June 6, 2007


Category: Television,Uncategorized :: Permalink

AliasRecently, Moriah and I finished watching all five seasons of Alias, which Moriah had found cheap at a secondhand store.  There was a lot we enjoyed about Alias.  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.  Moriah and I liked the main character, Sydney Bristow, well enough at first when she was still smiling and had friends.  As the show progressed, however, she grew darker and more serious.  I don’t recall her smiling as much.  She didn’t seem to have a life outside of her work.

Plus, she was involved with Michael Vaughn, originally her CIA handler.  I’ll say more about Vaughn later, but for now I’ll just say that Moriah and I couldn’t stand him.  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.  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.  Sydney’s old friend, Will Tippen, would have been a far better match for her.  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.  But Moriah and I thought they were ill-matched and frankly dull together, especially compared to Weiss and Nadia.  Besides, 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.  I know, I know: Vaughn’s wife turned out to be bad.  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.  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.  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.  My favorite moment in the entire show, I think, was when Marshall, who hates flying, is taken along on one of Sydney’s missions.  Afraid, he invents a suit jacket parachute with an extra belt so that if the plane goes down, he can save Sydney, too.  The plane, of course, doesn’t crash.

But Marshall gets captured by a villain.  When Sydney tries to rescue him, she gets trapped with him in a building, forty (?) stories up.  There’s no escape. Or is there?  Marshall tells her to smash the window.  She reminds him how high they are.  He tells her that the jacket he’s wearing has the parachute and that the parachute will support her weight, too.  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.”  Perfect.

But again, the show doesn’t give Marshall the respect he deserves.  He can’t get respect from the other characters most of the time and all too often the show reduces him to a stereotype.  Only rarely does he get to shine.

The same is true of Eric Weiss.  Weiss starts off as Vaughn’s partner.  When everyone else is overly serious, Weiss is cracking jokes, usually self-deprecating ones.  He’s considerate and thoughtful.  For a while, it seemed as if the show was going to do something with him.  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.  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 true and humble delight in each other that Weiss and Nadia display.

Finally, we come to Arvin Sloane.  I don’t know how the show expects us to view Sloane, but Moriah and I generally liked him.  We didn’t always like what he did: he is a villain much of the time.  But he was also usually the most mature person on the show.  Compared to him, the other characters sometimes seemed like cardboard cutouts, including Sydney.  When reviled, Sloane didn’t revile in return.  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.  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.  I couldn’t: I liked him too much.  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?  Needless to say, I don’t blog about every show I watch.  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.  Was I supposed to respond the way I did?  Did other people respond to Alias the same way Moriah and I did?  Or was it just us?

Posted by John Barach @ 1:38 pm | Discuss (7)

7 Responses to “Alias

  1. The Barach take on Alias at Mark Horne Says:

    […] Jennifer and I watched all seasons of Alias on DVD as well.  So, after I talk to her I plan to interact with this. […]

  2. Jandy Stone Says:

    Here via Mark. I think your analysis is pretty spot-on, except I did like Vaughn, but for rather shallow reasons (I thought he was cute, if a little boring). I always hoped Will would come back for real, though–he always perked up the show when he guested.

    I’m curious, though, what you thought about Jack and Irina? Season Two was my favorite, largely because I loved Irina so much, and any time she came back on the show, I fell in love with it all over again, even when my attention started to wane the last couple of seasons. Jack–I don’t know. I found it so hard to trust him that I never let myself really like him. Sloane and Irina were different–definitely not trustworthy, but they never claimed to be so, either.

  3. John Barach Says:

    Hello, Jandy, and welcome to my blog.

    I understand that some people might like Michael Vaughn (the character) because they think Michael Vartan (the actor) is attractive, though that definitely wasn’t the case with my wife.

    Plus, Moriah was completely turned off by his behaviour: he was pouty, mopy, sad-looking, or angry and wilful. He does the stupidest things sometimes, like going off on a rogue mission and causing all kinds of problems in order to find out if his father is still alive. Honestly, I couldn’t care and I thought he was being incredibly petty.

    Will was great. I was really bothered by what happened to Francie. At times, shows like Alias seem to take pleasure in ruining innocent people’s pleasure. I resented it when Will lost Francie just as things were developing there … and then had to disappear completely.

