Friday, March 1, 2013

Alias: The Awful Truth (4.3)

The Awful Truth represents the 'new' Alias: episodes driven by standalone missions, with some subtle character work as a backdrop to it all. It's disappointing in some ways, but feels somewhat more palatable considering this is the show's fourth season. If Alias premiered with episodes like this one, involving Sydney going undercover inside the home of a wife-killing arms dealer, then it would probably struggle to define itself as anything special or particularly innovative. But what saves the season's initial reliance on this format are the characters we know and love.

For example, much is made of Sydney's welfare as something of a damsel in distress this week, stuck alone in a house with few weapons and forced to flirt and seduce a man who murdered his wife and views her with singular suspicion. Vaughn is concerned, even more so when Syd refuses to drop the mission and pledges to continue digging deeper into the case. Because we know their relationship so well, along with Vaughn's macho worry and Syd's trademark stubbornness, the tension is increased far more than it otherwise would have been.

If there's one complaint here, it's that some of the energy feels a little lacking, like the writers were afraid to push hard enough in one direction or another. Peter O'Meara remains awkwardly calm throughout much of the hour, despite the implication that his character is entirely psychotic; while they probably could have played up the whole 'Syd in peril' vibe. This story isn't at all underwhelming, only it feels like it's something juicy and cool but slightly half-baked.

Where The Awful Truth is more successful is in the continued side effects of Irina's murder, Jack setting Nadia a series of Q&A tests in order to discover how serious she was about the whole 'avenging my mom's death' thing. The two of them have an interesting relationship already, Jack understandably resentful at this woman deeply connected to both his daughter and the ex-wife who troubles him, as well as his sworn nemesis. It's such a complicated foursome, and Jack naturally hits Nadia with various pithy asides to keep her in check. Nadia herself, however, refuses to be rattled, both smooth and calculating when the time calls for it -- proving her own worth as an agent and displaying a Syd-like sassiness.

In the end, though, Jack proves his worth like always, setting Martin Bishop up as Irina's killer and manipulating a fragile Nadia into killing him in faux retaliation. It's a harsh set-up, but again confirms Jack's ability to pull off a successful long con. We've seen him go to these lengths countless times before, but it was always in order to protect Sydney. It's manipulative and cold, but he's arguably entitled to a personal victory for once.

While this isn't perfect, as an indication of the form season four will likely take, it sure could be a lot worse. We're still getting strong character stuff, if a little less than before, while the missions are generally entertaining. At least the show is moving away from the long-derivative "breaking-and-entering/stealing-a-gadget' thing. B-

Guest stars
Peter O'Meara (Martin Bishop)
Writer Jesse Alexander Director Lawrence Trilling

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