Saturday, June 14, 2014

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?

There's a lot happening in The Descent, but most of the juice comes from Sloane's trustworthiness, duping the APO folks and partnering up with Elena, but presumably to fulfill a long-term endgame where he's actually been working in APO's interests all along... right? The story follows a similar trajectory to Irina's so-called 'betrayal' in season two, which is no surprise considering most of this season's major arcs feel like slightly Xeroxed copies of old ideas. But the relentless energy of the hour means it's hard to care all that much.

It's also evident that the show is trying to paper over the cracks of the past in some regards, recently following up on stories long presumed dropped. Last week we got an explanation for Sloane's charitable organization at the start of season three, and here we see an actual flashback to his Rambaldi quest with Nadia a year ago. Oh, and Elena ran the Covenant. Yeah, that explanation is a little too strained, but it's like the show is generally acknowledging the holes and logic gaps in recent memory, and trying its hardest to have it all appear cohesive. The flashback sequence itself is a lot of fun, the closest the show's ever got to a Last Crusade pastiche, while Sloane's initial partnership with Syd in Mexico City is driven by a characteristic snarkiness.

If there's one problem, it's that Elena is yet to come into her own as a character. Considering she's instigating most of the Rambaldi drama and is constantly described as this grand, evil genius (nice seeing you again, Katya), that's pretty lousy. I ragged on Sonia Braga last week, but that may have been a little unfair considering she hasn't been given a ton to do so far. Like much of this year, the writers seem uncertain of who they want to anchor this arc to. Is this Sloane's story after all? If it is, why not just make Elena a random terrorist instead of a Derevko sister? It's not weighted in her favor considering the emotional stakes it ought to offer.

Elsewhere, relationships are building to a crescendo, which is neat. Vaughn is eager to propose, seeking out Jack for his approval. One of the things noticeable in this re-watch is that I'm just as unmoved by Syd and Vaughn's relationship as I was the first time around. Marriage and babies are really the only things left for them to do. Dixon is also dating Angela Bassett's CIA director, which comes out of left field but is generally fine. Though I feel like Dixon has been shot and hospitalized at least a hundred times by now.

The Descent isn't perfect, but it's an episode constantly vibrating with forward momentum, feeling like the first chapter of a dense, impressive trilogy. There's talk of apocalypses, sinister premonitions, sweeps stunts and the likely resurrection of Irina Derevko. It's enough to get you pretty stoked. B+

Guest stars
Sonia Braga (Elena Derevko); Angela Bassett (Hayden Chase); Isabella Rossellini (Katya Derevko); Nick Jameson (Lazlo Drake); Jeff Yagher (Greyson Wells)
Writer Jeffrey Bell Director Jeffrey Bell

1 comment:

  1. Great review, max. The final episodes of season four are indeed packed with a lot of fun.

    I’m not a fan of the quantity of Rambaldi crap that was thrown at us during the show, but it’s nice to see a lot of past storylines tying up.

    "Oh, and Elena ran the Covenant. Yeah, that explanation is a little too strained”

    It’s another nice attempt to tie up loose ends, but I’m almost certain this contradicts season three storyline. If I remember correctly, the Covenant didn’t know a thing about the Passenger at first, which doesn’t make sense if it was headed by Elena.

    “Is this Sloane's story after all? If it is, why not just make Elena a random terrorist instead of a Derevko sister?”

    I think it is Sloane’s story. Even Sydney isn’t getting as much character development as he is. And, yes, why make Elena a third Derevko sister? When Sydney meets Katya on season three, Katya says something like “I’m your mother’s sister”, to which Sydney replies “Katya”. So there was no third sister back then. The writers are so stuck with what came before that they need to relate the new villain to something that had worked in the past. Well, writers, it didn’t work this time.