Sunday, May 13, 2012

Season After The Shark Is Better Upon The Second Viewing: Alias Season Five

The Good: Interesting new characters, Generally good acting, Specific episodes ("Bob"), Series resolution.
The Bad: Tired character elements, Very predictable plot and character elements, Some commentaries
The Basics: With its disappointing resolution and plotlines avid Alias viewers have already seen, Alias - The Complete Fifth Season is largely an argument for terminating a series before it's too late.

There are two examples in recent memory that stand up as the archetypes in my mind for how a television show may go from being the pride and cornerstone of a network to a dismal, quiet end. The first is Ally McBeal, which struggled after losing Gil Bellows and then Robert Downey Jr. to end its run quickly, anonymously and with finality. Alias, which I was much more vested in is a tragedy of underperformance for its final season. Paired with Lost during Lost's first season (reviewed here!), Alias took a hiatus to postpone most of its fifth season and as Lost gained in popularity, ABC stopped betting on Alias. When Jennifer Garner expressed the desire to end her tenure on Alias, the fifth season was cut back from 22 episodes to 20 and ultimately was cut back to 17 episodes, despite published reports that the writing staff was working hard to wrap up all the complex plotlines in the allotted episodes.

Following the climactic events of Season Four's finale, Sydney Bristow finds herself pregnant with Vaughn's child. As well, Bristow takes up the task of investigating an old enemy called Prophet Five, which Vaughn had (apparently) been investigating for some time. Jack takes over APO and Sloane works for a pardon in order to find a cure for Nadia's ailment.

There is a sense of transition in APO as Sydney heads for maternity leave and the group takes on two new agents, Rachel Gibson and Thomas Grace. Gibson, in a position Sydney was in the first season, is clearly being groomed to take her place. Grace, who fills a Vaughn-like role is established as a potential romantic interest for her. The season also begins with a rogue ally who is an uneasy ally of the CIA, a trained killer named Renee Rienne.

Yeah, there's the sense from almost the end of the first episode of the fifth (and final) season that the show has jumped the shark. When Vaughn exposes his past to Sydney, the viewer gets the feeling that the show is going nowhere good. When Rachel Gibson joins the team, the viewer instantly gets the sense of transition that fans of The X-Files got when Agent Dogget showed up. That is, "this is a fundamental change from the show we were enjoying, I don't know if I can live with it."

In some ways, I suppose, it's fortunate Alias dies a quick death with the fifth season rather than dragging on for years after it outlived itself. It's a shame it did not go out on a higher note, that it did not wrap in a way that was surprising or unpredictable or otherwise at the top of its game.

I say that because the tired refrain on Alias has become, "I won't make that mistake again." The characters have been betrayed time and time again, so one wonders why they ever trust anyone again. They always claim they won't, but then they do. For CIA agents, they're a bunch of idiots at times.

This critique is centered around the character of Sloane. Sloane is a great character and he was one of the most compelling villains on television. But one of the problems with his character is that - starting in the third season - he has to have a legitimate reason for his continued presence on the show. Without the immediacy of his villainous organization SD-6, the writers had to come up with a way to keep him around - on the show and in the lives of the Bristows. In season three, he betrays his allies to rescue (and meet) his daughter. In season four, well, he actually does the same thing. In season five, as the tired generic villainy of Prophet Five wanes, we expect Sloane to do the same thing. At least we - the viewers - see it coming.

Sadly, Rachel Gibson's presence is more awkward than reassuring. We are never weaned off Sydney enough to believe Gibson will be a vital member of the team. So the most intriguing character of season five ends up being . . . Thomas Grace. An agent with a checkered past, Grace has a rogue quality that is drawn out throughout the season and his arc is the most satisfying of the season.

So, following the season premiere, the pursuit of Prophet Five seems like something we have seen before. The shark has been jumped. There are no distinct alias's in season five . . . save in the episode "Bob." "Bob" marks the return of Sark and his alias playing off an alias Gibson is playing at makes for the season's most satisfying episode. Beyond that, it's pretty stale.

I will say, though, that it was better the second time around. When I watched the fifth season of Alias on television, I remember feeling disappointment after each episode. Watching it again on DVD, without interruptions, some of the interplay works better. Jack Bristow's relationship with Sydney is wonderfully tender, Kelly Peyton's ruthlessness is delicious to watch and even Gibson's slow meld into a field agent works better.

But is it enough to save the series? No. The only reason to purchase Alias - The Complete Fifth Season is to have the opportunity to complete one's collection, to see the ultimate resolution of the prior four years.

As Alias focuses on characters, here is how the fifth season finds them:

Sydney Bristow - Pregnant with Vaughn's child, Sydney finds herself uncomfortably unable to do all she wants to to make the world safe for her impending child,

Michael Vaughn - Disappearing after revealing his true past to Sydney, Vaughn's place is as an absent element in Sydney's life,

Dixon - Occasionally aids Jack, though his relationship with Chase - established late in the fourth season - is not even mentioned,

Weiss - Leaves APO to join the NSA,

Marshall - Finds a kindred spirit in the geeky Rachel Gibson, but otherwise remains relegated to his usual tech role,

Rachel Gibson - Betrayed by a Sloane-like character named Gordon Dean, Gibson joins APO as the resident expert on Prophet Five and she works to fit in,

Renee Rienne - Working free-lance with Sydney, Renee has ties to Vaughn and her own pursuit of Prophet Five leads to danger and mayhem,

Thomas Grace - A perennial risk-taker, Grace almost seems to have a death wish, which as his backstory is revealed, is motivated by some pretty heavy guilt,

Sloane - Desperate to find a cure for Nadia's ailment, he makes a partnership with an unlikely source that allows him his freedom and hope, for a terrible price,

and Jack Bristow - With grandfatherhood impending, Jack finds his leadership position at APO a wonderful distraction, especially as he works to thwart the endgames of his various enemies.

The best reason to watch the fifth season of Alias is for the few scenes containing Balthazar Getty as Thomas Grace, an irony considering the best episode of the season ("Bob") utilizes newcomer Rachel Nichols extraordinarily well and neglects Getty for the most part. Getty brings a quality that instantly defines Thomas Grace and makes him intriguing. He is able to successfully keep the viewer glued to him for his tenure on the series.

Other than that, the series simply wraps itself up. And it's not as satisfying as it could be. Rewatching this WAS a better experience on DVD, but it still is not enough to recommend. One immediately wonders if the writers and producers had known the fifth season would fizzle, would they have had the courage to end the fourth season with more finality?

For other works with Rachel Nichols, be sure to visit my reviews of:
G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra
Star Trek
Charlie Wilson’s War


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

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment