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''Alias'' creator dishes on upcoming plot twists

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Lost creator J.J. Abrams may finally have cracked the ratings code for his spy drama Alias: Nearly 16 million viewers — double last year’s average — tuned in for Jan. 5’s heavily hyped season 4 opener. But in tweaking the series to make it more user-friendly, Abrams left some longtime Alias loyalists feeling angry and baffled by the show’s reboot. We strapped Abrams into a torture chair (okay, we just asked nicely) for more intel on the premiere and future developments. (Minor spoiler alert!)

SYDNEY’S ”NEW” JOB Having Syd work as a black-ops agent for a clandestine CIA division led by the loathsome Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) sounds a lot like Alias‘ original premise…which was abandoned in season 2 after the writers felt trapped by it. What gives? Abrams now believes deviating from the old paradigm was a mistake. ”There were things we lost that made the show special,” he says, citing the combative Syd-Sloane dynamic and Syd’s partnership with Dixon (Carl Lumbly).

WHO’S THE BOSS?? Speaking of Übervillain Sloane: This is the same Machiavellian creepazoid who ordered the execution of Syd’s fiancé and Dixon’s wife. And Syd and Dixon still agree to work for him?! Abrams defends the decision by saying real-life intelligence agencies often rely on shady characters. To which we say: But this is Sloane. ”While admittedly a leap of faith,” he says, ”I thought it was worth it.” To those still scratching their heads, Abrams says an upcoming episode will deal with the fraught workplace tensions.

MOTHER ISSUES That big revelation that Syd uncovered in last season’s cliffhanger? Seems Syd’s secret-agent father Jack (Victor Garber) had her mother (Lena Olin) killed. The disclosure was confusing, since Spy Daddy was seen e-mailing Spy Mommy last season. Abrams says the inconsistency is intentional and will be explained. Also look for the Rambaldi conspiracy to return in a two-parter that brings back old foes Sark (David Anders) and Anna Espinosa (Gina Torres). ”This is Alias,” sums up Abrams. ”There’s always something bubbling under the surface.” True. But Alias should learn a lesson from Syd’s recent water torture: Giving an audience too much to swallow can be deadly.

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