Alias Retro Review

Retro Review – Alias

"Some people go miniature golfing with their parents; we go to India and look for nukes."

cc809-url

Out of all the shows I’ve ever loved in my life, Alias is absolutely my all-time favorite. While JJ Abram’s other groundbreaking creation (Lost) might get all the critical acclaim and accolades, Alias came first and was unlike anything I’d ever seen on television.

The primary reason Alias was so darn captivating was Jennifer Garner. The striking actress made Agent Sydney Bristow a fantastic lead and one of my favorite TV protagonists. Bristow was a reliably complex character, and Garner was phenomenal throughout the show’s run. She tapped into the show’s poignant emotional beats, and you still bought her escapades as she scaled rooftops in various wigs. The rest of the cast (from Ron Rifkin to Lena Olin) was also first-rate, punctuated by the wide array of brilliant guest stars the show always managed to procure. And thanks to its gorgeous production design, Alias always made you feel like you were watching a big budget Hollywood spectacle. As a kid, I genuinely believed that the spy saga had filmed in all those amazing locales; the illusion was that masterful.

And how can I not mention the twists? This was the first show that truly blew my mind on a regular basis, as I would constantly wait with baited breath at the end of each episode knowing my jaw would surely drop to the floor. Alias shocked me like no other show could, and packed each outing with a ton of forward momentum and bombshells that subverted your expectations at every turn.

Of course, Alias wasn’t perfect. While the show’s first two seasons were utterly incredible, season three was noticeably weaker, and four definitely lost its way in the first half. The show’s foray into science fiction proved to be its greatest Achilles Heel, but the series nevertheless managed to recover in its final year.

4226d-alias-101-2

Season 1
Alias’ debut season was spectacular. The gripping characters, the riveting action, the unpredictable plotting – everything was just perfect. Truth Be Told was an exceptional pilot, and apart from a slight misstep (the Noah two-parter), the season was astounding culminating with that marvelous finale and jawdropping reveal (“The Man”). Debut seasons just don’t get any better than this.
Nad Rating
A

02d0c-alias_irina_derevko

Season 2
Even better than season one. The addition of Lena Olin coupled with the SpyFam’s electric chemistry elevated the show to a whole other level. Moreover, this season contains two of the most remarkable hours of television I’ve ever seen. The first is Phase One, an hour that completely retooled the show by removing one of its endgame components early in the game (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here). The second was The Telling, a season finale that featured the greatest girl-fight ever, and an ending which blew my mind even though I had already spoiled it. All in all, season two is a televisual masterpiece and a towering achievement.
Nad Rating
A+

e7d1b-timthumb-php

Season 3
The season that has divided fans since its inception. While it’s undoubtedly weaker than the first two, it’s still ridiculously entertaining. Yes it’s true that we lost focus of Sydney’s personal life, but the plots were still as gripping as ever (particularly the cliffhangers) and Sydney’s predicament was an excellent driving force. However, the show embraced too much of a sci-fi edge with Rambaldi (the green goo comes to mind), and Lauren as a character didn’t feel very well integrated. Nevertheless, it’s still an exciting season although it goes out with a whimper (the cliffhanger was surely the weakest the show’s ever employed).
Nad Rating
B+

34957-screenshot2013-12-23at10-48-33am

Season 4
If I had to pick the worst season of Alias, I would definitely pick this season over year three. The fact that the first half of this season consisted of so many standalone episodes really ruined the show for me. It simply lacked the suspense and urgency that previous seasons had in spades (granted the first two seasons had SD-6 which was nerve-wracking all on its own, but season three still managed a lot of awesomeness). And  halfway through, the serialized stories returned and the show became great television once more. I must mention that I loved seeing all three Derevko Sisters on screen (albeit not at the same time). They were impeccably cast. Finally, the season’s cliffhanger with the crash was outstanding (even though the finale was a bit too zombie-fied).
Nad Rating
B

8d07d-screenshot2014-03-06at12-19-16pm

Season 5
For me, Season five was a definite return to form. This is made all the more impressive considering our heroine was pregnant for half the season. Kelly Peyton in particular was a superb addition to the cast and a memorably badass villain. My favorite hour of the season was the iconic 100th episode There’s Only One Sydney Bristow, which featured the return of Sydney’s nemesis Anna Espinosa (in a wonderfully wacky nod to the Faux-Francie arc). The finale however, was disappointing as I was certainly NOT a fan of Irina Derevko’s ultimate purpose. While perhaps plausible, it threw all the development she had undergone out the window. Furthermore, the Rambaldi resolution was quite anticlimactic as I was expecting much more after five years of incessant buildup. Nevertheless, much like Charmed (which had a weak finale but an excellent final scene), this finale was salvaged by a perfect final scene. Thus after an hour that almost tainted the memory of the show, the finale ended on a definite high note.
Nad Rating
A-

Conclusion
Simply put, the thrill I used to get before immersing myself in a fresh episode of Alias was unrivaled, and I don’t think I’ll ever love another show quite like I loved this one. Its unique blend of nuanced characters and mindblowing twists was truly one of a kind. Thank you J.J. Abrams and Jennifer Garner for creating one heck of a gem that forever shaped my TV-viewing experience.

