2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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Sunday, January 26, 2003

Oh Crap....Or My Feelings About Tonight’s Alias

Well, I’m having trouble getting to bed tonight, so I thought I would type out some thoughts regarding the apparently new direction that one of my favorite shows has undertaken. Have you ever felt a simultaneous elated and sinking feeling? Well I have. While excited that the critically acclaimed, yet relatively little watched Alias (apparently by ABC standards, 9.3 million viewers per show is relatively little watched), was given the prime, post-SuperBowl time slot, I actually had little faith that the increased exposure of the show would translate into substantially more viewers because the rigorous backstory, continuity, and serialization that show has displayed over 1 and 1/2 seasons would make it difficult for new viewers to acclimate to the show without consulting some Internet episode guides, something I don’t see many people doing. Then I heard that this new episode would be “more accessible,” to new viewers. Hmmm. Then I read that the producers, who may or may not be bowing to the demands of the ABC programming executives, had decided to take the show on a different course, de-emphasizing the cliffhangers and serialization in favor of more stand-alone, episodic plots. OK, I could live with that, as long as continuity and backstory were maintained. But nothing could prepare me for the radical changes that the show’s creator, JJ Abram, had in store for me. Perhaps, I had become overhyped on this particular episode, I mean prior to the viewing, I had read a glowing, four-star review from Herc, the TV reviewer at AICN, as well as seeing the TV spots championing the new episode with the excellent reviews as it’s centerpiece (well that and Jennifer Garner in sexy clothes). I waited for it breathlessly.

I was actually, kind of surprised and worried at the lack of a “previously on Alias” segment that usually proceed the show (and which sometimes run several minutes long). It started out well, with Jennifer Garner modeling sexy lingerie for some obese French-guy to the tune of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” before the espionage action kicked in. The show even indulged in one of it’s favorite narrative gambits: starting in media res with one of Syd’s missions, and then flashing back to the past to fill us in on the details of what led to the opening situation. This is where the sinking feeling began to creep in. As the flashback began, I was subjected to scene after scene of exposition regarding events I was already familiar with, which I accepted at the time as necessary for new viewers, but to me felt like Alias for Dummies (at least they made it narratively plausible). But everything felt rushed, instead of the obvious, yet repressed romantic desire between CIA handler Vaughn and his double agent Sydney, we get Vaughn dragging Sydney into a side room and laying it all out on the table, even though he said almost the exact same thing in the last episode, just not so blatantly. Hey, I don’t mind, I like the Vaughn-Sydney romance, at least, I liked it before; I’m a romantic at heart, but I don’t like it easy on my couples (hence my love for the relationships between Buffy-Angel, Buffy-Spike, and John Crichton-Aeryn Sun). But this rapid turn of events was nothing compared to the totally out of left field, developing romance between Sydney’s best friends Will (now recruited by the CIA) and Francie (once the only “normal” character on the show). That left me scratching my head, but since the characters were as confused by this new development as I was, I let it slide (it would have been more out of place earlier in the series, since they were setting up a Vaughn-Sydney-Will love triangle for a while). The only new development was that Arvin Sloane, the head of SD-6 was MIA, and that the Alliance had replaced him with a man named Geiger, played by Rutger Hauer (some catch-up for non-Alias fans; the Alliance of 12 is a rogue espionage organization with twelve individual cells which pass themselves off as black ops divisions of the CIA, the one headed by Sloane, at which Sydney, and her father, Jack, work is called SD-6; in a brilliant subplot, Arvin Sloane was able to whisk his wife away to freedom, as well as get away with $100 million of the Alliance’s money).

Geiger’s arrival prompts some anxiety among the duped members of SD-6, but especially Sydney, who gets grilled by Geiger over the death of her fiancé (he was killed by the SD-6 Security Section on orders from Sloane, because Sydney revealed to him that she worked for SD-6). Sark, once an agent of “the Man” (who actually turned out to be Sydney’s mother), now working for SD-6 tips off Sydney to the existence of “Server 47,” a top secret Alliance computer containing all of it’s secrets; to make matters more interesting, the Alliance keeps the crucial Server 47 on a 747 which never lands except to refuel, as well as pick up the call girls for the computer expert on board. And with a little planning from the CIA, we find ourselves back at the beginning of the episode. Up to this point, I was pretty much A-OK with how things were going, with a few, already noted exceptions. There was plenty of action, and things were moving along at at the typical clipped pace. Then came the bombshell, with the information gleaned from Server 47, the CIA could take down the Alliance, all of it, if they could only confirm the intel, and to do that, they need the security code from the SD-6 computer. Jack, who was pretty much second in command to Sloane, volunteers, but is waylaid by Geiger and Security Section. While Jack and Sydney were at the CIA Command Center, Geiger had the techs break into Sloane’s erased files and recreate some data, which indicated that Sloane knew all along that the two of them were double agents (I guess Sloane wasn’t as dense and/or naive as I had previously thought). Jack is able to tip-off Sydney that he has been captured by SD-6. They have to think fast, Kendall, the director of CIA operations won’t move his agents into position until they’ve verified the intel (they need to disable the security systems or there would be massive civilian causalities from the explosive charges laid into the foundation of Alliance buildings), so Sydney turns to her partner, Dixon.

