Alias: The Complete Fourth Season

Fans of Alias, Jennifer Garner's sexy spy series, like to have answers. But this time out, it's not answers about various conspiracies, secret identities and plot twists that fans want answers about: it's why creator J.J. Abrams messes with the show so much? The famously reinventing scribe has notably transformed the show at least three times, turning its premise inside out and destroying the foundations of the show's initial conceits. By season four, he's written himself to the end of his rope, so he undergoes a contortionists machinations in order to try to get the show back to something that resembles its original conflicts: Sydney (Garner) as a spy watching boss/villain Sloane (Ron Rifkin) for suspicious behaviour while romancing co-spy Vaughn (Michael Vartan) and rebuilding her relationship with her father (Victor Garber). By this point, it stretches beyond credibility — but in the fourth season DVD, despite commentary by Abrams and Garner on a handful of episodes, and some better extras than previous sets, no answers as to why are to be found. Frustrations with the premise — and stunt-casting moves like the introduction of a half-sister (played by the beautiful Mia Maestro) — fall away when one gets to the meat of Alias, which remains well executed and, on an episode-by-episode basis, compelling television. What Abrams does most notably in this fourth year is cast a raft of wonderful women in fascinating roles: the holy triumvirate of Sydney's mom (Lena Olin) and her two aunts (Sonia Braga and Isabella Rossellini) is hard to beat on any dramatic show. But despite its soapy tendencies, Alias tries to maintain a balance between fantastical and realistic elements, a juggling act that gets harder with every premise-damaging twist. The hope for Alias fans — and television fans in general — is that the lessons learned from Alias will translate to Abrams's more popular offspring, Lost (there are several tongue-in-cheek references to the island castaway show's success here). But loyalists will remain Alias fans if not for the overarching vision of the show anymore at least for the delight of watching powerful women kick espionage ass each and every week. Plus: interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes, more. (Buena Vista)