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The cast and executive producer of Syfy’s Alphas took to the stage at Comic-Con International for a fan-fueled Q&A and a sneak peek at things to come.
Created by X-Men: The Last Stand screenwriter Zak Penn and Michael Karnow, Alphas follows a team of ordinary citizens with extraordinary abilities that investigates unusual cases that the CIA, FBI and Pentagon have been unable, or unwilling, to solve. The first season ended on a cliffhanger, with team leader Dr. Rosen (played by Strathairn) announcing to the world the existence of the super-powered “Alphas.”
“His motivation has always been to integrate the Alpha ability into society in a positive way,” Strathairn told the Comic-Con crowd. “When the government was using it for nefarious ways and obviously Stanton [Parish, the powerful Alpha John Pyper-Ferguson] was using it for his own agenda, Rosen’s philosophy was to use transparency to push things to be better. It’s kind of a potent conversation to have.”
Incoming showrunner Bruce Miller revealed that “Season 2 starts about eight months later, and the team is really in kind of shitty shape. Poor Dr. Rosen is incarcerated in a mental institution and we get to see the team come together and face the very big challenge of Stanton Perish.”
Following several clips from the second season, actor Warren Christie the audience some clues about where his character Cameron Hicks is headed.
“My character spent most of last season not really sure if he wanted to be part of the team,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, I think, of all of the characters, that he’s trying to make the steps to hang on to the team.”
Laura Mennell, who plays Nina Theroux, tried to use her character’s power to “push” the audience into watching the new season. When that didn’t work, she fell back on enticing them with details about Nina’s future.
“This year for Nina, I think with her ability, it becomes a little bit more interesting because she starts reverting back to her old ways and pushing,” she said. “It’s an interesting season for Nina. She goes some different places.”
Mennell and Christie’s characters became romantically involved in the first season, but stormy weather may be on the horizon for that relationship.
“I hate to say it, but I think things might kind of change between Hicks and Nina,” Mennell teased.
“Our relationship was kind of a ripple effect of the Alphas being public,” Christie said. “It just kind of split us up.” However, he said his character won’t be staying single for long.
“I think it’s kind of out there that I’ve kind of moved on to Dr. Rosen’s daughter,” he said. “He did say at the end of last season to keep an eye on her, so it’s kind of his fault.”
Dr. Rosen will have plenty other things to worry about as he deals with the immediate consequences of his revelation in the season finale.
“They put me in an institution, obviously,” Strathairn said after taking the advice to “swallow the mic” a bit too literally. “Parish is amping up and my team is getting a little bit lost. The world is turning into Jell-O.”
While most of the other characters are moving forward in their roles, Strathairn’s will be struggling to regain the place of leadership he once held among the team as they’ve moved on without him. “I’ve got a long way to go with all of them,” he said. “It’s kind of an interesting regression that the character has gone through, which sets the season up in an interesting way.”
Another character that has fallen onto hard times in the months between seasons is Rachel, played by Azita Ghanizada.
“She became really co-dependent on Dr. Rosen and the team,” Ghanizada said. “They became her only way to push her to become stronger. Now she’s kind of institutionalized herself in her bedroom.”
Rachel won’t be spending all of her time alone, however, as the actress revealed some romantic adventures for the girl with super-senses are on the horizon. “Rachel gets made out with a lot this year,” she said. “Boys and science.”
In the Alphas universe, with great power comes great drawbacks. Malik Yoba, who plays Bill Harken, was asked how he felt about his super-strong character effectively being a walking time bomb.
“Why you gotta put it like that? Black guy always gets it first,” Yoba joked. “The interesting thing about the show for all of us is that we talk about downsides — the notion that I’ve got the ability to fill my body with adrenaline, but it’s taxing on my heart and my adrenal glands.”
Yoba’s character may have a dangerous power, but he’ll receive help from new cast member Erin Way.
“This petite woman helps this big man, helps me figure my power out,” he said.
Way’s character Kat can instantly memorize and learn anything she sees, but her memory can only retain so much information at a time. Often, what she learns may replace old knowledge.
“It’s like memory TiVo,” she said. “As time goes on, I don’t remember what I can do or who I know. It’s inconvenient.”
Yoba and Way’s characters will meet early on in a super-powered fight club where super-strength will fail against mimicked skill.
“That’s my real Alpha ability,” Yoba said. “It’s to be cool with being beat up.”
For a series about people with superhuman abilities, the writers make a concerted effort to keep everything grounded in reality, something the cast says helps them relate to the characters.
