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Monday, January 30, 2006

Alas dear Alias...

Over the past 4 years, Alias has established itself as the most riveting, emotionally dense and endlessly inventive show on American television. Its fans adore it and worship it with a religious zeal and those who have no opinion on the show have obviously never had the pleasure of becoming engrossed in any of the show’s astounding plot arcs (it was my visionary, flawless bud Sean that introduced me, thanks dude!). News came through recently that the fifth series, currently airing in the US, is to be the last. This season already had to improvise greatly when star Jennifer Garner became pregnant with the Spawn of the Devil aka JugHead aka Ben Affleck.

The brainchild of wunderkind J.J Abrams, who is currently the most acclaimed TV exec in the world given that he is the writer-creator of this year’s most talked-about show Lost, Alias could be given the high-concept pitch of James Bond meets Mission:Impossible meets Felicity (also from the Abrams stable) meets Dostoyevsky.

Central to the show’s success is Jennifer Garner, the hardest-working actress on television, who deftly manages to combine girl-next-door innocence with astonishing ass-kicking ability. Her consistently superb performance has seen her get an Emmy nomination every year, as well as winning a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for the role. Where the show really confounds people and why it is so fascinating, is that even though Garner’s Sydney Bristow is an action heroine, it is her emotional life that keeps bringing fans back. Very few, if any, other actresses on US television have a role as physically gruelling as Garner’s, yet her character is the most vulnerable woman on television.

It isn’t hard to understand why that is so. How stable would you be if you were working as a CIA agent infiltrating terrorist organisations only to discover that you are actually working for a terrorist organisation, and so choose to become a double agent for the real CIA to bring down your current employer and in the meantime, discover that your estranged father is also a double agent with a dark past? On top of this, your fiancĂ© is killed when you tell him the truth (by the boss you are now striving to destroy but must work alongside every day), you must lie constantly to your friends in order to protect them (and this fails, spectacularly) and fight an intense but professionally inappropriate attraction to your CIA handler. You learn that you are possibly the central figure of a 500 year old apocalyptic prophecy that has engaged the world’s terrorist organisations in a frantic and increasingly dense and dangerous treasure hunt. Oh and then you discover that your idealised literature professor mother, who died when you were a child, is actually alive and is, in fact, a former KGB assassin and terrorist mastermind. And she’s apparently trying to kill you. As are her sisters.

And that’s just some of the plot details from the first four series. Season one sets up all of the complicated relationship dynamics as well as setting the template for breath-taking action sequences, mind-bending plots and scream-out-loud plot twists.

It’s in the second series, however, that the show delves deeper and mines the material for even more riches than you thought possible. Central to this season’s success is the mesmerising charisma of Swedish actress Lena Olin who becomes a series regular in a crucial recurring role. The twists and turns come breathlessly thick and fast, building up to a shattering final twist that completely upends the entire show.

Series three struggles to deal with the implications of the season two finale but the show recovers midway and lines up a whole reshuffling of roles and relationships for Alias’ riveting, cathartic and intentionally perplexing fourth series.

I haven’t seen any of the fifth series yet but it will be interesting to see how Abrams et al wrap things up. One thing that’s certain is that it will not be straightforward – and the details of the death of at least one major character have already been confirmed. This character was set up by the series four finale to be the crux of the last season so just what the writers are up to exactly is not clear. But for the uninitiated, I highly recommend that you check out the earlier seasons on DVD, bearing in mind this piece of advice: don’t make any plans for that period because once you start watching, you will not be able to stop. That is the only guarantee that I can promise you as far as this brilliant show is concerned.

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