    I liked Jack sometimes. He’s emotionally stunted, of course, but sometimes he was also quite mature and wise. Mixed feelings for me, I guess.

    I agree with you about Irina and especially Irina and Jack. I wanted her to reform and for their marriage to be restored.

  4. Austin Storm Says:

    Side note: Irina definitely would have reformed, but the actress did not want to return so they had to write her out. It seemed to me to be clearly against the trajectory they established for the character.

    My biggest frustration with Alias, and I’m surprised you didn’t mention this since you watched tho whole show, is continuity in the mythology. They completely dropped the mythology after a few seasons. What happened to all of the supernatural stuff by the end of the show?

    That’s why I have so little hope for Lost, by the way.

  5. John Barach Says:

    Which Alias did you watch, Austin? =)

    Apparently Lena Olin, the actress who played Irina, was unavailable during one of the seasons and so they wrote her out, saying that she had been killed. Later, she became available again, and so they wrote her back in.

    She turns up in the fifth (and final) season and has a role in the final episode, where she and Sydney have their showdown. So the scriptwriters did keep her in the storyline and didn’t have her reform. But they also didn’t really explain her motivation to my satisfaction.

    That’s one complaint I had with Alias. It sometimes seemed as if the writers were making things up as they went so that later storylines weren’t consistent with earlier ones.

    Characters would act a certain way and then inexplicably turn out to have been bad all along, but it wasn’t clear why someone who was bad all along would have acted the way that character did in the earlier episodes.

    It looked as if the character started out good and then the scriptwriters said to themselves, “Let’s surprise everyone and have that person turn out to be a double agent,” even though that twist wasn’t consistent with what they’d been doing with the character earlier. I suspect that’s exactly what happened sometimes.

    In fact, there were so many twists like that that I started to think they’d stop at nothing, that Weiss or Marshall or someone would turn out to be a double agent, too.

    As for the supernatural, again I wonder what you mean. I didn’t mention the dropping of the mythology after a few seasons because … well, because they didn’t drop the mythology. It’s there, large as life, in the final season, and there’s mention of Rambaldi in every season.

    In fact, there’s the supernatural (well, not really: the weird science) stuff in the last episode when the characters finally discover (and one attains) Rambaldi’s endgame: eternal life.

    I have to admit that I had a hard time buying into the Rambaldi stuff. For me, it didn’t generate what Coleridge (?) called “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

  6. Claire Martens Says:

    I second the Sydney/Will pairing. 🙁 It’s just part of the cultural marathon of female characters who have male best friends and wind up with someone else. 13 Going On 30, while it was stupid in many other respects, was a refreshing change from that.

    Marshall was my favorite character, hands down. He does get moments to shine– like the time when he writes Pong from memory!

  7. alastair.adversaria » Links Says:

    […] John also has some very interesting observations from David Jenkins, the former bishop of Durham (part 1, part 2). John also has a very good post on the subject of Christian children. ***R. Scott Clark on ‘Baptism, Election and the Covenant of Grace’. If nothing else, one has to be impressed with Clark’s chutzpah in distinguishing Lutherans from Protestants. Those terrible Lutherans, suggesting that Baptism actually does something! ***John Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright will probably be released in November. ***There is a pre-publication special offer for Logos Bible Software’s electronic version of NTW’s Jesus and the Victory of God. ***I am encouraged. I thought that I read too many blogs. However, I only have about 250 blog feeds on Bloglines; Macht has about 550. If you don’t already use a feed aggregator like Bloglines, I strongly suggest that you start. It makes blog reading so much quicker and easier. ***Cooking for Engineers [HT: Peter Roberts] ***John Barach discusses Alias, strong male figures in popular TV shows and the manner in which shows such as Alias and 24 can desensitize us to surveillance and torture. As a fan of LOST and 24 (although my faith in both shows has taken a bit of a beating over the last season) and someone who has watched most of the first couple of seasons of Alias, I find that I agree with many of John’s observations. ***Please pray for the Presbyteer’s church. ***Some helpful productivity advice [HT: Mark Horne] ***From lifehacker: […]

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