The Good: Excellent use of new cast, Compelling plot, Well-written, Acting, JACK!
The Bad: Some character issues, Loss of Will.
The Basics: When Sydney awakens to find her life completely changed, she works to discover what transpired in the two year absence and meets a new adversary: Vaughn's wife.
The third season of Alias takes a lot of heat. A lot of people do not like the third season and when one sits down to watch the show on DVD, it is hard to see why. Alias had a killer first season, with establishing the series, super spy Sydney Bristow, her incredible but stoic and dysfunctional father, and her mission to destroy the terrorist group SD-6, headed by Arvin Sloane. In the first season, Sydney learns that her long-lost mother is still alive, was a spy and that Sydney herself is the subject of a prophetic inventor's musings from back in the 16th century. The second season found Sydney dealing with her mother, destroying SD-6 and chasing Sloane in his attempt to fulfill the inventor's greatest invention.
The second season ended with a cliffhanger that topped even the first season's impressive finale. If you have not seen the second season of Alias, stop reading, read my review of the second season, buy the set, then when you're done watching it, come back to read this.
The third season begins literally the moment after the second season's end, with Sydney learning that she has lost two years of her life. After she is able to confirm that it is true, she finds herself caught up in putting the pieces of her life back together. She has no memories of what happened in the two years between her fight at the end of the second season and the moment she woke up. She is flown back to the United States where she discovers Vaughn is married, Dixon has been promoted, Will is in witness protection, Marshall is going to be a father, Sloane is now a humanitarian worker, and her father is imprisoned.
The third season of Alias puts Sydney on track to finding out what happened to her in the intervening years, a task that is by no means easy. When she loses the terrorist Sark in a hostage trade, she comes to believe that a new, very dangerous organization called the Covenant held her for those two years. The Covenant appears to be on a mission to find out the secrets Milo Rambaldi (the inventor) left behind and Sydney and the CIA are assigned to thwart them. In the process, Sydney butts heads with Lauren Reed, Vaughn's wife and as she searches for the secrets to her lost time, she discovers not all of the events in her life are as separate as they initially seem.
First, because it will take less time, the negative. Will Tippen, who survived the events of the previous season finale, is left alive, but not as a regular member of the cast. He does manage a guest appearance, but the role he played in the first two seasons as an anchor in Sydney's life, is noticeably absent. I miss Will and I believe it was a tremendous mistake for him to not be brought back in the third season.
That said, the other complaint most people have is that character was sacrificed for plot in season three. I disagree. I think that character was maintained remarkably well for the story being told. Sydney is obsessed (reasonably) with finding out what happened to her over the two years she was blacked out. Neglecting any aspect of her character outside the single-minded pursuit of the truth works well for the character and adds a level of realism that, lacking Will's non-CIA presence, reads as very true to me. And obsession is nothing new to Sydney. In the first two seasons, her obsession with finding and defeating Sloane is quite immediate.
