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Alias - The Complete Fourth Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Alias: The Complete Fourth Season

Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: TV 14 SLV
starring: Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin, Michael Vartan, Carl Lumbly, Kevin Weisman, Melissa George, Greg Grunberg, David Anders, Victor Garber
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odem

Now in its fifth year of production, the television show “Alias” knows what it’s selling: a sexy heroine, violence, a frenetic pace, layered storylines and an overall soap opera feel that guarantees morning-after water cooler TV. Viewers talk about “Alias”: the characters, the plot twists, the cutting-edge tech, and – above all – where the allegiances of their favorite agents currently are. Who’s zooming who seems to be one of the favorite questions asked by the intrigued audience that has hung on for so long to a television show that has proven as tumultuous and unforeseeable as the real life of the series’ sexy star, Jennifer Garner.

As with every year, “Alias” opens and closes the season with a cliffhanger. Both in its fourth season prove decidedly dicey, playing with situations and characters the fans have come to love. In fact, the cliffhanger left dangling from last season isn’t even revealed in the first episode of the fourth season. Fans have to wait, but it’s obvious from the start that whatever it is has set Sydney (Garner) and Jack Bristow (Victor Garber), daughter and father in the tricky business of being C.I.A. spies, once more in conflict.

Sydney Bristow, CIA spy par excellence, has had an adventure and scheme-filled three years leading up to the fourth. In her first season she found out that SD-6, the agency she worked for, wasn’t part of a covert C.I.A. operation, but instead was part if an international criminal conspiracy. Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), her boss, was one of the guys scrambling to the top of the organization by any means possible.

At the beginning of Season Three, Sydney awoke to find that she’d lost two years of her life and went on a quest to find out who had taken them from her. During that time, she had to deal with the marriage of Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) to a fellow agent (Melissa George). (Vaughn was her handler, then her lover.) After Vaughn’s wife turned out to be a murderous double-agent, the possibility of romance between Vaughn and Sydney once more opened up. Then, at the cliffhanger of Season Three, Sydney found out something she wasn’t supposed to know about her father.

Sydney’s parentage has been in question throughout the series. Was her father truly Jack Bristow? Or was her father Arvin Sloane, who was her mother’s lover? Sydney’s mother (Lena Olin) had turned out to be a Russian double-agent who faked her own death and tried to kill her husband and daughter – and had another daughter, Nadia (Mia Maestro), by Arvin Sloane who no one even knew about. Then there’s the Rambaldi angle: the inventions created hundreds of years ago that tie again and again to Sydney’s contemporary life. Mystery and intrigue. That’s a double-hyphen middle name for Sydney Bristow!

Warning: Due to the layered storytelling, some spoilers lie ahead. But even a reader who uncovers some of the mysteries in this document will still find much to watch and enjoy about “Alias” Season Four. Besides the action, pacing, driving music by composer Michael Giacchino, ultra-cool spy tech, twisted and ever-changing motivations of the principal characters and some of the best dialogue on TV, there’s always Garner’s skimpy attire, disguises, wild hair and sexual innuendo to look forward to. Again and again.

Episode 1, “Authorized Personnel Only, Part 1”: The opening episode of the fourth season plays with time, dropping the viewer into what is essentially – and virtually literally – the cliffhanger of the episode. The grinding wheels of the train rushing across the tracks come through the surround sound system really well. Viewers gather early on that Sydney’s target is the mysterious vial the guy sharing her sleeping compartment is carrying in a high-tech briefcase. Then, as Sydney is hanging over a sheer drop from a bridge, the action cuts to a chase through Shanghai that took place 72 hours earlier. (The Asian link constantly figures into the “Alias” mythos as well.) After that mission misfires, Sydney apparently resigns from the C.I.A. But she reports to a new black ops detail, A.P.O. (an acronym for “authorized personnel only”), hidden behind a secret door in the subway that leads to the underground offices. Sydney originally wanted out of the C.I.A. to get away from Vaughn and her father. Unfortunately, Vaughn and Jack are two of the special agents on the black ops team. The bright side is that Dixon (Carl Lumbly), her old partner from SD-6 days, is there. The real fly in the ointment is Arvin Sloane’s position as director. The fun and games for another season are ready to roll. By the time the action comes back around to the dangling-from-the-train moment, viewers are brought up to date and the story progresses at a rapid-fire clip.

