|cast: Jennifer Garner, Victor Garber, Michael Vartan, Lena Olin, and Terry O’Quinn
created by J.J. Abrams
940 minutes (PG) 2003
With its marvellous opening season, the impact of this sci-fi espionage adventure was such that telefantasy fans eagerly replaced their Sarah Michelle Gellar posters with Jennifer Garner pinups – and wondering, Buffy… who? Garner is today’s action girl par excellence (playing heiress turned assassin Elektra, she was the best thing about Daredevil). She has the looks, the charm, and the acting talent to bring rich emotional life to the standard TV heroine. As CIA super-spy double agent Sydney Bristow, we care more about Garner’s troubled character than all of the recent TV action starlets (yes, including angelic blonde Gellar as Buffy) put together. Season two of Alias boasts an impressive story arc that changes nearly every aspect of the SF mystery scenario established throughout the first season, while continuing with a balance of personal tragedies, intriguing conspiracies and convincing geopolitical storylines designed to appeal to keen fans of both 24 and The X-Files. Succeeding where British shows like Bugs (1995-96) failed miserably, and picking up where the likes of Jim Cameron’s Dark Angel (2000-3) left off, Alias delivers plenty of chills and thrills to satisfy the younger audience, plus more than enough gripping human drama with an extensive cast of supporting characters to interest mature viewers.
And you thought your family was weird… In addition to working alongside her poker-faced father, Jack (Victor Garber), as a double agent in fake US spy agency SD-6 and the real CIA, The Enemy Walks In has Syd coping with the appearance of her supposedly dead mother Laura, who’s actually former KGB agent Irina Derevko (Swedish actress Lena Olin). Can Syd trust the woman who abandoned her as a child, and shot her when they were reunited – in the cliffhanger ending of season one? Cipher marks the return of Mr Sark (David Anders) to menace everybody in sight, and this time he’s got control of a new hi-tech spy satellite. Syd has fun with a jet sled when she goes to sabotage the satellite on its launch pad, but nearly gets toasted when the rocket blasts off early. The Indicator has Syd recover missing childhood memories that her parents may have used her as a guinea pig for educational aptitude tests designed to exploit potential spy kids. This builds on evidence that Jack and Irina are both much darker characters than viewers previously thought – and adds greater depth to the basic Alias formula. It’s one thing to see Jack torturing SD-6 prisoners on orders from Sloane (Ron Rifkin), but it’s another thing entirely when Jack risks his own daughter’s life and plots to make sure ex-wife Laura/Irina gets the death penalty for espionage. Now that’s cold!
Phase One is where everything about the background to Alias changes. Replacing the missing Sloane as boss of SD-6, Geiger (Rutger Hauer) quickly discovers that Jack and Sydney are double agents. Syd plays a hooker, escapes from a crashing 747 jet, brings her SD-6 partner Dixon (Carl Lumbly) into her confidence about really working for the CIA, rescues her father from being tortured to death, then finally gets to snog Michael in a love-among-the-ruins scene. After the CIA have stormed SD-6 to arrest everyone, including those ‘nice guys’ Dixon and Marshall, you’d think its all over for Alias as a series, but the real fun is only beginning. Just as Syd realises that she could quit the CIA for good, Sloane and Sark kidnap brilliant mathematician Neil Caplan (Christian Slater) and his family to blackmail the scientist into helping them solve the puzzle of a deadly Rambaldi invention. A Free Agent has CIA boss Kendall (Terry O’Quinn, of The Stepfather fame) refuse to accept Syd’s resignation and she realises that, with Sloane still at large, her life cannot be normal or safe.
The UK PAL edition of this season two boxset isn’t available for several months yet so, if you own a multi-region player and an NTSC compatible telly, I strongly recommend this superb DVD package as the solution to Alias withdrawal symptoms. The picture is enhanced for 16:9 TV and has Dolby digital 5.1 sound, plus English and Spanish subtitles. DVD extras include Making Of The Telling, a 45-minute featurette charting the season finale’s ambitious stunts – from rooftop location shooting to blue-screen work on the Disney lot – and offering behind the scenes footage of the extended domestic fight between Francie and Sydney. The Look Of Alias (12 minutes) is a wigs unlimited exposé and reveals a few of the TV star’s chameleonic makeup changes, and occasionally ‘camp cabaret’ of her costumes. There are seven deleted scenes (running total, six minutes) with an intro by Abrams, a blooper reel (mostly actors’ giggles and gurning), four radio interviews, and seven TV advert spots as trailers for specific episodes. Also, a trailer for the eagerly awaited 3rd season, a featurette on the Making Of Alias: Video Game, DVD-ROM Alias script scanner, plus sometimes informative, but too often annoyingly noisy, commentary tracks by assorted cast and crew on key episodes: Phase One (that includes an alternative take of Syd’s duel on the plane, during which the stunt man Garner fights is accidentally but obviously injured), A Dark Turn, Second Double and, unsurprisingly, The Telling.