Monday, November 10, 2008

Why The Last Season of "Alias" Makes Me Worry About "Lost"

[Today's post is a discussion about the TV shows "Alias" and "LOST." If you're not interested in these shows, or you don't want to be spoiled about the end of the former, consider this your spoiler warning.]

So I finished watching the TV series "Alias" this weekend, and since I'm doing so, oh, two and a half years later than the rest of the viewing public, I have no one but you darlings to discuss this with.

Actually, the lateness of such viewing is actually convenient, because I can use my thoughts about Alias to discuss the current TV phenomenon, LOST.

For those who are unfamiliar with Alias, a brief primer: Sydney Bristow is a secret agent working (along with her father) as part of a "black ops" division of the CIA--or so she thinks, until one day it is revealed to her that she and others have been victims of a horrible ruse, and her employer SD-6 is actually a terrorist/underworld organization. She goes to the actual CIA with her information, and is tasked to work as a double agent (as her father does) in the hopes of one day taking down this rogue organization.

Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well that's because it is.

But this is really just the plot of the first two seasons. In subsequent years, there are other organizations. As one falls, another takes its place. All manner of tragedy befalls Sydney and those she cares for, including deaths of loved ones (some multiple times), abduction and memory loss, and countless betrayals (seriously, literally dozens and dozens of major betrayals).
Through the entire series, there is a plot constant: the prophecies of ancient Italian visionary Milo Rambaldi (written as a cross between DaVinci and Nostrodamus), whose fifteenth-century predictions include detailed schematics of 21st century technologies and events. The heart of Rambaldi's prophecies, however, involves Sydney herself. She's proven to be "The Chosen One," and holds pretty much the fate of the world in her hands. Multiple times.

From the very beginning, the missions and intrigues of the show involved hunting, discovering, stealing, or stealing back devices that Rambaldi made and hid hundreds of years before. Some are part of a grand machine, others are part of smaller machines that do...random stuff. The point being, there was ALWAYS a Rambaldi device to find, steal, steal back, or destroy.

Some characters refused to accept the prophecies as being true; others blindly followed them, insisting that their destiny was to bring Rambaldi's visions to fulfillment.

By the end of the series, I have to admit I felt like the Rambaldi angle was played out. And when the final showdown was Irena Derevko (Syd's mom, a Soviet double-agent/career manipulator) falling through a skylight trying to reach a sphere full of immortality-elixir, I was left a bit cold. So much of the show swirled around what Rambaldi's endgame was--and then his real endgame--and then his REALLY REAL endgame--until finally it was revealed to be simply about immortality. Seriously? That's what five years has gotten me?

It was a fabulous show with some incredible, expectation-defying moments. But in the end, the promise of a momentous payoff was not kept. Jack (Syd's dad) blows himself up to trap the treacherous Sloane in an underground cavern (where he's stuck for eternity, having been revived by Rambaldi's forever-juice). Irena dies. Marshall and Rachel and the others go on with their lives. And the coda of the episode is Syd and Vaughn walking along the beach with their two kids and their friend and former associate Dixon. The end? Yeah, that's all folks.

So here's why I'm worried about LOST:

Alias was created by J.J. Abrams, who was executive producer of the show. Abrams also created LOST, though the executive producing reins have been handed to Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. Nevertheless, there are some similarities.

The question of faith vs. doubt: In Alias, the idea being debated was Rambaldi's prophecies and the idea of fate versus choice. In Lost, Jack and Locke are pitted against each other as the man of science and man of faith, and Locke insists that his fate is to stay on the island.

The MacGuffin: Alfred Hitchcock coined the term "macguffin" to describe an object that everyone's seeking or fighting over but whose purpose isn't clearly defined. In the behind-the-scenes features on the Alias DVDs, one of the show's creators admitted that Rambaldi was first created as simply a MacGuffin for the characters to run after, and later became something important or vital to the show. In LOST, the MacGuffin may be the Island itself. Or the Smoke Monster. Or Dharma. Or Jacob. Or the four-toed statue. Or the numbers. Or the Others. In short, there are so many ideas or entities of seemly-vital importance that really haven't been described.

The meaning of it all: For a while it seemed like Alias was moving toward something--an idea or concept that bound the story together. While it was presumably Rambaldi for years, in the end, it was merely... well, there really wasn't an overarching theme. Love? Motherhood? "Truth takes time"? By the time the last episode ended, I wasn't sure there was an overarching theme, other than a few ideas about loyalty, choosing love over power, or maybe the question of fate. In LOST, it seems like there's going to be an overarching idea. There is a story being told. The question that remains is, what story is it, and what does it mean? Only time will tell, I guess. We have 2 more seasons to find out.


Maybe I'm being a naysayer. But I really like LOST, and I hope that my final assessment of the series will be better than my feelings about Alias--a great show that promised a monster of a payoff but couldn't deliver on the expectations the first three years created.

I guess on January 21st, we'll find out what happens next.

What do you think? Will Cuse/Lindelof deliver on the hopes fans have for LOST? Or should we start moderating our expectations now?

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