Recently, Moriah and I finished watching all five seasons of Alias, which Moriah had found cheap at a secondhand store.Â There was a lot we enjoyed aboutÂ Alias.Â What interests me, however, is that it seemed to us as if we weren’t exactly tracking with the makers of the show.
Spoiler alert: If you plan to watch the show, you’ll probably want to stop reading at this point.
For instance, consider the characters.Â Â Moriah and I liked the main character, Sydney Bristow, well enough at first when she was still smiling and had friends.Â As the show progressed, however, she grew darker and more serious.Â I don’t recall her smiling as much.Â She didn’t seem to have a life outside of her work.
Plus, she was involved with Michael Vaughn, originally her CIA handler.Â I’ll say more about Vaughn later, but for now I’ll just say that Moriah and I couldn’t stand him.Â Perhaps it was due to the limitations of the actor, though I suspect it was more the limitations of the script, but he seemed to have two ways of acting: either he was mopey, with sad eyes, probably intended to seem sensitive, or he was angry, angry, ANGRY.Â His character didn’t develop; it was never more than two-dimensional.
As a result, we really didn’t want the two of them to be together.Â Sydney’s old friend, Will Tippen, would have been a far better match for her.Â But instead, we had to put up with Sydney and Vaughn gazing into each other’s eyes, Vaughn looking sensitive.
Furthermore, the show seemed to want us to believe in the rightness of their love, to think there was something beautiful and special and right about the two of them being together.Â But Moriah and I thought they were ill-matched and frankly dull together, especially compared to Weiss and Nadia.Â Besides,Â in one season Vaughn was married and it seemed to us that the show wanted us to hope that the marriage would fall apart so that Vaughn and Sydney could be together.Â I know, I know: Vaughn’s wife turned out to be bad.Â But I resent it when a show tries to make me disdain marriage.
The characters Moriah and I liked best were either the minor characters or the bad guys.Â Marshall Flinkman was in some ways a stock character, the brainy geek who can do anything on the computer and who says strange things because he’s off in his own world and is socially inept.Â In some episodes, he was simply a stereotype and was included for some comic relief.
On the other hand, from time to time, he developed as a character.Â My favorite moment in the entire show, I think, was when Marshall,Â who hates flying, is taken alongÂ onÂ one of Sydney’sÂ missions.Â Afraid, he invents aÂ suit jacket parachute with an extra belt so thatÂ if theÂ plane goesÂ down, he can save Sydney, too.Â The plane, of course, doesn’t crash.
But Marshall gets captured by a villain.Â When Sydney tries toÂ rescue him,Â sheÂ gets trapped with him in a building, forty (?) storiesÂ up.Â There’s no escape. Or is there?Â MarshallÂ tells her to smash the window.Â SheÂ reminds him howÂ high they are.Â He tells her thatÂ the jacket he’s wearing has the parachute and that theÂ parachute will support her weight, too.Â And then he says the line he’s always wanted to say: “My name is Marshall J. Flinkman, and I’m here to rescue you.”Â Perfect.
But again, the show doesn’t give Marshall the respect he deserves.Â He can’t get respect from the other characters most of the timeÂ and all too often the show reduces him to a stereotype.Â Only rarely does he get to shine.
The same is true of Eric Weiss.Â Weiss starts off as Vaughn’s partner.Â When everyone else is overly serious, Weiss is cracking jokes, usually self-deprecating ones.Â He’s considerate and thoughtful.Â For a while, it seemed as if the show was going to do something with him.Â He didn’t simply have to stay at home; he got to go on missions.
Eventually, he even got a girl and, as I mentioned above, his relationship with Nadia is full of laughter and fun.Â It seemed as if we were supposed to view their relationships as somewhat juvenile, compared to Sydney and Vaughn’s serious love, though it’s actually that sort of mopey love that’s more characteristic of the high school soap opera than the trueÂ and humble delight in each other that Weiss and Nadia display.
Finally, we come to Arvin Sloane.Â I don’t know how the show expects us to view Sloane, but Moriah and I generally liked him.Â We didn’t always like what he did: he is a villain much of the time.Â But he was also usually the most mature person on the show.Â Compared to him, the other characters sometimes seemed like cardboard cutouts, including Sydney.Â When reviled, Sloane didn’t revile in return.Â When hated, Sloane responded with faithful love.
And so the makers of Alias ended up with Sloane being either their biggest failure or their biggest triumph.Â He’s their biggest failure if they wanted us to hate him all along, if they wanted us to feel about him the way that Sydney and the other characters do.Â I couldn’t: I liked him too much.Â But he’s their greatest triumph if they intended him to be a tragic character because what made the tragedy work was precisely the grandeur of Sloane’s character and the fact that we liked him.
So why am I blogging about this?Â Needless to say, I don’t blog about every show I watch.Â But Alias sparked some reflection in me about the way the story worked and the way I was expected to respond, and I’m curious.Â Was I supposed to respond the way I did?Â Did other people respond to Alias the same way Moriah and I did?Â Or was it just us?