Alias S1E01: “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”

Not in Kansas anymore, Sydney

Before I get into the review part of this post, a warning. I’m going to spoil stuff that happens in this episode. I may also spoil minor things that I am not supposed to know yet (I have a bad habit of visiting IMDB to see how many episode a character is in when they pop up). This practice gets me into trouble at times—one example being how I checked to see how many episodes Danny Hecht would be in. Two? I thought to myself? I guess he dies? And he did. However, please try to avoid spoiling major plot developments in the comments. That’s all I ask.

Concurrent with my Alias-watching project, I am also catching up on Lost. One of the differences between this show and Lost that stood out from the pilot (and perhaps will not be relevant in future episodes): Alias really doesn’t try to help you too much when it comes to timeline.

The episode starts in the present with Sydney captured and staring at the door. Then you flip back to her in university. But there’s no whoosh ala Lost, no time stamp telling you that it’s 6 years or 36 hours or however long ago. You’re not seeing Sydney in an airport on the way to her latest spy mission. Instead the flashbacks give you background but you’re never quite sure when the events in the flashbacks are happening. I really enjoyed being a bit confused/in the dark. In contrast, the flashbacks in the pilot of Lost mostly expanded on what happened on the plane, and you know fairly concretely when they occurred.

But while I was a bit more confused by the timeline on Alias’ pilot, I enjoyed them more than I did Lost’s. There were also a few neat cuts between flashback and the torture scene, most notably the one of Sydney running from her father’s car to the torturer’s hand moving to grab the tooth removal device. This is the kind of cool thing you miss when all flashbacks are done in the same way (Lost’s whoosh to black).

Enough about the nature of the flashbacks.

Just as I enjoyed not having the flashbacks explained to me as though I was incredibly dense, I liked I wasn’t always quite sure what Sydney was doing or why. I figured she was on a mission, but the details around it were very vague—and I also liked seeing Sydney’s shock when the red floating ball splashed (or something) away when she unplugged the doodad—which felt appropriate to a show about spies and double agents and such.

For instance, in the just-before-the-present timeline when Sydney has gone back to complete her mission, I was thinking “why is Sydney going back? Shouldn’t she be running away from these dangerous folk, like her dad said to?” I hazarded a guess that she was proving her loyalty, but I really was curious as to what her motives were.

Frequent badassery.

Given that this is a spy show, you know that Sydney is probably a badass. She is likely to be good at beating people up, stealing cars, blowing things up, not getting shot, that sort of thing. And she is all of these things. But I enjoyed the fact that the episode didn’t immediately go there—the first scene didn’t show you Sydney busting out of her restraints (that scene happened later, what with her flipping the chair over and stabbing her captor). Instead, you see different sides of Sydney: sad, happy, angry, covered-in-blood angry, suave, lots of sides to the character.

Besides building a nice suspense throughout the episode as you wait for her to start beating people up, you’re introduced into what the show will look like in future. It’s going to have non-spy-related stuff going on, what with the best friend and the guy whose sister has pink hair (unless of course they turn out to be spies later, which I suppose is possible in a show with double agents and mind-bending talk of triple agents).

One more note on the combat/suspense/torture scenes going on. When I see hand-to-hand combat on TV, I inevitably try to place it on a scale from Buffy style to Angel style. In my mind, Buffy (and other Buffy characters) fights more casually than Angel, who (on Angel, at least) fights in a more organized way. I couldn’t find a decent clip of Angel fighting anyone on YouTube, so you’ll just have to take my word for it here or do some homework.

On this strange scale of BuffyAngel fighting, Alias landed somewhere in the middle. When Sydney fights, it really looks like she’s a well-trained fighter, not a teenage vampire slayer beating up vampires because she has to. So I was leaning towards the Angel side, until Sydney thwacked the guy with a car antennae. I was beaming when that happened—I like the more improvised looking fight aesthetics of Buffy better.

I also enjoyed seeing Sydney’s reactions under pressure/torture. The EMETIB joke was clever and took the screwing with your captor thing a step further than, say, simply spitting in his/her face. The fact that she jokes around in extreme circumstances makes me like this show a lot more than if it took a full-on serious route. I almost never fault a show for mixing humour with dark/dangerous scenes. This is why I enjoy shows like Buffy, Stargate SG-1, etc. Be serious, but don’t always be serious.

Some highlights and some notes:

  • Did Sydney stab her torturer in the crotch? I couldn’t tell, but from the way he was sitting after it kind of looked like it.
  • Going from Sydney-being-captured to having her bite her nails and walk with her boyfriend looking like the exact opposite of a spy (cute, innocent university student) was good stuff.
  • I guessed she was studying ancient history—she was reading about an ancient language of some kind while her fiancée was there and it didn’t seem out of the ordinary—but I guess literature is close.
  • The whole dead fiancée in a bathtub thing reminded me a lot of the first season of Damages, where Ellen (who looks somewhat similar to Sydney) finds her fiancée dead in a bathtub. I wonder if Damages people remembered the bathtub scene from this episode.
  • I really hope there’s no chosen-one thing with regards to Sydney when we get into the wacky Rambaldi mythology stuff. I think for once I’d be happy to have a protagonist that just happened to get involved in a big conspiracy/magic/whatever.
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  1. […] interested, check it out. Right now I’m reviewing season one of the show Alias, starting right from the beginning. So come, follow me to a new home and, hopefully, enjoy. from → Misc. ← […]



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