So I treated myself a while ago to Alias
season 4, because it seems obvious that - if Channel 5 ever get around to showing it - they'll do so at some unearthly hour and I'll either not notice or forget to record it.
Thinking recently about what would be my favourite TV show out of the many I love, I think Alias
comes out on top, probably for the very reason that it became something of a minority sport in the UK.
If you've never seen it before, the premise of the show is a little bit like Mission Impossible
(it was what JJ Abrams did before Lost
), but with a female lead (Sydney Bristow, played by Jennifer Garner). You'd probably point to high-kicking marshall arts style Buffy as an inspiration, too. So Alias
is the love-child of Mission Impossible
: a corking combination of action, adventure, sci-fi, thriller, mysticism. It's 90° proof hokum, in other words.
Aside from the gripping cliff-hangers, great action scenes, and Jennifer Garner in a variety of costumes and wigs, what's there to like about Alias
? To me, it comes down to the layers of complexity. Its title points the way: Alias
is about questions of identity, just as much as Buffy was about making the demons of our adolescence real.
Sydney is a college student, except she's not. She works part-time in a bank, except it's not a bank. In the beginning, she's an agent for SD6 - a division of the CIA - for which the bank is just a front. Except it's not. Quite soon, she's a real CIA agent working undercover as an SD6 agent, because SD6 is a renegade organisation, part of a criminal network. Most of the people who work for SD6 think they work for the CIA, but they don't. Sidney's dad, Jack, works for SD6 and she thinks he's one of the bad guys, except he's not. And she thinks her mum is dead. Except she's not. She thinks her mum was a CIA agent, too. But she was a Russian agent. And now she's still
a Russian agent, except not, more like a criminal like Sloane, head of SD6 and former CIA agent who might - possibly - be Sydney's father. Except he's not, he's the father of the half-sister Sydney didn't know she had, who lives in Argentina.
There's more. Sydney lives with two friends, who think she's a college student who does way
too much work for a bank. Except one of the friends gets killed and replaced by a lookey-likey agent for another
criminal syndicate. And more: one of Alias' deliberate bold strokes is to have several characters who look quite similar to each other. Sydney's closest friend, her CIA handler, and one of her adversaries: all three have similar looks and colouring. Sydney herself looks a lot like her sister, and her mother.
, in other words, nothing is what it seems, and nobody is what they seem. You can trust nobody, except you can. Sometimes.
A lot of the plot gets hung around the search for secret artefacts, created by a Da Vinci-like Renaissance genius called Rambaldi. They chase manuscript pages, secret plans, or items left by Rambaldi in hard-to-reach locations. Sometimes they turn out to be weapons, or some kind of miraculous serum that causes the person injected with it to speak in a secret code. The CIA and SD6 and countless others chase all over the world looking for Rambaldi artefacts. Sydney is always on a mission for SD6, but she usually has to pull a swap and give the real thing to the CIA, or make a copy first. And she works with a partner with whom she trusts her life, except he only thinks
he works for the CIA and begins to suspect Sydney is one of the bad guys.
As you can tell, it's an absolute hoot, so complicated that it would make most peoples' brains hurt. Let's admit it: Alias
is only of appeal to someone with the intellect to keep up with it all, and it's still
preposterous, ridiculous 90° proof hokum.
It pulls other bold strokes, like having her wake up, after everything has come to a head, and two years have passed - and she doesn't have any memory of those two years. Or she ends up working for a CIA black ops unit commanded by her former arch enemy, the evil, manipulative, renegade Arvin Sloane.
Season 4, or so I've read, takes a while to get going, and it's true that a few of the early episodes are a bit so-so. But Alias
is a programme that isn't afraid to leave you hanging, and lets things build to ridiculous heights. It's all over now, I think season 5 is the last, but it is, officially, one of the Best Things Ever.