“One of the things that was present from the beginning of the show was that we wanted to keep the show as real as possible,” Yoba said. “At the end of the day, these are human beings relating to each other.”
“I was a huge fan of the show in the first season and the world that Zak Penn and Michael Karnow created,” said Miller, who previously worked on Eureka and The 4400, “It’s the reason I fell in love with the show. I loved how the characters worked together. It’s much more about the interesting people. You’ve got a bunch of people with these unique abilities, but it’s the people who make these abilities interesting.”
Recurring guest stars Summer Glau and Sean Astin were then introduced the audience.
“I was really excited to get to explore what happened to Skylar after what happened at the end of the season,” said Glau, who appeared during the first season and will be on the run with her child in Season 2. “This season, it’s going to be interesting to see where here loyalties lie when she comes back into contact with this gang.”
Glau, who has a long resume of action roles, including Firefly and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, was asked how she felt about taking on genre characters, and what attracts her to her character on Alphas.
“Science fiction in particular really gives us the opportunity to take on different roles for women,” she replied. “But this time is different and really special to me because it’s my first time playing a mother.”
“I think science fiction really breaks that open for women,” Ghanizada add. “You get to be heroic, you’re not just one dimensional. It’s a really special place for female characters.”
Astin will play a new character in the second season, one who can read minds with a touch and remember things indefinitely.
“Roland, my guy, he’s an Alpha, and his power is his memory and his ability to access other people’s memories,” he said. “It’s kind of messed him up a little bit because he can’t tell what his memory is.”
Starting the Q&A portion of the panel, a fan asked Miller about the similarities and differences between Alphas and The 4400.
“There were definite similarities,” he replied. “I think what’s nice about this show is how grounded it is and how much it takes place in the real world –our world.”
The cast was then asked which power they would choose in real life.
“The ability to speak any kind of language would be kind of cool,” Yoba said. “You could go around the world and communicate with people.”
“I always like to say to have the ability to never be hung-over,” offered Ghanizada, before giving the more serious answer of the ability to create clean drinking water with her hands.
I was thinking of another kind of drink,” Strathairn interjected.
Austin and Way also added onto Ghanizada’s chosen power with “the ability to make cups to put that water in” and “the ability to make lemon bread to go with the water.”
Of course, in the world of Alphas, powers come with a downside, so the cast was forced to devise the drawback for each of their chosen abilities.
“If I could speak any language ever,” Yoba said, “my downside would be I wouldn’t be able to understand it.”
“I guess mine would be if I could make bread, I’d be okay if I couldn’t eat it,” Way concluded.
“If I could create drinking water for billions of people, they could have anything, all my material devices,” Ghanizada said. “I’d give it up, I’d give it all away.”
Part of the draw of Alphas is the combination of fantastic adventures and office politics. The next fan wondered how aware the cast and crew were of including the little details of these personal relationships.
“That’s one of the things that keeps the show grounded for us as well,” Yoba said. “At the end of the day, that’s what the show is about. It’s about how we relate to each other.”
“We mostly get inspired, at least at the writer level, by eating each other’s food,” added Miller.
Cast member Ryan Cartwright, who plays Gary, was unable to attend the panel, although Ghanizada made a couple attempts to reach him on by cellphone. In his stead, the rest of the cast discussed Gary’s future after the traumatic end of the first season.
“He doesn’t handle it well at all,” Yoba said. “He really misses Anna, and it comes up quite a few times.”
“He also goes through a change in his home life,” Strathairn said, referring to Gary moving into the team’s office headquarters. “He makes a big leap forward in that way.”
Returning to the grounded nature of the show, the next question centered on the commitment to keep the superhuman abilities as grounded as possible when introducing new characters.
“We have a science consultant and a PhD neurologist who helps us out quite a bit,” Miller said. “You’re about to watch the Olympics, and all those people do things that, as far as I’m concerned, are superhuman as well. So you just try to take things and twist them a little bit.”
“I think my guy, it’s an interesting thing that you might wish you had,” Astin said. “A kind of intuition that if you talk to other people, that you know a bit about them. You just push it further.”
With Alphas being the latest in a line of superpower-themed shows, including Heroes and The 4400, the final question addressed how the cast and creators intended to avoid the same pitfalls that lead to cancellation.
“I think what our show will do is not dilute too much of what’s happening in the main cast,” Ghanizada said, comparing the small cast of Alphas to the constantly expanding cast of Heroes.
“You have an Alpha ability you haven’t tapped into yet,” Yoba said to the audience. “You’re going to make sure we don’t get canceled.”
Alphas airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.