"Warning: Spoilers are liberally sprinkled in the following review
For four seasons now ALIAS has managed to be one of the most consistently entertaining series on television, showcasing arguably the most successful action-genre actress in the history of TV. What sets Jennifer Garner apart from her competitors for the Best Action Heroine is her combination of acting ability, stunning looks, and athletic prowess. Any other actress that I can think of fails to match her in all three of those crucial categories. As much as I adore BUFFY (my all time favorite show), Sarah Michelle Gellar, while gorgeous, was not quite as good an actress as Garner, and was no where near as good an athlete.
Season Four ended up a very strong season despite a somewhat shaky beginning and a very hard-to-swallow initial premise. The season starts with the creation of a new black ops unit of the L.A. office of the CIA. That isn't hard to accept, but what is that it is headed up by Arvin Sloane. In the world of television we are often asked to swallow some pretty astonishing premises, but asking Arvin Sloane to become head of a new CIA black ops unit would be like Goldfinger replacing M as James Bonds's superior. Things weren't helped by a string of rather lackluster early season episodes that fell far short of the usual ALIAS standards. Luckily about a third of the way through the season there was a sharp improvement in the quality of the scripts, and the last several episodes were superb even by ALIAS standards. The essential untrustworthiness of Sloane even was utilized in marvelous fashion.
Family has always played a role in ALIAS, and while it would be inaccurate to describe it as a family drama, doing so wouldn't be too far of a stretch. The complex relationship between Sydney and her father has always been a major component of the show, but family matters multiplied to embrace nearly every character in the show. The beautiful Argentinean actress Mía Maestro joined the cast as Nadia Santos, supposedly the daughter of Arvin Sloane and Sydney's mother and hence Sydney's half sister. (MAJOR SPOILER WARNING: I say "supposedly" because in the season finale Jack Bristow tells Irina Derevko that Nadia is a remarkably woman, and Irina affectionately replies, "I wonder where she got that from." To the attentive viewer it obviously implied that Irina, at least, thought that Jack and not Sloane was the father.) Nadia also spends time getting to know her father Sloane, while developing a relationship with Eric Weiss. Meanwhile, Sydney and Vaughan repair their relationship after the travails of Season Three. The "family matters" feel of the show was perhaps best epitomized by the end of the next-to-last episode of the season, where Jack, Irina, Vaughan, Nadia, and finally Sydney all parachute from an airplane in Russia.
From the first episode ALIAS has stood out for its superb cast and consistently brilliant acting. Before I continue I want to emphasize that ALIAS remains one of my favorite shows, and I was delighted when I heard that it had been renewed for a fifth season. This is clearly not an inexpensive show to produce, with its large and talented cast, impressive array of guest stars, and extravagant sets and special effects. But thankfully the powers-that-be at ABC gave the green light for a fifth season. I would, however, like to make two minor and one major criticism of the show. If I get my wish for Christmas, it will be for the makers of the show to resolve the main problem in the show. First, the two minor complaints. One concerns the final seconds of the season. One of the most hallowed rules of good writing is that if you are going to bring about a major plot change, it needs to have been foreshadowed earlier in the narrative. Sudden and dramatic shifts can not only feel tacked on and inconsistent, but can leave the viewer feeling deceived. This is how I felt when in the closing seconds of the season Vaughan revealed to Sydney that it was no accident that she had been sent to him in the first episode of the series and that his name was not Michael Vaughan. This simply was not credible, and in going back and watching several key episodes from the past, I cannot find that there has been even the slightest hint that Vaughan was playing a double game. So, it truly did feel "tacked on." My second criticism is that the Rambaldi prediction of Season One, namely, that someone who looked like Sydney would be involved in the fate of her sister in some pivotal event, was a thunderous dud. Unless, of course, the season finale was not the foretold event. But it is part of a larger problem: for four seasons we have seen an ongoing involvement in the legacy of Rambaldi, but the payoff has been rather slight. Despite random attempts, the Rambaldi elements of the show too frequently feel like they have merely been inserted, without being fully integrated.
