Paloma de Papel (Paper Dove)

Part travelogue, part political statement, part coming-of-age drama —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Alias: The Complete Second Season manages to build on the appeal of the first season by adding a few new intriguing characters and keeping the plots twisting and turning from episode to episode. Even so, the series still encounters the virtually inevitable wrong turns.

A Family Affair

The second season starts off with a bang when Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner, Catch Me If You Can) is shot by her very own mother, Irina, a woman she was told had died in a car accident twenty years earlier. As it turns out, Sydney’s mother (Lena Olin, Chocolat) is one tough cookie with a deep, dark past and she’s also a difficult personality to read.

Shortly after the shooting, Sydney’s mother turns herself into the CIA, but her motives are constantly under question. Depending on the situation, she’s earnestly interested in restoring her mother/daughter relationship and divulging helpful information to the CIA, but at other times she seems as though she is one can of fava beans short of a full meal.

In keeping with the globetrotting tone of the first season, Sydney and company traverse the globe on various missions, with Moscow, Nepal, New Delhi, Vienna, Budapest, Barcelona, and Paris among the locales on the itinerary.

As evidence of the show’s popularity, the star power has increased with cameos by such considerable talent as Faye Dunaway, David Carradine, Christian Slater, Olivia d’Abo, and Ethan Hawke. Richard Lewis is cast against type to great effect as a CIA agent and Rutger Hauer is perfect as yet another creepy bad guy.

The show’s cliffhangers-within-cliffhangers approach is a great hook, but it’s the well-drawn characters and conviction of the cast that hold the attention. Alias also maintains its appeal by keeping a sense of humor about itself. Sydney herself sees the oddity of it all when she observes, “Some people go miniature golfing with their parents. We go to India looking for nukes.”

False Moves

To its credit, Alias does what it can to stay focused on the story rather than conventional TV formatting. To that end, sometimes the opening credits don’t even roll until 18 minutes into the episode. Nonetheless, while the first season was a masterful example of the heights an action TV series can achieve, the second season stumbles a couple times, but it still manages to recover nicely by the season finale.

The first stumble is more a problem of ambition versus resources than a lack of imagination. In this case, a sequence that takes place in Siberia suffers from cheesy snow and ice effects. It’s a shame after all the advances in CGI and technology that TV-bound special effects still cannot muster a realistic blizzard.

The second shortcoming is purely a problem of the imagination. This time, a subplot involving molecular gene therapy to create identical doubles of primary characters is simply beyond belief and feels out of place amidst the more realistic (albeit still outlandish) goings-on.

Also questionable is the requisite romance which develops between Sydney and Agent Vaughn (Michael Vartan, Never Been Kissed). While it is tastefully done and provides another layer of complexity, it simply gets in the way sometimes.

The Marshall Plan

Those shortcomings aside, there are plenty of twists and turns that do work well. None have more appeal than those surrounding Marshall Flinkman, the Alias equivalent of James Bond’s gadget expert, Q. Kevin Weisman (Gone in 60 Seconds) keeps the techno-geek loveable and offers the series a great source of comic relief. His star shines even brighter as he makes his own transition from SD-6 to CIA and also manages to get out of the office for his first on-location assignment, in London.

The main plot thickens with the demise of SD-6 as Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin, The Sum of All Fears) continues his pursuit of the Rambaldi device, which requires the assemblage of bits and pieces from all corners of the world. Milo Rambaldi was a visionary along the lines of Leonardo da Vinci; what his aim was with the device grows ever more mysterious by the end of the second season.

Sloane is, like Irina, a difficult villain to pigeon hole as he continues his quest to uncover Rambaldi’s secrets and the relationship with his wife grows more complex. He, like Irina, is in turns sympathetic and ominous. On the strength of such characters, Alias is a series with a solid foundation upon which to build its clever web.

DVD Extras

The second season’s six-disc set offers a nice variety of supplemental materials, including an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the season finale, The Telling, with a full 40-minute documentary.

Also on hand are four running commentaries (accompanying Episodes 13, 17, 21 and 22). The quality varies dramatically, from a “boys club” atmosphere lacking any substantial content to more informative dialogues from the series’ creator and star. Of special note is the inclusion of seamless branching during Phase One and The Telling. The commentaries cut to an alternate take of a fight scene gone awry during the former and to a deleted scene during the latter.

The same two episodes are also supported by the ScriptScanner, which allows viewers to simultaneously watch the episode and read the script via DVD-ROM, and their related One-Line Production Schedules, which demonstrate the quick pace of the Alias enterprise.

Additional supplements include a featurette, The Look of Alias, a collection of deleted scenes, bloopers, KROQ radio interviews, and TV spots. In a move of shameless cross-promotion, a brief featurette on the making of Alias the video game is also thrown in.

Rounding out the package is the package itself, which features a plastic sleeve of the Bristow family. The sleeve covers a cardboard box which features Rambaldi’s da Vinci-like drawings, with a sketch of a young woman, oddly reminiscent of Sydney, on the front. The box, in turn, holds three keep-cases, each with two discs.

Picture and Sound

As with the first season, Alias: The Complete Second Season is presented in widescreen 1.78:1 (enhanced for 16x9 screens) and features pristine picture quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound soundtrack is solid and does a fine job of showcasing both the music and the drama. Also available is a Spanish language soundtrack and English captions.