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.

I wouldn't call it regressive or whiny in this case either. Syd's had a rough existence for years now, it's no surprise she wants to drop off the radar. But it is interesting that these are still feelings she's yet to firmly express outside of her own subconscious. She's so bottled-up all the time, stubborn in this visage of outward strength, that it's disquieting but also genuinely affecting when she just breaks down in honesty while talking to her dead ex. I guess sometimes it takes a final season to force you to confront things.

I should probably add here that I know none of the above has a whole lot to do with The Horizon as an episode, but it's only because there's not a ton to talk about when it comes to The Horizon as an episode. This is another Alias hour that staggers its way to a cliffhanger climax, with Sydney hallucinating a series of past encounters with Vaughn while being experimented on by a villainous Michael Massee. Massee and his shady boss (more on that later) want to know the location of the titular 'Horizon', another ambiguous Alias plot MacGuffin, information buried deep within Syd's subconscious.

So begins what amounts to a quasi-clip show, with Syd breaking character while reliving memorable moments from her relationship with Vaughn, whether it's that emotional overture on the pier back in season one, or his proposal in last year's finale. It's a story designed to both soothe the show's dwindling fanbase, still outraged that the show killed off Vaughn in the first place, as well as to presumably grant the final-trimestering Jennifer Garner some screentime that involves her mostly sitting down or being strapped into a mental-torture chair.

The big cliffhanger here is the reveal that it's Irina who is orchestrating Syd's abduction and subsequent brain-drain, Lena Olin literally phoning in her performance and some stock footage from season two used to drive the point home. It's the show once again relying on Irina for moments of shock and awe, but with the Prophet Five saga remaining so vague, it's easy to forgive the show returning to that same narrative crutch once more.

The Horizon sort of works on a character level, but it's pretty bland everywhere else, a filler episode disguised as something important. I guess it's neat for Sydney/Vaughn fans to see Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan back together again, but for everybody else it's the show majorly coasting. C-

Guest stars Amy Acker (Kelly Peyton); Patrick Bauchau (Dr. Aldo Desantis); Michael Massee (Dr. Gonzalo Burris); Kathe Mazur (Dr. Lynn)
Writers Josh Applebaum, André Nemec Director Tucker Gates


  1. Max your review is SO unexpected. I haven't seen this episode in years but I remember it being one of the strongest hours of the season (along with Maternal Instinct and There's Only One Sydney Bristow). Now I'm actually intrigued to watch it again and see if all your criticisms hold up because you make some very valid points.

    Also, is this not the episode which ends with Sydney discovering she's on the ship? I remember it being one heck of a mindblowing and creepy cliffhanger ending.

  2. I agree that the cliffhanger on the boat is effective, but I found the rest boring as hell. It's just way too Syd/Vaughn-centric, as well as generally uneventful from a storytelling perspective.

  3. I’m surprised with that grade too! Although my criticism towards this episode has gotten bigger as time has passed, I still think it’s among the best of the season.

    Yes, it has some shitty writing going on, such as
    - the guy that was super important on the beginning of the season dies and we have no idea why he was important anyway;
    - uh, there’s an address on the guy’s agenda that appears three times. It must be important. Let’s go there, conclude Jack and Renée. What? What? What? Are these writers even trying? This is the lazy way they connected point F to point G of the script? The address appears three times? Let’s go there? Really? So frustrating;
    - the “Horizon”, as you point out, is yet another plot MacGuffin.

    However, even though the plot is not well constructed and even if I’m not a shipper of Sydney and Vaughn, this episode really captured my attention both plot and emotional wise. I was so on the edge of my seat worried for Sydney and her baby, and touched by her memories. Jennifer Garner delivered on all accounts. Outstanding acting.

    The Irina reveal was so shocking at the time. My jaw dropped to the floor. Sydney’s mom was doing that to her? What the? How is? I don’t even have the words.

    And, yes, that cliffhanger. Among the best of the entire series, for sure.

    Renée (to Sydney): “You look beautiful.”

  4. I wonder if, like Nadim, this episode only works on first viewing. Since all the major points of interest (will Syd's baby be safe? Ohmygodit'sIrina!!) are just moments you're waiting for when you're watching it for the second time. Free of those, or having been told about them already, and The Horizon as an episode is again just pretty flat. But I realize I'm in the minority with that, I always remember it being ranked among the best of season five in fan circles...