I love Alias. I do. I just bought Season One this weekend—I got it previously viewed from Blockbuster so it was only $25!!! I love bargains!—and I finally watched the first three episodes last night. I really love it. And I think I’ve finally figured out why.
There are many reasons to like Alias. There is Sydney Bristow (played brilliantly by Jennifer Garner) for starters; I’m hard-pressed to think of any guys who don’t like her. Or girls, for that matter, though not quite in the same way—they save that for Michael Vaughn. There’s the action: Sydney is just awesome at kicking butt and not taking crap from anyone. I mean, talk about girl power. There are the very, very cool gadgets, usually provided by the very nerdy but nonetheless adorable and funny Marshall.
There is the music, from J.J. Abram’s opening theme, to the song selections for each episode, to the scoring by the brilliant Michael Giaccino (who also does the fantastic music for LOST). There are the plot lines: not too hard to follow if you keep up, and with enough twists and turn to leave you surprised. Often VERY surprised (Season Four finale, anyone?).
Then there are the characters. They are very complex and fascinating; real, three-dimensional, believable, and sometimes unpredictable. They are strong, smart, funny, snarky, ruthless; you either love or hate them—sometimes both in the same moment—but very rarely do you just not care about a character. They are human; they mess up, make mistakes, fight, and do their best to do what they think is right.
But I think the real reason I love it—along with thousands of other viewers—lies elsewhere. I think it has more to do with…escapism. Or just fantasy-ism in general. I’m talking about a preoccupation with spies that goes back almost to childhood for me. It started with mysteries and sleuths in grade school, like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and their ability to sneak around and dig up clues and pay attention to small details. It progressed to shows in my pre and early teen years like Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and my favorites Mission: Impossible and MacGyver (*sigh* who deserves his own blog of tribute). Really, with a background like that, it was only a matter of time before I fell for Alias.
It’s perfect, really. For one whole hour every week, I get to be a spy. I get to vicariously live out my secret espionage desires. I get to see the world, kick butt, save lives, and the best part is, I come home without a scratch. Or any bruises. Or the fear of retaliation. Living out as Sydney, I get to imagine what it’s like to be an important part of a critical and covert organization.
I get to pretend for a little while that I have a vital role to play, a job that no one else can do as well as me, a role that no one else can fill, a job that could very well save the world. I get to go behind enemy lines, sneak into their base camp, and steal back valuable items and information, even rescue people.
John Eldredge would probably say that the reason I like Alias so much is that it is a picture of me and my role in the Larger Story—the Story we all are living out every day. He doesn’t normally write about spy stuff—he’s more into epics, fairytales, and war-ridden dramas—so I’m just speculating here. But all that stuff about being behind enemy lines, and going undercover, having a critical role to play—that stuff is so Eldredge.
In his book “Waking the Dead” (in my favorites list, I recommend it to everyone) he outlines three Eternal Truths that we find in stories we love.
- Things are not what they seem.
- This is a world at war.
- You have a crucial role to play.
I can see all of these applying to Alias. Things are not what they seem. No one is what he or she seems. Sydney is not just another pretty face. Her father is not just an aloof airplane parts salesman. Even Vaughn, we learn, is not really Michael Vaughn. (Whatever that means, J.J.!!) SD-6 is not part of the CIA. As far as being at war goes, there are always bad guys to fight, some more prevalent than others. And Sydney, as well as the other main characters like Jack, Vaughn and Marshall all absolutely have a crucial role to play.
And so it relates to us; this is why we love it. Because we know that in our world, also, nothing is ever quite what it seems at first glance. There is conflict going on everyday with everyone. And whether we feel it or not, we each do have an important role to play, something designed just for us in all our uniqueness. Maybe it’s not as dramatic or dangerous as what Sydney does, but…since nothing is what it seems…then again, maybe it is.