After Season 3 derailed Alias somewhat, Season 4 gets things very much back on track. The cogs click into place and we are left with a wonderful season filled with what we’ve come to love and yet more surprising intrigue revolving around Sydney once more. Caution, spoilers will follow.
After encountering some cloak and dagger activities, Sydney Bristow(Jennifer Garner) is led to a new Black Ops division within the CIA, known as APO. She along with boyfriend Vaughn(Michael Vartan), Dixon(Carl Lumbly) and her father Jack(Victor Garber) have been selected for this newly formed unit which has all the necessary resources for missions and the back up of the rest of the CIA. The only hitch of this is that the superior of everyone here is Sloane(Ron Rifkin), Sydney’s biggest nemesis who she still doesn’t trust with anything. Although she is reluctant to work with Sloane, she accepts the job. Working in the job proves a lot harder for Sydney as she has to encounter the sneaky Sloane every day. Gadget man Marshall(Kevin Weisman) and amusing Weiss(Greg Grunberg) also join the team after deliberation. For Sydney though, she has unfinished business with her father that comes to light quickly. It appears that Jack had Sydney’s mother Irina killed as it became apparent that she had put a hit out on her daughter. Also, Nadia Santos(Mia Maestro) returns after her appearances in the final episodes of the last season. The half-sister of Sydney and the product of an affair between Irina Derevko and Sloane, Nadia didn’t want anything to do with the spy game in the beginning although she served in Argentine Intelligence for a time. But her required skills lead her to the agency( as well as a link to Rambaldi) and back to espionage again, also giving her a chance to know Sydney more. She establishes herself as a capable agent alongside Sydney, with who she grows closer to. In other stories, Vaughn(while tentatively getting back together with Sydney) is dealing with a lot of demons, mainly his wife’s betrayal last season and burgeoning knowledge about his father’s past that point to sinister machinations. Meanwhile, there is more Rambaldi and his prophecies to contend with as they get increasingly bizarre and extraordinary. Can APO function as an agency if there is distrust among everyone, in particular Sydney? Has Jack really had Irina killed, or is it more complex than that? And what is Sloane’s end game, if he has one? You’ll just have to watch to find out.
It is with gladness I report that Season 4 of Alias is a return to form for the show. The tonal diversity of the show reaches a peak here, successfully shifting between the genres thanks to Abrams and his team, with relative ease but staying rooted in the spy world and touching it with fantasy. The mixing of tropes is what made Alias a great show to begin with so with the focus going back to it, the results are inspired. The cinematic essence of the episodes is filled with a style that can’t be ignored and contributes to the fantastical quality of the show. The focused aspects of the show are back, after being sidelined a lot in Season 3 and are just as enjoyable as ever. The pounding music once more sets the amazing backdrop for the show to play out against. On the visual side, the title sequence this time is very accomplished and Sydney’s many disguises flash across the screen in rapid succession. Sure it is complex in terms of plotting, but it is meant to be and rightfully so. Trust has always been a significant theme throughout Alias but it is most explored here. Chiefly it is embodied in the fact that Sloane is the head of APO and Sydney doesn’t know how to ever trust someone who has been the enemy for so long. This only adds to the boiling intrigue of motives and actions as Alias takes flight once more. Father and daughter relationships take up quite a bit of the season too, as both Sydney and Nadia have their own issues with their respective elders. And the writing is pretty stellar as every one of the characters has something to face or come to terms with. One thing you can’t say about Alias is that it is predictable, as the twists and turns know exactly how to wrong foot you. The only real quibble I had was the short appearances of Sark. He has become one of my favourite characters and though he makes a showing here and there, it would have been nice to see more of the slimy villain. That being said, that is the only real problem I found with Season 4.
The cinematic opening two parts of ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ are especially excellent in announcing the return to greatness in a big way. We have the unnerving ‘Ice’, that features a deadly bio-weapon that causes the body to crystallize and implode on impact. Much squeamish activity colours the episode and creeps the audience out no end. The immensely disturbing and nightmarish ‘Nocturne’ is an unusual but compelling episode charting Sydney coming into contact with a hazardous drug and suffering horrifying hallucinations. The episode could easily be a horror short it is that spine-chilling and executed with style. There’s a nice recalling of the SD-6 days within ‘The Index’ as both Sydney and Dixon become suspicious that Sloane is up to his old tricks again and set out to prove it. One of the best episodes can be found in ‘The Orphan’ which utilizes imaginative techniques to flesh out the back story of Nadia and how she came to be the person we see now. Cutting between past and present with urgency, it greatly expands on the character of Nadia and her importance to the story.
The resourceful cast pull it out the bag again with great work. Jennifer Garner impresses again as Sydney; showcasing her stubborn personality and emotional depth with excellent degrees of shading. Sydney is an immensely developed character, but she gains bigger momentum through the work of Garner, who knows the right buttons to press to make us sympathise with Sydney and want her to survive everything thrown towards her. So many facets are present in Sydney; she’s strong yet vulnerable, tough but sensitive and assured yet emotional. All of this and more is found in the amazing work of Jennifer Garner. Michael Vartan does some of his best work as Vaughn in this season. The character has always had the heroic thing going on, so the detour into darkness clouding him is a good move for development. He is put in a situation that he really doesn’t know how to handle, and his anger becomes more pronounced. Victor Garber continues an impressive run of performances as Jack, who is a lot murkier than usual(which is really saying something). Jack definitely appears to be planning something this season, but as usual thanks to the cold and reticent quality of Garber’s acting we are never sure what it is. And as shifty as Jack is, his defining characteristic of being a protective father thankfully remains. The same can be said Ron Rifkin as he portrays Sloane with a crafty secrecy and mystery. We can also glimpse some actual humanity in the character as if he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yet like the intuitive Sydney, we are wary of being trustful of him due to his past record.
The newest addition to the cast of Mia Maestro is a good one. Portraying Nadia as sassy, slightly rebellious but open-hearted, the character is one that bears similarities to Sydney but distinct differences too. Maestro boasts great chemistry with Jennifer Garner and you genuinely buy them as sisters. The growing closeness is nicely observed, benefiting from the depth of the work from Maestro. Carl Lumbly plays Dixon as a determined and level-headed agent with degrees of respect of depth to it. The affable presence of Greg Grunberg covers the part of Weiss, who is just about one of the funniest things on Alias. And Kevin Weisman rocks it as Marshall, who gets out more in the field this time around. Weisman knows the exact tics to make Marshall both lovable and geeky at the same time.
- Authorized Personnel Only Part 1 – A+
- Authorized Personnel Only Part 2 – A
- The Awful Truth – B
- Ice – A
- Welcome to Liberty Village – B-
- Nocturne – A
- Detente – B+
- Echoes – C+
- A Man of His Word – B
- The Index – A
- The Road Home – B-
- The Orphan – A+
- Tuesday – A
- Nightingale – B+
- Pandora – C
- Another Mister Sloane – B-
- A Clean Conscience – B+
- Mirage – A
- In Dreams – B
- The Descent – A
- Search and Rescue – B+
- Before the Flood – B+
A welcome rebuilding year for Alias, Season 4 is a great penultimate season for the show with the recalling of the past and a wide showing of talent across the board. You can’t really ask for much more for a season and I know I am really excited to check out the final season.