All of Bell’s clips in this episode are linked here.
Gary Bell’s (Ryan Cartwright) role is limited in the Alphas episode “A Short Time in Paradise,” with most of the action focused on Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn, better known for his roles in L.A. Confidential and Good Night and Good Luck) and a deadly religious cult leader whose ability brainwashes others, eventually killing them as a result of malnutrition and dehydration. A flashback scene in the episode’s teaser shows this man’s ability has persisted for over 30 years, resulting in many deaths.
Bell is more influential in the episode’s sideplot, when Rachel Pirzad (Anita Ghanizada) asks him to pretend they’re dating so she can attend her sister’s wedding party without social ridicule.
Bell meets Pirzad’s father and points out all details of the jacket he’s wearing. Pirzad’s father then coughs, showing an early symptom of throat cancer, unbeknownst to her father or anyone else in Pirzad’s family. After Bell makes a verbal scene stressing that Pirzad’s father needs help, Pirzad then uses her ability to heighten her senses to make the discovery. Pirzad’s father scoffs at the idea, leading Bell and Pirzad to leave after the awkward encounter.
Bell and Pirzad meet at Alphas headquarters following the party. Bell inquires Pirzad about her father’s health, but she is reluctant to discuss her family history out of concern Bell would not understand any complex concepts. Bell retorts with a monologue, without eye contact, about how Pirzad has to tell the truth until the people she loves pay attention.
Bell’s advice works, as Pirzad’s father later discovers his cancer diagnosis, but detected early enough for treatment.
Of course, Bell does assist in the main plot as well, using his computer skills to hack into Dr. Rosen’s computer to discover the location of their missing teammates (three of them were “trapped” in the cult leader Jonas Englund’s household) whose electronic devices were rendered useless.
Rosen develops an antidote to free the “followers” from the effect of Englund’s ability. Englund prepares to burn everyone inside alive in the climax, claiming they will be free and see the light, but is killed when Rosen shoots a gun he found while retrieving the confiscated antidotes.
Before discussing Bell’s role further, this review does not suggest religion should be renounced or is dangerous to society. While cults and major religions often dominate headlines due to bohemian characteristics or a horrendous lack of understanding, religion is a very common theme in science fiction. The genre is one of few in entertainment where spirituality can be discussed because the examination is through a lens the audience knows isn’t real (Englund’s religious views are developed because he is unable to perform his talent on himself).
Although there is little scientific backing, Bell’s persistence to Pirzad has been noted among the autistic community as a “perk” of the condition. Such readings note how rarely autistic people lie and their lower likelihood of playing “mind games” (refusing to disclose emotions, secondary motives for mundane behaviors) with other people. Although blunt mannerisms like Bell’s can create tense situations among people who don’t have autism, some writers note the disability frees them from social norms. While transplanting the subplot to a real-life application would not produce a linear correlation, little imagination is needed to consider the alternative had Bell not behaved so stubbornly.
Dreams of freedom are a common theme in religion as well, with sermons expressing how to be free from sins or self-centered ideals. Bell and Englund’s religious cult do not directly intersect in this episode, but the writers highlight a subliminal contrast about the perception of freedom. Bell promotes ideas of strengthening the self by choosing what is morally right, while Englund’s followers are unable to break his spell, yet believe they have found the light to eternal freedom.
“A Short Time in Paradise” does not force its viewers, autistic or not, to choose a side. The episode does communicate that a balance between devotion and freedom of choice is possible, as long as our actions do not compromise the lives of others.