Season 4 of Alias came out on DVD just as the fifth season was starting up, so the two of them kind of run together in my mind. In a lot of ways, Sydney’s struggles were a mirror of the ones that Alias’s producers went through: just as Sydney kept trying to create a simple, stable family unit that wasn’t built on deception, the writers kept trying to steer their show towards a simple, entertaining formula that wasn’t built on a non-existent story arc. Their attempts were always doomed to fail, though, by the presence that hung over everyone’s heads, guiding their actions even when they thought they were free of it: Rambaldi.

They tried to get away from Rambaldi in Season 4, “resetting” the show’s premise and putting as many stories as they could in between them and the impenetrable mess of continuity that they had built up for themselves over the years: a sister for Sydney and a daughter for Sloane, more evil organizations, more Derevkos, etc., etc. Then they reset things some more in Season 5, working in Jennifer Garner’s real-life pregnancy, killing old cast members off (and resurrecting them, and killing them off again), introducing new cast members (and killing some of them off as well), yet more evil organizations, you get the picture. None of it did any good in the end, and considering how many storylines got dropped along the way, most of it didn’t even manage to do much bad. No matter how many distractions the writers tossed out, and no matter how hard Sloane tried to convince everyone (including himself) that all he wanted was to be a good father, Alias always got sucked back into the whirlpool of continuity, as represented by a spinning, floating ball full of goopy liquid.

The funny thing is that while most of Alias’s run involved lurching around in search of a plot that made sense, it wasn’t until ABC announced the show’s cancellation that the writers finally gave in and accepted the fact that “sense” was simply never going to be a part of their legacy in the way that dysfunctional families and bright red wigs would be. The last few episodes, then, weren’t so much about tying up the loose ends that Rambaldi and J.J. Abrams left dangling as they were about unravelling the thread completely, and as a result, they were surprisingly easy to watch. It’s almost as if unloading the show of all its extra baggage allowed it to roll downhill to its finale, with a parade of guest stars to give it a little extra momentum. In terms of continuity and plot construction, the show’s final episode was a complete mess, but Sydney was pretty and kicked ass, Vaughn was even prettier and never learned to shave, Sloane was a complete nutball, and Jack was the baddest of badasses. And that’s all we ever asked for.