Sydney’s continuing lies to Dixon, who remained steadfast in his belief that SD-6 was part of the CIA and that he was doing good for his country, have been a focal point of their relationship, which is almost father-daughter. It’s been strained, Sydney continually wanted to bring Dixon in from the cold, and eventually, Dixon’s suspicions became aroused, aroused enough for him to report to Sloane that he thought Sydney was a double agent (Jack covered it up for Sloane). A tearful Sydney tells Dixon the truth, which was a very well done, emotional scene, as to be expected. Dixon doesn’t entirely believe her, but he trusts her enough to follow her instructions, and his worst fears are confirmed. SD-6 is part of the Alliance. Devastated, he gets the information that Sydney needs but hesitates, even calling his wife, almost as if for the last time. And while all of this is going on, Jack is being tortured by Geiger with a car battery and some jumper cables (I’m not sure what it is, but for some reason, every show I really like has displayed torture in some form, it’s kind of weird, and scary). Eventually, Dixon e-mails the info to Sydney, which confirms the Intel that they gleaned from Server 47. This is where, I think the show took it’s biggest risk, and may have even sown the seeds of it’s destruction.

The CIA and other allied intelligence agencies launch a series of raids against all twelve of the SD cells, as well as the Alliance HQ and member’s homes. It’s a furious action scene, with CIA agents battling Security Section, and just as Geiger prepares to kills Jack with some more voltage, Sydney rushes into the examination room and kills Geiger There raid is a complete success, the Alliance and SD-6 is destroyed. The ENTIRE PREMISE OF THE SHOW HAS BEEN ACHIEVED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SECOND SEASON. Whoa, I don’t know about that creative decision, something that major always inspires some trepidation on my part (even if it seems to be a popular choice these days among my favorite shows; a recent episode of Angel featured the destruction of the series long-standing villains, the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, while two recent episodes of Farscape found John Crichton returning to Earth). Of course, the destruction of SD-6 allows Vaughn and Sydney to consummate their relationship in one long kiss, with swirling cameras and a befuddled, comic Agent Weiss. Well, there’s another premise of the show gone as I thought the show often thrived on the sexual tension between Vaughn and Sydney, but now that their relationship can be somewhat out in the open, I’m not sure it can be as sexy, dangerous, complex, or exciting as it once was. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

And actually, I would be totally howling in protest right now if it wasn’t for the last two plot twists (well three, one of the most interesting developments was Dixon’s anger at Sydney’s portrayal.) Well, it turns out that Sark and Sloane where orchestrating the destruction of the Alliance to further there own goals, by feeding the necessary information to Sydney and Jack. And now they are ready for what they call “Phase Two.” Cut to Francie talking on the cell phone to Sark. I’m like, “oh shit,” as the camera pans to the left, a trail of blood smeared on the white wall of Francie’s restaurant. My first thought was “They killed Will, you bastards!” but to my relief/horror, it was Francie’s body with a bullet through the forehead. Well, I guess that leaves absolutely no normal characters left on the show. Everyone is an agent now.

Oh yeah, it’s a new beginning all right. I’m guessing that Sydney and Jack will openly work of the CIA now, so no more double agent stuff (which was actually beginning to strain the show’s credibility, which was a perverse statement, in and of itself), and the Vaughn/Sydney relationship will be opened up (bye, bye Alice), unless they find some reason to backpedal. JJ Abrams has essentially hit the eternal reset button by destroying the Alliance so early, even if he keeps continuity by having Sloane assume the role of ultimate villain. And of course, there is the entire issue of Irina Derevko’s (aka Sydney’s mother) loyalty and the Rambaldi stuff for the show to resolve. Fertile ground, yes, but can the writers of Alias continue to weave such a complex and compelling tale with such great changes to the storyline? Rationally thinking about it, I can say yes, but I can’t ignore this feeling in my gut that says a year from now, I’ll be cursing this episode, which, on its own terms was actually pretty good (even though it felt rushed and the material should have been expanded to a longer episode, or the now “forbidden” multi-episode arcs). I hope I’m wrong.

As a side note: Man, did the SuperBowl commercials really suck this year or what? The only one I can remember right now is the FedEx commercial that parodied Cast Away. That was pretty funny.