The Alias Re-Watch continues. Read Part 1 here.

Alias: Season 4

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Season 4 was a return to form for Alias after its uneven third season. The writers devised a set-up to unite the main cast in a logical way. Early on, Season 4 avoided the more complicated facets of the series. Instead, it focused on entertaining Missions of the Week and the emotional tangle among the main characters. As the Season went on, the writers began pulling in elements from prior seasons, building to a strong finale that paid off a lot of lingering plot points and even rehabilitated some of Season 3’s more questionable decisions.

Melissa George was long gone and David Anders was no longer a regular (though he’d turn up in a couple episodes). Mia Maestro was promoted to a full-timer and was a strong presence in the core group. Sydney and Nadia’s sisterly bond proved to be an interesting development for the series and the Syd/Vaughn relationship got back on track (in spite of the failed romance Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan had conducted offscreen). Acclaimed actress Sonia Braga appeared in several episodes as Elena Derevko, Irina’s eldest and deadliest sibling who had some lethal designs for her nieces. Also turning up in a few episodes was the kickass Angela Bassett as a no-nonsense CIA Director.

Maestro and Braga’s casting did create some ethnic confusion for fans. Both actresses are Latino, but were playing characters that were Caucasian. Which wasn’t a problem in and of itself; both had a flexible enough look to allow them to play different ethnicities. But then Alias based them in Argentina, had them speak Spanish and basically presented them as Latino. It was a confusing production choice that created dissonance for viewers. Fortunately the performances were good enough to overcome it and Elena would be a catalyzing presence for the Season’s end game.

Key Episodes

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“Authorized Personnel Only, Parts 1 and 2”: Alias rebooted itself yet again. Sydney, Jack, Dixon and Vaughn all were recruited for a new CIA black ops team, APO. The leader was none other than Sloane, who’d once again wormed his way into the CIA’s good graces. Sydney was keeping Vaughn at arms’ length and was outright hostile to Jack after what she learned in the Season 3 finale. Sydney needed info from Nadia to catch the terrorist the team was chasing. While the sisters had a nice reunion and Nadia shared what she knew, she declined to get involved. Sydney and Jack’s tense field assignment required APO to recruit Marshall. When things went awry for Sydney, Nadia took an active role. Sydney prevailed, of course, and learned some significant info that ameliorated her anger toward Jack, but also forced her to keep a secret from Nadia, who joined APO. This was a smart re-set for Alias. Finding a reason to put all the regulars together was a good story move (only Weiss was left out initially and he’d join before long). Also a good call was focusing on “Missions of the Week” and backing off from complicated conspiracy stories. With a complex group dynamic and some first rate action sequences, Alias was fun again.

“Echoes”: Anna Espinosa returned and kidnapped Nadia to force Sydney to steal a high tech bomb for her. APO turned to Sark for info on the terrorists who hired Anna, bringing Vaughn and Sark face-to-face. Sydney rescued Nadia, but Anna’s return implicated a Rambaldi prophecy that threatened to pit the sisters against one another. Sark remained as slippery as ever in the hunt for terrorists. But it was Nadia who was critically injured after she and Sydney went after Anna. “Echoes” was an effective way for Alias to use its history and mythology to tell a story that wasn’t mired in obsessive continuity. Sark was always a good jolt of energy and Anna’s return was also welcome. The family drama inherent in the APO set-up was well-handled and the show made good use of Vaughn’s lingering PTSD over Lauren.

“A Man of His Word”: With Nadia in a coma, APO needed Sark to find Anna’s employers. The ghoulish price of his cooperation resulted in an especially tense moment for Vaughn. Anna tried to eliminate Nadia for something she’d learned, forcing Syd and Vaughn to take Sark into the field. After a nightclub shoot-out left Sark in Anna’s hands, Jack jeopardized Nadia’s recovery to get the info she’d learned before her shooting. A wild confrontation in Venice led to one of Sark’s ever unpredictable turns and a brutal Sydney/Anna showdown. Capped with a tense Jack/Sloane scene, it added up to a compelling, exciting installment.

