If there’s one sure-fire way to get nerds to perk up and pay attention to a TV show (or movie), it’s to give Summer Glau a role. The actress must be well aware of the effect she has on that particular segment of the viewing population, because she’s made appearances in countless nerdy properties since her initial rise to fame in ‘Firefly’. (Examples include ‘The 4400’, ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’, ‘Dollhouse’, ‘Chuck’, ‘The Big Bang Theory’, ‘The Cape’, and the upcoming movie ‘Knights of Badassdom’.) This week, she even turned up in ‘Alphas’.
In ‘Catch and Release’, Glau plays Skylar, a Alpha whose super power is that she’s really good at inventing things. That’s kind of an odd thing to describe as a super power, but whenever she looks at any mechanical or electronic object, she can see precisely how all of the components fit and work together. She’s built a bunch of little flying robo-bugs that she uses for surveillance, and can conceive and throw together new gizmos in no time at all. Skylar rocks the generic goth/punk/hipster look (and yes, I realize that these are three separate things) that TV producers use as shorthand to designate a character as a computer hacker. (Though we don’t see her do any actual hacking, it’s sort of taken for granted that Skylar is also a hacker, which is… uhhh… basically the same thing as an inventor anyway, right?)
Skylar had previously been identified as an Alpha and studied by Dr. Rosen, but was released back to the wild when it was decided that she wasn’t a harm to anyone. Nonetheless, the DOD has been keeping tabs on her. When a bunch of paramilitary thugs bust into her workshop, Skylar goes on the run. Rosen and his team are then tasked with finding her and bringing her in. The DOD has detected her exchanging uncrackable encrypted messages with someone mysterious called “Z.” They believe that she may be working with Red Flag.
Skylar is wary of Rosen and the team. Even though she knows that their intentions may be true, she still considers them government “flunkies.” Rosen unfortunately feels himself living up to that charge when he’s ordered to turn Skylar over to his superiors. Before he can, she escapes custody and runs off again.
Well, it turns out that the thugs are actually NSA. Skylar had been working with the NSA to build a computer (called “BOB” for some reason) that can locate any person on Earth by their bio-electric signature. This would be especially useful in tracking down Alphas. (I’m pretty sure that Professor X from ‘X-Men’ has the same thing.) Skylar (with Nina’s help) breaks into the NSA facility and steals BOB’s CPU. But she isn’t doing this to give it to Red Flag. She just doesn’t trust the government anymore.
We also learn that “Z” isn’t a Red Flag contact. It’s her young daughter Zoe, who has inherited Skylar’s Alpha gene and is already a super math genius. It was Zoe who invented the uncrackable encryption formula. Skylar has been hiding her because she doesn’t want the government to study her like a lab rat or exploit her abilities. Eventually, Rosen sympathizes with Skylar and helps her to slip away from the DOD and NSA again. In return, she has to hand BOB over to him. Rather than turn it in to his bosses, he smashes the thing and throws it away.
The Zoe storyline ties in with a side story in which Bill’s wife has been pressuring him about her desire to have a baby. (Really? The woman looks like she’s already past her childbearing years.) He’s been hesitating because he doesn’t want to pass his Alpha-ness (which he still hasn’t told his wife about) onto a child. In the end, he changes his mind. I guess that Skylar has convinced him that making a new Alpha baby isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Or something. His change of heart here doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
The other big side story this week has Gary’s mother calling him in sick and forcing him to stay home. She doesn’t feel that he’s safe and doesn’t want him to work for the government anymore. An obstinate Gary sneaks out of the house and helps on Rosen’s mission anyway. He then stands up to his overprotective mother and tells her that he likes being a secret agent, he’s happy at his job, and he needs to make his own decisions. I kind of feel like we’ve already been through this routine before.
‘Catch and Release’ is a decent episode, better than the last couple but not as good as the season’s first few. It runs out of steam a bit before it’s over, and ends on a super-cheesy VFX shot of one of Skylar’s flying robo-bugs, which are a dumb conceit that serve no purpose in the episode at all.