately needs to be released. There are only so many ways to have one character hide these kinds of things from another before the situation starts to seem ridiculous. More to the point, the fun and drama that can come from this tension largely comes from wanting to see when, and not if, the characters out of the know get to be in on the action.

When that moment finally comes, this is what typically happens. After witnessing something that is hard to ignore, the main character, or some other already initiated figure, tells or affirms to the other character that monsters and magic are real. The formerly ignorant character is either so cool that they just readily accept this fact (see Kensi or Oz) or they accept after an initial denial (“Have you tried not being a slayer?”).

In the context of these kinds of shows, these responses work because the world tends to make more, and not less, sense once you know that there are vampires, demons, and whatnot. Again, the drama and humor comes more from the build-up than from the resolution.

The one exception I could of think of to this pattern is Kate Lockley from Angel. In that case, Kate ends up feeling betrayed by the one person who should have been her guide, Angel, and the fact that Angel is also the same kind of creature as the one who tries to kill her casts her revelation about the supernatural in a different light that the other examples, where this is a certain detachment from what the character learns or where the person who guides them to the truth is clearly seen as an ally or protector. For the balance of Angel, up until her final appearance on the series, Kate accepts what she now knows, but would prefer not to know it (later, in the IDW comics, she is a committed monster hunter and fairly well adjusted).

What makes Hank’s learning and acceptance of the supernatural different is his sense of relief. “Bad Moon Rising” shows us a character who is falling apart at the seams and who feels alone. Knowing that he isn’t alone, and that there is a strange, but straightforward, explanation for the images he has in his head is not just “cool” or “ok”, but is actually therapeutic for Hank.

The reason that Hank finds himself in this position is that Nick has spent very little time even thinking about him and what he might have seen. Whether from insensitivity or from inexperience, it seems likely that Nick just assumed that Hank was willing to accept whatever sloppy explanation he came up with for some of their recent cases because who, in their right mind, would believe the truth. As it turns out, Hank hasn’t been in his right mind and the fact that Nick wasn’t ready for this moment is another way in which last night’s Grimm twisted convention.

This turn in the narrative is new, and there is still potential for a lot of tension between Nick and Hank, and we’ll see where the series goes from here, but having both characters in the know opens up all kinds of possibilities. It should be easier to work cases, and as suggested last night, to bring Wessen into the justice system. On the other hand, the stakes are raised in other areas, notably involving Captain Renard, as well as with cases that are less easy to present as normal crimes, and with Nick’s family, especially mom. I’m also looking forward to Hank learning specifically about Monroe. In short, as is often the case, bringing more characters into the loop should be good for Grimm.

ALPHAS Season 2: “Alpha Dogs” & “When Push Comes to Shove”

The X-Men have always been used as metaphors for difference, opening discussions of discrimination and fear of the Other that can be refracted back onto the positions of different identities in ‘the real world’. Mutation is a complicated and heavily negotiated category in the Marvel Universe. A good argument can be made that the social significance of that category is the primary theme of the X-Men across all media. Less commonly explored is mutation as a form of personal identity, or what being a mutant means for the individual. There are hints of this in some stories involving Rogue, her decision to take the ‘cure’ in The Last Stand, for example, but overwhelmingly the concerns that animate stories featuring the X-Men are about how mutants are regarded by non-mutants.

The personal aspect of identity, what being different means for me, is emerging as a central theme in the current season of Alphas, and is a good example of how the series not only appropriates from X-Men, but also spins in different directions. The issue of personal identity and Alpha-ness is central to both episode three of season two, “Alpha Dogs”, and episode four, “When Push Comes to Shove”.

The narrative in “Alpha Dogs” revolves around the idea of a fight club for Alphas. This premise is repeated across science fiction and fantasy television. In just the last year, I’ve seen episodes of Lost Girl and Grimm founded on some version of a fight club for super-natural or super-powered beings. Invariably, these clubs are shown to be wrong somehow, either because bloodsport is inherently inhumane or because the event is corrupt. “Alpha Dogs”, written by Eric Tuchman and directed by Nick Copus, surprises by departing from this formula.

While there is corruption at the heart of the procedural part of the narrative in this episode, it is not shown to be intrinsic to the fight. Rather, the arena is shown to be a place where Alphas gather to be with other Alphas and to explore their abilities. For Bill, the effect is therapeutic and the episode ends with him showing up to throw down even after the case is closed.

Bill’s ability to do this is rooted in whatever mediation technique it is that he learns from Kat, a technique that frees him to use his powers without his usual fear of debilitation or death. The return to the fight club is a way for him to see what this freedom means, not for Rosen, or for his job, but for himself.

“When Push Comes to Shove” focuses on Nina, and the way that she has been written up through this episode reminds of how Grant Morrison wrote Emma Frost for New X-Men, at least in her willingness to work her will on others. However, whereas Emma Frost acts with a casual confidence about her abilities, and station, Nina is acting from insecurity. For her, her Alpha powers seem to carry the paradoxical fear of both getting and not getting what she wants from others.

It isn’t uncommon for super-powered characters to have personal tragedy come from, particularly, not understanding their powers when they manifest. Again, Rogue is a good case in point, Bo in Lost Girl is another, as is Liz Sherman from Hellboy/BPRD (there’s probably some significance to all of these examples being women, but I’m not prepared to think that through here). In most of these cases, the incidents tend to involve quick and deadly results. While Nina’s dad ends up killing himself, what I appreciate about how writer Adam Levy and director Omar Madha handle this story in “When Push Comes to Shove” is the way that Nina is not directly responsible for the outcome, but indirectly through her naive use of her power as a kid who just wants her parents to stay with her.

The revelation that Nina has been pushing herself is interesting, but I’m glad that the episode does not dwell on this notion as it opens a lot of questions about how her power works that I’m not sure the series is prepared to answer. As a metaphor for how deep her sadness and insecurity goes, the single shot of her engaging this move is effective.

In “Alpha Dogs” we also learn more about Stanton Parish, and while narratively he is primarily the Alphas analog to Magneto, making his personal story and power more like Wolverine’s is an interesting idea. There is clearly some significance to his being, in effect, the ‘first Alpha’ and how he responded to learning of his difference from others. This story, however, brings us back around to the social significance of Alphas. There are other indications, such as Kat’s awareness of being an Alpha before encountering Bill and Cameron, that the series is building toward more of an exploration of the social as well as the personal aspects of otherness.

In regards to the latter, I could also comment on Rachel and her efforts to cope with her heightened senses, or Gary and his mother, as well as looking at Bill and Nina. What I appreciate about Rachel’s and Gary’s stories is how they show Alphas as perhaps having been grown from Chris Claremont-era X-Men in dealing with the interpersonal relationships of the characters and incorporating aspects of soap opera into a superhero story (the kind of love triangle between Nina, Cameron, and Danielle also, obviously, reflects this influence, too).

Thus far into the second season, to the extent that Alphas can be read as an X-Men clone, it is at least being made from the stronger parts of the latter’s DNA, while also showing itself to be something other than just X-Men by another name.

See also: “On ALPHAS and X-MEN“.