Sunday, March 10, 2013

Alias: Welcome to Liberty Village (4.5)

It's always interesting to spot when a freshman writer comes to a long-running series with merely a cool idea, regardless of it actually fitting into the show's sensibilities. This marks the Alias debut of Drew Goddard, a Buffy/Angel vet who has since gone on to a host of acclaimed genre features, from Cloverfield to The Cabin in the Woods, and he lands on this show with impressive ingenuity. True to form, this guy. He's clearly arrived with a bag of intriguing concepts, this one meshing together Cold War paranoia with picture-perfect suburbia intrigue, and while there's little in Welcome to Liberty Village that rises above 'cool' territory, it's a fun standalone episode nonetheless.

While too much of the hour brings to mind the X-Files episode Arcadia to totally work, Liberty Village mines creative juice out of that very familiarity of the concept, instead of being drowned out by it. Goddard's script unsurprisingly draws comedic parallels between Sydney and Vaughn's 'fake' marriage and their real-life romantic situation, to fun effect. Surely there's more than a hint of fan service to the two of them being critiqued as 'cold' and humorless? There's additional drama, too, primarily a scene in which Vaughn improvs the story of his marriage proposal for the benefit of the Russians, only for Syd to realize how it's very much an anecdote drawn from reality instead of fantasy.

Again, it's hard to actively 'ship these two (maybe the aforementioned coldness is the problem?), but season four has really found various areas to Syd and Vaughn as a couple that tug at the heart-strings. Instead of the whiny love triangle that crippled season three, here we have two mature adults coming to terms with all that they've lost and the lingering feelings that remain. By the end of Liberty Village they've stumbled into a fun, flirtatious corner; more driven by sex and giddiness than anything particularly emotional -- but it's progress in one form or another, a natural evolution of sorts.

In terms of serialization, Irina continues to be a source of character drama, this week Jack discovering that the KGB are in hot pursuit of Irina's sister Elena. This could so easily read as plot regression, primarily because Lena Olin's availability has been consistently up in the air ever since she threw herself off that building in The Telling, but Alias has had trouble exploring new factions and spy organizations of late, notably with the Covenant last year, that it continues to make sense that they'd go back to basics. Well, the Alias version of 'basics', meaning convoluted Derevko hijinks. We're still very much grounded in ambiguity over actual plot progression, but the ingredients on offer intrigue for now.

Welcome to Liberty Village is another early season four episode that utilizes its central standalone mystery as merely a jumping-off point for character-driven drama, and while that eventually means the script plummets into an inconsequential 'fighting and shooting' genre climax, the character work remains strong and interesting. It's at least easy to recognize the emotions and feelings of most of the cast and identify with their personal conflicts. B

Guest stars
Jim Pirri (Yuri Korelka); Alla Korot (Marina Avden); Larry Sullivan (Phil); Rick Overton (Alexi Vasilevich)
Writer Drew Goddard Director Kevin Hooks

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