Episode 2, “Authorized Personnel Only, Part 2”: Originally airing as the second part of the two-hour season premiere, Chapter 1 finds Sydney down in Argentina looking for her half-sister, Nadia. The throbbing salsa beat hammers through the surround sound system, which also plays out the sounds of the ocean later in the chapter when the two sisters talk. Sydney finds out Nadia has a personal vendetta against the episode’s villain. Chapter 2 reveals the source of the tension between Sydney and her father, who had requested that Sydney’s mother be assassinated. The moment is made even more uncomfortable when Vaughn walks in, evidently trying to pick up on the past romance. Of course, Jack and Sydney end up thrown together tracking down one of the villain’s lieutenants, a modern-day samurai named Tamazaki. When the decision is made to go after a sword Tamazaki has an interest in, the APO team brings in Marshall (Kevin Weisman), the geek tech specialist. The alarms and escape sequence in Chapter 4 is awesome. The police car flashes by from left to right through the surround sound, underscored by the driving subwoofer. In Chapter 5, a fight sequence in the butcher’s shop is good, but a little over the top. As Tamazaki dies, he tells Sydney that her mother hired him to kill her. Nadia becomes part of the APO team. Sydney tries to deal with everything she has found out, realizing that her father killed her mother to save her. However, now Sydney has a terrible secret she has to keep from her sister.

Episode 3, “The Awful Truth”: A driving beat opens up Chapter 1 of this episode as Marshall and Sydney go undercover to get back the Valta computer, a code-breaker stolen by arms dealer Martin Bishop. The blistering action in Chapter 8 involves Special Agent Eric Weiss (Greg Grunberg), who gets captured while destroying the stolen computer. The surround sound system picks up the rattling gunfire really well. Once Weiss finds out Sydney is still an agent, he has to be brought into the team as well. One of the best lines ever comes as Sydney tells Bishop that her name is, “Ima. Ima Gonna Kick Your Ass.”

Episode 4, “Ice”: Chapter 1 opens up with Middle Eastern music and the bleating of goats in a marketplace as Dixon heads to a meeting. A guy goes around telling people that his bird is missing, fouling the code phrase, all mysterious and fun stuff that immediately morphs into a life-or-death chase that ends up with the guy Sydney is trying to get out of there literally breaking into thousands of pieces. This is the first hint that Sydney is on the trail of a new, deadly bio-weapon. Vaughn is captured and the action turns violent, providing one of the more emotional endings of the series. A dead woman’s eye freezing shut is a powerful image that most viewers won’t forget anytime soon.

Episode 5, “Welcome To Liberty Village”: The violent attack in Chapter 1 explodes through the surround sound system, pursued by a bass beat that threads through the subwoofer. A minute-and-a-half into the show and bodies are scattered everywhere. 20 seconds after that, the killer drops his foreign language and becomes Mr. Joe Average of Suburbia. The show is set up in Chapter 2 as Sydney and Vaughn analyze their relationship and struggle to be spontaneous. Of course, the weapon Mr. Average stole was an EMP bomb that APO has to retrieve. The rain sequence in Moscow in Chapter 3 is yet another example of the stunning special effects the “Alias” production team can achieve.

Episode 6, “Nocturne”: The intrigue hook gets set really well in this episode, starting with a teacher who hears a phone that’s not ringing, then seeing gunmen who aren’t there. She ultimately freaks completely out and kills herself—all in Chapter 1. In the next chapter, Vaughn brings up the subject of fear, which is keeping Sydney distant from him and ultimately becomes this episode’s subject matter. APO is assigned to find a missing C.I.A. agent, whose wife killed herself in the opening sequence. Sydney gets exposed to the deadly hallucinogen, called Nocturne, and the team has to try to find an antidote. The frightening hallucinations she experiences in Chapter 3 are truly gripping. The tension in Chapters 8 and 9 is incredible, playing off all the emotional interaction between the characters and fears.

Episode 7, “Détente”: Acting on a tip from a Russian confidante, Vaughn ends up on the wrong end of a gun. The action detonates through the surround sound system as Sydney comes to his rescue in Chapter 1. The Monte Carlo sequence in Chapter 4 opens with awesome music and proceeds directly to the action. Vacuuming covers the drill noise as Sydney plants cameras. While chasing the chemical that is APO’s target, Nadia and Sydney go undercover as millionaire heiresses. The sound of a dead man hitting the water in Chapter 8 bombs the subwoofer and is one of the more compelling aural effects in the episode.

Episode 8, “Echoes”: This episode brings viewers back to the Rambaldi prophecies and inventions. The target this time is Anna Espinoza (Gina Torres), who was Sydney’s chief opponent from Russia and is connected to the followers of Rambaldi. (True fans remember Anna from Season 1.) The episode also brings back long-standing villain Sark (David Anders).

