May 03, 2005

Alias Presentation Part 1

Because I realize that the majority of my class is unfamiliar with the subject of my presentation/paper, I will use this presentation as an entry into the basic themes, ideals, and aesthetic structure of the show, as well as discuss how these elements are maintained and changed through the different mediums the show incorporates.

I will begin my presentation by showing the beginning of Episode 13 of the first season of Alias entitled, "The Box, Part 2." This three minute clip quickly explains the premise of the show through the episode-opening voice over:

"My name is Sydney Bristow. Seven years ago I was recruited by a secret branch of the CIA called SD-6. I was sworn to secrecy, but I couldn't keep it from my fiance. And when the head of SD-6 found out, he had him killed. That's when I found out the truth. SD-6 is not part of the CIA. I was working for the very people I thought I was working against. So I went to the only place that could help me bring them down. Now, I'm a double agent for the CIA, where my handler is a man named Michael Vaughn. Only one other person knows the truth about what I do, another double agent inside SD-6, someone I hardly know - my father."

This opening, coupled with the beginning moments of the episode, quickly displays many of the aspects of the show that I wish to analyze...

1. Non-Linear Storytelling: Although the clip I showed did not demonstrate this aspect of the show, most of the episodes follow a non-linear pattern. The show begins near the end, usually with Sydney in a precarious situation, then switches to the past where the audience must then follow the course of events leading up to the initial scene. Many times the show will flash forward multiple times, causing the audience to follow both future and past storylines. An example of this is the pilot episode, where the audience first meets Sydney in a red wig as she's getting tortured. The show then flashes back to Sydney on the UCLA where her boyfriend proposes to her. Just when the audience has forgotten about the initial torture scene, the show flashes forward again, continuing with that storyline. This pattern repeats several times until the past-story meets up with the future-story.

2. Action/Non-Action Blend: Throughout the show, Sydney is constantly finding herself in situations where her public/personal life struggles are often intertwined with her private/spy life. For instance, in the pilot episode, the scenes where Sydney is getting tortured are interspresed with the scenes where she is dealing with the emotional torture of her fiance's murder. In "The Box" episodes, Sydney decides that she wants to quit both the CIA and SD-6 but the action she faces at work makes her decide to stay.

3. Serial Storytelling: Because Alias is a television show, there is a serial aspect of the show. Each episode has its own story arc where Sydney encounters a problem, goes on a mission to solve that problem, then returns home either successful or unsuccessful. Despite this serial aspect, however, the series has many continual story lines that link each episode together. Although Sydney may solve one mystery in each episode, other mysteries remain unsolved for five, six episodes, sometimes entire seasons. Despite the intrinsic serial aspect of the show, it follows a pattern more closely related to soap operas than prime time TV. The the most recent two seasons, this soap opera aspect has been lessened slightly to raise viewership. Although there are continuing storylines, there are less cliffhangers, and the story arc in each episode has become more defined.

4. Complexity of Relationships: One of the important underlying themes in the show is the complexity of not only Sydney's relationships, but the relationships of those around her. For instance, from the very first episode Sydney and her CIA handler Vaughn begin a tension-filled relationship that still isn't resolved in the current, fourth season. The clip I played earlier showed the tension surrounding Sydney's relationship with her father. This tension is only feuled throughout the show as each time they grow closer, something happens to bring them farther apart. Similar relationships exists between Sydney and her mother, between her father and mother, between Sydney and her nemesis Sloane, between her father and Sloane...the list goes on.

5. Investigation of the Unknown: Another key aspect to this show is the quest for truth. Because so many characters have hidden agendas, there is a lot of deceit and betrayal between them. There are also many mysteries in the plot of the show, including uncertainty over past events, and the relevence of the 15th century genius-prophet Milo Rambaldi. Rambaldi is another aspect of the show that ties Sydney's private and professional lives together - the majority of her missions involve collecting either information about Rambaldi or a Rambaldi artifact, while her relationship with her both her mother and sister could hinge upon the answers to his mystery.

6. Strong Women Warriors: The first article I chose for the class to read discussed Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a Transgressive Woman Warrior. I use this article to claim the same about Sydney Bristow, but also show the women warriors surrounding her. Like Buffy, Sydney is a reluctant hero (as seen in "The Box, Part 2"). She is named by Rambaldi as "The Chosen One," and was, as a child, secretly trained by her father to be a spy. The life she leads is part of her, and she excels at it. Although her superior officers are all men, Sydney is not only superior to them in skill, but holds a certain amount of power over them. She is better in combat than her father (a high-ranking officer), Agent Vaughn (her CIA handler), and Agent Dixon (her partner). She holds power over both SD-6 and the CIA because of her elite status as double-agent, and often disobeys their orders and goes on rogue missions if she feels it is necessary. While she has occasionally seen the consequences of this impetuousness, most of the time her judgements were correct and both organizations are in her debt.

Another key woman warrior is Irina Derevko, Sydney's mother. While pretending to be the loving wife and mother Laura Bristow, Irina was actually a KGB operative in disguise, using Jack Bristow (Sydney's father) to gain information about the CIA and its plans. Before turning herself into CIA custody, Irina lived under the alias "The Man," fooling not only the CIA but agencies all over the world. While a prisoner, the information she held gave her power over the CIA, then after her escape she used the information she had learned from the CIA to become more powerful than ever.

Sydney's sister, Nadia, is the best spy in the CIA, next to Sydney. They seem to be evenly matched, both exponentially more talented than any of the men in their lives. Nadia, however, is part of a Rambaldi prophesy that pits Sydney ("The Chosen One") against Nadia ("The Passenger") in a fight to the death. Although she and Sydney are currently alies, there is a threat that this could change at any moment.

Sydney has other nemeses as well - In seasons 1 and 4, Sydney must fight with a Russian Super-spy named Anna Espinosa. Anna is equally matched with Sydney, and her obsession with Rambaldi often has them working against each other in missions. In season 3, it was revealed that Agent Vaughn (Sydney's love interest) married a woman in the government named Lauren. It turns out that, like Irina Derevko, Lauren was a double agent asked to marry Vaughn in order to glean secret information about the CIA. Lauren soon became both a professional and personal adversary, but unlike Anna and Irina, did not have the skills to compete against Sydney.

Now that I've given you some background information, go see how I'm planning to use it...(Alias Presentation, Part 2)

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at May 3, 2005 01:22 PM | TrackBack
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