There are certain rules that tend to be followed for theme tunes. The first is that you get a two to three minute piece of soaring orchestral music designed to introduce your characters and lay out your fictional stall. The second, which really began to get popular through JJ Abrams’ TV shows, is the single note sting. You strike a chord,musically and visually, you throw a single title card out and up you get and off at the gallop. The third is to take a thematically appropriate song and attach it to the show. All of them work, all of them have been used countless times.
Alphas does none of them.
Instead, the first thing you get is chunky, crunchy blues electric guitar. It actually made me sit up straighter the first time I heard it because I was so used to the music in a superhuman show being orchestra, sweeping and dull. Straight away, this is different, a little crumpled, a little angry. This isn’t X-Men, this isn’t Heroes. This is six thousand miles of bad road and tough decisions in musical form.
Then the lyrics kick in. ‘Don’t take no for an answer’ is essentially the mission statement of the show; good people in an odd situation who are overlooked or ignored. This isn’t a show about people defending a world that hates and fears them, it’s a show about normal people locked out of normal lives by the one odd thing they can do, the one blemish, the one defining quality. It’s no accident I suspect that the characters we see most of in the opening credits are Bill, Rachel and Gary. One is perennially grumpy about losing his old life and channels that into his strength, another is constantly overwhelmed by her enhanced senses and the third is so entranced by the web of signal only he can see that he’s functionally autistic. None of them are ‘normal’, none of them are entirely happy with their abilities and all of them have the choice of trying to ignore what they are, of saying no. But like the song says, they don’t take no for an answer. The same lyric fits beautifully into the other characters, Nina and Hicks’ backstories too. One can ‘push’ people into telling her whatever they want and the other has perfect aim and crippling self doubt. Nina’s ability is built around not letting people refuse her, and Hicks’ ability is crippled by his inability to believe in himself. This is the world of the show in a single lyric and a single, gloriously raucous, crumpled ‘bad man walking’ piece of guitar work. The whole thing culminates in the line:
‘People don’t understand, people like me.’
And more of that crunchy guitar. It’s a deliciously ambiguous line to close on, that refers to three separate levels of meaning in the show. The first is the traditional ‘hates and fears them’ aspect of stories like this, with time and again the show proving that the only people who really understand the Alphas are other Alphas. The second layer of meaning is both more ambiguous and more sinister, with the implication that Doctor Rosen is far less knowledgeable about them than he thinks he is and the dangers inherent in that. The show, certainly at the point I’ve watched up to so far, takes great pains to show that the Alpha field team is, potentially, incredibly dangerous and that Rosen is operating on the bare bleeding edge of safety. The theme tune acknowledges this at the same time as layering in a third, equally ambiguous level of meaning. The line can also be read as ‘People don’t understand. People like ME.’. In other words, the theme tune is looking at the Alphas from the outside rather than the inside, with the implied hostility that comes with that and the tacit acknowledgement that they’re outsiders to the point where even they’re own theme music is distanced from them. It’s a remarkably clever piece of narrative commentary that tops off one of the best, most succinct pieces of theme music in recent years. The Alphas theme tells you everything you need to know, sets the tone for the show and keys you into the ambiguities that lie at the show’s heart and does it all in under a minute. Elegant,economic and indidividualistic it’s the perfect encapsulation of the show itself.