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Alias: Season 4 DVD Review

Alias: Season 4

February 7, 2006

Director: Ken Olin, Jeffrey Bell, Lawrence Trilling,
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin, Michael Vartan, Carl Lumbly, Kevin Weisman, Mia Maestro, Greg Grunberg, Victor Garber, Angela Bassett, Lena Olin, Sonia Braga, Gina Torres, ,

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DVD Review

When you watch a show like Alias you realize how out of touch the James Bond franchise is with reality. Alias takes the Bond template and substitutes his predictable, chauvinistic ways with a sexy, young woman and a much more exciting and dynamic way of depicting the world of spies and espionage. For example, in the opening episode we find super spy Sydney Bristow (Garner) posing as a sexy European trying to seduce a man for vital info one moment and then fighting for her life in the cargo car of a speeding train in the next.

The show cuts back and forth effortlessly between exposition scenes filled with the usual technospeak and spy jargon one expects from the genre, and action sequences that are cut fast and shot in a way that is exciting and intense with nail biting close calls and near escapes. There are the usual spy stories involving the destruction of deadly bio-weapons, infiltrating terrorist organizations, retrieving laser weapons and so on. The writers manage to cram a lot of story into each episode forcing one to pay close attention to all of the plot twists and character arcs.

As the season begins, Sydney quits the CIA, tired of putting her life on the line time and time again and getting nothing but grief for her troubles. It’s a rouse as she is subsequently recruited by a covert unit of the same agency known as Authorized Personnel Only. She and Vaughn (Vartan) rekindle their romance and she is also reunited with her half sister Nadia (Maestro), a crackerjack spy in her own right.

Sydney’s nemesis from as far back as season one, Anna Espinosa (Torres) makes an appearance in “Echoes” to cause more trouble, including torturing Nadia. You have to hand it to creator J.J. Abrams and his team of writers; they certainly know how to end the season with a bang. There is a three episode arc involving Sloane (Rifkin) as a double agent who teams up with Irina (Olin), Sydney’s long-thought deceased mother. They have assembled and activated the dreaded Mueller Device in the Russian city of Sovogda. In order to distract everyone from their evil plans, they stage an accident that has quarantined the city and put it in a state of complete chaos.

It seems that Sloane and Irina have put a chemical in the water supply that, coupled with a huge red ball of energy, has turned everyone who has drunken the water to turn into deranged, homicidal killers a la the infected people in 28 Days Later (2002). They find out that Elena Derevko (Braga), Irina’s mad sister is behind it all. It soon becomes a family affair as Sydney, Nadia, their father (Garber), Vaughn and Irina land in the city with two hours to deactivate the device or the Russians will launch an air strike that will infect the rest of the world with this madness. It’s a great race against time story in the tradition of Escape from New York (1981) with tension-filled action sequences dynamically shot, well-paced and edited like a mini-movie.

Alias is a marvel of production design. Each episode features exotic locations all over the world and on a TV show episode budget. It never seems like they are using North American locations doubling for said exotic locales even though they are. This a solid season with a good mix of stand-alone episodes and ones that fit nicely into the show’s ongoing mythology. Alias is one of the more consistent shows with an excellent ensemble cast and well-written episodes that are clever and fun to watch these characters save the world every time out.

Special Features:

The first disc features an audio commentary for both parts of “APO” by creator J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Garner, director Ken Olin and producer Sarah Caplan. Abrams and Garner talk about how they re-shot a lot of this episode because there wasn’t enough action. Most of the tracks consist of everyone telling filming anecdotes. Generally, both tracks are light-hearted in tone as all of the participants joke with each other.

Also included is an audio commentary on “Ice” by executive producers Jeff Melvoin and Jeffrey Bell and producer Drew Goddard. They discuss some of the season’s story arcs and how these three new members to the show brought something different to the table. They touch upon the network’s insistence to have more stand-alone episodes and to go back to old school spy stuff instead of relying a lot on hi-tech gadgets.

The second disc features an audio commentary on “Nocturne” by director Lawrence Trilling and executive producers Jeff Pinker and Jesse Alexander. They wanted to tell a horror story with this episode. They talk about tone, trying to capture the bold vibe without being cheesy. They speak intelligently about the episode’s themes and so on.

The sixth disc contains the bulk of the extras. There is “A Chat with Jennifer Garner” with Ken Olin. They talk about working with Mia Maestro and Garner dishes on what it was like directing her first episode.

“Meet Mia: Syd’s Little Sister” features Maestro talking about how nervous she was, at first, being on the show and how much she enjoys working with the cast.

“Alias Bloopers” makes fun of the notion of gag reels on DVDs while still delivering the requisite shots of the cast goofing around on set, blowing lines and so on.

“Anatomy of a Scene” examines how two action sequences from this season were done. It’s amazing how much is accomplished with special effects but integrated seamlessly so that it looks natural and real.

There are ten deleted scenes totaling 11 minutes that should have been put in some context so that you know which episode they’re from and where in that episode.

“Director’s Diary” takes us through director Jeffrey Bell making episode 20 and how it all comes together, how much work is involved, the challenges they all face and how problems that arise are solved.

“Guest Stars of Season 4” takes us through the impressive list: Joel Grey, Gina Torres, Angela Bassett, Lena Olin and Sonia Braga (what? no love for Kelly MacDonald?) talk about their characters and how much they like the show.

“Marshall’s World” is a behind the scenes look at the show from Kevin Weisman’s point-of-view in this whimsical extra.

Finally, there is “Agent Weiss’ Spy Cam” which features a montage of Greg Grunberg’s collection of behind the scenes photos with him talking about them in a voiceover.

Rating: 85%

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