I’ve stated many times that Alias is The Greatest Television Show Ever™, so it’s no surprise that I rave about it and watch it every week. I haven’t missed an episode in the show’s history. I’ve scheduled vacations and flights and holiday plans around Alias’ time slot. It required more effort when ABC aired it on Sunday nights, but even in its much more agreeable Wednesday time slot, my entire world stops for sixty joyous minutes. Alias defines “Appointment TV”.
That’s why this season, Alias’ fourth, has been so frustrating. Through the first seven episodes, I’ve waited for the Alias magic to appear, but it’s appeared only a few times. The last few episodes have been better, building into some of the pleasures of the first sixty-six episodes. They haven’t been quite right, though. I want the mystery, the chaos, the suspense, the intrigue, the confusion, the action, and the cool. I want Alias.
At its core, Alias is a giant comic book. The show doesn’t ask us to suspend disbelief as much as it grabs us by the scruff of our necks and smacks us around a few times before injecting us with some high-tech serum of cool from the lab of Marshall J. Flinkman. The show exudes a commitment to its storyline, no matter how ridiculous or improbable, and demands that the viewer hang on for the ride. Alias is proof that a television show can trust its audience to understand intricate plot turns and long-running character dynamics. That it hasn’t trusted its audience through the first seven episodes created my frustration.
Placing the blame for that lack of trust is irrelevant. Having witnessed the same respect of its audience in J.J. Abrams’ other show, Lost, I doubt that the changes in Alias are exclusively his fault, if he holds any blame. Again, that is irrelevant for me. I just wanted the real Alias back.
There is a purpose to the complexity of the Alias world. Viewers experience the
anger dismay appreciation as each new twist is revealed. We understand that each twist is a piece in the larger canvas of the story. What looks like a Red Herring now will be critical in the future. Knowing that Alias contains nothing unintentional, we must remain attentive. When the episodes became self-contained mini-plots in the middle of the third season, the show lost some much of this feel. The loss became more pronounced through the first seven episodes of season four. The only connection between each episode was the actors portraying the characters. The story had no continuity. There were no moments where I knew that I’d be lost if I hadn’t seen the first 66 episodes. The “Appointment TV” factor was fading. Until last night’s episode, when Alias rediscovered itself.
For the first time this season, Alias was perfect. The characters demonstrated their personality traits and conflicts. Sydney’s brawl with Anna Espinosa in the clothing boutique was brilliant. There was no reason for them to fight; they were in a public place, making an illicit transaction. Sydney’s sister’s life was in jeopardy, but her hatred of Anna led to a mutual beating in the middle of the clothing racks. It was unprofessional, counter-productive and dangerous on Sydney’s part, but the fight embraced the history of the characters. Anna hasn’t been around for several years, but her return and her antagonistic showdown with Sydney made sense.
The re-emergence of Sark was equally as important. He’d been sitting in a prison cell since his capture at the end of last season. Sark’s a scary dude made scarier because he isn’t a psychopath. He is intelligent, amoral and greedy, which makes him the perfect villainous foil for Sydney (and Vaughn). Even confined to a penitentiary cell, his mind is intact. In last night’s episode, even when threatened and drugged, he’s aware enough to screw Vaughn’s plans, guaranteeing that his own motives are met before anything else. Vaughn and Sydney don’t know his motives, thus driving the tension. We don’t know his motives, either, so we enjoy the delicious anticipation of Sark’s next dick move. We’re committed to knowing. We can’t wait to find out what happens next. We’re hooked.
As last night’s episode careened towards 10pm, I sensed that something was
different back to normal. There was no way the story was going to wrap before the episode ran out of time. There were too many loose ends, too many details in play to put the petite bow on the finished package as the show had done throughout the season. Would Nadia live or die? We know the answer, of course, but that’s not the point. It’s not if, but how. The closing credits rolled with hanging plot points and unanswered questions. It finally left me asking the right question: what’s going to happen next? When I don’t know the answer and I can’t wait until 9pm next Wednesday to find out, the show is back.
Self-contained, non-Rambaldi, non-spook paranoia episodes, you’re gone so soon, we hardly knew ye. Now keep it that way.