Episode 9, “A Man of His Word”: Chapter 1 opens up with Sloane entering the hospital to see Nadia, who is currently in a medically-induced coma. Anna Espinoza escaped with the bomb and the APO team has to go after her. Later, a hooded figure is rolled into APO offices and the music is tense as it bubbles through the subwoofer. An attack on the hospital and subsequent escape by fire hose through a window by Anna is trademark Alias action in Chapter 2. The ass-kicking Sydney delivers in Chapter 6 is awesome, and the surround sound system makes the most of every impact.

Episode 10, “The Index”: Dixon’s suspicions about Sloane’s motives come to the forefront in Chapter 1. The action is punctuated by gunshots that blast through the subwoofer. Chapter 3 has a banging Jet music score to punch up Sydney’s arrival in Paris and subsequent arrest for spray graffiti on a car.

Episode 11, “The Road Home”: A tense meeting in Chapter 1, underscored by a throbbing bass beat that slams through the subwoofer, erupts into a gun battle. The machine gun-firing miniature helicopter sequence in Chapter 10 totally rocks and the music and sound FX are a big part of it. Vaughn, Sydney and Jack all play out personal stories that really make this episode strong.

Episode 12, “The Orphan”: Chapter 1 opens in a girls’ orphanage all those years ago when Nadia was a child. She stops a rapist from attacking one of the other girls and escapes. APO targets someone with ties to Nadia’s past, which she doesn’t want to talk about because she was once a street thief while living on her own. Sydney knows something is going on. This episode really delineates Nadia’s background.

Episode 13, “Tuesday”: A Cuban salsa and pretty dresses shaking to the rhythm open up Chapter 1. Of course, one of those dresses is filled by the shapely Sydney Bristow. She does an intel swap and finds out a civilian target is about to get hit. The sweeping of windshield wiper blades slides through the surround sound system, then crashes roar through the subwoofer as the bass beat picks up during Sydney’s capture. Back at APO headquarters, a pathogen Dixon brought in is unleashed and he’s exposed. The rest of the base shuts down as they go on alert. One of the most humorous pieces is watching Marshal working under extreme circumstances in Chapter 4. Chapter 7 will absolutely put Marshall fans on the floor with laughter.

Episode 14, “Nightingale”: The mysteries concerning Nadia and Vaughn’s father continue in this episode, which opens with a dream sequence in Chapter 1 that is spooky and attention-getting, to say the least. In Chapter 2, the viewer gets introduced to Nightingale, a powerful biological weapon that literally melts the human body. Vaughn is already tracking the weapon through notes left in his dad’s journal. One of the things “Alias” does best is pit the characters against each other over emotional issues. The fight scene in Chapter 4 is played strictly for laughs, and the subwoofer explodes with the impacts of the blows.

Episode 15, “Pandora”: The episode starts with a bang. Several bullets ricochet through the surround sound system, plunging the watcher into a running gun battle with Dixon moving through a street scene dodging gunmen. It ends when Vaughn, who has gone rogue, shoots Dixon. Katya Derevko (Sonia Braga), Nadia’s aunt, calls from the women’s prison in Langley and asks Nadia to visit. The Rambaldi subplot raises its head again in this episode.

Episode 16, “Another Mr. Sloane”: Sydney, Vaughn, and Jack all talk about the fact that Arvin Sloane hasn’t reformed. A mysterious kidnapping in the beginning spices the plot up immediately. The confrontation between Sloane and Jack in Chapter 2 is tense and exciting. The kidnap victim has expertise the fake Sloane (Joel Grey) needs to build a Rambaldi device. The elevator sequence in Chapter 4 screams through the surround sound and ends with a thump magnified by the subwoofer. Chapter 10 shows a violent and scary side of Sloane that is underscored by the thumping subwoofer.

Episode 17, “A Clean Conscience”: More personal issues come through in this episode, upping the stakes for the APO team. Chapter 8’s scene with Jack cutting a capsule out of his hand is intense. The single gunshot that signal’s Dixon’s bid at keeping the mission alive in Chapter 10 bangs through the subwoofer and shows what he’s capable of when he’s up against the wall.

