“Run Sydney Run”
“My name is Sydney Bristow. Seven years ago I was recruited by a secret branch of the CIA called SD-6. I was sworn to secrecy, but I couldn’t keep it from my fiancé. And when the head of SD-6 found out, he had him killed. That’s when I learned the truth: SD-6 is not part of the CIA. I’d been working for the very people I thought I was fighting against. So, I went to the only place that could help me take them down. Now I’m a double agent for the CIA, where my handler is a man named Michael Vaughn. Only one other person knows the truth about what I do: another double agent inside SD-6. Someone I hardly know…my father.”
“It’s everything you want, and more.” That was Chris’s opinion – I was kinda stuck for the right way to start, and as always, she delivered. As, indeed, Alias pretty much delivers, with a crunchy-yet-chewy first series that juggled drama, action and comedy to fine effect, twisting the plot frequently. One problem in TV drama is that you must allow viewers to tune in at any point and rapidly work out what was going on, and former Felicity scribe J.J. Abrams does so in less than 150 words – see above for the heroine’s monologue which opens each show.
The 22 episodes cover a struggle for control of medieval technology, Nostradamus-style prophecy, and other organizations (good and bad), plus Sidney’s missing mother, ongoing relationship with her father, and perpetual struggle to keep her friends from suffering the same fate as her late fiancee. Each episode contains elements of major and minor story arcs, propelling them alone, yet also stands up well on its own.
After a breathless start in which it seemed that Abrams used every conceivable plot device inside three episodes, he wisely moved into new territory. In particular the introduction of Rambaldi, perhaps the show’s most interesting character, who has actually been dead for several centuries. A Da Vinci-esque inventor, he left pieces of his inventions, and clues to their operation, hidden around the globe, and SD-6 are now on a scavenger hunt to find and utilise these, with Sydney their main operative. The CIA are doing exactly the same, also using her to stay one step ahead of SD-6.
Garner is a good choice to play Sydney, a no-nonsense character who is never one to sit back when confronted with problems. She comes across as a well-rounded person with her own fears and doubts, rather than some kind of Bond-esque superspy. But perhaps the show’s greatest strength is the spectrum of supporting actors, who give the show depth when it could easily become a disjointed series of Lara Croft-like escapades. Marshall, SD-6’s “Q”, provides gadgets and geeky humour, while especial kudos are due to Ron Rifkin as SD-6 head Arvin Sloane. The man who orders the death of Sydney’s fiancee could easily have been a two-dimensional bad guy, but by the end of the show, you feel a great deal more sympathetic to his problems.
The influences are plentiful and obvious, most plainly Nikita and the (let’s be honest, rather lame) TV series which subsquently followed. There’s also a helping of Run Lola Run in there; creator Abrams listened to the soundtrack “almost incessantly” while writing the show, and has said, tongue in cheek, that he demands one scene of his heroine running in every episode. He certainly gets it, even if this does become a little predictable. The action quota generally is variable, but usually well-staged, with Garner doing more action than you might expect. And anyone that gets to beat up guest-star Quentin Tarantino wins my approval (at least it took him away from making more dire films!).
Though Sydney occasionally has romantic dalliances, she is somewhat unlucky in love – these men have an unfortunate tendency to die suddenly, and in one case, at Sydney’s own hands. This is probably a good thing, since I’m no fan of Unresolved Sexual Tension, finding it gets in the way of more important elements. Want romance? Go read Mills & Boon! This is an action series, after all, and I’d rather have Sydney kicking ass than going all gooey-eyed over, say, CIA handler Vaughn (Vartan). Their relationship is the subject of much fan fiction, but the ending of the first series would appear to have put the dampers on that department. [If you saw the finale, you’ll appreciate the particular viciousness of this comment]
Season one ended on a dramatic high with four characters potentially biting the big one, though no actual corpses were seen. Given this, and the twisty nature of the show in general, I think it’s safe to say a number of them will find a way to come back in the next series. I’m already looking forward to it.
Star: Jennifer Garner, Victor Garber, Michael Vartan, Ron Rifkin