Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Alias: The Orphan (4.12)

The clashing between past and present is an important subject here, Nadia struggling to align the woman she is today with the girl she used to be, an issue already present for her throughout a lot of this season, but even more pronounced with the arrival of a crooked old flame. Alias has frequently driven home the similarities between Sydney and Nadia, but The Orphan exploits how their respective differences sent them briefly down vastly alternating paths. Both women spent years under the tutelage of organizations they believed to be heroic, only to discover they were being lied to all along. And while their backgrounds are in parallel, it's the shock revelations themselves that set both women apart.

Intentional or not, The Orphan examines the importance of family, be it formed by blood or by surrogacy. Sydney used the revelations about SD-6's true motives as impetus for greater change, turning her betrayal on its head and becoming a legit agent for the CIA. Nadia, however, abandoned by her birth family and taken in by criminals and the throwaways of society, is so disgusted by another act of deceit that she takes it upon herself to kill the man responsible for it all.

There are strong allusions to La Femme Nikita throughout Nadia's backstory, the idea of a destitute young girl taken under the wing of men in power and subsequently trained to be a killer. And it only helps ground Nadia's humanity at the same time. Mia Maestro is fantastically compelling here, her performance bouncing from a kind of schoolgirl excitement at the chance to play dress-up and do right for once as a teenager, to the abject devastation she experiences once she discovers the truth, straight through to the wounded woman of today. While the young Nadia turns to violence when exacting her own form of justice, you understand her reasoning, especially considering the world she came from and the few chances in life she seemed to get as a child.

It additionally strengthens her partnership with Sydney. They share a lot of the same quirks and smarts, but Nadia's emotions come from a place of rage and betrayal, something that plays well against Sydney's moral righteousness, at least of late. Both are strong agents who have clearly bonded, but The Orphan only pushes the idea that Nadia is still at the very beginning of her journey, at least compared to how far Sydney has come since the elaborate betrayals of Alias' first season.

Elsewhere, Vaughn's story continues to intrigue, even if it lacks much color right now. The fault probably lies with Michael Vartan more than anybody else, as he's not the most charismatic of performers, but I liked the arrival of Sonia Braga's ambiguous den mother, along with her deep-rooted connections with Nadia and now Bill Vaughn.

The Orphan feels like a departure from the Alias of old in a lot of ways, heavy on the subtitles and art direction heavily influenced by European filmmakers like Mathieu Kassovitz and Matteo Garrone, but the major themes are universally familiar -- the show once again exploiting the fluctuating dynamics between those we consider our family. A

Guest stars
Sonia Braga (Sophia Vargas); Kevin Alejandro (Cesar Martinez); Jose Zuniga (Roberto Fox)
Writers Jeffrey Bell, Monica Breen Director Ken Olin

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