Thursday, July 24, 2014

Alias: Reprisal (5.16)

One of the foundations of any creative writing class is "show, don't tell", anything you can think of being so much more effective if it can be seen rather than just talked about. It's an adage that was brought to mind from the very opening of Reprisal, Alias' penultimate episode. Here we have Sydney voiceover-ing like she did back in the early days of season one, talking up Prophet Five as a multi-national crime syndicate who've infiltrated the highest levels of government and counter-terrorism; a significant threat to innocent people around the world if there ever was one. But in the grand tradition of late Alias, it's the show telling us things rather than showing them. Sure, we've seen a group of men meeting in fancy offices and looking evil. But any further shading has been kept significantly under wraps. And it's sad that the show has come to a point where characters have 'villain' and 'good guy' as their main signifiers.

That was admittedly a pretty negative opening to a review, but Reprisal does also go some way in admitting that the Prophet Five arc has been a wash. Here we have the entire faction wiped out in one fell swoop, the series' principal antagonist roles given to Sloane, Sark and Peyton, and the show seeking out a new equilibrium that should form the backbone of next week's series finale. It works, absolutely, the opening stretch of the hour really pushing the teamwork at APO with every principal cast member getting something to do for a change.

But it's only frustrating in retrospect, seeing as how much of this season wound up being pretty redundant. Whether it's Vaughn's death, everything with the Shed, Renée's dad, or why Prophet Five wanted Sydney's baby healthy and safe in the first place -- ultimately it all got worked around in exchange for Sloane and a shiny amulet. Don't get me wrong, the show needed to bring it back to characters that we were already invested in, but it speaks to how directionless Alias has been for so long. Nobody behind-the-scenes seemed to have any idea how long the show would run, what stories should be pushed center stage, or what kind of series Alias wanted to be.

If we applaud Reprisal as a singular episode, it's a strong decision to hinge so much drama on Sloane's weirdly paternal relationship with Sydney. After attempting to strangle her 'killer' two weeks ago, he here engineers a chain of events that not only would remove his enemies, but also save Sydney's life. He's the kind of person that really wishes he could shape someone else's life, in spite of the obvious signs that he can't. There's another strong moment between them here where he explains that Sydney can't save everyone around her, as much as she always tries. Sloane, in effect, comes off as a truth-teller, Sydney a mere idealist. But it's also the key difference between them. Sloane is so crippled by what he perceives to be important that nothing else matters to him, whether it's personal ties or his own flesh and blood. Sydney, on the other hand, recognizes how important family and friends are in comparison to anything else, including the mission at hand.

That's very much been Sydney's journey this year. It's not been handled spectacularly, since Alias is no longer capable of consistent, coherent storytelling, but the ideas have been there from the very start, Syd's pregnancy really driving home what is truly important to her. Even when the odds are stacked against her, Sydney will fight for those that she loves.

Elsewhere, Tom's death was surprisingly moving, even if his flirtatious relationship with Rachel seemed a little shoehorned in these past two weeks, and the fact that his character never really came together as a whole. In comparison to Rachel, especially, who I ended up liking a lot. But his sacrifice was still oddly moving. Marshall, too, had an undeniably strong moment of clarity, finally displaying the confidence and emotion that he's always suppressed under anxiety and nervous laughter.

So there's lots of great character moments here, and fun visual flourishes like the Sydney location card at the top of the show that help this feel particularly important. I just wish Alias had been a little more confident about its own goals this year, instead of throwing all this stuff at us in spite of how little of it ultimately mattered in the end. B

Guest stars Michael Vartan (Michael Vaughn); Mia Maestro (Nadia Santos); David Anders (Julian Sark); Amanda Foreman (Carrie Bowman); Shaun Duke (First Man); Leland Crooke (Third Man)
Writers Monica Breen, Alison Schapker Director Frederick E.O. Toye

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