Montreal Film Journal


This is the beauty of J.J. Abrams' series: whenever you think it's settled into a predictable routine, it hits you with twists that change the whole dynamic of the show. Some things remain, fortunately: Jennifer Garner's still lovable as superhero CIA agent Sydney Bristow, she still shares a complex emotional bond with her dad Jack (the ever badass Victor Garber), and there's still sexual tension between Sid and Vaughn (Michael Vartan), even though the fool has actually gone and married somebody else!

It's slightly unsettling that some of the former main characters are gone, but I love that they promoted Dixon (Carl Lumbley), matched the hilarious Marshall (Kevin Weisman) with a lady and found more to do with Weiss (Grug Grunberg). As for Sloane (Ron Rifkin), he still oozes evil through his superficial old snake charm.

3.1 – The Two
[ The immediate aftermath of Season Two's mind-blowing raises more questions than it answers, unsurprisingly. How did Sydney end up in Hong Kong? What has she been doing in the meantime? Did Sloane actually get his Rambaldi epiphany? And what the hell is the Covenant? The new mystery Sydney's faced with is a dark and twisted one, and this is a very intriguing first taste. ]

3.2 – Succession
[ Jack Bristow and Sloane meet again and they're still at each other's throat, Sark is reintroduced and his allegiances apparently remain flexible, there's a kick-ass Mexican stand-off between the CIA and the Covenant that's actually set in Mexico... Good stuff. ]

3.3 – Reunion
[ It starts with a bang, then we go back to Syd and Weiss and Vaughn and... Vaughn's wife? Yeah. Enters Lauren Reed, who immediately butts heads with Sydney, unsurprisingly, but they still have to go save the world together. You can tell Vaughn's wife is gonna be the wild card this season and just from what little we've seen of her so far, you know it's gonna be wicked fun. Melissa George is great in the role, all blonde and British and hot and charming, with just the right hint of bitchiness. I'm already looking forward to her inevitable catfight with Jennifer Garner. ]

3.4 – A Missing Link
[ Sydney goes on a "deep cover" mission, infiltrating a team of robbers-for-hire led by Justin Theroux, who apparently knew Syd intimately during her forgotten two years. This is very "Notorious" (or actually "M:I-2", John Woo'd almost-remake of the Hitchcock masterpiece), with our leading lady forced to get involved again with a despicable ex-lover for national security, etc. This is emotionally twisted to say the least ("You never should have betrayed me." *chills*), but there's also more pleasant stuff in this episode like, oh, Jennifer Garner stripping down to a black bikini and taking a 10 story dive into a hotel pool! ]

3.5 – Repercussions
[ The towering Djimon Hounsou guest stars as an African arms dealer, there's a superfly chase/shoot-out and Marshall finally goes in the field again, wearing a mustache and a cowboy hat in a yakuza casino, no less! The uneasy working relationship between Syd and Vaughn's wife gets entangled some more, too. ]

3.6 – The Nemesis
[ Ooh, guess who's back! Nemesis indeed. In other news, Melissa George does an underwear scene and dangerously threatens to outbabe Garner, Marshall plays drums (!) and Sloane's manipulations put him in a most ambiguous position. ]

3.7 – Prelude
[ Whaaa? I can't even describe the creepy-gory opening scene, you gotta see it for yourselves. Creepiness continues as Syd has to infiltrate a ball at a Chinese embassy posing as the date of the man she hates the most, then she goes all ninja on us in the season's best fight so far, which is followed by a significant increase in the dramatic and emotional stakes of the mystery of her missing memories. ]

3.8 – Breaking Point
[ Damn, the NSC are such assholes! Kurt Fuller might be a kind man in real life, but he really makes you hate his guts on the show! The worst part is that you just know that US government agencies are this cruel and unfair to anyone they suspect of terrorism. It's as if they'd never heard of "innocent until proven guilty". That this episode was made before the Abu Grhaib mess makes it even more eerily relevant. These are corrupted times, and "Alias" mirrors this all too well. Take Jack, he's one of the good guys, but his methods are "morally compromised" to say the least. But that's what's great about this series, how it dares to be complex and ambiguous. That, and throwing in a juicy Richard Roundtree cameo as a badass commando-for-hire. ]

3.9 – Conscious
[ Wham! Hardly a catfight, but satisfying nonetheless – for Syd and for us. The shifting loyalties of the various characters continue to be fascinating, as extreme circumstances require extreme measures. Nice how they're reintroducing Rambaldi into the storyline and how they have David Cronenberg helping Sydney retrieve some of her memory through drugs and dream therapy, too. ]

