Alias: The Complete Fifth Season

It is to the benefit of future TV viewers — particularly of popular serialised dramas like Lost (more on that later) — that spy drama Alias became such a cautionary tale by its fifth and final season. But as much as the last season (and much of the previous one) was a disappointment, this DVD collection moves in the direction of an actual betrayal, at least for avid fans of the vehicle that made Jennifer Garner a star and its creator, J.J. Abrams, a Hollywood powerhouse. Alias used to be about young spy Sydney Bristow unknowingly working for an enemy disguised as the C.I.A. After a couple of conceptual "restarts,” and a fourth season crippled by a network decree that the show cut down on larger story arcs, the fifth season was dragged by its hair back to its original, successful incarnation: Bristow working with her dad (a deadpan Victor Garber) and for and against arch-enemy (and slimy collaborator) Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin). The show flirted for years with an on-again/off-again "mythology” surrounding a 15th century seer named Rambaldi, who foreshadowed incredible technological advances, from the internet to Sydney Bristow herself. Rambaldi disappeared for a while, and makes a half-hearted return along with some earlier season characters who were killed off (or not...) in an effort to bring Alias up a notch in the ranking of "appointment television.” Alias was never sublime in a true artistic sense but it sure ended up on the far side of ridiculous — several characters (including Bristow’s mom, played by the fab Lena Olin) were "cloned” so that they could return, or to explain why they’re not dead after all. And in a DVD featurette on "The Legend of Rambaldi,” producers and writers somewhat gleefully admit that there was no such legend — nor even a somewhat coherent plan — surrounding the mythology. It was simply a MacGuffin, a means to get Bristow’s team chasing after something with great urgency; no grand Rambaldi plan lay behind it, nor was there a logical arc to his "legend.” Imagine if Lost ended the same way — that everything happening on the island was irrelevant, merely a means to get beautiful people to run about getting sweaty. Now that it’s resting fitfully, Alias can provide important lessons to producer/creator Abrams, who co-created Lost. Arbitrarily killing off beloved characters remains a Lost habit; Alias brought them back for alarmingly half-assed reasons, so that should be avoided. Lost has been adding new characters in a seemingly coherent fashion, something that Alias fumbled several times, particularly the late-series arrivals of Balthazar Getty and Rachel Nichols, who never found their strides. Those who are just going to stubbornly purchase this because owning the first four seasons but not the last one is ridiculous can look forward to half-assed featurettes such as "Heightening the Drama: The Music of Alias,” "Celebrating 100 Episodes,” and the weak "The Bloopers of Alias.” The bitter taste in your mouth is akin to that of ending a long-term relationship with someone who used to be great but increasingly acted like a giant ass, and it just took you forever to notice. (Buena Vista)