Prophet 5, Fans 0

The EndThe season finale of “Alias” aired on Monday night. There’s a bit where Sydney tells her evil mom, “I’m through being disappointed by you.” That pretty much sums it up.

I’m not going to bother with spoilers, since it’s already up for free on ABC’s website, and anyone who’s still interested in this show has probably already seen it.

As episodes of disposable television series go, it wasn’t all that bad. There were explosions, and stunt scenes, and espionage setups, and a teary dramatic moment between Sydney and her dad that was actually pretty well done. Still, the whole thing soured me on the series and was enough to make me kind of embarrassed I ever got into the show in the first place.

The deal with “Alias” was always that you go the sense they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew exactly how ridiculous their plots were, but damn if they weren’t going to give you the best CIA family drama with evil twins and zombies and explosions story it’s possible to make. When it worked, it was populist without being pandering, not taking itself too seriously but also not resorting to arch parody.

When you’ve got that balance, you can keep ratcheting up the action sequences without worrying about its getting too unrealistic — as long as it makes dramatic sense, you’re golden, ancient prophecies and sentient bee swarms and all. And you can throw in character drama without it devolving into melodrama or being just a whiny soap opera. But without that balance, it just lays bare the unbelievability of the plot and the characters.

That’s my problem with the finale; it just made it obvious that they didn’t know what they were doing. There’s really no excuse for it, either — they had a long maternity leave, and they knew that the series was going to end, so they had plenty of time to build up to a big finish. Instead, they dicked around for five or six episodes, and then tried to tie up everything in the last 15 minutes or so. I’m even fine with what they did, just not how they did it. It was like they had a bullet list of things that had to happen: these people have to die, these have to live, we’ve got to blow up headquarters, we’ve got to have clandestine picture-taking, two bomb countdowns, tie up the Rambaldi business, have dramatic death scenes, and tie up Sydney Bristow’s Personal Journey. You’ve got an hour and a half. Go.

It was all so by-the-numbers that none of it mattered, and it in retrospect, it made the whole series seem pretty stupid and cobbled together. The whole season has been like that — storylines like the one with Tom that just went nowhere. To get into “why can’t you be more like your brother?” territory — when “Lost” had its big shocking episode a couple of weeks ago, the episode of “Alias” that aired the same night technically did the exact same thing (killed off two major characters with one plot twist). But while “Lost” had me sitting on the couch feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me, “Alias” just had me thinking, “Well, that happened.”

The worst is that I can take their bullet list of things that had to happen, and come up with a much better scenario that would’ve worked and tied everything together, without even trying that hard: All they had to do is have the first hour be the build-up to a big showdown on Mt. Subasio. Most of the main characters get killed as Sloane does the “horizon” thing with the sunlight (skip the bit in Rambaldi’s tomb; that was dumb). Jack sacrifices himself to save Sydney and kills Sloane in the process. Sydney’s left standing there looking just like the drawing in the manuscript, then she decides to use the horizon’s power to “fix” everything. (In this version, it actually lets you control time and such, instead of some immortality juice that’s a huge let-down after five seasons of build-up).

The whole second hour is flashbacks/alternate reality type deals where she’s going back through series and saving people she couldn’t save before. Like her fiance, and Francie, and everybody that got killed in the first hour. But the whole time, she keeps being reminded that people choose their own path, and she can’t save everyone. When she sees the results of all her changes, it’s the end of the world, with the “stars falling from the sky” and all the other prophecies we were promised. Irina gives her speech about power being the most important thing, but Sydney tells her she’s wrong, because she has all the power in the world now and still can’t fix everything. Jack tells her he wanted to keep her safe from the whole spy business, but now he realizes that he didn’t control her; she made her own choices to save the world. With that, she goes back to the final showdown and lets it play out with most everybody surviving. Jack still sacrifices himself to save her, Irina and Sloane die, and we get the exact same epilogue we had in the “real” episode.

There. (If you want a better resolution for Sloane, he could be in a mental institution with Nadia and Emily haunting him for the rest of his life). That only took about 20 minutes, and even that is better than what they came up with after five months. You get all the stuff they were trying to say about power and choices and sacrifice, and you get all the cheesy sci-fi spy stuff, and you still get a semi-happy ending.

And that doesn’t count as “fan fiction,” so shut up.