“The Index”: The theft of a trove of encrypted blackmail material had Dixon convinced that Sloane was using the CIA to re-start the Alliance. A conflicted Sydney agreed to help Dixon, jeopardizing her relationship with Nadia. Vaughn’s visit to his dying uncle led him to a diary suggesting his father might still be alive. A cat-and-mouse gambit with Sloane took a twist that put Jack in serious jeopardy. This was another installment that made excellent use of the show’s past in a sensible, streamlined way with maximum emotional impact. Sloane and his goals remained an enigma, while Jack and Sloane’s uneasy alliance showed signs of strain. It was also an excellent use of the show’s twisted family dynamic, resulting in some strong Sydney/Nadia scenes.

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“Tuesday”: A terrorist group pulled a double attack, releasing a deadly toxin into APO’s headquarters at the same time they blindsided Sydney and buried her alive. With the rest of APO in lockdown, only Marshall was free to rush to Sydney’s rescue. Sydney and Marshall then chased the terrorists back to Europe to avert yet another end-of-the-world catastrophe. Garner really sold the horror of Sydney’s predicament and the sequences leading up to Marshall locating and rescuing Sydney were tense and exciting. But then the episode flawlessly changed directions, presenting the always entertaining spectacle of Marshall in the field, being coached remotely both by Sydney and Jack (only Victor Garber could have sold Jack’s quizzical “What’s a spork?” line). The episode was fairly light on continuing plot lines (other than a couple nice Sydney/Vaughn moments) but was an involving, exciting installment that might be the most entertaining Season 4 episode.

“Nightingale”: When Sydney and Vaughn’s search for information about his father hit a dead end, she turned to Jack for help, not realizing how Vaughn’s quest intersected with Jack and Sloane’s hunt for Elena Derevko. A mystery man tempted Vaughn with the promise of information about his father, if Vaughn delivered a device installed in a Siberian nuclear plant. Vaughn, Sydney and Jack infiltrated the plant, but a bad turn of events trapped Sydney in a chamber that was about to expose her to some nasty radiation. Jack jeopardized his own life to save her. By the episode’s end, Vaughn had gone rogue and only Marshall realized how serious Jack’s condition might be. A tense and suspenseful episode that made excellent use of the Sydney/Vaughn relationship while teasing out the Elena story.

“Pandora”: Vaughn was pulled into a crew of mercenaries planning to steal a Rambaldi artifact from the CIA, putting him on a collision course with Dixon. An imprisoned Katya Derevko manipulated Nadia’s sympathy to secure Sydney’s help in tracking down information on what Irina was up to before her apparent death. Vaughn participated in an elaborate theft, but an epiphany had him turn the tables on those pulling his strings. Sydney learned some startling info about Irina. By episode’s end, Syd and Vaughn had reunited, each convinced Sloane was behind their troubles. Alias continued its hot streak with another strong episode that pushed Vaughn out of his comfort zone and put Sydney back into the orbit of her treacherous aunt. Isabella Rossellini was always a welcome presence and Katya remained one of the shrewdest creations on the show. “Pandora” was part of an arc that showed the writers figuring out how to take the pieces of past seasons that hadn’t quite worked and use them in an effective, understandable way.

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“Another Mister Sloane”: After Sydney and Vaughn brought their suspicions to Jack, a startling truth emerged: someone was masquerading as Sloane. In order to figure out his impostor’s moves, the real Sloane re-immersed himself in all things Rambaldi, to Nadia’s great concern. A wild raid on “Arvin Clone’s” facility brought the real Sloane to an alarming crossroads. Alias tied together several plot threads in a tense, action-packed outing that made strong use of the fraught character dynamics among the core group. Nadia’s fear for Sloane’s demonstrated how effectively the bond between the two had developed, while Sydney’s ambivalence about trusting Sloane remained an impediment to her relationship with Nadia. The episode was highlighted by Joel Grey’s stellar Ron Rifkin impression, while Rifkin himself had a couple of memorable moments.

