On Alias

Classical Mythology, Prime-Time Television

Sydney Bristow and the Quest for Female Identity
By Lee Fratantuono, Ph.D.

Alias can be studied in any number of profitable ways: spy series, action-adventure series, series about a powerful female character who battles external and internal demons while trying to achieve a greater good. For a classicist, a person whose business it is to study Greco-Roman antiquity, one of the particularly interesting facets of academic life is to study what the Germans would call the Nachleben of a story: its “afterlife.” In other words, the pursuit of themes across time and place, the pursuit of mythological or other archetypes, can help lead to a deeper understanding of a particular work of art. In the case of Alias, there is little evidence that the creators and writers have any aspect of classical antiquity in their minds as they produce episode after episode, plot twist after plot twist. But, as is so often the case with quality works in either television or film, elements of the classics lie behind the basic story of Alias: the tale of one woman and her search for identity. This essay has the difficult task of considering a show that is still alive and well; at the time of this writing, what will happen after February of 2005 remains unknown. Predictions are a dangerous game, but I will stick my neck out on this one: I suspect Alias will end badly for Sydney Bristow. Most searches for female identity in classical mythology end with the untimely demise of the woman. Alias is the first post-9/11 depiction of this  …

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