The Horizon

I didn’t even remember that “Alias” moved to Wednesdays until I saw it on the TiVo last night; I’d pretty much written it off since I heard about the cancellation and since the season seemed to be starting off on shaky ground. But last night’s was really pretty good! They’re back with the action scenes and the intrigue and the secret conspiracies and double-crosses, and of course the guest stars. I’ve always liked the drug-induced-dream-sequence-flashback episodes (they’ve done at least three that I can remember) for some reason; I guess the people behind the show realize that and are tapping into that market.

If they can keep it up at this level, and the signs suggest they can, then I’ll be mighty pleased. They’ve got a good villain in Amy Acker and decent support cast with the two new guys and French lady with overbite. (And it’s kind of funny that cutting off somebody’s ear was horrifying and brutal in Reservoir Dogs, but now they show it not only on network TV, but on a network TV series that my mom watches).

The show’s already repeating itself, so it’s good that they can go out on a high note. They’ve always had kick-ass season finales, even before the big cliffhanger, so I can only imagine that a series finale that they’ve had this long to prepare for is going to be huge. I could do without the “somebody’s going to die” stuff in the teaser commercial, since they’ve already blown their wad, cast-member-death-wise, for this season. But still, should be interesting.


Word on the street is that “Alias” has been cancelled and will stop airing next May. Now, my show-cancelling and band-breaking-up powers may be legendary, but I’m not taking the blame for this one. I’m 99.9% sure I didn’t get Jennifer Garner pregnant. And I didn’t force Vaughn to leave the show, and I didn’t make J.J. Abrams get all distracted with “Lost.” But just to be safe, I’ll avoid watching “Lost” until it’s had a little bit more time and the first big backlash starts.

I can’t see getting all that upset about the show’s getting cancelled. I just got into it recently, but I could still tell that it was starting to wear out its welcome. And giving it until the end(-ish) of the season instead of yanking it immediately, gives them the chance to make a real close to it. According to the article, they’ve got something big planned.

In other news, here’s a fun fact: there are several cities called “Atlanta” in the US. The one in Idaho is apparently the one that’s having 30-degree highs all this week. Here in Georgia, it’s been around 60. Still chilly though! Or at least, I imagine it would be if I’d ever left my parents’ house. Skip wants me to go out with him for all the day-after-Thanksgiving sales, but I’m resistant. We’ve done that before, and the traffic is nuts and the crowds are unreasonable. And we never end up buying anything, somehow, even if we stay out the entire day. I think I’m doing my Christmas shopping online this year.

At Long Last Zombies

Another SFist post is up, which mentions zombies in passing.

That’s because today is a special day: at last, my little obsession over the past few months is over, and I’m caught up with “Alias.” TNT finally ran the zombie episode. I’d been expecting a whole zombie storyline, but they didn’t show up until the season finale. And they weren’t really zombies. But still, it was pretty damn impressive as a TV show season finale. On par with the best season, season 2. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence, but what they both have in common is Lena Olin as Sydney’s mom. Kinda sucks when you make a show with one great, stand-out character that your staff really knows how to write for and makes for the best storylines, and you can only have her make guest appearances.

I do think it’s kind of funny that throughout the entire series so far, the only times they’ve showed Jack Bristow kissing a woman, it was with someone he was angry at or repulsed by. C’mon, dude — you’re an actor! And it’s Lena Olin and Isabella Rosselini for gosh sakes! Can’t you just take one on the chin for ABC, and put some passion in it?

So all that’s left is the two missing episodes from the beginning of season 4, but I already know what happens in those from flashbacks and such. Then I have to pick a new hobby. I do have these “Lost” episodes on DVD sitting around…

He Knocked Me Up and Left Me With a Subscription to Hockey Trends Magazine

Other subscriptions Sydney had to cancel: The American Journal of Stubble, and Bland Quarterly.

There’s some videogame website whose motto is “A moment enjoyed is never wasted,” and that’s been a useful rationalization for a while, but there’s no way I can justify my total lack of activity yesterday. I didn’t even manage to accomplish anything for my Sims. So I officially completely and totally wasted the day of October 16, 2005. Closest I came to an achievement was finally finishing that Terry Pratchett book (which was good but not particularly memorable).

