Monday, June 24, 2013

Alias: Pandora (4.15)

Despite the plot twists and surprises that seem to make up so much of Alias as a series, it's rare to hit a point where everybody at home is constantly several steps behind the characters on the show. Whenever we've been put in that position before, it's usually because we're echoing the shock and surprise of the protagonists themselves. See Sydney and the Rambaldi manuscript in season one, and how we were supposed to mirror her own reaction, feeling just as taken aback as she was by the strange plot detour she'd encountered. But in Pandora we're repeatedly left flailing around in ambiguity, a whole bunch of scenes ending with characters being clued into something, or experiencing some grand epiphany, that we're all still in the dark about.

It's not necessarily a complaint, but something that could particularly jeopardize the show long-term. We're at an odd place in the season, plot strands becoming so convoluted and screwy, the writers having developed an interesting end point (in this case an antagonist with an eerie similarity to Sloane), and seeming to sort of back-track from there. Ordinarily this would be problematic, but Pandora does a strong enough job on its own of developing short bursts of standalone fun, from a 'rogue agent' caper to characters getting stranded down their own separate trajectories.

That's actually an interesting point to consider. Despite the fact that the Alias ensemble is geographically tighter than they've been in a while, characters working together at the office with little issue and Sydney's apartment home to a bunch of the APO regulars, it's noticeable that everybody is more scattered than ever before. Jack and Sloane are very much a partnership, Marshall is off in his bubble, Nadia acts as a lone wolf while investigating her family history, and both Sydney and Vaughn are targeting the same case from vastly separate angles. Again, it's not an actual problem, but it results in episodes being forced to bounce between an array of varying subplots, instead of necessarily having one cohesive idea that brings everyone together.

Vaughn had more people to interact with this week, which helped improve his story somewhat. We also seem to have reached a conclusion with the Bill Vaughn arc, which is great, since it sometimes struggled to come together as it was being told. Katya coming back was a welcome surprise, even if it resulted in more dialogue about Nadia's allegiances with her parents, something the show has bounced back to a little too often in recent memory. I don't know, the way Mia Maestro appeared in Syd's kitchen with that pouty, saddened voice again -- it got a little 'broken record'-ish.

At least we've got a handle on where everything seems to be headed, Joel Grey's mysterious new super-villain having orchestrated a series of events (the hit on Syd, Vaughn's pursuit of his dad) that seem to implicate Sloane as the real mastermind behind everything. It's a screwy head-fuck of a resolution, but makes sense from a logistical standpoint. Wouldn't you pin everything on Arvin Sloane at this moment in time? It's not like anybody would have a problem with believing any of it.

Pandora is difficult in a lot of ways, positioning us very much in the passenger seat as a bunch of seemingly directionless stories occur all at once, and it also features another in medias res teaser that leads to nothing, but again the show is worthy of praise for finally developing major story arcs. Pieces are still building together, and they seem different enough to inspire confidence. B

Guest stars
Isabella Rossellini (Katya Derevko); Izabella Scorupco (Sabina); Michael Kenneth Williams (Roberts); Michael Ensign (Vogel); Joel Grey (Another Mister Sloane)
Writers J.R. Orci, Jeff Pinkner Director Kevin Hooks

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