Episode 18, “Mirage”: Driving music opens Chapter 1, with Sydney, Vaughn, and Dixon working undercover on the same mission that carried over from the last episode. Of course, violence immediately breaks out and the explosions and gunshots and punches and kicks crash through the subwoofer and surround sound system as the music continues screaming in the background. In a bizarre twist to uncover the secret that happened 25 years ago, Sydney is forced to play her mother’s part to her hallucinating father. It’s a piece that plays out very well, giving fans an idea of what Sydney’s parents’ relationship was like and providing deep emotion that really pays off for the long-time fan.

Episode 19, “In Dreams”: In Chapter 1, we meet armed monks at an isolated monastery where venomous bees are raised. The buzzing insects fill the surround sound system, making us feel like we are walking through them. The Rambaldi device brought by the fake Sloane drives the bees crazy and the sting the monks to death. Buzzing crashing issues from the surround sound system. The confrontation between the fake Sloane and the real Sloane in Chapter 4 is interesting. Chapter 8 brings an incredible twist. The insight into Sloane’s past is awesome and adds depth to the character and unexpected pathos. Fans are given the truth behind Sloane’s interest in Rambaldi.

Episode 20, “The Descent”: Opening the door for the slam-bang finale coming up in the next two episodes, this show starts rapidly and still gains more momentum swiftly, like a runaway train going down the mountain. The swift cutting back and forth between the interviews and the storylines is dynamic. The shattering glass in the trap sequence of Chapter 4 rips through the surround sound system. The prison door opening up in Chapter 8 sounds like the jaws of death itself banging through the subwoofer.

Episode 21, “Search and Rescue”: Chapter 1 opens up 18 months ago, showing Jack’s supposed assassination of Irina, Sydney’s mother. The imagery while they dance is beautiful, showcasing the series’ production values. Even the single muffled shot that passes between them blasts through the subwoofer. The team goes into action, finding out that a Rambaldi device has been set into motion that threatens the fate of the entire world.

Episode 22, “Before the Flood”: Although the show has taken on decidedly science-fiction elements at this time, the action stays believable purely through the raw and true emotions of the characters. Chapter 1 opens up with an exciting leap from a plane and the descent to the stricken Russian city. Bodies whip through the air, ripping through the surround sound system. The cityscape looks like something out of a horror movie. The show also comes around full circle, incorporating elements of the first show of the season. Chapter 2 leavens the episode with an unexpected bit of humor as Marshall and Weiss blackmail a Russian minister into giving them the information they need. The sound effects of the flood in Chapter 6 explode through the surround sound system, firing heavily off the subwoofer. Of course, all of this leads up to one of the most twisted cliffhanger endings of all time, ensuring fans will be back for Season Five.

Although there are more bonus materials on this set than any other, diehard fans may want more. However, what is delivered with this set is truly choice stuff. The interviews with both female leads (Garner and Maestro) are interesting and show the chemistry they have together. The bloopers extra is an absolute hoot and fans will know exactly how much fun everyone on this show has. Beginning with the mis-airing of the “Lost” opening credit to the babies’ frantic dash with the real reel, the vignette hones in on the actors and the craziness they bring to the sets.

In the “Anatomy of a Scene” sequence, two scenes are presented, showing where all the special effects and blue screen techniques are cut in, which is amazing. This is a very generous selection and will be of interest to aspiring writers, actors and directors. The “Deleted Scenes” section is really well done and gives extra insight into the characters, although the viewer can (in most instances) see why the scenes were cut. “The Director’s View” and “Guest Stars of Season Four” are complimentary pieces that are worth seeing.

“Marshall’s World” is loaded with behind-the-scenes shots with actor Weisman narrating. Agent Weiss’ Spy Cam offers a tremendous amount of pictures of the show and actors throughout the season, and Grunberg’s narrative is awesome.

For some, now that “Alias” is in its fifth year, there may simply be too much history to jump onboard the spy train and enjoy the show. However, the series is one of the most consistently entertaining, surprising and gratifying television shows now running. The DVD collections offer a way to leverage “Alias” onto most must-see-TV lists. The recommendation is to buy and watch the other series sets before this one. Fans of the show will want to pick this one up, and those curious about the events leading up to Season Five may want to rent or borrow a set to catch up.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
aspect ratio(s):
Widescreen (1.78:1) Enhanced For 16x9 Televisions
special features: A Chat With Jennifer Garner; Meet Mia: Syd’s Little Sister; Alias Bloopers; Anatomy Of A Scene; Deleted Scenes; Director’s Diary; Guest Stars of Season 4; Marshall’s World; Agent Weiss’ Spy Cam; Audio Commentary for “A.P.O. Part 1 & 2”; Audio Commentary for “Ice”; Audio Commentary for “Nocturne”;
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba

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