Alias has always done character very well. Like all good or great serialized television, the characters grow and change throughout the season. Here is how the third season of Alias finds the principle characters:
Will Tippen - a favorite character of mine (and Jack Bristow), has disappeared into Witness Protection. As Sydney fights to regain her memory, Will is able to provide some critical information to her, but is otherwise out of the picture,
Weiss - Agent Weiss now lives next door to Sydney and acts as a human conduit for Sydney by presenting information to her about the people in her life and what has become of them. As the season progresses, Weiss allows Vaughn to express his doubts about the health of his marriage to him,
Marshall - Still completely socially inept, Marshall has managed to get closer to Carrie in the intervening years and is now looking to be a father. He continues to work his little technological miracles and his skill is evident, even after the baby is born,
Sark - Released from CIA prison, Julian Sark finds himself the inheritor of a great wealth, wealth that is appropriated by the Covenant. In exchange for his fortune and his life, Sark aids the Covenant and becomes invested in their success in their nefarious missions. And when opportunity arises, he finds himself in league with someone who can help him ascend within the Covenant,
Marcus Dixon - Now promoted to head the task force that Jack Bristow (and Kendal) once commanded, Dixon is now a leader and administrator as opposed to a field agent. Alone and raising his two children, we see very little of Dixon's life now,
Arvin Sloane - Having been granted immunity for all of his past crimes, Sloane reveals that El Dire (the device he worked so hard to assemble in the previous two seasons) spoke to him the word "peace" when it was completed and he was transformed. Sloane has become a humanitarian feeding and inoculating millions of people worldwide. And while Jack and Sydney are quite suspicious of him, he comes to their aid in working against the Covenant,
Lauren Reed - Introduced in this season, she is Michael Vaughn's wife and a woman of some mystery. Working for the NSC and not the CIA, she is a professional ally and personal adversary of the CIA and Sydney, respectively. While it appears that she is simply a normal worker who has fallen in love with Vaughn, circumstances force her to reveal herself as something completely different,
Michael Vaughn - Apparently shattered by the apparent death of Sydney two years prior, Vaughn is now a schoolteacher and is happily married until Sydney resurfaces. His relationship with Lauren is threatened when he returns to working with Sydney and he finds himself unable to reconcile the disparate parts of his life,
Jack Bristow - Aided by Sydney in getting out of prison, Jack sets Sydney on the path to discovering the truth. In the third season, Jack will find himself able to face Sloane, get closer to Sydney and learn more about his fugitive ex-wife. As well, Jack will find himself in league with Katya Derevko, his ex-wife's sister,
and Sydney Bristow - Awakened after two years without any memory of the intervening time, Sydney goes all-out on a quest to find the truth about what happened to her in those years. Learning immediately that she was awake, alive and active, she confronts the idea that she may have spent the years brainwashed as an assassin for the Covenant and works to put her life back together.
Alias has a real strength to reinvent itself (as I write this, I have just watched the fourth season premiere where the show has once again shifted directions). In the middle of the second season, SD-6 fell and Sydney found herself in a character struggle wherein she was chasing a loose coalition of Sark, Sloane and her mother. That conflict worked well on a character level, exposing the depths of Sydney's determination and obsession, but made for a very difficult plot to sustain. Moreover, the second season ends with a revelation that is huge and impossible to come back to the same show.
The third season of Alias is a very decent story that encapsulates the season. It is the story of one woman's hunt for herself and the reconciliation of her past with the weird present she finds herself in. But at the end of the second season, Sydney is dropped off such a major cliff that the show, by necessity, has to shift direction. And while the show exhibits wonderful rising action through the third season, the finale does not compel the way the previous two endings did (and having now seen the fourth season premiere, I am dubious).
What keeps the show watchable and compelling is that the actors sell the stories. Jennifer Garner is great as Sydney. Unfortunately, in the third season, she finds herself playing fewer characters as opposed to simply switching outfits and hair styles a lot. Is it still worth it? Absolutely.
The real reason to watch, though, is Jack Bristow. Jack's character arc continues as an amazing "protect Sydney at all costs" story of how much a father will do to keep his daughter safe. Victor Garber is exceptional as Jack and he's been robbed of awards the last few years for his portrayal of Jack.
Finally, the DVD set boasts an animated episode of Alias and let me say, I was looking forward to getting the set to watch it. Sigh. If your only reason to buy the set is because of this lost episode, let me tell you, it's not worth it. It probably will make the die-hard fans gasp, but it's not important, it is not substantive, it isn't clever and it is short. Not a full episode by any means, the animated short is a sloppy collection of Alias-esque scenes that fails to satisfy or deliver anything really new or worthwhile.
If you have seen the first two seasons of Alias, the third season is a period of transition and it is a steady escalation of revelations and cloak and dagger intrigues that deliver in much the same way the two prior seasons did, without giving much focus to Sydney's emotional life outside work. Better than most people think (except those who love the Sydney/Vaughn relationship, an audience I am not part of), the third season of Alias stacks up remarkably well and delivers on the promises of a show reinventing itself once again.
For other works with Melissa George, please check out my reviews of:
Friends - Season 9
For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the television reviews I have written!
© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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