Alphas: The Normal Continues

I explained previously that the element that has made me fall in love with Alphas is its normalcy. A major aspect of that is the Alphas’ powers specifically.

Thus far, several types of enhanced humans have been revealed, but the key to every power, for the most part, is that it is simply an enhancement to normal physiology.

For example, one of my favourite characters, Rachel, is a synesthete:

Synesthete Alphas are able to enhance one of their five senses such as sight or sound, while rendering the remaining senses temporarily useless — often leaving them vulnerable to danger.

There is nothing fancy about her powers, and unless she lets you in on what she is actually seeing, hearing, smelling, touching or tasting, your only hint at her extraordinary ability is her aversion to germs and kissing.

We’ve met two autistic characters whose abilities would simply be overlooked as part of their autistic quirks in today’s society. We tend to pass such people off with pity and accommodations in real life. Alphas empowers them.

In striking contrast, I’m currently catching up on my x-reading, and of course am bombarded by the various outlandish powers that are limited only by the imagination of their creators. There is never a need to properly explain how destructive red beams of doom come out of ones eyes, controlled only by ruby quartz lens, or how one’s digestive system is replaced by two slugs that devour anything and convert it to energy for their owner when they return to him.

Rogue: “I’d like a large order of phenomenal cosmic powers, please.”

The X-Men are lead by Professor Xavier, a mutant with telepathic abillities that allow him to read thoughts and even control minds. I suspect Alphas creators strongly considered this when choosing the leader for their group, Dr. Lee Rosen, who is a psychologist without enhanced abilities.

In this week’s episode, Blind Spot, we meet two Alphas with yet more unique powers. In X-Men terms, Brent Spiner plays the role of Banshee with the exception that Spiner’s sonic abilities actually make sense.

Meanwhile, the team is harassed by an unseen intruder. The first thought is that this Alpha can make herself invisible. It’s a tribute to my science fiction and fantasy abused mind that I immediately accepted her invisibility, but what impressed me is that, without a whole lot of scientific jargon, they explained that it wasn’t just some fancy light rendering ability, but in fact, the intruder fiddles with security cameras and is able to make use of a very scientific, everyday mind trick that generally helps to keep us sane. The scientific term is “Saccadic Masking” or “Visual Saccadic Suppression.” I learned about it at Cracked.com, so I know it’s true.

Saccadic Masking is the phenomenon in visual perception where the mind selectively blocks visual processing during eye movements in such a way that neither the motion of the eye (and subsequent motion blur of the image) nor the gap in visual perception is noticeable to the viewer.

We’ve had at least two bad guys who exhibit mind control-like abilities, but in fact, their abilities merely heighten certain chemicals or reactions in their own bodies or the bodies of their victims, such as the mother who’s enhanced oxytocin emissions made her a walking drug.

During an encounter with one such Alpha, Bill loses his hyperadrenal ability and we find that, by the next episode, his personality has changed significantly, making him more likable. It’s a change Bill likes and shows little interest in gaining it back, despite obvious advantages to the team. His reaction to the loss was, unfortunately, only briefly addressed.

Alphas continues to be a worthwhile watch for me. In a time where mutant entertainment is so heavily focused on flashy and over the top super human abilities, I appreciate that the enhanced powers of the humans here make them extraordinary, but not overtly so (and without all the angst).  In fact, the normalness of it all makes it feel that much more possible for such science fiction to come true…or to be true already…

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