Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Season On The Fence: Alias Season Four!

The Good: Moments where characters develop, Jack's story, Acting
The Bad: Vaughn's storyline, The general plot, Lack of a coherent enemy
The Basics: Lacking a coherent enemy, season four of Alias attempts to rework the series with poor results until all of the threads come together in the last seven episodes.

When reviewing Alias the Complete Fourth Season, one must remember that the end of the season cannot redeem the whole rest of the season. The truth is, Alias' fourth season was its most inconsistent and it is impossible to recommend to those who are not already fans of the spy show.

To clarify, fans are likely to enjoy moments of the fourth season of Alias, but the truth is, it has a plot that is weaker than the previous seasons. Unlike season's one and two, season three ended with a far more nebulous and mysterious ending. Following up on that was a feat that the producers of Alias did not entirely succeed with. Unlike the previous seasons where the end set a high bar to leap over, season three ended with a "well, okaaaay, eh" feeling and Season four begins with much the same feeling.

After Sydney Bristow is apparently ejected from the CIA, she enlists in a black-ops program called APO that acts as an autonomous intelligence organization, like a CIA without the bureaucracy. Sydney finds herself once again working under Sloane and her father, partnered with Vaughn and Dixon. It does not take long before Weiss, Marshall and Nadia, Sydney's newly discovered half-sister, join the team and are set out into the world to fight evil.

The fundamental problem is the setup for the season. In the prior season, the villain was The Covenant and it was a worthy foe of our CIA heroes. The Covenant's mission appeared to be tied to the 16th Century technological prophet Milo Rambaldi and it was a pretty impressive organization. In the third season, the element that worked exceptionally well was that the Covenant was fairly well-matched to the protagonists of Alias, resulting in several draws or times when the Covenant actually achieved its goal. It took the risk of letting the good guys lose from time to time, even if they ultimately did not.

Season four is far more monolithic, our heroes always win and there is no villain as Coherent as SD-6, the unholy alliance between Sloane, Irina Derevko and Sark, or the Covenant. This leaves much of the season on far shakier ground and the plots become much more convoluted and ridiculous. Take, for example, the fifth episode of the season "Welcome To Liberty Village." In this awkward episode, Sydney and Vaughn end up impersonating Chechnians who are impersonating Americans as part of a long-term infiltration training camp. It calls to mind the equally ridiculous episode of The X-Files where Mulder and Scully impersonate a married couple to infiltrate a planned community that is plagued by a golem.

Moreover, the show takes turns that seem implausible even for Alias. Take, for example, episode eight, "Echoes." "Echoes" marks the return of Anna Espinoza, villainess from the first season of Alias. First, when Espinoza was last seen, she was an operative of K Directorate. Sark, in his ominous early appearances, killed the leadership of K Directorate for "The Man." With the destruction of K Directorate by the organization that was run by Irina Derevko, it seems unlikely that agents like Anna Espinoza would have survived, especially if such an agent was such a threat to Derevko's cherished daughter, Sydney Bristow. But even beyond that, the producers ask us to believe that the brilliantly dangerous Anna Espinoza would have paired with Sark, the man who sent her into free agenthood by killing off her employers and her steady paycheck. Sigh. Doesn't work for me. Espinoza made sense to have been dead and her reappearance was more blah than anything else. And I'm a fan of Gina Torres, who plays Espinoza.

Outside two exceptions, the first twelve episodes are mostly disappointing, leaving less than half a season for the show to recover. Unfortunately, a portion of those remaining episodes deal with the ridiculous and banal plot involving Vaughn's search for his possibly-not-dead father. Given that Vaughn's characterization involves the death of his father at the hands of Sydney's mother, and given how many characters have investigated Vaughn in previous seasons, the concept that Vaughn's father might be alive is just stupid. And it weakens - somewhat retroactively - the menace posed by Irina Derevko. After all, if Irina wasn't able to really take out Vaughn's father, who did she really kill?!

The season takes a turn for the better when an impersonator of Arvin Sloane surfaces, attempting to complete an ultra-powerful Rambaldi device. This leads to the ultimate villain and leads to a pretty kick-butt acceleration toward the end of the season. Also in the last few episodes of the season, Jack Bristow is focused on in a pair of exceptional episodes that bring him to the brink of death.

The characters in the fourth season have moments of worthwhile development, but they are terribly inconsistent. Here is how the fourth season finds our heroes:

Sydney Bristow - Having learned that her father has killed her mother, Sydney feels lost and joins the Black-ops group APO where she is forced to monitor her nemesis Arvin Sloane. As she begins to know her sister, Nadia, she tries to reform her bond with Michael Vaughn and with her father. The show does not focus on developing her much this season,

Jack Bristow - Arguably the most intriguing character on the show, Jack continues to illustrate the devotion he has toward protecting his daughter and in the process, he puts himself in serious jeopardy,

Arvin Sloane - While no one seems to remember that Sloane is - as far as the rest of the world knows - dead, Sloane is put in command of APO and is predictably deceptive while keeping up the guise of legitimacy,

Michael Vaughn - Apparently became an idiot when he joined APO because he falls for the ridiculous notion that his father is still alive and goes rogue to find out the truth,

Dixon - Always a character we've wanted to see develop more, Dixon is put in the awkward position of monitoring the man who killed his wife. There are moments when Dixon rises to be interesting, especially late in the season when he actually goes on a mission undercover that hinges on him. Unfortunately, late in the season Dixon is put in the awkward position of ending up in a relationship, as if the producers simply said "hey, we have two people of color on the show, they should hook up." Sigh,

Marshall - Almost entirely neglecting his family life, Marshall's sole character endeavor comes in a rescue mission that is his episode of the season. And in the finale, he and Weiss actually are given some dialogue,

Weiss - Sadly relegated to APO by chance - not talent - Weiss' character development is most interesting outside APO and a welcome change for his character,

and Nadia Santos - The daughter of Arvin Sloane and Irina Derevko who was introduced in the final episodes of season three, joins APO and develops as a character. When she is targeted by followers of Rambaldi, she begins to wonder if she has a destiny and what that fate is tied to.

Conversely, while the characters are inconsistent, the acting is consistently strong. Victor Garber, especially, stands out in the cast for his always-amazing portrayal of Jack Bristow.

Unlike the previous three seasons, Alias' fourth season, while enjoyable, is not the compelling spy thriller is has been. The last six episodes are worthy of being a part of the series and the last moments of the season are incredible, but the rest of the season is hard to justify. Not for those who are not already fans of the series, this season is inconsistent and works best for those who have already been invested in the show.

For other works with Greg Grunberg, be sure to check out my reviews at:
Super 8
Star Trek
Heroes - The Complete Series
Lost - Season 1
Mission: Impossible III


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the television reviews I have written.

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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