Saturday, February 2, 2013

Alias: Resurrection (3.22)

Alias' third season is its most divisive in the show's history, many believing it to be the show's death knell, others finding its awfulness was more than a little exaggerated. When I first watched it nearly ten years ago, I was more in the latter camp, believing it to be less interesting than its predecessors but still generally absorbing. Watching it again, I'm more inclined to say it was an elaborate misfire. Granted, those first two seasons were so above anything else in this genre, an irresistible blend of high-octane thrills and moving character-based drama, that any lesser season would be treated worse by mere association. But it can't disguise how muddled and annoying season three wound up being, an opinion not improved a whole lot with this confused finale.

Lauren was a real problem. She was intriguing before the Full Disclosure reveal and there were a couple of moments during her Sark-shagging hiatus that were really fun, but the writers never seemed to get a total handle on her character. Sometimes you got the impression that she was in way over her head and exhibited regret over how everything had turned out -- other times she was a cartoonish super-bitch sexually aroused by blood and innards. It was all a little disorienting, despite how much Melissa George tried to make the character work. Everybody seems to blame her for Lauren being such a wreck, but you could always tell that she was really trying to make every facet of the role somewhat believable, in spite of how frustrating it must have been for her as an actor.

Resurrection abandons most of the 'crazy family dynamic' material that made the prior stretch of episodes so absorbing, instead focusing deeper on Lauren's betrayal, Vaughn's rage and Sydney's anguish stuck right in the middle. The triangle was never particularly interesting, notably when the show removed any possibility of Lauren actually sticking around by making her an evil caricature, and I grew a little uncomfortable at all the bloody murder here. Yeah, Lauren is a villain, but it got a little much seeing her strung up from the ceiling, tortured, beaten, and pumped full of bullets. It's like the writers were saying, "See, we know you all hated her, so let's make her really suffer". Blah.

There's also a huge dose of crazy this week, those Mission: Impossible masks failing to work on even a trashy sci-fi level, as it's such a huge leap in technology for the show that it can only read as a little silly. Katya, too, is randomly evil this week, introduced and removed from the story with such relaxed ease that it's hard to discern if she was a Rambaldi acolyte after all, or just a directionless character. Even sillier is that last-minute cliffhanger. The show tries to offer one of those "bigger picture" twists, but the execution is so awkward (Lauren dropping vague ambiguity between kicks to the face) and the final scene so lacking in absolutely anything concrete that it only feels like another example of this season's writing staff making a lot of the story up as they went along.

It was evident all season, from the underwhelming downer that was the lost years arc, to Lauren's ever-shifting personality. The Covenant never went anywhere interesting and remained this anonymous presence lurking in the background, while the show never seemed to know whether to totally run with Rambaldi or retreat just before it got a little too complicated. Irina, too, has been a problem this year, kept around to satisfy our craving for a return from Lena Olin, only for Jack's recent string of behavior (particularly the way he here expresses regret over keeping her alive) to undermine their 'online communication' thing and general unity that seemed to be going somewhere before it was abruptly dropped.

Worst of all, Sydney became less interesting. There were times this season where I struggled to write a whole lot about her, as a lot of her depth was removed and replaced with weepy mourning over Vaughn. It was like she became Ally McBeal instead of remaining this complex protagonist with unparalleled strength, even in the face of personal anguish.

Gah. I had fun this year, and there were definitely a couple of stories that felt propulsive and like the Alias of old. But there was this noticeable decline in quality, too, something that made various episodes seem like any generic action drama on the air. And that's not what Alias is. At all. C

Guest stars
Isabella Rossellini (Katya Derevko); Mia Maestro (Nadia Santos); Cotter Smith (Hank Foster)
Writer Jeff Pinkner Director Ken Olin


  1. Hi Max. I really enjoyed your reading season 3 reviews on a regular basis. It's such a crazily divisive season as you said. From what I remember from my re-watch 2 years ago, I still enjoyed it because at least it was serialized compared to the standalone tediousness of the first half of season 4. I'm intrigued to read your reviews of those and see if you feel the same way or if the character work somewhat made up for the lack of serialization.

    I like what you wrote about Melissa George here. You really felt she was trying but the writers just saddled her with the most inconsistent material. This finale is such a disappointment and my god that cliffhanger is the least exciting thing ever made (not to mention forced and never followed through thanks to network interference).

    Looking forward. Hope all is well.

  2. You know althought didnt like Vaugh and Syd apart, i actually like Lauren as a character, but you are correct, the writers just didn't care at the end and failed to make her an interesting villain like Sloane or Irina.

  3. I might be on the minority here, but I do like the cliffhanger. Not in a "oh, it's a great season ender cliffhanger" way, just in a "oh, this could be interesting" way. Since we didn't know exactly how much Jack was controlling Sidney’s life, this could’ve been a good storyline to pursue: that Jack turned Sydney into a project, but once he saw how far things would go, he decided to protect his daughter no matter what, only keeping the project alive because he was obligated to. It’s not like Jack hadn’t done anything like this to Sydney before (Project Christmas). It does contradict, however, his claims that he never wanted the spy life for Sydney. Hum, now I’m confused.

    Anyway, it makes no sense Lauren would know about the project on Sydney’s life. It makes even less sense that she’d give this information to Sydney. What’s the point? Also, while they were trading blows, she kept coming up with really incoherent stuff like “do you think the CIA couldn’t find you when you went missing?” Well, this is bullshit, because, as we learned on Full Disclosure, Sydney was working with the DSR. Yes, it wasn’t the CIA, but it’s not like Sydney was missing for real. So either Lauren means that while Sydney was being turned into Julia the CIA knew everything and did nothing, or this is another dropping the ball from the writers part on season 3.

    I had no idea, though, that ABC demanded the retcon on the cliffhanger. I hated the retcon! Hated it. Wished the writers had found another way to get out of the corner they put themselves into.

  4. Nadim Thanks, and hope you're well, too. Early season four actually surprised me this time around, I remembered it being pretty dry, but the character moments were enough to distract from some of the more standalone elements. Thanks, buddy.

    Anonymous Agreed. She was a strong character at certain points, when she wasn't crazy bizarre as a person, or just shrieking at Sydney. I thought Melissa George did well with what she had to work with, but the character was problematic.

    Lamounier That's interesting, I remember they hugely re-wrote the last act of this episode anyway. Supposedly Vaughn and Jack were hanging off a mountain or something, and Sydney had to choose which one to save. Something like that, but ABC retconned it and we had this vague ending that could sort of mean anything.

    I actually like your theory about Jack. It would have ran deep and been pretty interesting from a spy family standpoint, at least compared to the muddled thing we ended up getting.

    And absolutely agree about Lauren's weird ending. Like you said, you're getting pummeled to death -- would you really be dropping hints of ambiguity between kicks? Either fight or say "screw it", you know? Heh.

  5. Oh, so that was the original ending? I got it wrong, then. From what Nadim said, I thought ABC had demanded the show to drop the “Sydney’s life was controlled by Jack all this time” bit, and that was why the story went a whole new direction on season 4 (and that new direction is the retcon I said I hated…).

  6. I'm not sure I'm entirely correct, it was just something I read on forums back in the day (TWoP, I think?) Interesting, though.