Monday, June 24, 2013

Alias: Another Mister Sloane (4.16)

And things grow ever murkier. Alias has gone in this direction countless times over the years, so much that the words "Sloane's allegiances" are enough to break me out in hives. But we keep coming back, regardless of the plot holes or dropped storylines. There's a moment here in which one of Sloane's contacts brings up his short-lived venture as a globe-trotting philanthropist, and what that whole thing was supposed to be, whether his interest in genetic experimentation went anywhere interesting, and just what kind of game he's been playing. Sloane deflects the question, naturally, but it works well as a metaphor for the show itself, how the writers frequently bypass logic or continuity in pursuit of the story they want to tell at any given time.

But maybe that's the way forward? Something that leaps out at you here is the episode's willingness to poke fun at itself, Roberts' initial interrogation played mostly for laughs, and the show's regulars firing off comedic code-names for Sloane's wacky doppelganger. And it sort of works, generally. Alias has never been a hilarious show. Unlike a sense of warmth or emotional honesty, the last two seasons haven't suffered from removing the comedy, since it was never really there in the first place. But it says a lot that the show is finally addressing the inherent goofiness of Alias' increasingly off-kilter storytelling, allowing characters to crack a smile at Arvin Clone, instead of having them just sit around stone-faced all of the time.

It can't disguise the aggravation brought by Sloane's characterization, though. He's switched teams so often that it's no longer totally surprising when he goes one way or another, and that's probably indicative of larger narrative problems than it is just another plothole. That's not to say that Another Mister Sloane doesn't work, however. In actual fact, it's an incredibly intense and fun episode, one that flexes with energy and grants most of the cast some interesting stuff to do.

In spite of the predictability of Sloane's eventual madness, the decision to make Sydney unintentionally complicit in his betrayal is a strong one. We still don't know whether Sloane has been playing APO all along, or if re-introducing him to Rambaldi is akin to tossing a bunch of crack into a rehab clinic, but it's a victory for his evilness that Syd eventually broke down and led him astray, to an extent. She was the one pleading with him to explore Rambaldi once again, she was the one suddenly less convinced of his ulterior motives than the daughter who's been his biggest supporter all year. Sydney isn't the most interesting of characters anymore (like everybody else on Alias, she's become more of a vessel for storylines to flow through, and less a protagonist orchestrating real narrative change), but I give the show credit for at least hinging a potentially derivative story arc on new ideas.

Away from the cast themselves, Another Mister Sloane is probably the first episode in a long while that looks and feels like a movie. The office building set-piece, complete with elevators plummeting to the ground and Sydney in a cute air-hostess outfit, is wonderfully crafted -- particularly the intensity brought on by Syd and Joel Grey eyeing each other in their separate shafts. The use of the racetrack for the exchange brought to mind The Thomas Crown Affair, too, something nostalgic and grand instead of some depressed warehouse.

I feel I should be madder at the show for resorting to more Sloane twists, it's become a bag of tricks that's been hugely over-exploited at this point, but it doesn't disguise the fact that Alias has grown deft at getting away with it all in spite of the holes. Like the dude asking Sloane all those questions, we stick around despite getting few answers, almost in the hope that they'll eventually be addressed and actually make a little sense. Sure, it's potentially naive, but I guess it's also part of the fun. A-

Guest stars
Michelle Forbes (Dr. Maggie Sinclair); Michael Kenneth Williams (Roberts); Paul Ben-Victor (Carter); Rocco Sisto (Ignacio); Joel Grey (Another Mister Sloane)
Writer Luke McMullen Director Greg Yaitanes

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