Saturday, February 6, 2010

Alias: The First Season (2001)

Back in 2001, the first season of J.J. Abrams' "Alias," starred Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, a CIA agent working undercover as an operative for the mysterious (and evil) intelligence agency SD-6. The twist: most of the employees and agents of SD-6 believe they are actually working for the CIA and accomplishing good around the world. Only Bristow and her father (Victor Garber), who also works as an operative for SD-6, know the truth. But what is striking is about this season is what a terrible spy the Bristow character is. Although praised as being a first rate double agent of espionage, she is, in fact, an awful, awful international woman of mystery. Really, really bad.

Here's why:

1. Henchman are always sneaking up on her and capturing her. Whether she is stealing the core of a nuclear device, rummaging through a suspect's hotel room, or even disabling the fail-safe mechanism of the SD-6 headquarters, she is very often caught by surprise by the henchmen of her evil and nefarious enemies. She is very fortunate that these henchmen have the foresight not to shoot her on sight but rather escort her at gunpoint to another location so that she has the time and opportunity to clobber them. Shouldn't she be doing more to ensure that she is not caught by surprise? Isn't she extraordinarily fortunate that they have not shot her on sight before she has the opportunity to react?

2. She prefers kickboxing to firearms. In her line of work, wouldn't a firearm with a silencer serve her better than her mad kickboxing skills? I mean, she disarms her opponents via kickboxing, and then continues to kick them until that opponent is unconscious. What's the point of that in the world of international espionage?

3. She refuses to kill the bad guys. After clobbering the henchmen, she leaves them not for dead, but for unconscious. This means, that at some later determined point, these henchmen will awaken, identify her, and possibly, fight her again. Of course, for the convenience of the series, the defeated henchmen do not return or rise from their slumber. However, this seems particularly sloppy for the world of intrigue which Ms. Bristow inhabits. Indeed, in the first several episodes, much ado is made of her rivalry with Anna Espinosa (Gina Torres), an agent of a competing European spy agency. Espinosa has made a career of making matters difficult for both Bristow and SD-6. After an encounter with Espinosa in a church, Bristow leaves her handcuffed to a piece of furniture rather than killing her on the spot. This makes matters far worse in later episodes.

4. She is careless. In one episode, during an operation in Las Vegas, she turns the corner to discover that her partner, Marcus R. Dixon (Carl Lumbly) is being detained by security officers of the casino which they have entered under false pretenses. Before rushing over to assist him in the melee that is soon to ensue, she yells, "Dixon" across the hallway. That's his real name. Not his undercover identity, but his true and correct surname. What is she doing yelling it across a casino hallway in the presence of casino security? This seems a particularly troubling breach of protocol, especially considering the name of the series. In another careless move, Bristow does absolutely nothing to change her living arrangements after being offered sarcastic condolences from Espinosa (who is apparently aware that Bristow's fiancee was killed). If that's the case, then Espinosa very likely knows the real name of Bristow's fiancee, which would give her easy access to locating Bristow in Los Angeles. (Heck, you don't have to be an international spy to login to and perform a search of soon-to-be married couples.). Thus, Espinosa could very easily find out Bristow's real name, her Los Angeles address, and other vital personal information which would endanger Bristow, her roommate, and other individuals.

We permit our television series to make silly mistakes to heighten tension. But this is the series by the guy who would ultimately co-create the far, far better "Lost" in 2004 and who would direct the first film of the official reboot of the Star Trek franchise in 2009. Alas.

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