Saturday, February 16, 2013

Alias: Authorized Personnel Only Part 1 (4.1)

All right, it's probably best to open with the obvious: the entire premise of APO is inherently silly. This is Alias frantically pushing the emergency reboot button, reverting so many of the twists and turns of the last two seasons and returning the show to its initial roots. It's a change-up that tosses a lot of strong work out of the window, and seems only there to attract more eyeballs. Sloane in charge again, try as they might to rationalize it, is insanely precarious a turn of events. Dixon happily working under the man who brutally murdered his wife even more so. And you can only sort of sigh at the sight of a show that was once beautifully complex and masterful get rapidly streamlined and simplified.

But it's also hard to deny that this is a very good season premiere. Authorized Personnel Only Part 1 lays its foundations haphazardly, rooting the show's entirely new identity in batshit contrivance. But there's also a ton of really cool, showy superficial stuff that makes it a lot of fun. I guess that in itself is an issue, but writers J.J. Abrams and Jeff Melvoin at least balance out the action adrenaline rush hooey with more palatable character drama, at least in contrast to the messy laziness of last season.

Season three is all over this episode, but you can see the writers trying their hardest to turn a page as much as they can. It's bluntly stated when Vaughn decries that "last year sucked", and there's a rewarding quality to Sydney just cutting loose and being badass again, instead of weeping over, like, a parking ticket or whatever. Gosh she was annoying last year.

Syd is forceful and intense again, which is generally a relief. Joining a black ops division within the CIA, she's part of a bunch of fun action set pieces here: from the Phase One-style opening on the train and her funny seduction of a nervy German scientist, to the fake-out mission in Shanghai, complete with makeshift undercover outfits and slow-mo running.

With that in mind, this is presumably the more action-heavy hour of the two-part premiere. The only real story carried over from last season, Sydney's weepy and ambiguous discovery in Resurrection, remains on the back-burner, but its effect still lingers. Even though we have no idea where it's headed, you can already sense the burning tension between Syd and Jack.

So, yeah, in principal this isn't great. Everything's been reverted to such an extent that it feels a little disappointing at times. Jack and Syd distrusting each other again, SD-6 essentially remade from scratch, etc. And I should probably be a little more upset by it. But there's also a neat rested quality to this first hour, something free of all the emotional/romantic baggage that dovetailed a lot of last season like a downed airplane. So maybe that's why this works so well. Because it's just not season three. Heh. There's a lot of reasons here to get frustrated, but it's also remarkably easy to overlook them, too. B+

Guest stars
Angela Bassett (Hayden Chase); Robert Patrick Benedict (Brodien); Karl Hamann (Yuri Komarov); Rick Yune (Kazu Tamazaki)
Writers J.J. Abrams, Jeff Melvoin Director Ken Olin


  1. Your enjoyment of season 4 really depends on how you take it. If you dislike the new stand-alone missions format, then you’re going to be disappointed. But, really, it was network mandated and the writers did the best they could with it. I actually like so many of those standalones that I do appreciate the new tone, even if as the season went by you were just more and more anxious for the “real” story to begin.

    On the show remaking itself, like you said, the APO premise is very silly. I actually like the first 20 minutes of this episode, because it’s so full of twists. Before the APO reveal, I loved the idea of Sydney not being part of the CIA and becoming a freelancer, a rogue or whatever. It’s a storyline I feel this show should’ve pursued at some point, but it never did. It’s kind of disappointing they would return to a safe place, instead, basically giving us a new version of half of the storyline from Truth Be Told.

    I say “half of the storyline” because setting the characters on a black ops division is not exactly going back to the initial roots, but to a simplified version of those roots. On the first season and a half, Sydney was a double agent, not just an agent. Also, in season one everyone had a specific part to play: Sydney as the double agent for the CIA and field agent for SD-6, Dixon as Sydney’s partner on SD-6, and Vaughn as her CIA handler. Now, Sydney, Vaughn and Dixon are all field agents, and two more will be added to this team. It’s too many characters with the same thing to do and somebody is bound to be underused (I wonder who).

    “Dixon happily working under the man who brutally murdered his wife even more so.”

    This. I’m so glad you pointed this out. Dixon being so casual about the whole thing is SO wrong, and by far the worst part of this episode. It’s like the writers simply forgot that, like Sydney, Dixon has plenty of reasons to hate Sloane. However, the conversation that Syd and Dixon have on being conflicted about working for Sloane is really great, especially when Sloane himself comes and almost begs for a new chance. It’s a moment so full of character history. It’s also cute when Syd tells Dixon she’s happy to be his partner again. Aw. How great that season 4 gave us that back, instead of having Syd and Vaughn going on missions together all the time, right? Right?

    Oh, well, I’ve been complaining so far, but I do like this episode. It’s full of life and energy, you just have to lay back and enjoy the ride.

  2. Sydney is hot in that little white sexy dress. Love this episode slot it was fun, remind me of the first season. Best show ever, just love it!!!!!.

  3. Great review, can't believe you're this far into it already!

    I totally get what you're saying about how oddly the whole APO thing came about; really fake and silly. That being said, I liked the idea of moving somewhere new and starting again.

  4. Lamounier Lord, your comments make me jealous! Everything you wrote about the show returning to its roots but stripping away most of the interesting stuff about those initial roots is entirely true, and I loved what you wrote about most of the cast serving the same purpose from here and how that left a bunch of them with little to do.

    Also agreed that the fake-out opening could have been a stronger "new" premise for the show. Fantastic comments, like always.

    Anonymous Meh, I preferred her punky wardrobe in the picture up-top, personally. Heh.

    Panda I know, I'm worried I'm burning through these too fast, heh. And agreed with the rest, too.