Why I am not watching the third season of Alias.

Tuesday · September 09, 2003 · 09:23 AM

A brief report by Lee Stewart.

I’ve finally caught up on my Alias viewing – I was out of the country for the first two-thirds of last season and wasn’t able to see the show when it aired. I finally got to watch the entire second season and see what the excitement was all about.

I have to say that the first season of Alias is my favorite show. I really like the writing and the acting (and the way Jennifer Garner kicked butt and made it look easy). The show constantly amazed me with the turns and twists – twists I seldom expect, yet always seemed fairly plausible.

Then they jumped the shark. Twice in one season, if that’s possible.

Half way through season one, I predicted that Sydney and Vaughn (her “handler”, heh) kissing would be the moment the show jumped the shark. Boy was I right – the kissing episode was poorly written and seemed as random as you could get. It was as if they threw a bunch of crap into the mix in an effort to give the show more zing and help it find a larger audience.

Andrew pointed out that the first airing of unlucky episode 13 was after the SuperBowl. That explains several things, for example the show starting with Sydney, walking slow motion towards the camera in black bra and undies. Then changing and walking towards the camera in slow motion with red bra and undies.

I’m a fan of Jennifer Garner in a bra and undies, but shouldn’t the show start with the “previously on Alias” bit instead of gratuitous T&A? Luckily they had a flashback to explain the poor excuse for a lingerie model shoot. Evidently the explanation wouldn’t have been interesting enough for post-SuperBowl viewing and they rescripted it to appear later in the show…

I’ll be the first to admit that Alias could easily get in a rut. The show has Sydney working for two teams of people – one gets info on a thing they need to steal and the other gives her a counter-mission to swap the thing for a fake one. I didn’t think this was a “problem” per se, but one of the writers must have gotten bored and decided to shake things up a bit.

Or, maybe they were trying to cater to the SuperBowl watchers. If so, the corporate whores may have lost their core audience and lied to the “new audience” about what the show’s about. Sorry guys, it’s not about a scantily clad Jennifer. Even the fight scenes were somehow different – this episode had the longest fight of the show’s history, perhaps for the benefit of their new audience. Normally Sydney dispatches her foe with a kick or two. This took several minutes (the length of this fight is second only to the one in the final episode of the second season. Groan).

Oh, wait. Saying “previously on Alias” would have scared off this new audience. Can’t have them flipping channels because they missed the first 34 episodes of the show. This entire episode was geared towards people who hadn’t seen the show – simple explanations of things that are obvious to even the most casual viewer. Didn’t we reset things and explain the show during the season opener?

They also began introducing more cameos (they’ve had a few already – a pudgy Quentin Tarantino comes to mind). This episode had Angus Scrimm and Rutger Hauer, the next episode had Ethan Hawk, the next Christian Slater, then Richard Lewis, Christopher Curry, David Carradine, etc. A new definition for the term “stunt casting” when Christian Slater tries to take out a bad guy with his handcuffs and gets a bullet to the knee.

The show is a continuing story, which gives the writers time to introduce new concepts to let people absorb and think on. It really helps to let people get used to an idea – springing things on people requires a larger suspension of disbelief. When someone does something unexpected, it’s nice to think back to a previous episode and understand their motivation for a previous action.

The show has always had a fantastical element to it, something I’m not a fan of. The 14th century Rambaldi creating a secret for zero effort energy or somesuch is sort of silly. Mostly, I can swallow these “X-Files moments” as excuses for missions. There are 47 Rambaldi artifacts that the bad guys are trying to collect (plus miscellaneous manuscripts and a mechanical heart). They’re scattered all over exotic locations and Sydney has to jet around and stop the bad guys. Fine.

But when you start throwing too many curveballs, I lose interest.

The things about the script that I don’t like fall into three categories. There are the campy moments, like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” being played while Sydney struts in her undies. And the dumb moment where the two CIA operatives (Vaughn and Weiss) cheered Sydney on as they watched her kick butt on the surveillance camera.

The other things were the leaps of faith I was forced to swallow. Will and Francine kissing? Where did that come from? Sure they work together, but this was too far out there. Sloan knew that Sydney and Jack were double agents? Seemed a stretch. Especially the way Giger found out – “let me read the deleted part of a random email”. Francine replaced with an exact genetic duplicate (and why does the duplicate cry when killing Will? Can’t we have a bad guy that is just plain bad? Oh, wait, the 12 inch blade through Will didn’t kill him)?

Last, I hate that they cut off some great storylines. Sloan with a tracking device is brilliant (I know it was neutralized, but it’s there for future use and Jack knows it). It was interesting to think how Sydney and Jack lose their edge with the “inner circle” of SD-6 (too bad it lasts for half an episode). The Giger character is excellent as a boss (too bad he only lasts for half an episode). Mostly it’s annoying that they took down all of the SD cells. In 5 minutes (literally) they’d infiltrated and wiped out a year and half of bad guys that we’ve come to know and love.

Now I’m forced to watch the entire CIA (with occasional help of the NSA) go after three bad guys.

Then there was the stupid kiss – cheap and inappropriate. Swelling music in the middle of the destroyed SD-6 headquarters, furtive glances across the room, and then smooch. The camera swirls around them in slow motion while Weiss chats inanely (love that guy, but this was by far his weakest dialog). And they keep kissing, around a minute’s worth. I wish it had been a quick kiss and an embrace – something you’d expect from two CIA operatives in hostile territory.

Oh, and the teams that worked against each other? Now they’re one big happy team. Now that the bad guys are integrated with the good guys, Sydney has lost much of her reason for being angst-ridden. Even the moment where her CIA friends were shooting at her SD-6 friends was bland. Although it seemed to have excited Sydney, since she decided to kiss on Vaughn. I swear I saw a shark in the background.

I fully expected her to wake up and have it all be a dream. Then I prayed she would, to put this absurdity to rest. Then I prayed that I’d wake up.

The second time they jumped the shark was the season two finale. Don’t even get me started on that turd they called an episode – such a big one they needed two episodes to show it. Such a big one that it would take me twice as much space to rant about.

Perhaps later, right now I’m going to tape over 22 episodes of Alias…