Jennifer Garner’s No James Bond

I’ve been saying for a few weeks now that we’ve been watching Alias. I had intended to do a review after the first season, but we got into the second one right away and I’ve been busy, so now’s as good a time as any to talk about the show now that we’ve finished the second season. SPOILERS abound.

For the record, I don’t love this show. And I’ve heard that the first two seasons are the best and it declines into the third, so I’m not sure how the rest will go, but Em digs it. My problems with the show are many, but one of the biggest is that our heroine, Sydeny Bristow, played by Jennifer Garner, just isn’t that good at her job. Sure, she can throw a wig on, sex it up and get the information she’s after, but she’s not the best fighter and she tends to get overly emotional when it comes to certain aspects of her missions. Now, I know that James Bond gets put to the ropes and doesn’t win every single fight he’s in, but he doesn’t cry about it.

Another big problem I have with the show as a whole is that it seems like all the big problems presented are tied up too tightly. What, it seems like Sydeny’s handler Michael is a spy? No, he’s just digging up dirt on her mother. Does this go anywhere? Absolutely not, it’s only used to make Sydney and us suspicous. But it just doesn’t work. There are all kinds of moments like this. Things don’t happen in a natural way and they come out as forced and obvious. There also seems to be this “let’s fool the viewer” mentality, which, once you catch on to, it makes for some pretty obvious storytelling. They’ll lead with an idea, you’re supposed to think A is going to happen, but because you know you’re supposed to expect A, you assume Z will happen and then Z happens.

This is exemplified perfectly in the season 2 finale fight between Syd and the woman posing as her friend Francie. Sydney actually comes off as a badass here, but the problem is that the story the writers are trying to tell isn’t matched by the fight choreography, so what you see is a fight that Sydeny should clearly be winning (especially considering her training), but, because the writers don’t want it to be too one-sided, she makes what look like stupid tactical mistakes just so her opponent can gain the upper hand at times. It was an intense fight, very brutal, but it just felt too written and unnatural.

I also have to call foul on the Season 2 episode “Truth Takes Time.” This is a game changing episode, but it was so artificially done that I was screaming at the TV. You see, Sydney’s mom turned out to be a spy back when Syd was a girl, but she turned herself in to the CIA, got everyone to trust her and then escaped to team up with the series’ big boss bad guy Sloane. In this episode there were just way too many ridiculous things happening I couldn’t stand it. First, Sloane’s wife turns herself in to help the CIA after hearing how crazy her husband is. Meanwhile, Sloane’s thinking of giving up his 20-year mission because his wife is freaked out. Great timing right? Can you guess what’s going to happen?

So, Sloane’s wife tells Syd and the CIA where he will be so they can grab him. Now, they don’t surround the building well enough to actually stop them when they’re running through the yard to the spot where the helicopter will pick them up, which was annoying. But then, Dixon, one of Syd’s partners, is on a hill with a sniper rifle trained on Sloane (with his wife alongside him), but the dude gets startled by a helicopter flying over him as he fires and, of course, kills Sloane’s wife. But here’s the thing, Sloane is sitting there for a WHILE and Dixon doesn’t take a second shot at Sloane or the helicopter. There was plenty of time for him to take several other shots and he doesn’t because he’s upset that he killed an innocent woman. I get it, he’s a good guy, but he’s also a well trained super spy who has killed COUNTLESS people.

I get that shows like this have to keep going on a combination of adventure and emotion, but it’s the emotional parts at the wrong time that get under my skin. They show later that Dixon, after realizing he shot Sloane’s wife, rolls over on his back and looks upset. WTF?!! He’s a damn spy! Take the second shot and THEN cry about it. I don’t know spys from anything other than the movies and I know they’re human beings, but Syd even talks about how she was trained to compartmentalize her emotions, which I assume is something real spies do as well, so freaking do it!

But, it’s not a bad show all around. I like all the characters, though tech geek Marshall has a tendency to poke at my nerves with his nervous, pointless rambling. And the set up of the first season: a spy finds out she’s not really working for the CIA, so she goes to the real CIA to become a double agent who finds out her dad is also a double agent was pretty cool. Limited, but cool. And the fact that they completely changed the game in the middle of the season by taking out all of the Alliance (bad spy guys) cells was pretty mind blowing. So big props for that kind of thing.

Another aspect of the show, and the thing that really kept me interested throughout the first season, which I found to be pretty dull for the most part, was the idea of this Renaissance inventor guy Rimbaldi and all his crazy inventions. It’s become the backbone of the story now, but I feel like we haven’t been shown enough of his inventions and what they can do (hopefully we’ll get more of that in Season 3, though we’ll see). I also feel like they let it dangle and fall off the radar for too long and it’s lost a bit of its luster going into Season 3, but we shall see. It’s a strangely fantastical concept for a show seemingly so steeped in reality.

One reason I think I didn’t like the show is because we were watching so many episodes on DVD in such a short period of time. When you do that, the little things become a lot more obvious and annoying as the slap you in the face several times in one evening as opposed to once a week. I think there’s also a difference in storytelling with shows like this now that the writers know everything will be online and on DVD. It seems like it might be like comic book writing where you’re “writing for the trade.” It might not make sense in single bits, but when everything’s together, you’ll get it. They also don’t have to remind the audience awkwardly of things in-episode and spend time on things like reviewing the entire season, that’s what the “Previously on…” part is for. There’s even a full-on clip show with new material wrapped around it (Terry O’Quinn interviewing Sydeny about her involvement with the bad guys). It was during this episode that it struck me that you don’t get episodes like this anymore. Sure, we get Lost shows where there are clips and people talk about what’s happened so far, but it’s not a canonical episode of the show. Since Alias started in 2001, it was just at the beginning of the whole TV on DVD thing and should get a limited pass because of it.

So, it’s been an okay show, not something I would give up many other shows to watch, but since nothing’s really on this summer, it’s worth a peep. I had heard that the second season finale wasn’t so hot, but I’m down with this two year jump (though why Michael would get married so damn quickly is beyond me). I’m curious to see where things go and, since I’m already not that into the show, I’ll be interested to see how it jumps the shark.

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