Watching Alias last night, I was struck by a sudden thought during the pre-credits sequence: this isn't Alias I'm watching--it's Mission: Impossible. I'm not talking about the banal, incomprehensible Tom Cruise action movies, but rather the classic TV series in which a team of elite agents from the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) carried out covert missions, all of which were subject to official denial in the case of failure or death. In its fourth season, even after just two episodes, Alias has taken a huge turn, and there's little doubt that it's a turn for the better.
For the uninitiated, the first three seasons of Alias featured grad-student-cum-secret-agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) as a James Bond/Jack Bauer figure, a (wo)man alone against fearsome foes and unfathomable odds. Creatively, the show thrived on the strength of stellar plotlines from the show's writers and consistently solid acting from the supporting cast, anchored by veterans Victor Garber as Sydney's father and fellow agent and Ron Rifkin as the impossibly evil Arvin Sloane. The show's focus was very clearly on Sydney. Never mind that she was the least interesting character.
Season One of the series built up an increasingly complex (and to some, alienating) series of double- and triple-crosses revolving around a continuing subplot in which various factions, both good and evil, scrambled to obtain artifacts from a 15th century Da Vinci-like inventor, Milo Rimbaldi. This global scavenger hunt came to a head in Season Two, when, in one single episode, Abrams destroyed the entire foundation of organizations and alliances he had built up for a fresh start. Unfortunately, in Season Three, the whole show began to derail with a shift in focus away from missions and toward a largely uninteresting love triangle.
Which brings us to Season Four, which, so far, has simultaneously returned to the creative pinnacle of the first season and garnered the show's best ratings ever.