Now to the major problem in the show, and one that is creating some uneasiness as I anticipate the coming seasons of J. J. Abrams's other show on ABC, LOST. With FELICITY, ALIAS, and LOST, Abrams has shown that he can create innovative series with marvelous initial premises with ongoing first rate writing. But what he has not yet demonstrated is that he can move on from those initial premises to take series in new and exciting directions. ALIAS has been magnificent for four years, but it has been essentially recycling itself each year. Contrast this to BUFFY, where each year Joss Whedon took the show in startling new directions. Even if one didn't like what he did, there was no question that each year was utterly fresh and unique. There have been changes in ALIAS, but the changes have been rather tame. Season Five of BUFFY was profoundly different than Season Two, while Season Four of ALIAS felt eerily like Season One. I will be delighted if Season Five of ALIAS is just another version of Seasons One through Four, but I will be far more excited if they try to shake it up entirely, if they try to redefine the formula or jettison it entirely.
There is one other factor that could affect Season Five: Jennifer Garner's pregnancy. Although ABC hadn't yet announced when Season Five was going to begin, it is pretty clear that it will have to resume in January like it did this year. Season Four ended with Vaughan and Sydney's vehicle being smashed by an SUV. Perhaps this will allow Garner to start Season Five in an injured state, giving her time in real life to get into the physical shape that allows her to do such wonderful stunts (although she uses a stunt double, she does more of her own stunt work than most performers). With a late fall due date, she is going to have very little time to get back into shape. However they work the logistics, I'm sure that we are going to have at the very least another amazing season of one of the finest action shows TV has produced."
Ending Begins: Season 4 of One of the Greatest Shows on TV
Andrew | Chicago, IL, USA | 05/26/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"At the end of Season 3 of Alias, most fans considered it to be the show's weakest year. Even though I also thought that it wasn't as strong as the brilliant Seasons 1 and 2, I didn't think that it was as terrible as many people were complaining (although a lot of people just didn't like the fact that Sydney [Jennifer Garner] and Vaughn [Michael Vartan] weren't together). However, whether or not people liked S3, I think that most people can agree that the cliffhanger ending made us wnat to see what happened next. Sloane (Ron Rifkin) and his newly-found daughter Nadia (Mia Maestro) ran away from CIA custody to find one of Rambaldi's most powerful artifacts, while Sydney discovered something that her father Jack Bristow (Victor Garber) did not want her to find. Meanwhile, Vaughn had just discovered a Rambaldi prophecy stating that the Chosen One (Sydney) and the Passenger (Nadia) would fight to the death. So it is understandable that most fans couldn't wait to see where Season 4 took our characters. Unfortunately, for the first half of the season, they didn't go far. In the season premiere, "Authorized Personnel Only", events pick up a few months after the end of S3, instead of right where things left, which has been done in all previous years. In the first episode, we do find out what was written on those papers that Sydney had found, but there is something not quite right about the answer we get. Furthermore, we don't know what it was that Sloane and Nadia found (at least not until the end of the year), but whatever it was, it was powerful, because the CIA gave Sloane command over a new black ops division in exchange for the artifact. The division was named APO (short for Authorized Personnel Only, which is the DUMBEST name for a black ops division that anyone can think of; personally, I'd have called it SD-0 or SD-X, but that's beside the point), and its members include Syd, Vaughn, Jack, Nadia, Weiss (Greg Grunberg), Dixon (Carl Lumbley, who was very underused this year), and Marshall (Kevin Wiesman). Another problem with this is that Sloane has somehow betrayed pretty much all of those people in the past, and many of them actually worked for him before at SD-6, when they were really working for terrorists against their knowledge, so it is very hard to believe that they are now all voluntarily working for this man again. After all, Sloane killed Syd's fiance and best friend, he had Dixon's wife killed, he injected Nadia with a serum to force her to find the Rambaldi artifact, and he betrayed Jack's trust. And then, for the first half of the season, the episodes are completely self-contained (this was the first season in which every episode didn't begin with a "Previously" montage- in fact, very few episodes did this year). This wouldn't have been as much of a problem as it was if the episodes weren't sub-par for Alias standards. I mean, one of them even had pseudo-vampires! There are no vampires on Alias!! The dialogue, plots, and jokes were all below the quality they've been in past years, and I almost gave up hope for this show. Then things started picking up again in the second half of the season. Major story arcs began developing, old characters were brought back (sadly, Sark [David Anders] was only in two episodes this year, and Will [Bradley Cooper] didn't appear at all, but it was good to see Anna Espinoza [Gina Torres] again), and the Rambaldi storyline was reintroduced. Also, we finally got some answers for questions that have been around since the first season. If you are willing to look past the terrible first half of this year, the second half is a very good block of episodes. While they still aren't as good as the first two seasons, I doubt that any new episodes will be able to live up to those years. Until Season 5..."
