This is hardly the first series about espionage and international intrigue, but if feels fresher, edgier and smarter than the genre has in a long time. Or maybe I’m just blinded by my schoolboy crush on Jennifer Garner. Grad student by day, CIA spy by night, Garner’s Sydney is one sexy badass cool mama! Garner goes through so many looks, moods and dimensions in each show that it looks like an actor’s whole lifetime achievement reel. And scratch what I said about being blinded by love, by the end of the pilot there’s already been more unexpected twists, kick ass action and emotional nuances than in all the Bond flicks put together. Scene to scene, the thrills never stop. You get a throwaway 2 minute beat in the middle of an episode that’s more effective than most $100M Hollywood blockbusters, and then the suspense and excitement just keeps on building. And thank Zeus for TV on DVD, cuz the cliff-hangers are so fierce I don’t know if I could handle waiting a week before getting the follow-up!
No wonder they cast Jennifer Garner as Elektra, she’s a total super-hero! Watching her run, jump and kick her way around the world in colourful outfits is awesome, and she makes us feel for Sydney, too. Understandably, the initial surprise factor is sometimes replaced by variations on the same plot and action mechanics, but the series remains a well-oiled machine. The mythology keeps thickening and I’m looking forward to where they’re going with the mysterious past of Sydney’s father (wonderfully cold-blooded Victor Garber) and that whole thing about Rambaldi, an inventor/prophet from the 16th century who might have created something beyond even today’s technology. Hence, the CIA, SD-6, K-Directorate, The Man and every other intelligence agency in the world are racing to assemble the different pieces of the puzzle through various artefacts hidden in every corner of the world. This adds an intriguing Indiana Jones twist to the Bond/Mission: Impossible basic series premise.
The two episodes that bookend Season One, both directed by series creator J.J. Abrams himself, are the best, but the mid-season 2-parter “The Box” is almost as great. It opens with a huge twist that shatters all of Sydney’s emotional certainties then before she can do anything about it the SD-6 building is overtaken “Die-Hard”-style by rogue agents led by Quentin Tarantino! I know, I know, he’s no great thespian, but his four straight masterpieces make him kool & the gang in my book and he’s hilarious here. So Tarantino is like Hans Gruber and Sydney is like John McClane, crawling through ventilation shafts, ho-ho-ho-now-I-have-a- machine-gunning and defusing C4 charges. Then there’s the “box”, the champagne, the fingerprint (!), the kickboxing… Who needs movies when you got shit this good on TV?
The sentimental subplots with Sydney’s friends feel a bit queer, but J.J. Abrams did work on “Felicity” before creating “Alias” so I guess he’s still into the soap operatics. That stuff is ok, but personally I find the show most compelling when it sticks to Sydney’s work family: evil father figure Sloan, hilariously geeky tech guy Marshall, badass partner Dixon, charming CIA handler Vaughn… I also dig the recurring animosity between Sydney and enemy hottie spy Anna, which means plenty of catfights!
The “Q&A” (1.17) episode nicely recaps the story so far, then we get another huge twist and it’s like the show’s new again. I love this kind of epic storytelling where little details set up events that only happen a dozen episodes later, etc. I understand that J.J. Abrams is a comic book enthusiast, and it shows. There are occasionally dips in intensity for an episode or two, but before long things pick right back up as the various characters converge towards this first season’s riveting climax. The finale is full of revelations, breakthroughs and torture (!), nicely mirroring the pilot, and the cliff-hanger is IN-SA-NE.
Needless to say I’m getting the Season Two DVDs as soon as possible!