“Mirage”: Jack’s health crisis reached a critical stage. Desperately ill and hallucinating, he unknowingly endangered his own life while providing a clue to the one man who might be able to save him: a doctor Jack had rescued and put into hiding 25 years earlier. To uncover the crucial information, the CIA staged an elaborate pantomime to make Jack think it was 1981, complete with Sydney impersonating Irina. Meanwhile, Nadia was unaware that houseguest Sophia, the woman who raised her, had a deadly secret agenda. The writers took what could have been a standard illness plot and turned it into a way to give Sydney, and viewers, a deeper insight into the Bristows’ past. In spite of the constant ups and downs, “Mirage” made clear that Jack and Sydney’s father/daughter relationship was the true heart of Alias.

“The Descent”: Sophia’s true identity emerged after a commando raid on the U.S. Rambaldi cache left several important pieces in the hands of Elena, who prepared to construct a doomsday device. A flashback showed the incident a year earlier that drove a wedge between Sloane and Nadia. Sydney and Sloane’s hunt for information led to yet another apparent Sloane betrayal. Katya was back with some key information about Elena. Sloane’s hidden agenda left Dixon in serious jeopardy. Vaughn had an engagement ring burning a hole in his pocket. And in the final moments, Dixon had some important news for Sydney and Nadia about Irina. “The Descent” was packed with info and developments as Season 4 hurtled toward its finale. The writers continued pulling together various elements into a central, cohesive story that even managed to devise a reasonable explanation for The Covenant. Sloane’s ever-doubtful loyalties remained an effective plot driver and the various relationships all got a good shake-up heading into the season’s end. A strong, involving episode.

“Search and Rescue”/”Before the Flood”: The two-part season finale packed in a lot. The CIA scrambled to track down Elena and Sloane, while dealing with the possibility that Irina was alive. Elena dispatched a Rambaldi device to a Russian city that infected the population with extremely violent impulses. After securing proof Irina was alive, Sydney, Nadia and Jack staged a raid on a jungle camp to liberate her. Reunited with her family, Irina detailed Elena’s plans. Irina, Jack, Sydney, Vaughn and Nadia parachuted into the Russian city. Vaughn managed to take a moment to pop the question to Sydney beforehand and she’d give him an official yes before the mission was over. During the march to Elena’s stronghold, Nadia was separated from the others and landed in her aunt’s clutches. The Arvin Sloane Wheel o’ Loyalty took another spin, this time away from Elena. Irina had a fierce showdown with her sister as an impending Russian bomber attack threatened to unleash an environmental disaster. Elena infected Nadia with the bloodlust and set her against Sydney, forcing Sloane to make a difficult choice. In the aftermath, Jack and Sydney let Irina escape, Sloane was in CIA custody and Nadia was put into a coma while the CIA searched for a cure for her condition. In the final moments, Vaughn was preparing to reveal a big secret about his past to Sydney when a truck t-boned their car.

This two-part adventure was tense and exciting throughout. It made excellent use of relationships and plot points going back to the beginning of the series and even redeemed some of Season 3’s lesser choices. Fans might have had to wait two years, but the return of Lena Olin was more than worth it. She had memorable interactions with Garner, Garber and Vartan and acted the hell out of the moment when Irina realized who Nadia was. Garner was the glue that held the entire thing together, keeping the focus on the emotional impact of the wild events surrounding the group. It was great work, with a cliffhanger that had fans howling.

Alias: Season 5

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Alias began its shortened final season absorbing a major blow: Michael Vartan opted to sit out most of it. In the season premiere, the show introduced a new shadowy, Rambaldi-adjacent conspiracy called “Prophet Five.” Vaughn revealed his father had run afoul of P5 decades earlier and that Vaughn had spent years investigating them, working with internationally wanted criminal Renee Rienne (Élodie Bouchez). The duo ran afoul of Gordon Dean (Tyrees Allen), a rogue CIA agent in P5’s employ, and Vaughn was seemingly killed. Though from the outset, the show heavily suggested that might not exactly be the case.

In addition to Vartan, Alias said goodbye to Greg Grunberg after the second episode (Weiss left APO for a promotion in D.C.). And with Nadia languishing in a coma, Mia Maestro was also no longer a regular.

