Month: November 2020

TV Review: ALIAS – ‘Repercussions’ (3×05)

Outside of Reunion, Repercussions probably stands as the least remarkable episode of Alias’ third season yet, operating as it does in the shadow of a far more interesting hour.

A Missing Link expressly tethered Syd’s growing panic over her moral virtue with the primary Covenant narrative and the overarching mythology of her missing time very neatly, ending on a Season One-style cliffhanger which Repercussions immediately has to resolve. We all know Vaughn isn’t dying at this stage of the series or season, and Jesse Alexander’s script has to very swiftly get him out of that life or death situation, though to the episodes credit it does not simply move on to the next mission as Season One’s pulpy tales would have done. The character inter-relationships in Alias have too much lode bearing for that to be possible these days, and part of the titular repercussions lie squarely on Syd facing the consequences of stabbing Vaughn to save his life at the close of the previous hour.

Repercussions isn’t simply about Syd’s actions, however, rather referring to the after-effects of the previous season. This hour of Alias is all about characters having to face the weight of events that took place particularly between these two seasons, and during those missing years. Not just Syd’s alias as Julia Thorne but Sloane’s partnership with African arms dealer Kazari Bomani, or even Jack brutally avoiding the horror of Simon Walker explaining his daughter’s sexual proclivities. The problem is that Repercussions suggests much and actually explains little, a common problem during this season of Alias particularly. What could have been an episode which blew open key points of revelation across the missing time period, or contextualised certain character threads, remains maddeningly unresolved even for Alias.

It is disposable and transitory, part of the necessary plot mechanisms of the season, enlivened primarily by one or two character interactions and set pieces that provide enjoyment.

TV Review: THE CROWN (Season 4)

The fourth season of The Crown revolves around three of the most powerful, beloved and divisive women in 20th century British history: Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher and Diana, Princess of Wales.
That makes Season Four of Peter Morgan’s half-century-plus spanning political, dramatic opus perhaps the most anticipated year of the series to date. Filled with intrigue the post-WW2 years of Elizabeth’s coronation or the revolutionary state-led changes to British societal fabric of the 1960s might be, they struggle to hold a candle to the scandal-fuelled, politically thrilling 1980s as Her Majesty finds herself balanced between two very different wars. One between the newly-minted Thatcher and the people suffering thanks to her policies, with her one-woman quest to banish economic decline and revive moral-led, individualist British values in full flow. The other betwixt her son and heir, Charles, and his beautiful new wife, a woman who swiftly captured the heart of a nation.

Many viewers of this season of The Crown will have been there and recall this period of modern British history vividly.
Taking place between 1979 and 1990, I was a touch too young to remember key incidents play out here, born as I was in 1982, but having come into the world a mere three weeks before Prince William, I grew up acutely aware of Princess Diana as someone who meant a great deal to my mother. She encapsulated something the Royal Family had never encountered before and might never encounter again – a bridge between the huddled masses who still, at this stage, believed in the traditional pomp and ceremony of royalty, and the Royal line themselves. My mother had the Charles & Di wedding memorabilia. She bought into the marriage and was, like many, disappointed to see it begin to break apart.
The Crown brings to bear history that remains powerfully tethered to the world we now live in, to a greater extent than any season before. That adds to the expectation and, ultimately, doubles the disappointment when the end result isn’t quite as excoriating or far reaching as you want it to be.

TV Review: ALIAS – ‘A Missing Link’ (3×04)

Having established the base foundation of Season Three, Alias is free to begin assembling the building blocks in A Missing Link, the first episode that truly displays quite how the series’ new raison d’etre can successfully function.

The Two was burdened with grounding Sydney back in the world after her missing time, while Succession muddies the waters with introducing the central overarching antagonists of both Sark and the Covenant, before Reunion fairly awkwardly focuses on Lauren’s full arrival and how Syd can operate within these new dynamics. A Missing Link has the space, with all of this clear and out of the way, to laser focus into the central mystery of not just Sydney’s lost two years, but also the core existential idea of the series itself: the alias. Syd in this episode discovers she had an alias during her missing time she never even knew about: Julia. Quite who this woman is or was remains an enigma, but A Missing Link—as the title suggests—begins Syd’s, and our, process of sketching in those details.

In form and structure, A Missing Link feels perhaps the most Season One episode of Alias in a very long time.

Back in those early days of the show, we quite often had stories which saw Syd on an extended mission which connected over two episodes, and led to some very audience-baiting, adventure serial-style cliffhanger endings week on week with Syd directly in peril – take A Broken Heart into Doppleganger or Reckoning into Color Blind, for instance. The difference with A Missing Link, and where newly recruited writers Monica Breen & Alison Schapker develop this form, is that it affords Syd the opportunity to bed into her alias to a degree very few episodes in the show’s past have ever given her the space to do. Because her mission to infiltrate the cell of international super-thief Simon Walker directly connects to her missing time, A Missing Link manages to tether its main plot and Syd’s character arc into the broader ongoing mythology in more of an effective manner than any outing this season yet.

