Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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.

Because of that, Prophet Five is essentially one long info-dump. Michael Vaughn technically isn't Michael Vaughn, but only in as much as his dad changed his name when he was an infant. Turns out Bill Vaughn was formerly a renowned mathematician recruited by a mysterious organization to translate part of an ancient book all about new forms of genetics. Various new antagonists are now in pursuit of the book, and so forth.

In general, this isn't great television, more resembling a Wikipedia page than anything particularly cinematic or visually interesting. It's just a lot of people talking, building a narrative foundation that will presumably be explored to better effect in coming weeks. Of course, explaining all the mythological hooey isn't the main objective here, instead it's the removal of Michael Vartan from the series. Killing Vaughn is an odd decision, this story arc initially appearing as if it were written specifically to showcase his character, while the company line explaining Vartan's departure at the time was more than a little vague (he supposedly really wanted to shoot a shlocky Australian crocodile movie, which... no). His death itself feels like overkill, too, Vaughn both pumped with what seems like a gazillion bullets, and getting a weepy deathbed scene soon after. It's like every Lifetime movie death ever.

But it's all still affecting, regardless. I never cared all that much about Vaughn, and I never understood why so many people shipped him and Sydney (post-Phase One, their relationship has been more of a hindrance to the show than an essential component of it), but it's difficult not to feel compassionate here by mere awareness of how much Vaughn meant to Syd herself. Taking my own opinions out of the equation, Sydney felt like she was always meant to end up with this guy, and seeing him ripped out of her life under vague, messy circumstances is undeniably heartbreaking.

Prophet Five is Alias in transition, and it's clumsy and awkward and driven more by behind-the-scenes drama than authentic storytelling, as has become this show's formula. There's still hope there, 'vengeful Syd' always entertaining to watch and her pregnancy hopefully strengthening her relationship with Jack, but in general this isn't a great opener to Alias' final season. C

Guest stars
Greg Grunberg (Eric Weiss); Tyrees Allen (Gordon Dean); David Marshall Grant (Ivan Curtis); Leon Russom (James Lehman)
Writers Alison Schapker, Monica Breen Director Ken Olin


  1. The first time I watched this episode I didn’t know Vartan was leaving the show. I was soooooo shocked when Vaughn got shot a gazillion times. My sister and I were looking at the screen in complete disbelief and I actually said out loud “they really killed him”. So when the show returned from the break and Vaughn was at the hospital still alive I rolled my eyes so hard. He should’ve been dead and decomposing already. You described it perfectly, max. It was like every Lifetime movie death ever.

    I think the writers wanted to have it both ways: they wanted a moment to shock the audience and an emotional death scene in which they could leave Vaughn’s death open to interpretation (did he really die or was it just a fake out?). But, really, if they wanted to leave us wondering if Vaughn was dead or not, the million bullets were not the way to go. Even though that moment is not as visually dumb as Sidney being chased by a toy helicopter, as far as writing goes it’s the hardest to swallow. I know I have written two paragraphs about it, but it’s a bit that bothers me a lot.

    Moving on, Prophet Five intrigued me from the get go. I loved the conspiracy flavor surrounding it, how it seemed so big yet so vague, how it was related to Rambaldi but from a different approach. I read on the web that the writers couldn’t use the name “Rambaldi” on the scripts (have no idea why, though; maybe the suits were tired of Rambaldi too), but the fact that the story had Rambaldi all over it with no direct mention to him made it that more intriguing.

    It’s funny because Rambaldi is not the only element from the past to resurface. Here we have Sydney losing her fiancĂ© for the second time. There was even a joke online that Syd should never get engaged again. But even with the show repeating elements, it feels emotionally engaging again. Sydney learning she’s pregnant and losing Vaughn after it creates an emotional element that the show’s been missing for a long time. There was no character development for Sydney on season four (apart from her relationship with Sloane), and the treatment she got on season three was boring to watch (crying all the time and unable to move on). Season five finally nails a good story for her, though it’s somewhat weird the components of that story are made of external factors (Garner’s pregnancy and Vartan’s departure from the series).

    So where season four failed, season five delivers, but the inverse can be said as well. While “Authorized Personal Only” kicked last season with a lot of energy, “Prophet Five” feels tired, as if ALIAS was entering its eight season and ready to go. It’s unfortunate that suddenly the show seems old, but I can only assume that’s due to several changes behind the cameras, too much network interference and the absence of the show’s creator, who completely dumped the series to go shoot a big fancy movie. Man, how I resent J. J. Abrams for that. Considering all that was up against the show, I’m pretty forgiving of the story’s missteps on the first half of the season.

  2. Again, fantastic comments, Lamounier. It's also great to hear the perspective of somebody more involved in Alias fandom at the time, especially since TWoP took down their forums recently so that whole fanbase history has been wiped. Thank you!