Sunday, July 6, 2014

Alias: There's Only One Sydney Bristow (5.12)

Something happens to Jennifer Garner's face when she's reunited with Will this week. The two of them are recovering on a plane ride back to APO headquarters, catching up on all that's happened since they last saw each other, Sydney wide-eyed and overjoyed at Will's surprise engagement, Will equally excited that his one-time best friend is now a mom. It's a fantastic scene, but it's Garner's face that just melts your heart. It's suddenly so alive and tender, a dewy expression that reads blissful levels of freedom, a conversation about love and babies, a friendship being rekindled after so long. And it all just reminds you of how far this show has drifted from what it once was.

I've probably repeated it ad nauseum since these reviews began, but the biggest mistake Alias ever made was removing Will and Francie back in season two. The show's initial premise hinged heavily on Sydney's double life, how she's a secret agent by night and a college student by day, and how the constant blurring between each as much harmed her as it did define her. Sydney was that duality, a personality trait that made her stronger than other, more conventional spies, yet also achingly real as a woman. It also reads in Jennifer Garner, too. By removing that humanity from her, the area Garner is arguably strongest at as an actress, Sydney as a result became sort of stiff and boring. She was all mission, all the time. Vaughn was used to break up potential monotony, but Vaughn was sort of stiff and boring 24/7, meaning Alias itself really became the generic spy show it didn't open as.

One of the principal reasons why this episode, the show's one-hundredth, works so well is because it seems to truly understand what made Alias so compelling in the first place. It's a story that directly explores why Sydney's even in this business at all, Will representing the world removed from espionage that Syd is protecting every day, the world she's drifted so heavily away from in recent years. Even if you ignore all the fantastic callbacks to some of the most memorable set-pieces from the show's past (the red wig, the kiss on the glass, and so forth), it's a lengthy testament to Sydney's own importance in the world, so much that the next grand scheme of the season's villains involves literally cloning her in order to get what they want. This is as much a celebration of Sydney as it is a tribute.

In terms of story, I'm not sure it's entirely believable that Anna Espinosa of all people would be willing to undergo a melty cloning process to eternally look like her sworn nemesis, but like the inherent ridiculousness of the Fauxrancie arc in season two, it's such a batshit concept that you can't help but be intrigued enough to just go with it. We should also say goodbye to Gina Torres, who has been wonderful in this role for so long. I love her complete disinterest in the Rambaldi saga ("it doesn't concern me as long as the check clears"), while she really made the character so iconic in spite of how little she actually appeared on the show. The departing Bradley Cooper is in a similar boat. He just brought such a natural, endearing presence to the show, a real everyman quality. It's completely unsurprising that he's blown up so much since Alias wrapped.

So there's a lot to love here. But on a fundamental level, I think it's Drew Goddard's scripting that really understands what works on Alias and what doesn't. He's somebody seemingly aware of how much the show relies on strong set-pieces, particularly when Alias has done the now-tired 'breaking into a building' thing a crazy amount of times over the years. It's why so many of his episodes feature really solid, exciting premises, like Will having a bomb in his head, or Sydney being buried alive. There's Only One Sydney Bristow obviously has a ton of nostalgia to it, which is why it works so well on one level, but it's also written by somebody who truly knows where the show needs to be at this point in time, too. It's the greatest mix of both old-school and modern Alias, an episode that should hopefully set a precedent for the weeks to come. A+

Guest stars Bradley Cooper (Will Tippin); Gina Torres (Anna Espinosa); Angus Macfadyen (Joseph Ehrmann); Shaun Duke (First Man); Leland Crooke (Third Man); Michael Massee (Dr. Gonzalo Burris); Robert Symonds (Second Man)
Writer Drew Goddard Director Robert M. Williams, Jr.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully-written review. I particularly love everything you said about the consequences of removing Sydney's family life, which effectively acted as a disservice to Jen Garner herself.

    By far the strongest hour of the season. A bonafide classic.