All my time-wasting culminated in four straight hours of “Alias” reruns. Season 4 is like “Alias” on Paxil: the highs and lows are evened out, and it’s going forward as competent, dependable television. There are still solid episodes that are actually really good — the one with the ex-Soviet terrorist group training its agents in a simulated American suburban neighborhood was a well-done standalone episode. And last night I finally saw the episode where Sydney gets buried alive and Marshall has to gouge out the eyes of a bad guy with a spork; that was a good one. There’s just not much of the “oh hell no they didn’t just do that” anymore, although they seem to be taking steps in that direction by having Joel Grey as a Sloane look-alike.

Season 5 I’m still not sure about. I was really happy to see Fred show up, especially as a bad guy, and especially in what looks like it’s going to be a recurring part (at least until the next episode). They’re trying hard to get us interested in the two new characters who’re supposed to carry the series now, but it’s just not working yet. Granted, it’s better than the previous week’s, which had the action-packed climax on a plane with the super fighting team of a pregnant woman, a chubby guy, and a man in his early 50s taking on a terrorist cell. (But having the device turn out to be a body, not a bomb, was a nice touch).

I’m sure I’ll keep up with it at least until TNT starts showing the zombie episodes. After that, though, the new ones are going to have to pull off something pretty remarkable to keep me interested.

Who are you and what have you done with my television show?

Rain pointed out that TNT has started showing season 4 of “Alias” in preparation for the premiere of season 5. I watched a couple from the TiVo, and thought this is no good. The people are still there, and they’re still saying things that sound familiar, but everything’s all different. And they’re spoiling stuff. This isn’t the show I fell in love with! I must’ve come in halfway through the season and ruined everything!

But then I checked an episode guide, and I found I’d started with episode 3. All the big changes that were confusing me so, had happened in the first two episodes. Damn! When they reboot a show, they don’t fool around.

Then I decided as long as I was confused, there’s no harm in watching both seasons simultaneously. So I went ahead and watched tonight’s premiere of season 5. Damn! When they reboot a show, they don’t fool around.

So as near as I can make out:

Continue reading “Who are you and what have you done with my television show?”


Alias Season 3 CastI had another bout with insomnia last night, even after “helping” Alex move, and then drinking a whole lot of beer, the two things that should guarantee I fall asleep immediately. So what that means is that I finished another four episodes of “Alias,” and there’s just two discs left in Season 3.

At this point in the series, it’s reminding me a lot of the TV series “Angel.” Not in the content or the tone, but in how I’m responding to it. “Angel” is my quintessential love/hate TV series — there were so many characters and plotlines that I just despised, and which annoyed me enough to just give up on the show over and over again. But when they did well, it was some of the best television ever made.

They had the lame “lawyers are really evil” and “LA is really phony” gags that they just never put to rest, and they had some really loathesome characters that were supposed to be sympathetic, like Lorne the demon guy and Angel’s son. But then they’d have a killer storyline like the one where Faith came back and had more depth to her character in those two episodes than in an entire year of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Or the whole fourth season of “Angel,” where they had basically written themselves into a corner and had to cover up a pregnancy, but came out of it with a great season arc that all fit together and had episodes which were genuinely scary (and I didn’t think TV could scare me anymore).

And season three of “Alias” is kind of like that. Most of it just shatters all the “I know it’s implausible and over the top, but it’s supposed to be” good-will I’d built up. All the plot twists and change-ups and revealed secrets just seem like bored writers in afternoon meetings, moving characters around on a grid without even trying to come up with real motivations for them. The characters have gone from being two-dimensional but lovable, to one-and-a-half-dimensional and so boring that even they seem to be bored with what they’re doing. Here’s yet another scene where Jack breaks the rules to save his daughter. Here’s another scene where Dixon encounters somebody behind bars and vows vengeance. Here’s one more scene where Sydney shows teary-eyed determination. Here’s still yet another girlfight with the evil Allison Doren (who got an extraordinarily anti-climactic send-off). I’m still fine with being earnest, but that will only take you so far if you don’t have an engrossing story to back it up.

And the big villain of the season was so completely obvious from scene one, that I can’t tell whether or not the reveal was supposed to be a surprise. There are still two discs left, and I’m sure that they’ve got more plot twists to throw at the story, but so far it’s been a real yawner. (Although I will say that as soon as she started playing evil, she became 1000 times sexier. What that says about me, I don’t know and don’t want to think about.) And granted, the whole bit about Sydney’s missing two years was getting stale, but instead of throwing in some twists to make it interesting, they just blew their wad and explained the whole thing away.