A slightly new direction, but strong as ever
Matthew C. Russoniello | Spokane, WA United States | 05/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The fourth season of 'Alias' had the distinctive misfortune of coming off the tail end of the show's much maligned third year. Add to that ABC's decision to change its timeslot from Sundays to Wednesdays and to hold off on airing the season until January, almost 8 months after season 3's finale aired. To say the least, Season 4 had its work cut out for it.
That said, I must declare that I was never of the persusion that Season 3 was a weak year. I thought that, like the two previous seasons, there were obvious faults, but overall, I think the show managed to sustain itself beautifully through the loss of the beloved Lena Olin. And on that note, it seems clear to me that the first half of season 4 suffered bad fan reaction for the same reason season 3 did: Spymommy go bye-bye!
I was able to get over that rather quickly. And thank God! Because I found so many reasons to enjoy Alias's 4th season that it's almost unbelievable to me that so many fans dismissed the first half without much thought. Yes, the first half of the season focuses more on individual episodes than a larger story arc, but fear not, for many of the pieces presented in the earlier episodes show up during the second, more cohesive half of the season.
In retrospect, Season 4 really offered fans a lot (whether they were willing to take what was offered is another story, of course...). First and foremost, the return of Lena Olin in the last two episodes of the season. My, oh my, was it good to see her again. We also get a decent amount of sisterly action and tension, both between Syd and Nadia, and between the sisters Derevko. The return of two things I missed sorely from season 1: Anna Espinoza and the big red Rambaldi ball. "In Dreams" (which marks Garner's directorial debut) provided a haunting appearance of Sloane's wife, Emily. And speaking of Sloane, who could not love the concept of Sloane Cloane? And Lastly, the old mix of emotional complexity, throbbing action, heartbreaking drama, artful storytelling, fantastic fight scenes, fabulous wigs and outfits, Marshall's infamous rambling, romance (that's not without its problems), and yes, Rambaldi, is all there for you to enjoy.
Finally, to those who brush off the first half of the season, I only have to say that you probably missed the point. 'Alias' rebuilt itself because it had to. Whiny fans and the need for higher ratings forced these changes. The way I see it, everything that happened had to happen in order to get to where we're going. Anyone doubting the incredible power of this show, however, need only watch the last minute of the season finale to realize that, as most good Alias fans *should* already know, everything can change in a single instant. With perhaps the greatest cliffhanger the show has ever offered, "Before The Flood" will bring even the nitpicky whiners back to their knees in worship and praise of the most thrilling television show airing today."
Alias Losing Its Touch
Carrie Centanni | Akron, OH USA | 08/13/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"For most Alias fans, much more than their time is devoted to the show. And the show most certainly does not end when the hour ends on Wednesday night. Time is spent talking with other fans on the internet and discussing the show with friends. I am an Alias fan. I spend countless hours each week watching and discussing the show. This season, Alias fans everywhere were sorely disappointed.
In the past, Alias has been a strong show with interesting storylines, fabulous acting, and great art direction. This year, all three were below par. Jennifer Garner's performance (although the Emmy nominators may disagree) was not what it has been in the past. She lacked the passion that she had in the past that made even the most ridiculous storylines intriguing to watch. With a few exceptions (Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin), the rest of the cast had the same melancholy attitude as Ms. Garner.
The art direction in season four was dull and repeated. The set of choice this season was a nightclub; which can be interesting the first few times, but when it is exhausted it begins to drag the entire show down. Which it did. The only artistic aspect of the show that did not lose its life was the costumes that outfitted Ms. Garner. They were, as always, stunning and fabulous.
