Alias: The Complete Second Season
December 8, 2001
In the battle for female super spy supremacy on television, Alias has soundly beaten the much-hyped James Cameron pet project, Dark Angel. While the latter only lasted two seasons, the former is now well into its third season. What is the secret of its success? Alias expertly blends slick style with well-written screenplays—think Mission: Impossible (1996) meets La Femme Nikita (1990). To coincide with the premiere of the new season, Buena Vista has released all 22 episodes of the second season on six DVDs, complete with several audio commentaries and featurettes that examine various aspects of the show.
CIA agent, Sydney Bristow (Garner) and her father (Garber) work undercover at SD-6, a secret society that performs all sorts of dirty political deeds under the auspices of the CIA. The Bristows have infiltrated the organization and are trying to destroy it and its head, Arvin Sloane (Rifkin). Season two begins with Sydney as a prisoner and her handler, Michael Vaughn (Vartan), missing and presumed dead. She meets her long lost mother (Olin), an ex-KGB agent who has killed 13 CIA agents during her career, and is shot by her. Sydney manages to escape and recounts her story to a CIA psychiatrist (played by Thirtysomething alumni, Patricia Wettig whose husband and fellow alum, Ken Olin, directs several episodes throughout the season).
And so begins the second season of Alias—filled with double crosses, near escapes, secret identities and exotic locales. Sydney has to deal with her strained relationship with her parents: a father who cannot communicate his feelings and a mother who is a notorious spy and a cold-blooded killer. If that wasn’t enough, she is also dealing with the romantic feelings she has towards Michael.
It’s easy to see why Alias is doing so well. Each episode has a very cinematic look—akin to an hour-long feature film. There are slick action sequences, accompanied by hip techno music pulsating on the soundtrack. The exciting stunts are impressively staged and executed. For example, Sydney parachutes into missions, escapes from fiery plane crashes and fights all sorts of deadly assassins.
The show works well largely because of its strong cast. It contains a solid mix of veteran character actors, like Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin, and fresh, young faces, like Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan. The more experienced actors bring a certain weight and respectability, while the younger actors provide a certain level of youthful energy. To spice things up, the season also has an eclectic list of guest stars: Lena Olin, Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Lewis.
The lynchpin that holds this cast together is the show’s star, Jennifer Garner. She simultaneously exudes a wholesome, girl-next-door charm and assumes identities that allow her to parade around in a series of sexy outfits that appeal to men. She is also a smart, ass-kicking superhero who is self-reliant and this appeals to women as well.
There are four audio commentaries for four episodes and feature various cast and crew members from the show. The best one is for the episode entitled, “Phase One,” which features the show’s creator, J.J. Abrams, the episode’s director, Jack Bender and cast members, Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Victor Garber and Greg Grunberg. Abrams talks about how the episode aired after the Super Bowl but the game ran unusually long and it didn’t come on until after 11 at night! Garner talks about her memories of shooting the episode, including a fight scene where she accidentally hit a stuntman with a real metal champaigne bucket. They even stop the episode to show the actual take where this happened! The way everyone jokes and banters back and forth, it is obvious that they are all good friends and this results in a very entertaining (and informative) track.
The sixth disc contains the bulk of the supplemental material. In addition to two audio commentaries, there are a number of featurettes. “The Making of ‘The Telling’” is an impressive 45-minute look at the process that the cast and crew went through to make this particular episode. This is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look that makes a good companion piece to the audio commentary for this episode.
“The Look of Alias” examines how the distinctive looks of Jennifer Garner’s aliases are achieved, including the famous red wig that she wore in an episode during the first season.
Also included are seven deleted scenes from five episodes. They can be played together or separately. While Abrams introduces the collection, he unfortunately does not introduce them individually or put them in context or explain why they were cut.
“Season Two Blooper Reel” is actually a pretty amusing collection of blown line readings and physical goofs and pratfalls that show Garner’s less than graceful side.
There is also a series of audio interviews with Abrams and cast members, Garber, Garner and Kevin Weisman, conducted on KROQ’s Kevin and Bean’s radio show. Amusing but superficial.
“Alias TV Spots” are seven promotional spots for various episodes from the season.
Rounding out the extra material is a Making Of featurette on the Alias video game. Surprisingly, Abrams and his crew took a personal interest in the game. Not only did they write the dialogue for it, but Abrams also enlisted the regular cast members to record dialogue specifically for the game, which was a nice touch.
Alias: The Complete Second Season is a wonderfully made collection with top notch transfers of each episode and a decent bunch of extras all wrapped up in a slick looking package. It’s just the right mix of style and substance—much like the show itself.