Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Alias: Cipher (2.3)

Doesn't everybody long to have perfect parents? Maybe because we so often don't, despite it being the one thing that we're supposed to have as human beings. If you're inclined to have children, you're meant to be nurturing and compassionate, and every child deserves that kind of treatment from the people they trust the most. There are obviously many of us who don't have that, or experience the crushing moment when you realize that your parents aren't as flawless as you once imagined. But what remains is a deep desire to have them be good, wishing they could remain that picture-perfect image that you remember from your childhood. Alias' second season is already tapping into that idea, Syd struggling to shake her last memories of Laura Bristow and slowly coming around to the woman she now knows as Irina Derevko.

While she's still relaying key Rambaldi information, Irina is also dropping in mom-sized nuggets of sympathy, asking Sydney about her childhood, and generally reminiscing of their time together and all that they've lost. Syd, despite her efforts to the contrary, begins to buy into it all. Jack unsurprisingly doesn't -- and, in one blistering moment, confronts Irina with the truth about her lies and betrayals over the years and threatens to kill her if she ever hurts his daughter. It's still unclear where Irina stands, but her relationship with Sydney at least appears somewhat genuine at this point... as much as you can be compassionate towards somebody you mercilessly shot two weeks ago.

The Alias ensemble is also being truly put to work this year, with Will in particular getting more development. He's now fully ingrained in the world of the CIA, being introduced to Vaughn and experiencing his own cryptic hypnotherapy session that delves into his recent past. But the horror is still there, his fear acting as a block preventing him from becoming completely immersed in espionage. Bradley Cooper is such a 'regular guy' kind of performer that he easily makes these stories pop, masterfully conveying Will's lack of preparation for this latest turn of events.

I can vaguely remember where the Sloane subplot is going, but it remains consistently engrossing here. He's getting nightmarish phone calls seemingly from the dead Emily, while her flowers are growing again and shady clues point to her still being alive in some form. Is it madness? Grief? Zombies? Oops, that's not for another two years. But it's crazily intriguing right now.

Cipher is also exasperatingly showy as a piece of action television, the script tossing in two elaborate set pieces, both with varying levels of ridiculous. The first is Sydney's luge-shooting voyage to attach a circuit board to a rocket ship, complete with Syd flying down a tunnel with flames and horrible CGI tailing her. It's batshit. Then there's her frosty (pun!) confrontation with Sark in what looks like an old Fortress of Solitude set, Syd running around with guns in slow-motion and tumbling beneath the ice. Gah. This episode is an example of the show fully committing to character shading and emotional conflict while only increasing the genre absurdity of it all. It's the strongest episode of the season so far. A

Guest stars
Terry O'Quinn (Kendall); Janet MacLachlan (Jane Banks); Patricia Wettig (Dr. Judy Barnett)
Writers Alex Kurtzman-Counter, Roberto Orci Director Daniel Attias

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