Thursday, July 17, 2014

Alias: I See Dead People (5.14)

I talked a little bit last review about how boring it is to watch people chase after things when neither they nor us at home really understand what they're chasing. I See Dead People doesn't elaborate all that much when it comes to the Prophet Five mystery (we still don't know why they're trying to decipher Page 47, for instance), but what it does do is grant various cast members some actual agency, which in effect turns what could have been another wheel-spinning hour into something propulsive and genuinely thrilling.

In spite of the delaying tactics still ever-present, it's the character complexity that keeps I See Dead People afloat. Sloane's ambiguity has long been a tired plot device (even Sydney seems to be just going through the motions when she cries that she should never have trusted him again), but his interaction with Nadia's spirit helped genuinely resurrect his appeal as a character. Which is impressive when you think about how much of a rut he's been in as an antagonist of late. Nadia obviously isn't literally haunting Sloane, but her presence is a strong visual depiction of his inner turmoil. While he makes it clear that every move he's made has been for what he interprets as "the greater good", his conscience (in Nadia's form) keeps reminding him of how much it always comes at somebody else's expense.

He's not entirely crazy, either. Peyton, who is being entirely walked over left, right and center lately by far smarter people, is again being manipulated into thinking she's running the show, when Sloane has already deciphered Page 47 and is quietly setting up his own scheme with Sark. He's also far more aware of Anna's irrelevance in the big picture than even she is. Sloane's sole agenda has always been slippery, but his smarts constantly keep him in play. It's other people's problem if they keep letting him get away with it all.

Anna gets a lot more to do here than last week, the show having fun with traditional 'secret villain' plotting. Jennifer Garner loses focus when playing Anna-as-Syd in most of her scenes with Vaughn here, but the scene she shares with Sloane at the top of the episode is a wonderful representation of her skills. She nails Gina Torres' smooth, precise voice and unnerving manner. It's unfortunate she couldn't keep it up for the whole hour, but whatever.

I See Dead People is an hour full of strong little details (the contrasting post-mortems that open the show are crazily moving, for instance), ones that manage to carry what could have been another staggered chunk of filler. It also continues to feel like things are moving forward, even if most of the major arcs are still blurry. Prophet Five seems to be headed for an early exit, while Sloane appears to be assembling his own endgame, one that features far more interesting protagonists. It's still not firing on all cylinders, but Alias is at least holding your attention, that's for sure. B+

Guest stars Michael Vartan (Michael Vaughn); Mia Maestro (Nadia Santos); David Anders (Julian Sark)
Writers Andi Bushell, J.R. Orci Director Jamie Babbit

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