Sunday, March 10, 2013

Alias: Nocturne (4.6)

This is probably the right time to ask why Alias isn't sucking right now. Because there's something inherently funny about how standalone the show has become, each episode resolving with Sloane announcing that their latest mini-crisis has been steadily averted and that APO should never hear from these pesky villains again. Especially this week, with everybody looking on in glassy-eyed glee at the off-screen dismantling of the Nocturne project, the whole thing strains credibility to the highest degree. And yet Alias remains absorbing as a series, in spite of the plotholes and recent lightweight quality to everything on offer.

It's particularly evident this week because Nocturne is so wildly different to anything the show has done before. Just look at that teaser sequence: Sydney lurking around a secret passage, flashlight in hand like some kind of CSI lady, stumbling upon crude sketches of blood and murder, before being attacked by a vampiric monster-man who proceeds to bite at her neck and vomit up innard gunk all over her. Does this bear any resemblance to the Alias of old? Of course it doesn't. But writer Jeff Pinkner somehow makes it all okay anyway, the show addressing the kitschy vampire lameness of the story's premise and quickly turning the episode into a lengthy exploration into Sydney's newfangled paranoia.

Recent developments have understandably left their mark on Syd's psyche. She's still reluctant to get too close to Vaughn, especially after everything that happened last year, while her relationship with her father remains close and steady on one level, but also filled with nervous tension in light of Irina's murder. So it all comes to the surface this week thanks to a squicky pharmaceutical drug, Sydney experiencing her worst fears in rapid succession.

While all of this works directly off the page, it's Lawrence Trilling's direction and the visual sparkle of the episode itself that carries such a risky idea to glory. There's the recurring intensity of those spiders, crawling into nothingness as the infection begins to affect Sydney, as well as the brilliant subtlety of her delusions, matter-of-fact and played entirely straight, casually dropped into scenes with unexpected ease. Has there been a scene this season more unnerving than Andre Sterescu playing with his gun? Poking it into his mouth and finally pulling the trigger, Sydney having to cover up what she believes she's seeing in order to stay on the case. Even the mission-of-the-week locale is given a kicky horror makeover, swanky society gatherings suddenly tinged with gothic Bram Stoker goodness.

Away from the central mystery, Nocturne also grants Sloane and Dixon some interesting character work to play with after several weeks of drifting. The story exploits their recent reversals in fortune, Sloane once again in control of operations, and Dixon still determined to take him down despite the position of power he's recently lost. The story doesn't necessarily build to anything truly explosive (Dixon merely pledging to be there when Sloane is inevitably taken out), but at least promises some fireworks for the future.

Nocturne is a lot better than its reputation implies, in spite of how incongruous it may be as an episode of Alias as we once knew it. But once the surprise settles, it's easy to fall for its dark and slinky charm, gorgeously photographed and bristling with tension. A

Guest stars
Michael Goorjian (Andre Sterescu); Julie Ann Emery (Nancy Cahill); Nick Jaine (Dr. Maneesha Jain)
Writer Jeff Pinkner Director Lawrence Trilling


  1. Wow I didn't expect this! Reading your review made me appreciate what Noctrune was going for so much more, but it's still so far removed from the Alias I love. In my opinion, nothing in season three (a clunky year for sure) was as tedious to watch as this hour (still THE worst eppy the show's ever done). Garner's performance just irritates me in this one, and I'm a guy who loves practically everything the woman does. I especially hate the fight with her dad at the end; it just feels too forced.
    But good work Max. Your review was still fascinating to read and I feel I need to watch the show again and review every episode. After my Dark Angel rewatch :)

  2. I have to admit although I am not that fascinated with the sci fi genre, I actually like this episode, thought I was kinda sad seeing Syd and Vaughn almost kill each other.

  3. I feel like one of my favorite blogs has been canceled. :(

  4. Huge apologies for kind of abandoning this for a while, that was probably lame of me. I'm probably gonna be on a hiatus for a while longer, life stuff having taken priority.

    I still love writing and posting, but I always sort of knew that this would all take a backseat this year, and it has. I have every intention of continuing at some point within the next couple of weeks, and have a bunch of shows I still want to cover, so sorry to anybody who keeps coming back and seeing a lack of updates.

    See you in a little while, everybody.