Sunday, December 2, 2012

Alias: The Telling (2.22)

Irina Derevko was both the best thing and the worst thing to happen to Alias. So much of season two hinged on her moral complexity that having her go one way or the other would naturally be upsetting to certain parts of the show's fanbase. We get little more concrete evidence of her true allegiances in this finale, but what is made clear is that she loves Sydney and Jack, and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep them safe. In one huge exposition scene at the start of The Telling, Irina explains her motivation this year, and it's revealed that she does have a keen interest in Rambaldi. It seems more of a curiosity than a full-blown obsession, but it goes some way to explaining her ambiguity. Her life is driven by two extremes: her pursuit of Rambaldi, and her love for her family. Her flip-flopping creates multitudes of problems in the future, the show relying on her character to create drama regardless of Lena Olin's actual availability, but The Telling at least signals those two extremes. So it's not a total failure that the show winds up exploiting one element of her character greater than the other. In the end, one of the shoes was bound to drop.

Irina is just one key part of what amounts to one of the greatest finales in television history. This is the very best of Alias, a perceptive, character-driven masterpiece that is just as relentless and exciting as it is ridiculously shocking. It's best to start with Irina, though, considering her presence is at the heart of the hour.

Sydney is still left none the wiser about her mother's interests. She confesses all to her at the beginning of the episode (before knocking her out, naturally), and seems to be guiding her to victory. But that too is a dead end, something that Irina claims she didn't know about, but recognizes doesn't exactly help her case. Sydney still can't trust her, but for sure wants her in CIA custody again, leading to some incredible scenes of aggressive pursuit, Jennifer Garner practically exploding at the sides as she chases after her mother and finally traps her on a rooftop. But, being badass Lena Olin, she merely jumps off the ledge, bungee-jumping down the building and shooting her way through the windows to escape. It's a crazily batshit moment of high-wired action, and signals a wonderful end to this chapter of the Syd/Irina story -- Irina realizing that she's lost her daughter's trust, but still proud of how far she's come and wishing her the best for the future, believing her destined to stop Sloane. God, I love that woman.

Sloane doesn't get a ton of material this week, but it's interesting to see him in full mad-scientist mode, assembling all his Rambaldi pieces to create an earth-shattering device named 'The Telling'. We have no idea what this thing actually is, and I can't remember if it's another plot device quickly forgotten about over time, but I like this new incarnation of Sloane. He's always been a man inspired by the needs of others, not out of any real inspiration of his own, so it makes sense that vague proclamations from David Carradine would guide him to this point.

Fauxrancie, aka creepy non-dead Project Christmas subject Allison Doren, plays a major role this week, accepting that her time is nearly up and scared that she won't be able to reunite with Sark and presumably have British clone babies with him. She's something of a tragic figure this week, exposed as another vulnerable victim of CIA testing and horrified at the news that she won't be able to reverse her Merrin Dungey visage. I have no idea why... she's hot! She also seems to have real feelings for Will, openly weeping as she stabs him in the gut. Anyway, the story builds in intensity from there, Will beginning to realize that his girlfriend isn't who she says she is, and doing that 'dumb horror movie victim' thing of trying to call for help rather than getting the hell out of there.

But it leads to arguably the finest fight sequence ever depicted on television, an ambitious, beautifully choreographed throwdown between Sydney and Fauxrancie, a fight that entirely tears up their home and puts all other trashy TV show catfights to shame. This is aggressively uncompromising, both characters pulling at the scenery and using all kinds of silverware, pokers, candlesticks and kitchen appliances to smash the hell out of each other. It's goddamn brutal, Sydney flying all over the place (even doing a cool, superhero-ish, mid-air back-flip at one point) and Fauxrancie going crazy with knives and firm kicks to the face. Amazing stunts and incredible fighting work by Jennifer Garner and the previously inexperienced Merrin Dungey, this scene is every bit as phenomenal as you've been led to believe. Seriously. If you have zero interest in watching Alias, at least watch this scene. Like now. Go on. Go!

Because this is J.J. Abrams, there's an additional twist, the fight ending with Sydney collapsing in a heap and waking up in Hong Kong with no memory of how she got there. Arriving at a CIA safehouse, she's met by a presumably married Vaughn, who tells her that she's been missing for two years. This is batshit audience-baiting at its finest, a game-changing plot twist that comes out of nowhere and instantly leaves you sweating for next season. Jennifer Garner's face is so devastated, realizing that something is terribly amiss. It's ridiculously shocking, Sydney sat there unable to believe where her life has ended up.

This has been another incredible year for Alias, a season that has reached new heights when it comes to character complexity and the themes of trust, betrayal, loss and the elaborate intricacies of family as a construct and the surrogate families you create for yourself. It's debatable whether Alias ever reaches these heights again, and I plead the fifth for now, but The Telling is a wonderful indicator of how strong and ambitious the show at one point was. Like a runaway train that just refuses to let up. A+

Guest stars
Terry O'Quinn (Kendall); Jonathan Banks (Frederick Brandon); Amanda Foreman (Carrie Bowman); Greg Grunberg (Eric Weiss)
Writer J.J. Abrams Director J.J. Abrams


  1. Superb review for an outstanding finale. Love that you dedicated a whole paragraph to what I also find to be the single best TV fight scene ever choreographed! Loved watching the behind the scenes featurette on the dvd where the girls pretty much did 90% of it. Makes it all the more epic.

    I know many people say Alias declined after this but I never stopped loving the show. It always thrilled me even though it had its weak points later on (which we'll discuss as you continue to review). But yes I guess season two was the peak. I just wish the show got more recognition over the years. It got so overshadowed by Lost which I think failed much more than Alias ever did!

    Anyways I'm rambling. Always reading your reviews as you know although I rarely comment. PLEASE REMOVE THE SPAM LETTER CONFIRMATION THING! I did for my blog and I never get spam so don't worry (except for that Dish chick once). Because the whole mechanism is such a mess and I give up commenting a lot of the times!

  2. Thanks. I watched the featurette you're talking about, loved seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff, especially how wiped Jennifer Garner was after a whole year of shooting. Girl worked like crazy.

    And I'll consider the spam filter thing. It's annoying at times, but... I don't know. I'm trying not to be driven all that much by comments anymore, so I'll probably keep it at least for a bit.

  3. This is the best Alias episode, for me. So absorbing, and totally nuts.

    I think the fact that the whole "Fauxrancie" was so batshit to begin with gave the writers the freedom to end it with this insanity. And that fight scene is TV gold. Alias's pinnacle with regards to its one on one stunts.

    Great reviews for the season, as always. As for the third season, I don't think the drop is as big as some perceive it to be, but it is there. I'll be interested to see how you see it.

  4. I originally didn't spot the season three drop in quality, but I thought it was really noticeable this time around. I enjoyed a lot of it, but some stories really blew. Especially in light of how spectacular the first two seasons were.

    Thanks for reading, Panda.

  5. Best season cliffhanger!!!! I hope JJ Abrams does a new Alias project in the near future. Alias is definitely one of the coolest and hottest of all time. Jennifer Garner you rock!.