I’m trying to be positive about Alias — I really am. But since the mega Super Bowl episode in January, where creator J. J. Abrams essentially wiped the slate clean for his show by destroying SD-6 and killing off a loveable supporting character, the subsequent episodes have lacked luster. No longer did I find myself eagerly anticipating the next new chapter of heroine Sydney Bristow and her cohorts. I even stopped (gasp) taping the show, and last week, for the first time, I didn’t even pay full attention to the episode — for some parts of the show, I worked on other stuff as the television stayed on in the room, and I turned around only when things seemed interesting.
So, after hearing and reading about the hoopla surrounding the big surprise of this season’s two-hour finale (which aired last night): of Abrams once again redefining the series, I succumbed. I’d stayed away from spoilers, and sat down and watched the show, and yes, even taped it, hoping that some of that old Alias magic would show up.
The first hour was okay — nothing really tremendous, really. Basically it was a big setup for the second hour. (BTW, that Ford Focus commercial within the show was really an eye-roller.) But most of the last half hour redeemed the episode. When Irena leaped over the roof — that whole confrontation was well done. When Will figured out the truth about FauxFrancie, I thought, "Finally! Now we’re getting somewhere!" and of course noticed that there were only five minutes left — so, cliffhanger must be coming soon. When Vaughn dropped off Sydney, I knew what was coming. I mean, he chose that night of all nights not to go into the house with her? Please. And while I’m on the topic of nitpicks, why exactly was Will at Francie and Syd’s? He was supposed to go to the CIA safehouse…although with the safety history of that place on the show, "safehouse" is an oxymoron…oh, and also based on the show history, if the CIA is transporting anything, they really need to have more than one vehicle guarding the transport… And before I forget: Syd has to find Will in her bathtub? The tub is getting such a bad rap.
So, yes, finally, the showdown between Syd and FauxFrancie happens, and it really did not disappoint in terms of hold-your-breath intensity. (Everything about this episode, especially the FauxFrancie scenes, proclaims just why Alias is not a show for kids.)
But then (Abrams, you scoundrel you), there’s Sydney with no scars or signs of a fight on her, lying dazed and confused in the streets of Hong Kong. At this point I was practically begging the TV, "Please, please don’t pull a Dallas and have it all be a bad dream…Okay, that’s not the case, thank goodness." But then Abrams pulls the rug out and yes, surprise, it may just as well be a dream.
So, it’s been three years. So, Vaughn is married and apparently out of the CIA. So, we really have no falutin’ idea what’s happened and how Syd ended up where she ended up.
The problem I have is this: Abrams isn’t just "redefining" the series when he does this kind of rug pulling — he’s basically creating new series. First (run-on sentences ahead), it was Alias with Syd, a grad student/spy grieving the murder of her fiance (whose body she found in her bathtub), and learning that her entire life has been a complete lie. (BTW, did you notice that if you turn the letter "d" upside down, it becomes a "p" and then Syd’s name becomes an anagram for "spy"? Yes, that is what I would call mental thumb-twiddling…)
Second, it was Alias: Family Reunion (We’ll Take Our Portrait Later) with Syd the double agent (who apparently is still a grad student but is never seen at school) dealing with her seriously cracked spy family and, as a double agent, still trying to take down the fanatic Sloane who killed her fiance and ruined her family, all the while still falling in love with a man whose father was killed by her own enemy spy mother (who by the way has miraculously turned herself in to the CIA).
Then, in mid-season, it was Alias, But Not Really, Because SD-6 Tumbled Easily Like a Squishy Layer Cake and Sydney No Longer Has to Use an Alias with Syd who spends the next few episodes doing more globe-trotting (that seems to be the only consistent thing on the show…) to find Sloane and stop him, and not realizing that her best friend has been murdered, replaced by a genetic mutant allied with Sloane and is brainwashing her other best friend, whose life Syd had saved and is now working for the CIA. And of course I neglected to mention that Syd’s longtime partner tries to deal with the truth of his own life having been a lie, his wife gets murdered, Sloane’s wife (but Syd’s mother-figure friend) helped staged her own kidnapping but gets shot accidentally by Dixon, Syd’s mother escapes from the CIA, and Syd somehow managed to keep up with all of her schoolwork, sight unseen, and graduate from her graduate program.
So, what’s going to be the theme of the Alias show for next season? Since Abrams skipped three years, and Syd hasn’t a clue (nor do we) as to what happened, obviously the next few episodes need to backtrack and explain that period of time. It’s like we’ve seen one of those spoiler teasers, where the teaser of an episode shows a scene that hasn’t happened yet, and then after the opening credits roll, we get a "72 hours prior" and see how we get to that scene. Except this time, the teaser is that Syd is seriously confused, quite a lot of time has elapsed, and Vaughn is married to someone else. I seriously hope that next season will not open with "3 years prior" and will not be Alias: The Quest to Restore Sydney’s Memory. I realize that the audience is supposed to identify with Syd, because she’s just as bewildered about the whole three years thing as we are. But I feel like Abrams did more than pull out a rug…he yanked my chain.
Although I love cliffhangers and drama and plot development — just look at the first season for some truly exciting episodes — I somehow feel that he’s toying with his audience just because he can. I don’t know if he’s trying to redefine television, but getting the audience invested in a certain story and certain characters of that story, and then changing the foundation of that story — twice in one season — it’s just difficult to process. I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this way, but as time passed after the Super Bowl episode aired, I kept looking back pondered whether the series really jumped the shark* then. And here it is nearly four months later, and my instinct is telling me that this is yet another shark jumping incident, if that’s even possible in one series, let alone one season.
As an optimist, I keep hoping that the show will improve, and that the beautifully scripted and shot original Alias I grew to love would emerge again. It could be that this season was simply a victim of the sophomore curse, but with the two drastic — and boy were they ever drastic — plot developments, my optimism for this show is getting tougher to bide. The series was once was a slick show that had an action facade, espionage and noir themes but always the strong element of familial discord and hints of reconciliation. But with all of these so-called plot twists, it’s looking more and more like an expensive, prime-time, outlandish soap opera wrapped in a thriller setting. And for this fan of continuity and good writing, it’s reminding me why I don’t watch soap operas.
The capsule summary: no, I didn’t really like this season’s finale, and unless Abrams has something ingenious planned to work out of the "years lost" chain yank, this very well may be the episode where Alias made its second shark jump. The first season’s finale was leagues better, in terms of suspense and excitement and purpose within the story at hand.
Parting thoughts: Farewell to Merrin Dungey, who has the distinction of "dying" twice on the show, once in each of the shark jumping episodes. I hope she appears next season, as part of the "let’s help Syd remember" story, but I’m guessing that’s improbable.
Sorry for the spiel on this, and the show in general. I suppose I really wanted to enjoy the finale — and wished that it would provide some hope for the future quality of the show. As mentioned, my interest in it had waned significantly since January; and with the news of Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme leaving The West Wing after this season (see previous blog), my current core of favorite television shows has really suffered a huge blow. Please, please let Gilmore Girls remain interesting, even with the change from Rory in high school to college.
* Unfamiliar with the term "jump the shark"? Check out the first couple of questions in the FAQ from jumptheshark.com.