3.10 – Remnants
[ The plot thickens (again). Turns out we can't even trust some of what we've SEEN! This ep also features an appearance from a former member of the show's cast who'd yet to be seen this season, and that characters is somehow involved with... Well, it's intricate. There's this guy and that girl and that other guy who's supposed to be dead and then Sark, who's become the big villain lately. Great stuff. ]

3.11 – Full Disclosure
[ Project Christmas, Rambaldi's prophecy, Sydney's amnesia, the Covenant... How does it all fit together? This is where we get the answers, and it is pretty fucked up! Of course, in "Alias" fashion, answers only lead to more questions. "Do you know about the Passenger?" Here we go again! ]

3.12 – Crossings
[ Ah, this is one of those episodes that open with a deadly situation, say, Syd and Vaughn in front of a North Korean firing squad, then we flash back "72 hours earlier" and find out how they got there. Guest stars Arnold Vosloo and Isabella Rossellini both get to be badass – especially her! In light of recent events, I'm not sure I understand the way Vaughn's wife has been acting. Time will tell, I guess. ]

3.13 – After Six
[ That Sark does what he does, I can buy, but who he picks as a partner? Not so much. I'm not sure I like what they have Sloane up to either, and even the Syd-Vaughn stuff is wearing thin. Man, they really need to jolt this show back to life! Only an amusing Marshall bit, Vivica A. Fox' cameo and the return of Tarantino's characters keep this from worstepisodeeveritis. ]

3.14 – Blowback
[ That's more like it. Nice opening chase, a moving exchange between Vaughn and Sydney, hints about dark secrets... The alternate angle once-over gimmick is pretty cool, too, and Lauren's naughty new persona is growing on me. ]

3.15 – Facade
[ Ricky Gervais! And who knew he could be convincing in a dramatic role? Even better is the clever and exciting way this episode plays with appearances and expectations, aligning twist after twist. This is hardly the first bomb defusing we've seen on the show, but I don't think it's ever been this suspenseful. Oh, and Jack Bristow? Baddest motherfucker ever. ]

3.16 – Taken
[ It's been a long time since Dixon has gone in the field, too bad it's in such tragic circumstances. It makes for great drama, though! ]

3.17 – The Frame
[ The Rambaldi mythology thickens, Djimon Hounsou returns (with a machete!), Sydney gets a new hairdo, then there's some really iffy stuff with Lauren. More on that below. ]

3.18 – Unveiled
[ Grumble, grumble... The Lauren situation is making the show fall apart! She makes the other characters look stupid for not seeing through her, which leads to plot holes and further incongruities... There are still some good moments, notably Syd's fighting and the Vaughn-Jack scenes, but this storyline needs to resolve fast. ]

3.19 – Hourglass
[ Goof things come to those who wait: the CIA finally wises up to the mole, David Carradine returns for a little ass-kicking and we learn who the Passenger is. It's a BIG twist, one that makes things even more entangled and complicated between Syd, Jack and Sloane, as they find themselves inherently linked through the Rambaldi prophecy. Oh, and the climactic shoot-out/execution edited to the Deftones' Change is awesome. ]

3.20 – Blood Ties
[ "I imagine a visit from a ghost will unearth the other four." Ooh! This is getting deliciously out there. This ep also features some juicy torture and mind-games, as well as actual face time with the Passenger. Goody. ]

3.21 – Legacy
[ Son of a bitch! We knew Sloane was an evil bastard and that he had to have some secret endgame, but this is really, really twisted. And he's got the balls to compare himself to Abraham! Vaughn's mad too, but in a good way: broham finally got his balls back! Returning appearances from Isabella Rosselini and Vivica A. Fox are also welcomed. ]

3.22 – Resurrection
[ Terrorism hasn't hit this close to home for the characters since "The Box". The tables are turned between Vaughn and Sark and... Damn, Vaughn is turning into Jack! This is either disturbing or wicked cool. In any case, the bitch who betrayed him is gonna suffer. And then, of course, the Rambaldi payoff is still just around the corner and the last few minutes are packed with new information about Sydney's identity, but the episode is over before we get answers... ]

Long-form television has its pros and its cons. No 2 hour movie can create characters and relationships as complex as those in a series that's been working at them through 66 episodes. On the other hand, when you're telling a story over such a long time, you're bound to have lulls where you start going into circles or unwittingly contradicting yourself. Even considering this, J.J. Abrams' "Alias" remains a great show that's often more rewarding than most movies. I love these characters and I can't wait for Season 4!