Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Continuing Evolution Of Alias Breaks The Mold In The Second Season!

The Good: Excellent continuing character development, Acting, Plots
The Bad: Still gets repetitive, though less than in the first season, Loss of “personalities”
The Basics: When Sydney's mother, Irena, surrenders to the CIA, Jack and Sydney's lives as double agents become immensely more complicated in Alias The Complete Second Season.

If there is one thing Alias does better than most any other show in the history of television it is that it ends each episode making the viewer want the next and no holds barred season finales. The first season finale left the viewers begging for September and the finale that finishes the season two Alias DVD boxed set will make anyone who isn't already a fan and watching the third season absolutely crazy. Those dependent on the DVDs for the resolution to this amazing cliffhanger will go stark raving mad from the wait, it is that intense.

The second season of Alias begins where the first left off, with Sydney tied to a chair learning the identity of The Man. Now revealed, Sydney's mother becomes a major force in her life and she begins her reunion with her daughter in the most unpredictable way: she surrenders to the CIA. Now in CIA custody, Irena Derevko provides intelligence on her criminal organization while manipulating Sydney's trust. As Sydney chases down Sark for SD-6 and works for Sloane to retrieve Rambaldi artifacts, Jack becomes convinced that Irena is nothing but a threat playing out a long and complicated strategy against the US. As the frontier of the agents' war suddenly changes, Jack, Sydney and Vaughn find their lives completely turned up-side down.

What makes the second season of Alias worth watching is that it exceeds the expectations of a spy show and defies the preconceived notions of Alias fans. The addition of Sydney's mother to the mix forces the equation that most of the shows in the first season to break. Now facing multiple villains, the plots may no longer be as simple as they were in the first season. This adds drama and real tension to much of this season.

Moreover, the change in direction that the episodes take midway through the season is quite a shocker and the effect of the events leading up to the middle of the season on Sloane make him more of a menace and make the last half of the season even more of a treat to watch. Still, the shows focus primarily on Sydney Bristow, though there is a lot more depth added to Jack Bristow - her father - as a result of Irena's involvement.

What makes Alias fun to watch is the decent mix of characters and this season, they all have more to do. Here is how the characters evolve in this second boxed set:

Sark - Now a recurring villain, liberated and working on his own, Sark's quest for power leads him to forge an unholy alliance with his greatest enemies,

Marshall - Is granted the opportunity to go on a field mission, which has grave results,

Francie - Tired of simply being a sidekick, she starts her own restaurant, until one day her life changes entirely,

Dixon - Overcomes his suspicions of Sydney being a double agent long enough to have his life turned up-side down and his family shattered,

Vaughn - Now relying on information provided to him by his father's killer, Vaughn's bitterness is mitigated by his love for Sydney,

Irena Derevko - A former Russian spy, now apparently aiding the CIA, despite her cunning machinations seems to still have some genuine love and affection for Sydney,

Sloane - His obsession for the devices and technical knowledge of Milo Rambaldi guides him on a quest that pushes him over the edge and lands him in a very powerful position,

Will Tippen - Barely escaping the events of the first season with his life, he finds himself attempting to rebuild, find a new job and become productive, this time at Sydney's side working for the CIA,

Jack Bristow - Reveals more truths about his and Sydney's past as Derevko continually forces his hand. His unwillingness to believe that his former wife could be doing anything but advancing her own causes acts as an extreme aid and detriment of the CIA,

and Sydney Bristow - she overcomes her past difficulties surrounding her mother's death and gains some new ones as she anticipates future betrayals from Irena. Her professional life is finally balanced by being able to be honest to one of her friends (Will) and develop a strong, loving relationship with Vaughn.

The great thing about the episodes is that they feel very organic, despite being rather dramatic. That is to say that often, the people act like people, not like fictional characters. So, for instance, when Sydney is shot by her mother (this happens in the first five minutes of the first episode in the set, so it's not a big spoiler or anything), she acts betrayed by her mother for several episodes when she has the opportunity to meet with her. That makes sense. There is a lot of sensibility in this season.

Unfortunately, what is sacrificed in this season is the sense of Sydney changing her identity to go on the various missions. Whereas in the first season, there was a lot of attention paid to creating alternate characters for Sydney, who she would become when she was undercover, here the series makes it about Sydney changing clothes. For example, in one episode, Sydney impersonates a geisha. Unfortunately, she neither behaves like one, nor has the face for one (Jennifer Garner's angular face is not the round ideal for the geisha, perhaps the only role she could not have organically pulled off).

That is not to say that the hair and make-up aren't fantastic this season. They are amazing, just like in the premiere season. However, the attitude that accompanies them is absent. Furthermore, it is not so much a fault of the acting, either, as it is the result of trying to pack so much into each episode. As a result, something had to give for time and the show's priority becomes less focused on the creation of the identities as it is about using the different looks to get access.

The acting is of a very high caliber, with Kevin Weisman as Marshall getting the biggest opportunity to expand his role as Marshall. Similarly, David Anders does an amazing job portraying such a menacing villain as Sark. As with the first season, Bradley Cooper stands out as a cast member that has a lot to contribute. Putting forth more than simply good looks - in fact, in the second season, the producers seem to put him in a less good light physically - Cooper illustrates an excellent range and a clear command over complicated dialog.

In a similar vein, both Ron Rifkin and Jennifer Garner continue to play their respective characters of Sloane and Sydney with the highest abilities. Rifkin infuses his previously passionless Sloane with a mounting obsession that ekes into his performances little by little throughout the season until it reaches a crescendo in the finale. He's quite amazing. Similarly, Garner continues to easily sell the audience on the idea that she could be both the girl next door and the world class super spy. She is quite convincing as Sydney.

The strongest addition to the main cast is Lena Olin. She plays Irena Derevko with a cool grace and a lot of subtle mockery of those around her. Olin seems the consummate professional, giving a lot in each scene she is in. More than that, she seems to bring out the best in Victor Garber. Garber's performances go well beyond illustrating his range from the first season. Through scenes with Olin, Garber is allowed to reveal more emotions tied to Jack and it works wonderfully.

The second season of Alias has some nice bonuses, as well. With the commentary on in two of the episodes, the viewers are treated to alternate takes and that's a pretty cool easter egg. As well, the deleted scenes and making of featurettes are very interesting. The deleted scenes do an excellent job of fleshing out more of Sydney's humanity and it is a shame they were cut from the actual episodes they were meant for. Still, it's nice to see them here.

In the end, the second season of Alias fixes some problems of the first, but causes a few new ones, but for the most part remains a fresh, surprising series. This boxed set will leave you begging for another. Entertaining and dramatic.

For other works with Bradley Cooper, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Hangover Part II
The A-Team
Valentine's Day
The Hangover
He's Just Not That Into You
Yes Man


For other television reviews, check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the shows and seasons I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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