John W. Campbell, one of the first and most important editors of science fiction in the middle of the 20th century was said to have told Isaac Asimov that science fiction mysteries aren’t possible because the detective can always say “I can just take out my ‘pocket franistan’ and solve this crime by doing this…”
Asimov responded by writing a series of science fiction mysteries (most notably his Robot Novels) that didn’t use a pocket franistan. Asimov said, and rightly so I think, that the only way you can have really good science fiction mysteries is if you lay out the rules early on and then stick to them. In other words, if you’re going to let your detective have some cool gadget then you’d better make sure the readers know it soon enough in the telling that they don’t feel cheated when it gets used.
All of this brings me to last night’s season premier of Alias in which Michael Vaughn dies. Here’s the thing – I’m not sure I believe he’s really dead and, even if he is, I’m not sure he’s completely dead. He’s maybe only mostly dead. Over the four previous seasons of Alias, I have not been convinced, especially lately, that someone is not going to open his jacket and say, “wait a minute – maybe if I inject Vaughn’s corpse with this special Rambaldi serum he’ll come back to life!”
Consequently, I can’t really commit to feeling bad about Vaughn’s demise. I feel like Alias is at a turning point – in the next few episodes they can grab me and keep me for the season by proving that they have no franistans in their pockets or they can use one and lose me.