Thursday, July 17, 2014

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.

I'm sure Alias used to be a little more focused, more certain about the motives of its characters, even if stories revolved around ambiguous protagonists. What we as an audience need is at least an indication that the writers know where all of this is going. If that comes across, as it did in the first two seasons, then it's easy to distract us with a shiny gunfight or dramatic set-piece. But what's happening right now is that we're following our heroes as they try to find answers to vague questions via action hijinks in foreign locales, instead of anyone actually sitting down and theorizing what the hell might be the bigger picture with all of this...

There's Only One Sydney Bristow re-introduced Project Helix to the show, as well as the Rambaldi mystery, setting up what was assumed to be new angles to old stories. But 30 Seconds struggles to effectively utilize either premise. Outside of an engaging cliffhanger, Anna-as-Sydney is very much a background character here, while Rambaldi too is kept on the backburner. What last week's episode required was a follow-up that went deeper, not one that threw all those major developments under the bus.

Rambaldi is still a factor here, but only as an instigator for Sloane's resurrected insanity. Here he effectively chooses Rambaldi over Nadia after he's brought her out of her coma, rescuing Page 47 from a fiery demise and accidentally (?) pushing his daughter through a glass table to her bloody death. Renée similarly expires before the end credits, murdered by a freshly-cloned Anna. Nadia's death grants the overall Sloane narrative some immediate propulsion, presumably sounding the death knell for any semblance of humanity he has left. But while Renée's murder is unfortunate considering how much fun she's been, there would be so little time to truly do anything with her from here on out that it's not a total loss.

But what both deaths signal is that this is Alias pushing the illusion of development instead of anything concrete. Sloane's journey just got a little more interesting, sure, but the abrupt quality to both Nadia's quick recovery and subsequent demise a couple of acts later is frustrating. Worst of all, 30 Seconds is sort of boring. Five seasons in, and with the action sequences mostly bland due to budget cuts and Sydney's undercover aliases reduced to thin variations on 'rich Southern lady with a Delta Burke accent', the show needs to bring it with the less action-driven drama to have some effect. But with nothing firm for us at home to latch onto (with Peyton, Anna and the whole Prophet Five/Horizon/Page 47 hooey all a bunch of words and images at this point), Alias quickly becomes a series about a bunch of people chasing a mystery that we know little about and haven't yet been encouraged to feel anything for. The 100th episode deserved a better sequel. C

Guest stars Elodie Bouchez (Renée Rienne); Mia Maestro (Nadia Santos); Angus Macfadyen (Joseph Ehrmann); Jeremy Guskin (Moritz Koller); Jay Huguley (Dr. Mark); Ismail Bashey (Mr. Halbe)
Writers Alison Schapker, Monica Breen Director Frederick E. O. Toye

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