Thursday, July 24, 2014

Alias: All the Time in the World (5.17)

For a lot of its runtime, All the Time in the World is strangely tragic when it comes to Sydney, driving home the fact that much of her adult life has been manipulated by outside forces, and that she's never had a ton of agency as a person. The flashback structure to the series finale paints her as something of a lost little girl, unsure of her future, but excited when a big opportunity drops into her life at a moment where she needed it most. Only that special something isn't what she believes it to be, just as her father isn't who he says he is, or her boss, or her mother. What makes Sydney such a poignant heroine is that none of this is even driven by 'destiny' or something otherwise mystical. She's not a 'chosen one' along the lines of Buffy Summers. She's a girl with the bad fortune of being born into a screwed-up family, her eventual happy ending being a life dictated on her own terms for a change. It's sweet, seeing her finally free of all the baggage she's accumulated over the years.

Alias: Reprisal (5.16)

One of the foundations of any creative writing class is "show, don't tell", anything you can think of being so much more effective if it can be seen rather than just talked about. It's an adage that was brought to mind from the very opening of Reprisal, Alias' penultimate episode. Here we have Sydney voiceover-ing like she did back in the early days of season one, talking up Prophet Five as a multi-national crime syndicate who've infiltrated the highest levels of government and counter-terrorism; a significant threat to innocent people around the world if there ever was one. But in the grand tradition of late Alias, it's the show telling us things rather than showing them. Sure, we've seen a group of men meeting in fancy offices and looking evil. But any further shading has been kept significantly under wraps. And it's sad that the show has come to a point where characters have 'villain' and 'good guy' as their main signifiers.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Alias: No Hard Feelings (5.15)

These recent reviews have probably flip-flopped more than I would have liked. But it's very much a response to a season that seems to be firing on all cylinders one week before crumbling to pieces the next. The writers have at least decided that Rambaldi, as much as detractors claimed it sunk Alias way back when, is so firmly engrained in the roots of the show that it really needs to be an important factor in these final episodes. But No Hard Feelings does little with it. Sure, we're repeatedly told that everything that happens here is a big deal, that we're literally right on the precipice of Rambaldi's endgame. But isn't everything we're told this week also, sort of... just people speaking in riddles?

Alias: I See Dead People (5.14)

I talked a little bit last review about how boring it is to watch people chase after things when neither they nor us at home really understand what they're chasing. I See Dead People doesn't elaborate all that much when it comes to the Prophet Five mystery (we still don't know why they're trying to decipher Page 47, for instance), but what it does do is grant various cast members some actual agency, which in effect turns what could have been another wheel-spinning hour into something propulsive and genuinely thrilling.

Alias: 30 Seconds (5.13)

I don't know if I'm just looking back on the narrative structure of Alias' early years through rose-tinted glasses, but there's a weirdly directionless vibe to this season. It's like the show is constantly pulling at a variety of threads, unsure of what any of the characters are actually doing, but pretending like everything has a higher purpose. 30 Seconds, like so many recent Alias hours, involves everybody asking questions while chasing after the villains, villains who they know are villains because they've been told that they're villains and must therefore be stopped.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Alias: There's Only One Sydney Bristow (5.12)

Something happens to Jennifer Garner's face when she's reunited with Will this week. The two of them are recovering on a plane ride back to APO headquarters, catching up on all that's happened since they last saw each other, Sydney wide-eyed and overjoyed at Will's surprise engagement, Will equally excited that his one-time best friend is now a mom. It's a fantastic scene, but it's Garner's face that just melts your heart. It's suddenly so alive and tender, a dewy expression that reads blissful levels of freedom, a conversation about love and babies, a friendship being rekindled after so long. And it all just reminds you of how far this show has drifted from what it once was.

Alias: Maternal Instinct (5.11)

There's a moment in Maternal Instinct where Sydney reminds her mother of what she told her all those years ago: "Truth takes time." It's a line that quickly became representative of Alias as a whole, as well as a long-standing get-out clause for the show's writing team -- a sort of collective promise that, even in times of wavering or assumed directionlessness, if you just wait long enough, give the show enough credit, that it'll all eventually make sense. Irina Derevko has been the biggest example of this kind of storytelling, re-appearing every once in a while to create sparkage, as well as to make the bigger picture that little more confusing. It's great to have her back this week, but she sure does make things blurrier.

