Reviewed by David Williams (October 30, 2003)
If you aren’t familiar with Alias, all I can ask is, “What planet have you been on?” This weekly, hour-long series on ABC was created by JJ Abrams - the man behind Felicity - and it premiered to critical acclaim and fanfare on September 30, 2001. The show follows the exploits of Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), a young graduate student who leads a double-life as a double-agent. During her freshman year, Sydney was recruited by SD-6, whom she was led to believe was a shadowy arm of the CIA and whose high-ranking members included her estranged father, Jack (Victor Garber).
Sydney balances her life as an outgoing and good-looking student with that of being a spy in a clandestine and covert organization known simply as, “The Agency”. A very skilled and proficient agent, Sydney enjoys her job and is involved in all levels of international espionage. She keeps her life as a secret agent to herself, but when she spills the beans and inadvertently causes her fiancé to be murdered, she realizes just how serious the life she has chosen really is.
The first episode really sets up the entire series well, as Sydney, SD-6, and its Machiavellian boss, Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), are in pursuit of a strange device that is in the possession of a man named Rambaldi. However, through this mission, Sydney soon comes to realize that SD-6 isn’t a branch of the CIA after all, but an agency that’s part of a much larger alliance working against the CIA. The CIA promptly recruits Sydney as a double-agent to work against SD-6 by either sabotaging missions or simply performing reconnaissance for the CIA - all without blowing her cover at SD-6 … as you might imagine, close calls abound. As Sydney uncovers layers upon layers of deceit, she discovers her father’s involvement in the whole mess and leans on the only person that she feels that she can trust, CIA agent Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan).
While successive seasons have had some great moments, most would agree that season one has been the best from top to bottom. If you missed the inaugural season, or have been avoiding the show because you can’t follow the storylines, now’s your chance. Buena Vista has deftly and skillfully brought the first season to DVD and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be in anyone’s collection that considers themselves a fan of good TV.
Now, let’s take a look at the individual episodes …
- Disc One -
Truth Be Told (Original Air Date: September 30, 2001)
Commentary with actress Jennifer Garner and series creator J.J. Abrams.
In the pilot episode, we are introduced to Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner); for all intents and purposes, a grad student just trying to keep her head above water who’s delicately balancing school and a love life. However, she harbors a very deep secret – since she was a freshman, she’s been secret agent working for SD-6, a spin-off of the CIA, and she’s having a hard time keeping it to herself. Everyone from her partner at SD-6, Dixon (Carl Lumbly), to the resident gadget-guru at the organization, Marshall (Kevin Weisman), know how important Sydney’s secret is for her own safety and the safety of those around her and they discourage her from telling her boyfriend about it. However, Sydney decides to break protocol and tell her boyfriend Danny about what she does and it immediately places his life, as well as Sydney’s, in danger. Along the way, Sydney discovers that SD-6 isn’t what she thought it was and is actually an enemy of the United States and that her father, Jack (Victor Garber), is also a member of the organization. In desperation, Sydney turns to the real CIA and is assigned to Agent Vaughn (Michael Cartan) and he asks Sydney to become a double-agent and report back her missions and any relevant information about SD-6 directly to him. He tells her to remain at SD-6, as she will be a valuable source of information on what SD-6 is planning and how they are operating. However, when Sydney learns that her father also works for the CIA, she doesn’t know who to trust or what version of the truth to believe. (This pilot ran without commercial interruption and did a superb job of setting up the show’s entire – and sometimes complicated – premise in a scant 69 minutes.)
So It Begins (Original Air Date: October 7, 2001)
Commentary with director Ken Olin, producer Sarah Caplan and cinematographer Michael Bonvillain.
While working with SD-6 to bring down a nuclear arms dealer, Sydney begins reporting back to the CIA in an effort to bring the organization down. Sydney’s journalist friend, Will (Bradley Cooper), begins to grow suspicious of Sydney’s latest disappearance and starts asking a few questions … one which leads Sydney on a path where she learns some information about her father’s role in her boyfriend’s death. Agent Vaughn is removed as Sydney’s contact from the CIA after a very dangerous mishap.
Parity (Original Air Date: October 14, 2001)
Some ancient sketches and drawings by an ancient seer containing binary codes on the back are at the center of this episode, as Sydney and a rival Russian agency, the K Directorate, are both out to get them. It seems that these sketches and codes, by Milo Rambaldi, are at the root of a much deeper mystery. However, when they are retrieved, the container housing them seems impossible to open. In an effort to please their respective bosses, Sydney and rival Russian agent Anna Espinosa (Gina Torres) team up in order to penetrate the container and seize/memorize its contents. Will continues to dig deeper into Danny’s murder and Sydney’s best friend Francie (Merrin Dungey) confides in her when she thinks her boyfriend might be cheating.
- Disc Two -
A Broken Heart (Original Air Date: October 21, 2001)
Sydney finds herself tailing terrorists with intentions on dismantling the United Commerce Organization in quite an explosive manner. However, she is also corralled into helping Francie spy on her cheating boyfriend. In other developments, Will struggles with his feelings for Sydney while continuing to help her track down Danny’s killer and Jack struggles with some of the secrets he’s been keeping from his daughter. Agent Vaughn opens up somewhat about his feelings for Sydney and gives her a shoulder to cry on as she struggles with the pressures of being a double-agent.