So that’s the hate; where’s the love? Well, this is also the season where they really got the big budgets, it looks like, and they’d built up enough reputation to attract even bigger-name guest stars. And they had the freedom to do interesting stuff that didn’t quite fit in with the formula. Like the episode with Ricky Gervais as an IRA bomber: pretty neat. And the one with David Cronenberg as the doctor who sent Sydney on that whole dream-sequence episode: very, very neat. And Isabella Rosselini as the superspy that helps Jack: pretty lame episode overall, but she gave a great performance, even though she looks even more uncannily like David Foley in drag the older she gets.

I’m still unspoiled for the rest of this season, so I have no idea what the big cliff-hanger is going to be. And considering that the next season isn’t available on DVD until mid-October, I’m actually going to have to wait to see the resolution of this cliff-hanger. It’ll be interesting to see how long I can hold out before begging people to tell me what happens in season four.

The Importance of Being Earnest (About “Alias”)

What’s wrong with me? I forgot to talk about “Alias” some more.

I watched the last episode of Season 2 last night. The big surprises from the Season 2 ending were already spoiled for me, so I didn’t get as big a shock as the first-time viewers. But I’ve got to say: even though I knew it was coming, that was one hell of a fight. I guess graduate students can only afford apartments made out of balsa wood. I’d heard about the big cliff-hanger/twist as well, so that wasn’t a shocker; I was just waiting to see how they actually did it.

Everything from here on out to the zombies is still spoiler-free for me, so I’m waiting to see what they do with Season 3. I’ve heard varying reports on teh internets. Netflix will show me the way, since I’ve already got the first disc queued up.

With these shows that I’ve gotten obsessed over in the past (“Buffy” and “X-Files”), they’ve always had episodes where it seems as if they’ve painted themselves into a corner, and then magically turned it all around to reveal a whole new room. “Alias” takes more of the brute-force approach — they paint themselves into a corner, and then demolish the house. But it keeps moving; you’ve got to give them that.

Another thing I noticed about “Alias” after watching the bonus features and commentary (since there were only 2 episodes on the last disc, I had to watch something): it’s really hard for me to maintain a healthy cynical detachment from this show. I realize that the show is formulaic and filled with ridiculous contrivances and plot-twists, but they all realize that, too. It doesn’t matter. It’s like a roller coaster — if you keep telling yourself it’s fake and there’s no way you can get hurt, it sucks all the fun out of it.

There was a bit of an interview with Jennifer Garner on there, where she said that during the filming of the finale she kept crying in between takes because she felt so bad for Sydney Bristow and what she was going through. She said, “I mean, I know that she’s a fictional character of course, but she’s real to me.” That’s the key to the whole show. You can either roll your eyes at that, or you can take it at face value and play along.

They’re all so dead earnest about the show, which is why you can hear about double- and triple-agents and ridiculous plot contrivances and DNA strands and retinal scans and not be distracted by the absurdity of it all. And you can really think things like, “Man, how bad would that feel to have your mother who you thought was dead but actually turned out to be a double-agent spying on your dad who was also a double-agent and now she’s stabbing you with a cattle prod because she’s working with the man who killed your fiance in order to steal ancient super-powerful artifacts that grant immortality? That would really suck!”

And because they’re so dead earnest about it, I actually liked watching the blooper reel, which I normally despise. It’s just fun to see them all get to smile for once. And I got a kick out of watching the rest of the promotional stuff, even though I know it’s all just marketed and manufactured to be a star vehicle for Jennifer Garner and show star-struck brainless TV-watching masses just how charming she is. But dammit, she is charming!

I’ve been tired of irony for a while now — everything trying to be all self-referential and “dark and edgy.” I’m getting a kick out of seeing something that just says, “Yes. We have zombies.” And they’re not afraid of looking stupid, and they’re not saying it’s some joke or a metaphor for something “deeper.”

I call foul!

Hooooooooooooooooooooly crap!

I just finished watching the first episode on “Alias”, Season 2, Disc 4. There’s only one other time I can remember that I felt compelled to yell back at the screen during a TV show, and that was an episode of “Twin Peaks” where Bob crawls out from behind a planter in the Palmer living room. The only thing that kept me from screaming back “oh hell no you didn’t just do that” at the last 5 minutes of this episode is that I started watching it at 1 AM and I got neighbors. (Plus, I’m a suburban white guy, so I shouldn’t be saying that kind of thing anyway).