Alias: S.O.S. (5.10)

S.O.S. appears to be an example of the show having to come up with less eventful episodes in light of Jennifer Garner's pregnancy, since it's another hour heavy on Syd being pretty stationary and sedate, while everybody else buzzes around her to fill time. It's also another episode that seems to stagger its way towards a cliffhanger ending. Like The Horizon last week, here we have a lot of pretty boring stuff that leads to a sort of bland climactic revelation. I think I'm ready for that baby to arrive.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Alias: The Horizon (5.9)

It's seemingly traditional for shows with butt-kicking female leads to feature their protagonists pining for a quieter life come the final season, Sydney joining the femme chorus of Buffy Summers and the Halliwell sisters in yelling "gimme some normality!" to the sky right as the curtain is about to close on the series itself. Here Sydney internally confesses that she just wants all the hard stuff to go away, that she wants to take her baby and her hubbie and just sit on a beach somewhere. It's almost like a projection of everybody's on-set feelings presumably, that wish for things to settle down and fade out.

Alias: Bob (5.8)

It speaks to Sydney's upright morality as a character that it took Alias five long years for them to do the "one night stand with an unknowingly evil bastard" story, only for it, even then, to happen with an entirely different female spy. Who we're repeatedly told is just sort of naïve and innocent, who ordinarily would never sleep with a guy she's only just met. As much as it's Sydney who encourages Rachel to have a little fun while in Sao Paulo, you could never imagine Syd herself, even in her pre-Vaughn/double-agent days, picking a guy up in a bar for some harmless casual sex. In other words, Rachel remains a little more frayed around the edges in comparison to the woman she's covering for; the show continuing to make the two of them distinct individuals rather than two doppelgangers.

Alias: Fait Accompli (5.7)

Even with an influx of new characters, a show can only be sustained by its story, and whether or not it has anything particularly fresh or interesting to say. Rachel, Renée and Tom are all being smoothed into the show's foundations with considerable finesse, picking up the leg work vacated by the pregnant Syd and working well alongside the long-standing cast members. Tyrees Allen and Amy Acker are similarly charismatic actors doing strong work with a perpetually vague criminal subplot. But Fait Accompli exposes how little creative juice is honestly left in Alias, leaving its writers to merely cover old ground, even if it's populated by new players.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Alias: Solo (5.6)

Something Alias did to make the Rachel character less troubling in this season's first five episodes was allowing her to be kind of lousy in the field, somebody intimidated by the world she's stepped into, and not the transparent, kick-ass Sydney replacement that she easily could have been. Solo, as fun as it occasionally is, throws you off-track every once in a while because it compels you to accept Rachel as a 'necessary' part of the cast. Here she isn't just exploited for her Gordon Dean knowledge, instead she fully takes on the traditional Sydney role, and the plot suffers from the mechanical means utilized to get her into that spot.

Alias: Out of the Box (5.5)

Season five is so far being driven more by characters than it is by action, meaning an episode like Out of the Box is rendered nowhere near as flat as it otherwise could have been. It's an hour that struggles to move overarching stories forward, Prophet Five still vaguely ambiguous as an organization by the time the end credits roll, but what really stands out is the season's continued dedication to developing its key protagonists, particularly those we've only just met in the last couple of weeks. It's in direct contrast to this time last season, where ABC seemed to think short and standalone bursts of plot, and not deeper character work, would lure in fresh eyeballs. That isn't happening this year, and you can't help but wonder if this will be a season playing on its own terms.

Alias: Mockingbird (5.4)

The wigs are terrible this year. That dead cat on Sydney's head when she first met Renée, the RuPaul 'do for this week's Monte Carlo scenes. It's all pretty heinous, and the one part of season five that isn't gradually improving over time. Just thought I'd throw that out there. Mockingbird, away from hair, is an energetic high-concept thriller, one that improbably mounts a bunch of frantic intensity on the sight of a pregnant Sydney sitting down in a car for two whole acts. Drew Goddard has been a mixed blessing for this show, at times a little too reliant on the big bag of tricks he developed over on Buffy, but he's also capable of producing propulsive action-adventure drama that brings to mind classic Ian Fleming. His work here results in one of the best Alias hours in a while.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Alias: The Shed (5.3)

Everything new is old again. The Shed brought to mind the old adage that just because you acknowledge that history is repeating itself doesn't mean it's all that fun to watch happen all over again. Rachel Gibson is Sydney Bristow 2.0, obviously -- a young woman absorbed into espionage, trained to believe she's one of the good guys, only to discover that she's been used for years by very bad people. It goes without saying that it's difficult to care a ton about Rachel's betrayal due to how little we know her, but it's important to remember that, like so much of season five so far, Alias is still adjusting the chess pieces somewhat. This is a show trying to become something else, and with that comes some inevitable growing pains.