Doppelganger (Original Air Date: October 28, 2001)
Sydney watches as a bomb is planted into the pacemaker of a member of the United Commerce Organization and its up to Sydney and Dixon to remove it before it’s detonated, Meanwhile, Will continues his investigation of Danny’s death by tracking down clues that lead him face-to-face with a woman Danny was supposed to fly with on the day he died. Vaughn helps Sydney avoid some potential problems with SD-6 and when something piques Sloane’s (Ron Rifkin) interest and arouses his suspicions, Sydney’s father Jack steps in to protect his daughter.
Reckoning (Original Air Date: November 18, 2001
After the explosion from the preceding episode triggered by Dixon, Sydney struggles knowing that it resulted in the deaths of four CIA agents. However, Vaughn convinces her that she did all that she could do. When she returns, Sydney learns that her father will now be working alongside her at SD-6 and when Vaughn arranges for Sydney to peruse her father’s CIA file, she begins to piece together clues that allow her to see Jack’s role in her mother’s death. Will hits a wall while working on his investigation and when Sydney is assigned her next case, she finds herself trapped in a Romanian asylum run by a sadistic K-Directorate agent, Doctor Kreshnik (Eugene Lazarev).
Color Blind (Original Air Date: November 25, 2001)
Sydney uncovers more clues about Danny’s death while trying to break out an assassin with some very important information out of the K-Directorate's asylum. Sloane realizes that not all of his agents are completely loyal to SD-6’s cause and Jack angrily confronts Vaughn about allowing his file to be viewed without his knowledge and without following proper protocol.
- Disc Three -
Time Will Tell (Original Air Date: December 2, 2001)
Sydney heads off to Mexico – followed by her old nemesis, Anna Espinosa – in order to find out some more information linked to the Rimbaldi sketches, while Sloane is planning some high-tech lie detector tests in order to root out the mole within the SD-6. Will is accused of falsifying information by his editor for the story on Danny Hecht’s death until some new information is unearthed. Meanwhile, Sydney discovers some information in her late mother’s book about her father that raises more serious questions about his involvement in her death.
Mea Culpa (Original Air Date: December 9, 2001)
Dixon is shot while on a mission and is at the point of being comatose and Sydney becomes very nervous when she must use a satellite phone provided by the CIA in order to get help. Meanwhile, at SD-6 HQ, Sloane is informed by a superior, Dryer (Tobin Bell), that Sydney performed too well on her lie detector test and is therefore a top candidate for being the mole. Dryer convinces Sloane that he will “take care” of the problem and when Jack learns of the plan, he must convince the CIA to stand down, as he feels that it’s simply a ploy to draw them out into the open. Will’s investigation into Danny’s death puts him in more danger.
Spirit (Original Air Date: December 16, 2001)
Sydney’s cover is seemingly blown and she is captured by some of Sloane’s cronies. However, before she can be sadistically tortured, Jack steps in to save his daughter once again by diverting Sloane. Sydney then takes on a dangerous mission to win back Sloane’s trust. What she doesn’t realize is that her mission has put her dad, currently on a CIA mission, into a sticky situation with a rogue arms dealer, Ineni Hassan (Aharon Ipale). Ineni, recognizing Sydney as an SD-6 agent and unaware of the connection between Sydney and Jack, asks Jack to kill Sydney in order to prove he is no longer loyal to SD-6.
The Confession (Original Air Date: January 6, 2002)
Jack and Sydney work together to get themselves out of the aforementioned sticky situation and capture Hassan in order to deliver him to the CIA – therefore, duping SD-6 into thinking that he’s dead at the same time. Hassan and the CIA reach a deal and Hassan leads Sydney to the top-secret “package” that was in his possession, but it ends up being a deadly trap. Vaughn comes across some evidence that Jack may have been a KGB agent that was responsible for the deaths of dozens of CIA agents. However, Jack surprises Sydney with information that shows her mother was actually the KGB agent.
- Disc Four -
The Box: Part I (Original Air Date: January 20, 2002)
Sydney can’t deal with knowing that her mother was a KGB agent and she tells Vaughn that she wants to resign from SD-6. However, Jack warns her that the men Sloane reports to, The Alliance, will kill her if she quits. About that time, some heavily armed intruders, led by a former SD-6 agent left for dead, McKenas Cole (Quentin Tarantino guest stars), break into SD-6’s headquarters. Cole wants to crack open the agency’s wired-to-blow vaults and teach Sloane a very painful lesson. However, Jack and Sydney are undetected in the basement and must work together in order to keep the entire building from being blown to bits.
The Box: Part II (Original Air Date: February 10, 2002)
Vaughn steps in to help Sydney and Jack avert the destruction of the SD-6 headquarters. However, Cole is hell-bent on getting into the vault and is having a hard time getting Sloane to crack under the interrogation. Following up on a lead where the word “SD-6” was spoken, Will is encouraged by a determined woman to dig deeper into his investigation of the clandestine organization.