I know I said they don’t like to drag out plot lines, and instead just throw everything at you at once, but this is crazy!

Everything after this is a big SPOILER for “Alias,” so stop reading if you haven’t been watching the show and think you might want to at some point.
Continue reading “I call foul!”

Credit Dauphine

Or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Television Again.”

I finally got around to watching the last disc of season 1 of “Alias” last night. Man, they weren’t kidding about the “big cliffhanger” thing. Murders, everybody finding out all about everybody else, simultaneous torture scenes, the return of some old favorites from the pilot, and a valuable life lesson: don’t disable a giant ball of mysteriously suspended water unless you’re sure where all the water is going to go. Give the people what they want, JJ!

Best part for me: I’d expected there to be four episodes on the disc and was surprised to see it end suddenly, so I watched the extras and blooper real. From this, I learned two things:

1. I’m in love with Jennifer Garner. Watch your back, Ben.

2. The makers of the show “get it.” I mean, obviously if you’ve got a show with as many double-agents and ancient manuscripts and, you know, the zed-word, they’re not taking it too seriously. But still, I’d been treating the show as a guilty pleasure, trying to maintain a level of distant smugness that I was appreciating it on a level of pure escapism that the makers of the show didn’t intend. Entertain me, plebians!

But in the making-of-the-pilot documentary, Abrams mentions how fortunate they were to get a cast and crew who understood the tone of it. Because it’s always right on the verge of parody, and would descend into just pure nonsense unless everyone treated it as if it were 100% serious.

That actually struck me as somewhat profound. It’s not camp, it’s not “Touched by an Angel” earnest, it’s not an attempt to be gritty and realistic. And it’s not that nebulous three-layers-of-irony detachment of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” where it’s not a silly teen soap opera because it’s smarter than that but don’t get us wrong we don’t take ourselves too seriously and aren’t afraid to make fun of ourselves but then again it’s a metaphor for life and we do Meaningful Important episodes as well. The “Alias” guys are just trying to make an entertaining roller-coaster of a show without taking it too seriously and without being too self-referential. And they do a damn good job of it, too.

Plus, Jennifer Garner is at least 18 times more appealing than Sarah Michelle Gellar. I’m going to go back and recant all my Hilary Swank comments.

I just don’t understand how y’all managed to wait a year between the cliffhanger and the next season. I didn’t even last 12 hours; I couldn’t wait for Netflix, so I went by the video store to get the first disc of Season 2. Your mom was a spy!

By the way, when I was up on Haight street to get the video just now, I saw Fred Schneider of the B-52’s and a small, easily excitable entourage. I thought it might’ve just been somebody who looks like him, but then I heard him talk. Odd. I wonder what he was doing up there, and I hope that someone hooked him up with some kind bud.


Five discs down on “Alias,” and they lost me somewhere. Maybe it was because I had to rush the thing back to the video store, so I fast-forwarded through the clip-show episode and any bit where acoustic guitar started playing and people started talking about their feelings. But I wasn’t intrigued by the Saga of the “Snowman.”

Before the show came out, I read a preview in Entertainment Weekly or something, where they interviewed J.J. Abrams. He said the concept of the show was “what if Felicity were a super-spy?” That’s what sold the show for ABC and most viewers, apparently, but it’s what turned me off and made me not want to watch it. (Plus, the descriptions of torture scenes.)

I’ve watched a lot of WB series since then, and I had prepared myself for lots of montages of our-heroine-in-emotional-turmoil while pop hits play in the background. But it seems to be getting less of the “Felicity” influence and more of the Ken Olin influence. I mean, good for the guy for producing and directing, and throwing a bone to his “thirtysomething” cast-mates by giving them (and himself) cameos, but I personally don’t want that in my action series. Therapy sessions and sepia-toned conversations while drinking wine and sitting on throw pillows? No thanks. Riding motorbikes towards Hummers full of gun-toting former-Soviets only to launch an ejection balloon at the last second and get picked up by a passing DC-10, leaving the motorbike to ram the bad guys in a huge fireball? Bring it.

Now that I’m going to be getting them in the mail, hopefully there’ll be less pressure to watch them like blipverts, and I won’t get “Alias” overload. If nothing else, it should keep every blog entry from being about that damn TV show.