The part of the show that suffered the most was definitely the writing. I believe I can speak on behalf of many Alias fans when I say that it was absolutely abysmal this season. Many storylines seemed to be borrowed directly from the X-Files. Never before have the writers had to resort to exhausting paranormal storylines in order to get viewers. Also prevalent in the series this season were so many cheesy lines and bad dialogue. The best example of this comes in the season finale, "Before The Flood". It was embarrassingly bad. The exceptional talents of special guest star Lena Olin were wasted with a plethora of bad dialogue! Several examples of this come to mind: the whole speech about the white horse; and when Irina is reunited with her evil sister, Elena, she says "Hi sis". The writing of the finale pales in comparison to the actors.
The only advice I would give to Mr. Abrams and the good people at ABC for next season is to drastically improve the quality of the writing for next season. Also, I highly recommend bringing back the marvelous David Anders (Julian Sark) and Lena Olin (Irina Derevko) for next season. Both of these actors are beyond superb and improve upon the overall quality of the show dramatically.
As an Alias fan, I will be purchasing the fourth season; but it will be only for the reason that I purchased the third season: to complete my collection. "
Likeable season with a split personality
Danno | NY, NY | 01/15/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'm an admittedly big fan of "Alias," so you'll probably have to take some of my comments with a grain of salt. Season Four, for the most part, is likeable and fun, suffering only in comparison to the heights the series reached in its first two years. Even though "Alias" creator J.J. Abrams seems to have run out of ideas regarding the series, he's established the characters and situations well-enough so that series can continue on sheer momentum for a while.
This season, like every other season, focuses on the adventures of a small group of CIA agents who work together. Despite the opening credits' insistence on the importance of series star Jennifer Garner, this season is more a team effort than ever before. There's Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), who's a multilinguist and a master of disguise. There's her love interest Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan), a decent straight-arrow of an agent troubled by his recent past. There's her father Jack Bristow (Victor Garber), who is alternately grim and emotionally unavailable, and her step-sister Nadia (Mia Maestro). They're led by the enigmatic Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), a former CIA agent who turned into both a terrorist and a criminal mastermind similar to a James Bond villain and now claims to have been reformed. Sydney has a long history with Sloane, as does the rest of her team. As if to prove that you don't have to be part of Sydney's inner circle to work for the CIA, the remainder of the team (all in subordinate roles) include a geeky comic relief computer genius named Marshall, a strong experienced backup agent named Dixon, and a formerly occassional guest character promoted to series regular named Weiss, who serves mainly as comedy relief as well as Nadia's love interest. The cast is uniformly strong; as Nadia, Mia Maestro does the best she can with a character that isn't all that well-developed.
Abrams constructed the first third of the season to consist of self-contained episodes with a minimum of character development and next to no continuity. I'm assuming that this was intended to make it easier for new viewers to become interested in the series. These episodes reminded me a lot of the 1960s "Mission Impossible" series so perhaps it isn't surprising to learn that Abrams is working on the latest MI movie. I enjoyed these episodes a lot although I was disheartened by both the lack of continuity and absence of an overall story arc.
All this changes with the remainder of Season Four, in which Abrams not only returns to the extended story arc of earlier seasons, but also revives the Tomb Raider-meets-DaVinci Code obsession Arvin Sloane has for the Renaissance megalomaniac named Milo Rambaldi. We are treated to a series of implausible but hugely entertaining vignettes involving radiation poisoning, a woman from the past manipulating Nadia's feelings, an Arvin Sloane imposter nicknamed "Arvin Clone," and a Rambaldi doomsday scenario that would not seem out of place in a George Romero movie.
Why can't I rank this DVD set higher? It's tough to follow the ending of the season if you aren't already a fan, for starters. If you are a fan, you're likely to be annoyed at the seemingly endless succession of stand alone episodes at the beginning of the season. You'll also be disappointed in the revisionist treatment Abrams thrusts upon the occassional "guest villains" from earlier seasons, as well as the almost total lack of big-name guest stars in comparison to earlier seasons. You'll wonder why Abrams does next to nothing to further the Sydney-Vaughn relationship, and marvel at the almost total lack of chemistry between Nadia and Weiss.
Season Four of "Alias" has all the high-tech espionage, stunning stunt coordination, excellent music, and top-notch cinematography as previous seasons. (Indeed, it's far more enjoyable than most of the recent 007 films!) It's lacking much of the emotional impact of the first two seasons however, and I strongly suggest you begin your "Alias" obsession elsewhere. This isn't bad TV by any means; it just isn't up the the earlier seasons' standards."