Thursday, February 12, 2009

Live Action: "Alpha"

“Alpha” (May 11, 1991)

Writer: Gail Morgan Hickman
Story: Gail Morgan Hickman & Denise Skinner
Director: Bruce Bilson
Editor: Greg Wong

Synopsis: After taking notice of her unusual behavior, Barry Allen and Tina McGee befriend Alpha, a mysterious woman who seems to be on the run from a collective of shadowy intelligence operatives. Alpha is in fact an android, an advanced artificial life form devised by the government to serve as the ultimate covert assassin! In defiance of her programming, Alpha has proven incapable of accepting the decision to take a life. With the help of Barry, Tina, and the conman Fosnight, the runaway android pursues a desperate bid to escape the reach of the government and find her freedom.

Commentary: The Flash attempts a shift in style and genre once again by venturing into the territory of outright science fiction with “Alpha,” the penultimate episode of the series. Early dialogue reveals that construction of the title android was accomplished with approximately $30 million in government spending, just a bit more than the cost of one full season of a one-hour network television drama! Even if the viewer is able to generously suspend disbelief through preposterous plot details such as this, however, “Alpha” remains a flawed Frankenstein’s monster of an episode. With a fictional cipher dubbed the National Scientific Intelligence Agency at the fore, the series uses fanatical government officials of a clichéd variety as antagonists, and not for the first time. The brutal Christine Powers, played with great vehemence by actress Laura Robinson, is clearly cut from the same two-dimensional cloth as Quinn, the baddie of “Sight Unseen.” Powers is a stock villain just like her inept henchmen, who, clad in government-issue trench coats, are forever waving their guns about. The story’s central figure, Alpha, would be silly were it not for the strength of the performance offered by guest star Claire Stanfield, who is able to imbue an artificial character with sufficient grace and charm to convince us. Though moral quandaries are inherent to the construction of her character, the episode is utterly uninterested in exploring them. Instead there are poorly planned action sequences featuring Omega, Alpha’s monstrous, hulking counterpart, who is really nothing more than a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performances as the Terminator. Omega’s demise--witnessed in a bizarre and rather disturbing special effects sequence in which the android’s head explodes after being electrocuted by the Flash--is ridiculous but grotesquely memorable. It’s nice to see regular guest Dick Miller granted more screen time as Fosnight, though the conniving yet lovable conman seems somewhat out of place here. A comedic scene in which Fosnight sneaks Alpha off to a backroom poker game in order to school the naive android in the ways of card cheats might have proven amusing if it weren’t so contrary to the grim, desperate tone established for the episode. “Alpha” really does represent a mixed bag of ideas and, as a result, it’s a definite disappointment.

High-Speed Highlight: With the beautiful android Alpha in his arms, the Flash races at top speed to escape the fifty-mile range of a transmitter programmed to detonate the self-destruct device hidden deep within the electronics of her artificial brain, leaving a trail of burning tracks in his wake.

Quotable: “My name isn’t Alpha Webster, it’s Alpha-One: Artificial Lifelike Prototype Humanoid Android One. I got the name Webster from the dictionary.” --Alpha reveals what’s in a name


Anonymous said...

I thought this a decent episode. . . too bad the show didn't go into a second season, as it was REALLY hitting its stride towards the end.

Dixon said...

I'll agree with that Petey, even if I didn't much care for this episode. The show had found itself by this point, and it would surely have really taken off in a second season. It's a shame...