Overall Nad Rating
A+

14 comments

  1. I agree with all that you've said. I think season 4 is universally regarded as the weakest for it's dull stand alones, though one or two of them were amazing! I recently re-watched this myself, and the drop off in quality isn't very evident like it was for, say, Charmed. Even it's weaker episodes (Welcome to Liberty Village) weren't truly horrendous.

    Sydney was a fabulous protagonsit, well up there with the best Like Buffy and Jenny Garner was always truly fantastic, but I have to admit the scene whens he discovers Danny in the bath always makes me laugh, if only for a parody I saw of it once!

    It's unfortunate it never got the recognition that Lost did, since I think this is far superior to it.

    Nice review!

  2. I so agree about Alias being better than Lost. Lost as far as I was concerned got extremely annoying after a few seasons! It's a shame it always got more attention.
    By the way I know the parody you're talking about, I think it was a MADTV sketch and I have it downloaded it somewhere. Love it. They kept making fun of Jen Garner crying! It's actually so well done. She did cry a lot throughout the show's run.

    Oh and I really enjoyed Welcome To Liberty Village. One of the very good standalones. Such an amusing premise!

  3. Sorry, can't agree with you on Liberty Village, it had an interesting enough idea behind it, I just found it very annoying to watch!

    Jen cried about 200+ times a SEASON!

  4. Wajiha: Great review Nadz – though season 3 has remained a point of contention between us (I hate it – for superficial reasons :P), you were pretty much on the mark with everything.

    Love Alias! BTW this show is one of the reasons why we are friends 😛

  5. Haha it truly was our first bonding experience! Eventually you'll learn to accept Season 3 as a necessary bump in the road for Syd & Vaughn 😉
    Thanks for reading!

  6. Oh I just wanted to mention that I really hated the way it ended… I think the point is in life, there rarely is ONE BIG EVIL. It's much more complicated than that, honestly. I think they were just tired though, and wanted to wrap things up the fastest way they could. Plus at that point, the chemistry between vaughn and sydney was minimal due to her have already dumped vartan for affleck… so it's a bit hard to buy.

    PLus thw whole vaughn dying thing was a really cheap way of getting him the time off (cause it was just so damn awkward)

  7. Fully agree tt really was SUCH a disappointing finale. Again I must say I'm glad they at least got the final scene right because the rest of the finale was so not up to par! I miss our Alias talks! I hope I can eventually review all the episodes during a rewatch (which might take a decade or two)

  8. Seasons 1 and 2 will always be the golden age of Alias to me.

    I personally hated Season 3 more than Season 4 because of the whole thing with Vaughn's wife and the tiresome melodrama surrounding that, and the Covenant not being that interesting of a villainous organization more to SD-6.

    I considered Season 5 to be somewhere between the first two seasons and the middle two seasons in terms of quality. Nad, like you, I hated what they did to Irina in the last season. I prefer her as the morally ambiguous, complex character she was before that season.

  9. The Irina thing was REALLY unacceptable after all the care and effort put into developing her character. What a pity!

    Glad to see you're a huge Alias fan as well! Nothing like those first two seasons!

  10. Just finished season 3 and read your review (haven't read 4-5 because I'm extremely spoilerophobic) and all I can say is WOW, just wow.

    Very spot-on reviews here, especially in describing two of the finest hours of television I have ever seen (Phase One and The Telling). This show is already right up in my list of all-time favorites, perhaps beating Dark Angel if only because it was given a chance to truly shine (unlike DA which was treated horribly by Fox). Jennifer Garner is truly phenomenal here and while I've told you I've kind of hated Vaughn in season 3, he impressed me a lot in the season finale (finally showing us he might have a spine).

    Lauren though – OH MY GOD. I can't remember the last time I despised a character this much and I don't know if it's my indifference about Melissa George's performance (THAT ACCENT!!) or just how horrible the character was, particularly with how long it took everyone to realize she was working for the covenant. It got a little frustrating in the last 8 episodes, but I guess the finale was satisfying.

    I didn't mind the cilffhanger so much, but it's not nearly as epic as season 2 or 1 (even 4, which sadly has already been spoiled to me a long, long time ago). And I wish we could have seen Will more because his episode is one of my favorites this season, especially with how that episode ended: Will telling Sydney that killing Faux-Francie wasn't as satisfying as he thought it'd be; it was as empty as he'd dreamed. LOVED that line.

    Off to season 4 soon! I'll keep reporting back my thoughts 😀 😀

Share Your Thoughts