Thursday, December 30, 2004

Alias - 2x01-04

or, I Whine Again On Why I Didn't Like Season 2, Part 47

The idea of televisual textuality (i.e. an enclosed and unified narrative whole) gets complicated the hiatuses between seasons, which creates the opportunity for refined/re-deployed aesthetic and narrative focuses. (I'll have to address this issue in my thesis, as I'll be approaching Alias from a literary critic's perspective, which of course entails the study of texts.) An example of these philosophic shifts, I contend, occurs in the transition from season 1 of Alias to season 2, which is turning out to be not as apocalyptically bad as I remember. (In all honesty, I was probably reacting to the screaming teenybopper masses of that idiot forum what I'll never mention again by name.) Nevertheless, thusfar I've picked up on several trends that mark a significant change in the show that I consider detrimental to the series and my enjoyment of it.

First off on my list-o-grievances is the season's newfound seriousness, in part due to its growing self-consciousness as a darling among tv people, in even more part due to various demands placed on JJ et al to make the show accessible to the lay watcher. Where season 1 carved out its indelible identity with trashy charm, the second season aims at legitimacy by trying to clean itself. You'll notice that Syd's disguises aren't nearly as WTF?!? as the rubber dress and horrible blond wig, but more elaborate and, alas, alack, classy. Taking itself too seriously could send towards po-faced 24's absurdity, and while absurdity isn't inherently bad, if the show isn't in on the joke, it becomes an increasingly pathetic and ironized silliness. Also, evident in "The Enemy Walks In" is the compulsion to make the narrative clearer and more conventional; at the opening of the episode, we hear Sydney recount to Barnett how she escaped from Irina's clutches. Particularly conspicuous is Syd's voiceover when she narrates how she gets out the aluminum chair to which she is cuffed while we watch her break free from it. Not only does this voiceover narrate what we can see, it bogs down the narrative with what we don't care about, e.g. that the chair was aluminum. Is it really that important that we know precisely the chair's properties in order to appreciate Syd's escape from it?

Another indication of this drive towards legitimacy is the casting of Lena Olin, who brings the repute of a Genuine Movie Cinema Actress with her, and it's this gravity that I find contradictory to the initial appeal of the show. (I don't mean for these remarks to slight Rifkin and Garber -- but neither of them worked with Ingmar flippin' Bergman.) Strangely, or perhaps not, her brand of acting is for the show unconventional. Where Rifkin and Garber, with their suppressed styles, are the foundational support of the show, Olin's style is considerably busier, and at times distracting and disruptive to my absorption. Further, Olin seems to neglect Greatest Actor Ever Michael Caine's advice -- in close-ups, you need to tone things down, while she keeps on with her realist style of looking away, stuttering, etc. (What is realism doing in this show? Again, compare Rifkin and Garber's stylized acting.) (An aside on Rifkin -- I perhaps shouldn't peg him as a stylized actor, since my appreciation for him derives from his "realistic" acting. A break of the voice here, a tortured grimace there -- he routinely comes off as unaffected and real, in a way different from Olin -- whose tics I might describe as stock. Also, her makeup on the show doesn't suit her. Her blush and lipstick look tacky.)

Also, the horrible, horrible shipping. The urge to kill rises every time Syd and Von make with the eyes.

Furthermore, you can summarize season 2 as the Relationship Season, as though to distance itself from the wackiness of putting Syd in cheap and/or shabby get-ups and assert itself as something more mature; in an NPR interview, JJ said that he thought that season 3 got away from the meat and potatoes of the show, i.e. the relationships, and his promise to rededicate Alias to exploring human interaction (JJ -- haven't you gotten your fill of social relations with Lost?!) for the upcoming season gives me a bad feeling.

But on to things that don't make kittens die; that is, Alias at this point hadn't lost completely its silliness. While I found "The Enemy Walks In" and "Trust Me" to be stuffy and disjointed, I didn't have tremendous expectations (unlike the eventual slog that two episodes of season 1 per day became), and I'll admit that both episodes surpassed my hopes, as did the trashy fun of "Cypher" and "Dead Drop" both. Where I had fetishized season 1 to the point that intense and sustained critical scrutiny to which which I subjected it severely attenuated my love for the series, season 2 has been free from stultifying devotion. Where season 1 is the wife, season 2 is... OK, I won't go there. (And I was really on a roll in the beginning, grumble grumble.)


Anonymous said...

I hated the voiceover. It completely ruined the flow of action in the pilot. I missed the crazy outfits of S1, but I gladly traded them for the Relationships of S2. Then again, I got pretty nauseated by Syd and Von halfway through the season.

But you criticize Lena! Sacrilege. ;)


haenschen said...

With all of those sly Philm comments, you're either angling for an A from Uncles Jesse and Joey, or you (gasp) actually learned something. There's no room for the latter here! Recapitulate or die.