With Garner visibly pregnant for the first half of the season, Alias brought on Rachel Nichols as Rachel Gibson. Rachel was an analyst working for Dean’s cell, who, much like Sydney in Season 1, believed she was working for the real CIA. After learning the truth, Rachel joined APO, with pregnant Sydney as her mentor. To add muscle, Jack recruited troubled agent Tom Grace (Balthazar Getty), who was looking for a fresh start. On the villain side, the great Amy Acker came aboard as Kelly Peyton, Dean’s lethal colleague and Rachel’s former friend. Peyton sold out Dean to cut her own deal with P5.

Jack was the new head of APO. After narrowly escaping a death sentence, Sloane came back as a consultant, obsessed with finding a cure for Nadia. But as ever, the Arvin Sloane Wheel o’ Loyalty kept turning unpredictably. APO chased down leads on P5, who turned out to have infiltrated governments and security agencies around the world, including the CIA.

The first half of the season felt like Alias-lite. The new characters and actors were solid and the episodes were still well-constructed and entertaining. But it all seemed to echo past Alias stories (often by design). The loss of Vartan was a blow that nearly crippled the series.

Things picked up at mid-season, after a production hiatus to accommodate Garner’s maternity leave. With confirmation that the Season 5 finale was the end of the series, the writers treated P5 as a pretext to focus on characters and relationships that actually mattered to the viewers. Fan favorites returned (Irina, Will, Sark, Anna Espinosa) and lingering plot lines got resolved (Nadia’s fate; the Rambaldi prophecies). Crucially, Vartan returned for several episodes, so that the show could give the Sydney/Vaughn relationship the wrap-up it deserved. A strong final run of episodes left fans with a satisfying conclusion to the saga of Sydney Bristow.

Key Episodes

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“Prophet Five”: Sydney escaped the mercs who’d driven her and Vaughn off the road, even as they took an unconscious Vaughn captive. Sydney and APO withstood a grilling from Dean, unaware of his true allegiance. Vaughn escaped his captors, met up with Sydney and gave her the P5 rundown. During a mission to nab some important P5 info, Sydney learned she was pregnant. Sydney and Vaughn walked into an ambush and Vaughn took several bullets. He revived in the hospital and had a sweet moment with Sydney before flatlining. Months after Vaughn’s funeral, Sydney tracked down Renee to pick up where Vaughn left off. This was the last fans would see of Sydney and Vaughn for months and the duo had some rather nice scenes. The show hinted pretty strongly that Vaughn wasn’t really dead, but the characters proceeded as though he were. P5 never quite evolved into a distinct threat, but at least gave Syd and Vaughn an action-packed episode to tide fans over.

“The Horizon”: The cliffhanger before a three-month break saw P5 abduct Sydney and put her through a process to sift through her memories in search of info that Vaughn once shared with her. APO and Renee scrambled to locate Sydney, but by episode’s end, Jack and Renee had only turned up a creepy nursery indicating P5 was interested in Syd’s baby. Sydney struggled with not wanting to let go of Vaughn, but managed to mislead P5. She escaped captivity, but quickly discovered she and her baby were in a lot more trouble than she’d thought. This was Vartan’s first episode since the premiere and the writers made the most of it, taking viewers on a tour of Syd and Vaughn’s relationship that gave fans some strong, emotional scenes to carry them through. The episode bristled with tension, there was a shockingly familiar face behind Syd’s abduction and the final scene was a good way to hold fan interest over a long hiatus.

“S.O.S.”: Sydney managed to send a cry for help to the CIA while playing cat-and-mouse with her abductors, until debilitating pain had her back in captivity. APO got a snippet of the S.O.S., but discovered someone at the CIA erased it. They undertook a desperate mission to steal information from Langley that almost went off the rails, until old friend Weiss saved the day. A captive Sydney feared the worst when she was strapped to an operating table, but after APO rescued her, she learned P5 saved her baby’s life. This was a tense, suspenseful episode that used the team effectively. Garner was especially good during Syd’s desperate attempt to save herself.