“Who the hell is Julia?”, as voiced by Weiss, becomes the central refrain of this episode, for the audience and for our main character.

TV Review: ALIAS – ‘Reunion’ (3×03)

Reunion is a classic example of Alias on auto-pilot, delivering the kind of throwaway hour of the series filled with scenes and moments most fans probably barely remember.

This makes a degree of sense given how The Two and Succession both had an enormous job to perform of establishing the new status quo of Season Three’s altered landscape, provide Sydney with a set of core new arcs for her character, and re-introduce both our long-term supporting players and crucial new additions, such as Vaughn’s wife, NSC agent Lauren Reed. Reunion is, therefore, the first conventional episode of Alias’ much truncated ‘stand-alone’ structure, although from the season premiere J. J. Abrams established that Alias, by its very nature, will never be entirely a contained episodic series of old. Jeff Pinkner’s first script of the season shows off that new structural format; a central ‘espionage of the week’ plotline flanked by a number of ongoing character and story arcs.

The worrying part of this is just how anodyne Reunion turns out to be as an episode. It reminded me of Season Two’s third episode, Cipher, which perhaps stands as the most disposable story in that otherwise propulsive season, and while Reunion is perhaps given a run for its money this season for that accolade by outings such as Crossings or Taken, and does at least contain the last vestiges of narrative establishment for this season with Syd and Lauren’s interaction, much like Cipher it contains several relatively unmemorable missions and Sark operating in a barely sketched, ‘rent a baddie’ role. Reunion simply feels like a collection of necessary character beats for the seasonal arc stitched together by a thin main story which, ultimately, means nothing to the show as a whole.

Reunion stands as probably the least thrilling or dynamic hour of the season’s first half, even if it at least has some element of necessary form and function.

TV Review: ALIAS – ‘Succession’ (3×02)

While in one respect Succession is the unofficial second part of Season Three’s introduction, it works to engage in Alias’ tricky new mission statement of fusing seriality and stand alone storytelling.

The final episode penned by the duo of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, both destined for greater cinematic and TV success, Succession’s very teaser balances these two aspects. On the one hand it provides a ‘cold open’, with the two CIA agents in Berlin trapped in a lift that rather plummeting—as we saw last season in A Dark Turn—to the ground is rather inverted, the agents lifted off by helicopter and abducted by air. The episode then plunges us headlong into a follow-up from the climactic moment of The Two, where Syd learned she murdered a man in her missing years, Andrian Lazarey. Her scene with Jack underlines that, once again, the Bristow’s will compartmentalise and keep secrets from the CIA as they search for the truth, by now as much an Alias trope as an IMF mole is to a Mission Impossible film.

Succession works, alongside this, to try and encourage Sydney to return to some level of normalcy. “For now, you deserve to get on with your life” suggests Jack, after making his daughter complicit in cover up of a murder from America’s most powerful intelligence agency, which almost seems like a mixed message. In reality, this is Orci & Kurtzman encouraging the audience to further accept the new status quo for Syd as the dust settles from the events of The Telling, our characters begin working themselves into their new clothes on this shifted chess board of alliances and villains, and Alias suggests it will try and have its cake and eat it: remove Syd from the complexity of working as a double agent while still doubling down on mystery and mythology.

By the end of Succession, however, all of those new pieces have slotted into place, even if it takes until the very final few moments of the episode to do it.

Nobody Did It Better: Losing SEAN CONNERY

Following the sad loss of Sean Connery at the age of 90, A. J. Black talks about what the legendary Scottish actor meant to him…
We all have them. They’re all different. They all mean something unique. The childhood hero, the person in the public eye who inspires you, is a special and personal thing for us all.
I was never one to have too many heroes to the extent of extreme fan worship. Many years ago, I worked with a chap who was obsessed with two lesser known American character actors (Adam Baldwin and Brad Greenquist, who weirdly will be popping up again on my next Alias review…) to the degree he would follow them around and collect any and all memorabilia. Fair play, it made him happy. But I have never been that obsessed with any one person. TV shows and movies? Sure. Anyone reading this knows I have spent more time in my 38 years thinking about and watching The X-Files, Star Trek and James Bond than is probably healthy. Yet it didn’t always extend to the people involved in those properties.

Sean Connery was rare, for me, in being the kind of actor and persona who did serve as something of a formative icon in my younger years. His loss, at the princely age of 90 years old (having not long celebrated his birthday), is not one to mourn as a tragedy of the like we saw with Chadwick Boseman this summer. Yet in my piece talking about how his death had affected me, I mentioned my dread at the day we lost Connery, because like Roger Moore—whose death I also vividly remember as another childhood hero—this one means something to me. It does feel like losing a part of your own life and, as my friend Zach Moore recently commented to me, it’s “hard to believe we now live in a world without him”.
It is indeed. He was a unique breed in many ways. We will never see his like again.