Friday, August 17, 2012

Alphas: The Problem with Doctor Rosen

 We were initially attracted to Alphas because it is very similar to Heroes and X-Men.  Though this is hardly unique, it still makes it interesting programming. It is clear that Dr. Rosen has been set up to be the equivalent of X-Men’s Charles Xavier - the moral center to the Alphas. Unfortunately, this is where we have to take a big step back, because Dr. Rosen is a poor fit for the role. It disturbs me that Dr. Rosen has been set up as the moral authority because he is anything but moral. Rosen is a control freak, manipulative and abusive in many ways. In each episode that I watch, I cannot help but wonder if fandom sees him for the man that he is.  When we like a program, we have the tendency to overlook the social issues and this is a mistake because it means that we internalise a myriad of issues.

Firstly and, perhaps, most problematically, Dr. Rosen acts as both their boss and their therapist. Clearly, this is a conflict of interest, which any therapist worth his salt would see right away. The privileged information a therapist receives should not be handed over to an employer - certainly not when that employer also has the power to imprison any of his workers without trial or a pretence of due process. The power Dr. Rosen has over the Alphas under him is phenomenal and already deeply immoral simply due to its scope.

Rosen doesn’t even pretend to be ethical with the information he gains from counselling the Alphas and he abuses this privileged knowledge repeatedly. When any Alpha is unwilling, for whatever reason, to follow his directives, he is always quick to use the knowledge he has gained in therapy to manipulate them. When Rosen returned to lead the alphas in the beginning of season 2, he instantly resorted to invoking Bill’s “control issues” when Bill presumed to question him - even though Bill had every reason to be irritated with Rosen and every right to question. What makes matters worse is that the story is written in such a manner to affirm his objections. When Hicks and Nina were dating, Rosen made it very clear that they should not be a couple. He clearly made this decision based in what he had learned about the both of them in therapy. Hicks made it clear that Rosen had no right to interfere in his private life but of course the relationship ended badly, thus proving Rosen right.

Gary is autistic and therefore thrives on routine; however, working with Alphas is certainly not about keeping a regular schedule. This increasingly disturbed Sandra, Gary’s mother and she worried about his safety with good reason. Rather than being honest with Sandra, he manipulated her by mentioning Gary’s relationship with Anna. He knew very well that one of Sandra’s concerns was that Gary would be unable to find and maintain a relationship. By sharing this when he did, Rosen very effectively silenced Sandra’s concerns about the danger Gary faced working with him. He wasn’t doing this to try and assuage Sandra’s concerns or, indeed, help Gary address relationship issues (both people he has counselled), but to prey on her insecurity to get his own way. How can anyone believe that Rosen had Gary’s best interests at heart in this situation?

Perhaps even more damning is Rosen’s role in Binghamton. He knew for a long time that Binghamton was rife with abuse and yet he continued to send Alpha’s there for imprisonment.  At the end of season one, he announced to the world that Alpha’s exist in an effort to stem the tide of abuse yet at the start of season two, the deal he negotiated with Clay didn’t change a damn thing. And this is after we have seen the Alphas with chips in their necks and seen Gary shipped off there with very little reason. He was always in control of which Alphas went to Binghamton and he has had made no efforts to change how the institution operates. He is, in fact, still hunting down the escapees from building seven for the government to return them to those abusive conditions he’s supposed to abhor so much. Despite getting on his moral high horse, Rosen has not changed and continues to be a party to the abuses of others.

This man is so horrendous that he even experimented on and used his daughter. When we first met Dani she was in a situation way over head and had no trust for her father. It seems that Dani was the first Alpha that Rosen became aware of. He experimented on her with various drugs to manage her condition. At the time, his marriage was falling apart and when his former wife was upset, he would send Dani to see her, instructing her to bring a mother a cup of chamomile tea. He did this sure in the knowledge that Dani’s ability to control the emotions of others would soothe the problems in his marriage. He did apologise to Dani for what he did, but only after Dani called him out on it. Was this an apology or was it further manipulation to make her conform? And it still leaves the question of what kind of man would experiment on his daughter and attempt to control his wife?

Now that Rosen believes that he and Dani have reconciled he is attempting to be more supportive, but his version of supportive still means threatening. When Hicks revealed that he and Dani are involved, Rosen suggested that he could keep his job, only for as long as he made Dani happy. In this one scene we get a strong sign of exactly the power this supposedly benign doctor has; we know some people will refer to this as the common (and problematic) jokes many fathers make with the boyfriends of their daughters - but we have to remember that Rosen literally has the power of life and death over Hicks. In such a position, he quite simply cannot make ‘idle threats.’ This is the perfect example of exactly how Rosen abuses his power over the Alphas, yet he always claims to have their interests at heart. Everywhere that Rosen looks there is some sort of conflict yet he continues on as though he knows what is best for everyone.

I was so pleased when Kat joined the cast but it certainly wasn’t long before Rosen turned his attention to her. She sees their interactions as interviewing for a position with the team but Rosen clearly sees this as an opportunity to get his claws into her. Kat is sure that she does not need therapy and is quite happy with who she is, but Rosen convinces her that she must recover her memories. In many ways, Kat is hyper-able but her inability to hold onto a memory beyond two months is certainly what some would consider a dysfunction, but if Rosen really respected Kat, he would accept that she doesn’t want or need to be “cured”. At best, his attitude is arrogant and paternalistic - we have seen nothing from Kat that would suggest she needs someone to make her medical decisions for her. At worst, it feels like his exploration is more about finding a method of manipulating her - he cannot stand having an Alpha on his team without also having the ability to manipulate her through the therapist’s chair.  There can be little doubt that when Kat does eventually open up to Rosen that he will use whatever information he gains to control her because control and power are what he ultimately seeks.

Despite the fact that Rosen has been cast as the moral centre of the Alphas, his behaviour and that of the government has us firmly on the side of Stanton Parish. Given the ease at which Alphas are being manipulated, abused and institutionalised it is quite easy to see what is happening as a sort of cold war in which Alphas are clearly losing. We have repeatedly seen Alphas exploited without any criminal actions on their part - both with Gary and Skylar, which Rosen certainly knew about. No matter the intent (note: in this case the intent is clearly nefarious) what is happening is wrong and if Stanton Parish can stop it, then so much the better.

The writers want Rosen to be Professor X to Parish’s Magneto but the dynamic has truly failed for us. It is a rare thing when the antagonist is actually the good one, but it is impossible to understand Doctor Rosen as a good man or his cause as even remotely just.