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“Maternal Instinct”: Irina turned up in LA, trying to finesse information P5 wanted from Sydney and Jack. Learning that it was stored in a Vancouver bank vault, the Bristow family did one more con for the road, infiltrating the bank. Irina’s attempted treachery became secondary when Peyton led a team of mercs into the bank and Sydney went into labor. Jack went and schooled Peyton and her team. Irina nearly ditched Syd (after revealing she only got pregnant because the KGB ordered it), but instead delivered baby Isabelle. Irina disappeared before Jack could stop her. And in the final moments, a not-so-dead Vaughn, hiding in a Himalayan cabin, learned he had a daughter. Olin always made everything better and seeing her, Garber and Garner play off each other again was great. The intense Irina/Sydney scene was especially effective and Garber showing off Jack’s badass side never failed, either. The confirmation that Vaughn was still alive was welcome. A strong episode with a lot of great acting.

“There’s Only One Sydney Bristow”: Peyton broke Anna out of federal prison and had her kidnap Will to get Sydney back into the field. The discovery that P5 implanted a micro-bomb in Will’s head had him and Sydney on an entertaining mission that brought them into direct conflict with Anna. By episode’s end, the title turned out to be now quite true. Having Bradley Cooper and Gina Torres on board again was a great callback for fans. Cooper and Garner remained an appealing buddy team and Will brought some necessary lightness to the frenetic sprint to the finale. Anna always made for a great adversary, but her episode-ending transformation kicked that up a notch. A fast-paced, entertaining outing.

“30 Seconds”: Several key developments occurred around the main plot. Nadia finally received a cure and emerged from her coma, unsure if she could trust Sloane. Anna-as-Sydney made her public debut. Sloane’s return to Rambaldi obsession had dire consequences. Two key deaths occurred. And Sloane definitively broke with APO in a way that put him on a collision course with Sydney.

“No Hard Feelings”: Sydney and Vaughn didn’t get to enjoy their reunion for long. She infiltrated P5 (masquerading as Anna pretending to be Sydney). Vaughn and Dixon teamed up to support Syd in the field and she found herself allied with Sark. The duo infiltrated an Italian prison to recover a crucial Rambaldi artifact. Syd and Sloane had a brutal cellblock confrontation before he escaped with the artifact. By episode’s end, Vaughn met his daughter and Sloane offered Sydney a cryptic warning. This was a classic Alias set-up: Syd on a dangerous undercover assignment with Vaughn and Dixon backing her up. The Syd/Sloane confrontation was a great showcase for Garner and Rifkin and the stage was effectively set for the finale.

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“Reprisal”/”All the Time in the World”: The two-part series finale saw APO moving against P5 just as Slone, Sark and Peyton went their own way. Sloane kidnapped Marshall and Rachel to force them to locate a Rambaldi site for him. They used their big brains (and Rachel’s emerging badass spy skills) to save themselves. Sydney and Vaughn chased Sloane to Italy, where Syd and Sloane had a dramatic confrontation in an icy cavern. Meanwhile, Peyton wiped out P5’s leadership and Sark planted a bomb under APO. Tom sacrificed himself to give the others enough time to escape. Vaughn rescued Syd after Sloane’s treachery left her in peril. APO chased Sloane around the world. Jack was critically wounded as the true nature of Rambaldi’s work emerged. Irina, who’d partnered with Sloane, prepared a devastating missile attack. Sydney and Irina shared a brutal final confrontation, while Jack sacrificed himself to neutralize Sloane once and for all. In a coda set a few years later, Dixon, now CIA Assistant Director, visited Sydney, Vaughn and their kids at their tropical hideaway, trying to tempt them back into the field. Unseen by her parents, young Isabelle demonstrated she was just like her mother. The two-parter was jammed with great beats, strong character work and amazing scenes that paid off plots and relationships that went back five years. It was a thrilling ride that wrapped Alias in grand fashion and even provided a happy ending. It was a fitting, satisfying conclusion.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on September 22, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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