Saturday, June 14, 2014

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.

But it's also interesting to view Irina Derevko as an explicit 'character on a TV show', and how her return doesn't necessarily create the in-show impact that it should have done. Despite being physically off-screen since the end of season two, the writers have always forced Irina to linger on the fringes of things in one form or another. She was a digital presence at the very start of the show's third year, and her apparent death served as a major plot instigator this season. But it's always been a little flawed as a result, the show constantly relying on the character to create drama in spite of the actress who played her being unavailable. That in itself leads Irina to become sort of problematic, her allegiances murkier than usual, Jack killing her a plot twist too far.

The murder flashback that opens this episode is fine, but if anything it makes Jack's decision even less sympathetic. Why would Irina ever order a hit on her own daughter? Why would Jack just blindingly accept that? Barely attempt to understand? Jack has always been a little more cut-throat and ruthless where his ex-wife is concerned, but literally seeing him put a bullet through her head just raises more questions than it answers.

So it all leads to Irina Derevko, initially consistent as a character, becoming another victim of Alias' recent lack of foresight; storytelling schizophrenia instead of strong serialization. Because the show has constantly struggled with Lena Olin's repeated absences, while insisting on keeping her in play in one form or another, it's made her more of an annoying narrative crutch than anything else. Which sort of sucks. She's at least written consistently here, in spite of the 'Irina clone' reveal hastily written in to prevent the whole story from sinking. But it's a testament to how the writers should probably think two steps ahead, instead of just running with whatever they can think of at any given time.

Moving away from general show issues, Search and Rescue continues the momentum set up last week, Russia exploding in a sea of fiery rage, a floaty red ball making everybody screwy in the head. There's a probably unintentional Buffy vibe to a lot of this, too. Or maybe it's the word 'apocalypse' that does it? Regardless, Syd and Vaughn's marriage talk while picking up weapons brought to mind Xander and Anya in The Gift, and the whole 'end of the world' vibe felt like a different show all-together. It's all fun, naturally, but I'm not sure it feels like Alias.

In terms of character, Nadia is being positioned intriguingly all of a sudden. There's a 'loose canon' thing that she's projecting, particularly her anger over Jack lying to her at the start of the year in regards to Irina's murderer, and her feelings of being 'the other', in that she's never actually met her mom. Angela Bassett also finally gets some decent stuff to do, her stand-off with Syd allowing her to be all intense and commanding in the way that Angela Bassett does so well. She should have had a scene with Lena Olin, though, just to see them both try and out-sass one another.

Search and Rescue is a lot of fun on its own, most of its issues being overriding show problems that the episode sometimes clumsily tries to navigate. Irina is wonderful, her interaction with Jack particularly sweet, and the last shots of the APO crew parachuting towards the blackened city are ridiculously badass. So there's hope. A-

Guest stars
Angela Bassett (Hayden Chase); Lena Olin (Irina Derevko); Andrew Divoff (Lucien Nisard)
Writers Monica Breen, Alison Schapker Director Lawrence Trilling

1 comment:

  1. Max, how much do I love your writing? You wrote so many of my own thoughts on how Alias has dealt with the character of Irina. I should just quote you and call it a day. Ok, I’ll quote you, but then I’ll comment too.

    “But it's always been a little flawed as a result, the show constantly relying on the character to create drama in spite of the actress who played her being unavailable.”

    This. This is SO. SPOT. ON. Just like Alias couldn’t let Rambaldi rest for a little bit, it also seemed incapable of letting Irina go. Dude, if the actress is not there, create new characters, create new stories and move on. Instead, we have two seasons of Irina lurking on the background until the actress decides to grace our screens once again for two episodes.

    The explanation that Jack didn’t kill Irina, but her double, is one twist too many. It would make sense if Elena had cloned Irina and eventually Irina 2.0 crossed paths with Jack and he killed her. But that a woman was doubled only to get shot? So that people would think Irina was dead? Really? Again, just like with the Arvin Clone, this is an overly complicated scheme to get a simple task done.

    The episode is pretty cool, though, and even if Nadia’s attitude is anoying, she’s so cool and resourceful here. However, her scene with Irina doesn’t get to me a lot. Actually, it’s more of a reminder of what a confusing family soap opera this spy series has become due to way too many plot twists on the Bristow family. It is nice to see them jumping out of the plane together, though, with a recently engaged Sydney and Vaugh.

    The scene at the bar is great too. “Is Irina Derevko alive?” “Of course she is.” Great moment, and it would be even better if the story wasn’t so convoluted at this point.