The beginning of this second season didn’t meet the impossible expectations I had, but eventually it kicks into gear and offers almost as much surprises and thrills as the first year. Jennifer Garner is always super cool as Sydney Bristow and Victor Garber is still a tough cookie as her papa, but the early episodes of Season Two are a relatively calm stretch after the storm of Season One’s finale.
Thankfully, the introduction of Lena Olin and her character’s Hannibal Lecter-like presence add a lot of interestingly ambiguous emotions to Sydney and her dad’s already complicated relationship, and all of this works intriguingly into the overall espionage saga. I miss the “Charlie’s Angels”-with-a-brain excitement of Season One, then again there are only so many ways you can break into somewhere or dress up Jennifer Garner before you start repeating yourself. In any case, the character interaction remains engrossing and every time things start to stall we’re hit with jaw-dropping turnaround twists.
I don’t want to go into too much detail in case anyone’s reading this who hasn’t see these episodes, but these dark and intricate mind games are something else! I love the dysfunctional family commando mission in the two-part “Passage”, which climaxes with a twist that’s inevitable but shocking anyway because of how well the show’s writers have muddied the waters emotionally. Then the plot twists on itself again and again, peaking with “Phase One” in which the whole show is seemingly rebooted and everything goes! A lot changes, but some things stay the same, which is good, considering how wicked great a villain Sloane has been, how hilarious Marhsall continues to be and how well Sydney and Vaughn play together. There’s a lot of good stuff through the season’s second half, notably Sydney in some of her sexiest outfits yet (“What was wrong with the black one?”), her relationship with Vaughn heating up, Faye Dunaway as a bitchy counterintelligence agent busting Jack Bristow’s balls, Ethan Hawke playing a double agent (literally!), as well as special appearances by Christian Slater and Richard Lewis.
The season’s last few episodes are increasingly effective. “Truth Takes Time” is jam-packed with tension and emotion, each affecting the other. We feel sorry for some of the bad guys, we feel betrayed by some of the good guys, there’s not a second of one-dimensional indifference here, this is helluvah complex drama. “Endgame” is most notable for the antagonism between Sid and her old man, and there’s some really funny stuff with Vaughn’s “sidekick” Weiss, of whom I wish we would see more. Then there’s “Countdown”, which is pure gravy. We learn that there are 48 hours left before a Rambaldi-prophesied apocalyptic event of some sort, Dixon is on the edge, Danny Trejo shows up as a freelance assassin, Marshall gets lucky, Mexican wrestlers do their thing and we get a cameo by Baaaaad Daddy David Carradine! “Second Double” also has its share of really cool sequences, notably a riveting attack on a prisoner transport convoy and Sydney in red leather at a German sex club!
The season closes with “The Telling”, possibly the best damn episode of the series so far. 30 hours of continuity finally come together in an action-thriller overload of twists, climaxes and revelations. The last act is pure genius, from the Hitchcock-brilliant cellphone scene to the “Kill Bill”-ruthless catfight to the David Lynchesque mind-fuck of a cliffhanger…
September 7 = my $$$ vs. Season Three DVD box set