Alias: The Complete Third Season

Twisty spy-vs.-spy show Alias took until the third season to reach its sophomore slump — not too bad for a show that built its foundation on a complicated, occasionally convoluted series of double agents, double-crosses and duos galore: Sydney (Jennifer Garner) and Vaughn (Michael Vartan); Sydney and her Oedipal relationship with her father Jack (Victor Garber); Vaughn and his new wife Lauren (Melissa George); Lauren and perpetual bad boy Sark (David Anders). And while these tête a têtes would be more than enough for any serialised show to maintain, creator J.J. Abrams has to keep throwing ingredients in the pot, as he does throughout this third season: Sydney's sister and her aunt (in the lovely form of Isabella Rosselini) show up; bad spies SD-6 have been replaced by the mysterious Covenant; Sydney's lost the last two years of her life — it's almost overwhelming, even for the dedicated Alias geek. Speaking as one, therein lies the problem and perhaps the great joy of a show like Alias. While season three, shown weekly on broadcast television, seemed disjointed and unfocused, on DVD it's at the very least easier to follow and absorb. While Abrams worked overtime in the first two seasons to make the show comprehensible to newbie viewers, season three doesn't hold your hand any more. Abandoning the simply outlined premise of the first two seasons — Sydney and her father are both double agents working for the CIA — the show is freed of its pedantic weekly plot burdens (like, say, another "one where Sydney's secret identity almost gets discovered"), but Abrams freaks out in season three like a kid on a 30-second Toys R Us shopping spree. He throws every possible twist and turn into the paths of Sydney and company, but many of them seem poorly conceived (a series of misdirections involving Arvin Sloane, played by Ron Rifkin), or overly familiar. (Vaughn and the "I married a double agent" subplot doesn't just echo the relationship of Sydney's parents, it copies it.) In the age before DVD, such a serialised plot agenda would be death to a relatively low-rated show — Jennifer Garner has received more attention than the show has viewers — but with the arrival of this third season several months before season four is due on television (it's not scheduled until January), there's plenty of time to catch up, or even reabsorb what went by too quickly last year. The geek factor is relatively high on this DVD issue; extras include a lovely animated short that fills in part of Sydney's lost years; the making of is surprisingly engaging, mostly because it concentrates on stunts, set design and props instead of talking head cast interviews; and the deleted scenes and bloopers are generous, if a little typical. You might even find yourself watching them again when the wait for Sydney's return becomes too much to bear. Plus: selected episode commentary, DVD-Rom ScriptScanner, more. (Touchstone/Buena Vista)