The Coup (Original Air Date: February 24, 2002)
Dixon and Sydney are sent to Las Vegas in order to track down a K-Directorate member who has ties with the group that attacked – and almost destroyed – SD-6 headquarters. However, a kink is thrown into the mission when Francie and her fiancé unexpectedly show up. Sydney and her dad finally talk about things other than international espionage, as Jack helps Sydney decide whether or not to continue attending graduate school.
Page 47 (Original Air Date: March 3, 2002)
Vaughn discovers a mysterious blank page in the Rambaldi book/manuscript that may hold the secrets of the entire package. However, the book is locked up at Sloane’s house and it puts Vaughn in the position of asking Sydney for a big favor – use her friendship with Sloane’s dying/cancer-stricken wife in order to get into the house to snap pictures of the book. However, when CIA analysts find that page 47 of the document is blank, they ask Sydney to steal the actual page itself and replace it with another. After taking the blank page back to the CIA and using a special “Rambaldi Liquid/Serum” on the document – similar to the type that McKenas Cole tried to steal from SD-6 – what’s on page 47 is revealed and it’s quite unsettling. Meanwhile, Will’s investigation of SD-6 places his life in grave danger and he is not so gently persuaded to drop it.
- Disc Five -
The Prophecy (Original Air Date: March 10, 2002)
The investigation deepens as to why Sydney’s mysterious picture is connected to the 500-year-old Rambaldi notebook and the “prophecy” contained within the text. When Jack alerts Vaughn and Sydney that the key to breaking the prophetic code is held within the walls of the Vatican, Sydney convinces Vaughn to go on the mission with her. Roger Moore guest stars as Edward Poole, a fellow “Alliance of Twelve” member from SD-9, and he has some information regarding a traitor in the ranks.
Q & A (Original Air Date: March 17, 2002)
Commentary with executive producers John Eisendrath, Alex-Kurtzman-Counter and Roberto Orci.
Now in the custody of the FBI, Sydney is getting grilled over her connections to Rambaldi’s doomsday prophecy. Jack and Vaughn, knowing that her cover may soon be blown, race against time in order to free her before SD-6 starts getting suspicious of her whereabouts. Sydney begins to find out more and more about Rambaldi’s writings that may shed light on an alleged weapon of mass destruction, as well as some of her family’s darkest secrets.
Masquerade (Original Air Date: April 7, 2002)
Sydney returns home after she is able to prove that she is not the subject of the Rambaldi prophecies and it’s then that she learns that the CIA is looking for her mother, Laura Bristow, who Sydney thought was dead. An old flame and fellow agent, Noah Hicks (Peter Berg) shows back up in Sydney’s life and helps Sydney locate a device that will hopefully explain her mother’s KGB work, as well as her whereabouts. Meanwhile, Will and Francie find a mysterious plane ticket that leads them to question who Sydney really is.
Snowman (Original Air Date: April 14, 2002)
Dixon and Sydney are dispatched to capture a K-Directorate assassin, known simply as “The Snowman”, when it’s learned that he is carrying out a hit on the man who was Laura Bristow’s superior at the KGB, Khasinau (Derrick O’Connor). Sydney and the assassin get into a brutal fight that ends with a twist. Meanwhile, Will and Francie confront Sydney about her travel plans and Noah and Sydney’s relationship begins to unravel … in more ways than you can imagine.
- Disc Six -
The Solution (Original Air Date: April 21, 2002)
In order to catch Khasinau, Sydney and Vaughn set a trap where they propose to sell a Rambaldi artifact – a second dose of the “Rambaldi serum” - to one of Khasinau’s associates. Sloane’s terminally ill wife tells Sydney that she knows about the existence of SD-6 and it puts both of them in danger when she lets the cat out of the bag. Will confronts Jack about his kidnapping.
Rendezvous (Original Air Date: May 5, 2002)
Will makes a startling discovery when he learns about the person who leaked his personal information to SD-6. Sloane gets closer to tracking down Khasinau when SD-6 finally captures his right-hand man, Mr. Sark (David Anders). Dixon becomes very suspicious of Sydney and the Alliance alerts Sloane of their plans to eliminate his wife for learning about – and speaking openly - about SD-6.
Almost Thirty Years (Original Air Date: May 12, 2002)
Commentary with actors Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Victor Garber, Bradley Cooper, Carl Lumbly, Ron Rifkin, Merrin Dungey, and Kevin Weisman.
In order to save Will’s life, Sydney and Jack must steal the Rambaldi manuscripts from SD-6, as well as the serum from the CIA. However, Jack tells Sydney that the CIA has a mole and she shouldn’t talk to Vaughn about their plan at all. Jack and Sydney reveal the true secrets of the blank Rambaldi page and use it as a negotiation tool in retrieving Will. Dixon questions Sydney’s loyalty and later she is captured by Khasinau’s boss … someone all too familiar to Sydney … and then we fade to black with lots of anticipation for season two.
Worn out? Good! Let’s move on and take a look at the other parts of Buena Vista’s impressive boxed set for Alias.