When you watch the third season of Alias, you get the feeling that the show’s producers were in a hurry. Too much of a hurry to really build up their mysteries or produce the high volume of plot twists that viewers have become addicted to; too much of a hurry to think of a good use for their supporting characters; too much of a hurry even to put scene breaks in reasonable places. The effect of this is kind of surprising: rather than feeling like episodes go by too quickly, the sloppy construction causes things to slow down, and characters and story arcs keep failing to make progress. The result is a season that doesn’t last any longer than the first two, but sure feels like it did.

A big part of this is the fact that most of the big plot twists feel sort of inevitable, and as a result are a bit of a letdown. From the first scene of the first episode, even through their bitter recriminations (“I’m over you!” “No, I’m over you!“), all signs point to an inevitable re-hooking-up between Sydney and Vaughn. This means that one of the main story lines of the season, the Sydney-Vaughn-Lauren triangle, is really just a whole lot of running in circles — or maybe it’s running in triangles? — whatever, it’s a whole lot of wasted time: I spent the first three discs moaning at the TV: “C’mon, I know Lauren is either going to get killed or turn evil, let’s get on with it!” (And then there’s the fact that it takes the entire rest of the season for the other characters to figure Lauren out; see above, re: “failing to make progress”). Other big “surprises” are similarly predictable: Katja Derevko as much of a backstabber as her sister? You don’t say. Sydney was a bad girl during her lost time? Go figure. Sloane has been playing everyone and everything for his own Rambaldian purposes? I’m friggin’ shocked.

In a way, Alias just can’t win: its viewers have been trained to expect twists and betrayals at every turn, to the point where the only way to really surprise them would be to not do the shocking thing, to have an operation go off without a hitch, to have a character be exactly who he or she claims to be. On the other hand, if Sloane were really a penitent philanthropist, or if Sydney and Vaughn decided to just be friends, or if Jack weren’t the baddest dad around, there wouldn’t be much of a show, now, would there?