Alias: ...1... (5.2)

Jennifer Garner's real-life pregnancy is the kind of thing that really ought to derail Alias. I mean, it's a show built on the premise of her kicking all kinds of ass, and having Sydney sit out all her action scenes or, at least last week, constantly get positioned behind speeding trains or conveniently-placed sheets to cover up her bump is all a little frustrating for us at home. In as much as you can express frustration over a lady daring to conceive a child without coming off like a total tool. But, so far, the show is mostly handling it well.

Alias: Prophet Five (5.1)

There's something inorganic about this season premiere. That's not necessarily a terrible thing, but on a show that has only ever really built and grown piece by piece over additional seasons, it's particularly noticeable. The problem here is that so much of this week's episode involves people talking about things that have apparently been in motion behind-the-scenes for years, whether it's the vast "Fifth Prophet" conspiracy, or Vaughn actively investigating his past all along. It's specifically a problem because it lacks an organic quality. Not only is the audience having to play catch-up, but the actual show is, too -- developing a new strand of mythology that was apparently always there, even when it's clear that it wasn't.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Alias: Before the Flood (4.22)

As season four comes to a close, it's probably the right time to ask what type of show Alias wants to be. Alias has obviously never been afraid of reinvention, both the events of Phase One and the two-year flash forward radically altering relationships between characters as well as the 'mission controls' they call home. But there comes a point where constant reinvention can only jeopardize the show's foundation itself, resulting in something potentially unrecognizable. Before the Flood is as big and as loud as any other Alias finale, but it's also smeared in overt blurring between sensibilities. Where does Resident Evil end and Alias begin?

Alias: Search and Rescue (4.21)

There's something refreshingly cut-and-dry about Irina's return here, the show refusing to make her all shifty and suspicious, instead running with the idea of Irina as a doomed martyr -- a woman trying to do the right thing, in spite of the outcome always landing her in hot water. She has some fantastic scenes this week, her teary-eyed reunion with Nadia particularly moving, while Lena Olin once again arrives with this forceful, commanding presence. She's headstrong and tough, but also tender and vulnerable. It's an astoundingly assured performance, and everybody else seems to up their game by proxy of just having her around once more.

Alias: The Descent (4.20)

It always gets positioned as the thing that sort of killed Alias, the narrative barrel well and truly scraped, but I never found the Milo Rambaldi story particularly aggravating. The never-ending bluffs and double-bluffs that it inspired (looking at you, Arvin) were absolutely driven into the ground, but the idea itself was always so cool and intricate, like something out of Indiana Jones or one of those choose-your-own-adventure novels from when you were a kid. So there's naturally something rousing about characters hunting down a related component of it, be it the Hourglass, or the Il Dire or, as seen here, the Sphere of Life. Sure, most of it is just a means to an end, but when it's sparkly and fun, who are we to complain?

Alias: In Dreams (4.19)

Alias is still capable of greatness, In Dreams being an emotionally-draining and ultimately rewarding episode for long-term fans, but it also drives home where the show has gone wrong over the last two seasons. With J.J. Abrams stepping down from day-to-day EP duties at the end of the show's second season, Alias lost its proverbial 'voice', the God figure controlling where the show went, how the characters would grow and evolve over time, and how the show itself would change. What's left is an Alias made up of random components, a narrative rendered fractured and frequently unsatisfying, and strong storytelling only ever buried between the mess forming elsewhere.


So... yeah. A year happened. Before I start anything, I should probably say that I haven't been lurking around all year and just choosing not to respond to all the comments left here from people wondering where I was. There's even been vague implications that I could have died or something, which I would have clarified as inaccurate if I had actually read it. But I didn't, because around the start of July last year I just stopped coming here.

Some of you guessed right -- I was just burned out. I got tired of writing reviews of stuff, I got tired of thinking about Blogspot, thinking about readership, wondering what I could do to get more of a response, thinking about silly blogger politics and so forth. It got old, and I had realized I had become one of those people who takes all of this very, very seriously. So I stopped and quit doing it. It was surprising to me that I did, since I was so wrapped up in all of this for what felt like such a long time, but it was ultimately real easy when it came down to it.

But then I just came back here and saw all these comments, and it's overwhelmingly flattering that people actually wrote me stuff. That's huge and lovely and fantastic, so thank you. I love to write, and I haven't written TV stuff in a year now, so I'm finishing up Alias and maybe doing some other stuff this summer if I get a feel for it again. The blog won't be as busy or meticulously scheduled as it once was, and I don't know how long I'll even be hanging around, but feel free to stop by if you'd like. I'm doing great, by the way. Like 'finding your whole purpose' great, working and being responsible for stuff and developing who I am and what I do. Hope everybody's cool, too.