Alias S1E02: “There’s some bad people in this world”

Long-term operation

Have you heard of a show called Covert Affairs? It’s been suggested that it’s a bit of an Alias reboot, only without the mythology, the Rambaldi artifacts (which I haven’t met yet, but I am eagerly awaiting), the complex double agent serialization. And all I can say, after watching only the second episode of Alias, is why on earth would you want to lose the complex serial elements? Spoilers for season one, episode two after the break.

There’s one word that kept popping up in my notes for this episode: stakes. The pilot had to deal with exposition (here’s Sydney, here are some people she knows, here’s a spy agency and the CIA) and so you were fairly certain things were going to go right. Sydney was going to escape relatively unharmed, and the show would go on.

In the thick of it.

But now? We’re knee deep in a lot of different problems. Here are a few: Sydney’s friend Will is asking why she needed his passport, which is a pretty good question given how complex the answer is. Sydney is a double agent the CIA is willing to sacrifice; they call her “a double” rather than even “a double agent” or “an asset”—signaling that she is more a tool than a person to them. This, the second episode, has a case-of-the-week, or a case of two weeks given that the story is going to continue into the next episode, features a nuclear bomb. Almost going off. Then being sold to an arms dealer in Egypt.

It’s not often a show has the balls to do this. Nukes are something of a season-premiere or season-finale storyline, when a show feels like it has to ratchet up the stakes. But Alias doesn’t want to wait. So we get high-stakes action that’s not resolved in one episode, another thing that many spy/cop/procedural shows don’t like to do in regular season episodes.

Take the third episode of Buffy, a show that goes to a pretty heavy mythology-type place. (The third because the second is the second part of a two-part premiere, so I’m not counting it.) It’s an episode called “The Witch”, about a mother of a Sunnydale high school student who takes over her daughter’s body and starts doing wacky stuff. Obviously Buffy isn’t going to be dealing with nuclear bombs anytime soon, but there are a number of apocalypses (hey, what’s the plural of apocalypse?) that happen throughout the show, and “The Witch” certainly isn’t one of them.

A quote from Eric Weiss sums this up pretty well: “Hey, have you met Balls of Steel?” Alias, you’ve got balls of steel.

Spies! They’re clever spies!

Lots of shows have spies. Or at least have people who are supposed to be clever and can get out of jams and that kind of thing. And sometimes shows don’t really let you see characters being clever and instead you get characters telling you about how clever they are. Not here. The spy stuff that goes on is pretty fun, but these people aren’t amateurs. Sydney has a backup plan—her weird blue outfit—when she runs out of sleepy-ring-charges. Instead of just swapping the disk for a fake, hoping no one notices, the CIA copies it lickety-split and hands it back to her.

Sydney’s disguises are a nice touch too, and a change from other spy shows I watch. When was the last time you saw Chuck of Chuck or Michael of Burn Notice wearing a clever disguise? These shows, perhaps weighted a bit more towards the comedic side, tend to go for funny accents or simply fake names over complete disguises. Which is unfortunate, because I really enjoy Sydney’s many wigs and outfits and languages. It adds to the feeling that these people are really good spies.

Some highlights/notes:

  • Noticed that now we get locations given to us. I could have lived without this, given that I liked the confusing location-less nature of the pilot.
  • Hey, it’s Sarah Shahi (lately of Life, a show I miss) as a precocious 20-year old!
  • I ask questions, the show answers them. Case in point: Sydney announces she’s going to Cairo, I ask myself “wouldn’t SD-6 find out?” and next scene has Sydney asking papa spy to keep it under wraps.
  • Sydney’s eyes-looking-sideways thing as the final show of the episode was great. Really added suspense, more so than if the show had gone to black after the gun noise or after showing the guy holding the gun.
  • What was that bit about the aquarium? Guessing it’s not a real aquarium.
  • Beginning of the episode invoked the “one more job and I’m out” spy/caper movies shtick, but here we definitely know it’s not her last job.
  • You can always see the Eiffel Tower when you’re in Paris.
  • This episode is very appropriately titled “So it Begins.”
  • “Yeah, can you show me what a bag looks like again?”
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