Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alias: So It Begins (1.2)

J.J. Abrams has always been a very modern showman. He's able to push these complex, relatable characters center stage, all with their flaws and vulnerabilities, while simultaneously remembering that a show about espionage and hot women in ridiculous outfits needs to have that mainstream, approachable quality. It's something that really jumped out at me while watching So It Begins, in awe at how the show can mine a scene for so much emotional weight, and a couple of minutes later force Jennifer Garner into what can only be described as a blue-latex 'Eurotrash porn star' ensemble. The ease in which Abrams can bend through these tonal changes is inspired.

The showy action moments remain fruitful, but the characterization is still carrying the show to absolute glory. It's the greatest balance. Sydney is a woman driven by her desire to save the world, but can't yet grasp what an enormous task that is. The episode opens with her in full hardass mode, pressing Vaughn for immediate action and giving him a brief laundry list of problem areas that she assumes can be easily dealt with. But the full extent of the show's scope is immediately drilled into the heads of both us at home and Syd herself, discovering that her SD-6 knowledge is a tiny nugget in an elaborate criminal underworld. This is proving to be a show where unexpected twists lie at every turn.

Elsewhere, the relationship between Sydney and her father remains fractured. She discovers that he was aware of the hit put on Danny and slaps him in disgust. But she later realizes that, while he did know, Jack tried his best to protect her fiancee. It's becoming the major theme of the series: what you think you know, and the little boxes of truth buried underneath when you take away the illusion. It's a theme resonant with Sydney as a character. She's aggressive and strong in the field, but immediately rushes home with a desperation to put back on that engagement ring and slip into a warm tub. She's this intense embodiment of feminine strength, but with that very female vulnerability. Jennifer Garner is a rare actress that can sell both extremes -- she's convincing as a tough fighter, and equally as believable as a young woman caught up in a world she's struggling to understand.

I also continue to love the way lies and deceits permeate every member of the cast. While he hasn't yet had a whole lot to do, there's nothing more chilling than Sloane being unaware of Sydney's double life, yet Ron Rifkin giving their scenes together this shady undercurrent in which you really worry that he may know everything. Will's story with the Danny investigation casts him as something of an unknowing antagonist, but his heart is in the right place -- wouldn't Syd's unwillingness to find out the truth raise a red flag if you were in Will's shoes? You can hope that he doesn't make her life more difficult, but you can't actively dislike him. Likewise Marshall and Dixon. Yes, they're working for very bad people, but are so human and compassionate (particularly the former at this point), that you love whenever they're on-screen.

So It Begins is relentless and exciting as an episode of spy action (Fights! Break-in's! Bombs! Elevator shafts!), but it continues to be these characters that bring the honesty. You feel every emotion at this point, and already the intricate, difficult relationships lift the show into territory that ordinarily eludes television of this genre. A

Guest stars
Evan Dexter Parke (Charlie Bernard); Aharon Ipale (Ineni Hassan); Alex Kuz (Kazamir Shcherbakov); Ravil Isyanov (Luri Karpachev); Sarah Shahi (Jenny)
Writer J.J. Abrams Director Ken Olin


  1. Well said. This was a surprisingly excellent second outing that did a great job of holding up the standards set forth by the pilot.

    One thing you said that stuck with me; the fact that you always sensed Sloane knew EVERYTHING about Sydney. This worked wonders because it kept you on edge throughout every episode, constantly scared for Sydney's safety and wondering if it was all going to come crashing down. The writers just painted him so spectacularly and with just the right layers and mystery to keep you intrigued yet suitably nervous.

    And of course, this episode is home to two very iconic images that are completely engraved in my mind. The first is Syd is that blue latex dress which is just such a shocking sight (not necessarily hot because well, it is pornstar-ish). And the second is the SD-6 map and Syd's reaction to Vaugn opening it up. Brilliant!

  2. It's all Ron Rifkin. Even when they didn't literally exploit the whole "does Sloane suspect her?" thing, his performances just easily conveyed suspicion and overwhelming knowledge. Such a great actor.

    And agreed about the iconic imagery, especially the latex dress. That whole mission was ridiculous, but so much fun.

  3. Agreed. Ron was superb. I sometimes forget what a talent he was because he was so lifeless on Brothers & Sisters. That show really didn't utilize him well and it used to be one of my favorites until its horrid final year.

  4. I never got into that show, even though I like family dramas like that. It always seemed a little self-serious.